Two Venezuelan soldiers loyal to self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó have pleaded with the Trump administration for arms, in a bid to “realize Venezuelan freedom.” What could go wrong?
The former soldiers, living outside Venezuela, told CNN that hundreds of willing defectors inside the country had been in contact with them, asking the US for weapons and support for a planned revolt.
“As Venezuelan soldiers, we are making a request to the US to support us, in logistical terms, with communication, with weapons, so we can realize Venezuelan freedom,” Guillen Martinez told CNN. Martinez’ fellow soldier Hidalgo Azuaje added that the pair are also requesting support from Venezuela’s right-wing neighbors: “Brazil, Colombia, Peru, all brother countries, that are against this dictatorship.”
The soldiers told the network that various groups of disgruntled units have been talking and organizing via WhatsApp, apparently waiting for the right time to “rise up in arms” against Maduro.
The soldiers stopped short of calling for a US invasion. “We do not want a foreign government [to] invade our country,” Azuaje said. “If we need an incursion, it has to be by Venezuelan soldiers who really want to free Venezuela.”
Picking sides in another country’s war has historically led to catastrophe for the United States. The Mujahideen who fought the Soviets in 1980s Afghanistan turned their US-supplied weapons on American troops two decades later. More recently, US-armed “moderate rebels” in Syria would end up funneling their weapons to terrorist groups, and uniting with the very same hardcore Jihadists the US purports to fight.
Naturally, some commentators were skeptical about the CNN report.
How long before the Trump administration starts arming the “moderate rebels” of the Free Venezuelan Army? If this follows the usual US script, expect a civil war, all so the US can have their oil https://t.co/ezsg2UPmQb
— Rania Khalek (@RaniaKhalek) January 29, 2019
I was not exaggerating when I said the US is trying to do to Venezuela what it did to Syria:
The US has been encouraging Venezuelan soldiers to wage war against the state. Some now want Trump to give them weapons.
These will be Trump's "moderate rebels"https://t.co/2czqRi12yC
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) January 29, 2019
— Sergey Bobkov (@sbobkov) January 29, 2019
Amid the ongoing political turmoil in Venezuela, both Maduro’s government and Guaidó have sought to woo the military to their side. The protests that accompanied Guaidó’s declaration last week kicked off when a National Guard unit in Caracas staged a mutiny.
The rebellious soldiers were arrested, and Maduro has since been keen to demonstrate that the military is unflinchingly loyal to him, inspecting and training with troops in a series of Twitter videos posted this week.
Junto al Estado Mayor Superior, y los hombres y mujeres de nuestra gloriosa y digna #FANB, nos preparamos para la defensa integral de la Patria. ¡Rumbo al Bicentenario de Angostura! pic.twitter.com/xdNhWKAVEq
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) January 27, 2019
Guaidó, meanwhile, has tried to sway the military with a promise of amnesty to soldiers and officers willing to break ranks with Maduro. The military envoy to the US has also refused orders to return home, and called on his “brothers in the armed forces of the nation to recognize President Juan Guaidó as the only legitimate president.” Few, however, have heeded the call.
The US has done everything short of shipping weapons to support Guaidó’s parallel government. President Trump was among the first world leaders to officially recognize Guaidó’s self-declared presidency, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately promised Guaidó $20 million in humanitarian aid.
The US gave Guaidó another boost on Tuesday, when Pompeo authorized the opposition leader to take control of Venezuelan assets held in US banks. One day earlier, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the US would seize all assets of Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA, and channel them into accounts that would be accessible only by Guaidó or a new government which the US approves of.
National Security Advisor John Bolton also threatened “serious consequences” if Maduro’s government harms Guaidó.
Whether the US will arm the opposition in Venezuela remains unknown. “The president has made it clear that all options are on the table,” Bolton told reporters on Monday. Maduro has refused to heed international calls for fresh elections, but has said that he is willing to enter into talks with Guaidó.