HAVANA TIMES – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said Saturday that the Armed Forces must increase their capacity to confront violent civilian groups in the protests against his government, which in more than two months have left 76 dead, reported dpa news.
“The Bolivarian [Venezuelan] Armed Forces, with its moral and organizational strengthening and that of its leadership, must increase its capacity to face groups that seek to fill our country with chaos and violence,” he said at the ceremony for new commanders of the military, after the changes decided this week.
The president added that, with greater capacity, the Armed Forces will continue to be a guarantee of peace and “backbone of the independence and sovereignty of this Venezuelan land.”
Maduro swore to the new heads of the four branches of the military forces and the National Militia and ratified Defense Minister, Gen. Vladimir Padrino.
He affirmed that the country is harassed by “violent elements”, but is in peace, while he insisted on accusing to the legislative leader Julio Borges of giving arms to the demonstrators that “attack” military institutions.
Maduro urged the new head of the Strategic Operational Command of the Armed Forces, Admiral Remigio Ceballos, to support the bodies responsible for maintaining public order.
The president dismissed Major General Antonio Benavides as head of the National Guard (militarized police), which carries the greatest weight in the repression of the protests, expressing gratitude for his service.
“Men prove themselves in the difficulties, their values, their commitment, their loyalty, you have grown. How hard it has been, with violent groups that use boys. The National Guard has maintained the peace,” he said.
Maduro reiterated that he has banned the use of live firearms in the control of demonstrations, after this week two youths, 17 and 22 years old, died of bullets fired by soldiers.
The new head of the National Guard is major general Sergio Rivero. Maduro also swore in the new head of the Army, Jesus Suárez; Of the Air Force, Ivan Hidalgo, and of the Navy, Admiral Edglis Herrera.
During the day, the opposition held a two-hour protest during which it blocked the passage on main traffic lanes, sparking new episodes of repression with tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving at least five injured.
With the protest, the opposition wanted to repudiate the death on Thursday of the 22-year-old who died of a shot fired from an air base in eastern Caracas.
The protest was concentrated around the Francisco de Mirada Air Base, with protesters hitting the protection bars and metal objects, accompanying a pots and pans protest from the neighboring Francisco Fajardo motorway. They also left banners with messages of repudiation to the military.
The protests began on April 4, after the opposition led National Assembly accused the Supreme Court of Justice of having carried out a coup d’état with two sentences that deprived it of its legislative functions.