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Why Venezuela military leaders are standing behind Maduro

The Associated Press
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In this photo released by the Venezuelan Defense Ministry press office, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez delivers a message of support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. A half-dozen generals belonging largely to district commands and with direct control over thousands of troops joined Maduro in accusing the United States of meddling in Venezuela’s affairs and said they would uphold the socialist leader’s rule. (Venezuelan Defense Ministry press office via AP)
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Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez waves as he arrives to a press conference by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, amid a political power struggle between Maduro and an opposition leader who has declared himself interim president. High-ranking generals have pledged their unwavering support to embattled Maduro.

CARACAS, Venezuela — Even as Venezuelans fill the streets rallying behind opposition leader Juan Guaido and the list of foreign nations recognizing him as the country’s rightful president grows, the top members of the all-important military are sending a different message: Forget about it.

In back-to-back proclamations Thursday, high-ranking generals standing in front of stern-faced troops pledged their support to embattled President Nicolas Maduro in an unsurprising display of loyalty.

Since taking the helm of Venezuela’s government in 2013, Maduro — a protege of the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez but with no military experience — has cemented the support of the nation’s troops by promoting loyalists, giving them control over key sectors of the economy and appointing them to ministerial positions.

All that means that the military’s top brass remains beholden to Maduro and is likely too frightened of losing its standing or going to jail to betray him, according to experts on Venezuela’s military. Rank-and-file troops struggling to put food on the table may not share their steadfast loyalty, but the odds of a significant faction defecting and recognizing Guaido are slim, current and former military officers said.

“We have to wait and see what happens over the next 48 hours,” said Jose Antonio Colina, a former army lieutenant. “If the middle- and low-ranking troops don’t express their disagreement within the next two days, we can assume they’re standing by their leadership.”

The armed forces have traditionally served as an arbiter of political disputes, though according to the constitution backed by Chavez they are “not at the service of any person or political partisanship.”

Exactly 61 years before Guaido pledged before swarms of supporters to serve as Venezuela’s interim president, the military ousted dictator Marco Perez Jimenez, who fled on a plane to the Dominican Republic amid mounting unrest. Chavez as a young army commander staged a botched coup in 1992 and a decade later was briefly forced from power himself.

On Friday, Guaido asked supporters to share the text of an amnesty law that would pardon members of the military who cooperate in restoring the country’s democracy with anyone they know in the armed forces. He urged troops to let humanitarian aid the United States has pledged into the country.