Venezuelan Military Closes Ranks Around Maduro

Por Néstor Rojas Mavares (dpa)

HAVANA TIMES — Following declarations by Nicolas Maduro alleging that three Air Force generals had attempted to stage a coup the Venezuelan Armed Forces declared on Wednesday that they remain strongly united, DPA reported.

On Tuesday, Maduro reported that the three generals had been detained and were awaiting trial for an attempt to organize an uprising of the Venezuelan Air Force, declaring that there “will not be any cracks” in the military.

The president has been speaking of “continuous coup attempts” since anti-government protests began on February 12, and his report on the Air Force plot was made the same day in which a delegation of representatives of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) arrived in Venezuela to try and act as an intermediary between the government and opposition.

In an official declaration, the Venezuelan Armed Forces said that they support the investigations on the activities of the three generals and that it remains disciplined, obedient and respectful of the Constitution.

“Faced with these incidents, the National Bolivarian Armed Forces remain unshakable in their loyalty. The democratic convictions and morale of those who have become immersed in the reality of our people through their actions have not been undermined. Thanks to our Supreme and Eternal Commander Hugo Chavez, we understand that the civic-military union makes us stronger and firmer,” the Armed Forces declared.

The military, acting through the Venezuelan National Guard (militarized policy), have been chiefly responsible for the repression of protests against Maduro’s government. Though their actions have been criticized by human rights organizations as “excessive”, Maduro has endorsed them during different public addresses.

The three generals – Daniel Machillanda, Oswaldo Sanchez and Carlos Millan – were accused of attempting to organize an uprising of the Air Force. According to the press, none had any squadrons under their command and one was the head of an aviation school.

Maduro declared these officials were attempting to divide the ranks in the barracks and that one of them had “contacts” with the opposition, whose protests are aimed at overthrowing the government, he claims.

According to Maduro, attorney Rocio San Miguel, a respected activist of the NGO Control Ciudadano (“Citizen Control”), is the “link” to the coup efforts.

The president insisted that “she is fully involved in this attempt at a coup d’état,” in conjunction with the opposition party Voluntad Popular (“People’s Will”), whose leader, Leopoldo Lopez, is serving a prison term for instigating protests. One of the party’s members, Daniel Ceballos, was dismissed as mayor of the city of San Cristobal and summarily sentenced to one year in prison, while party leaders Carlos Vecchio and Antonio Rivero are sought by authorites on similar charges.

“I am not attacking her [San Miguel], I am only pointing out that my investigation reveals she is involved in instigating a military uprising against Venezuela’s established order,” Maduro said.

The activist tried to visit the generals in her capacity as a lawyer, but she was denied access to them. San Miguel reported she had received threats and that after Maduro’s declarations, she “understands” these perfectly well.

“I am a Venezuelan through and through. No one can accuse me of having committed a single crime in my 47 years of life. This frightening accusation against me is regrettable. Mr. Maduro didn’t like the fact I tried to visit the three generals and to declare that such a detention requires a hearing,” San Miguel wrote in her Twitter account.

According to San Miguel, Operational Strategic Commander (OSC) Vladimir Padrino has referred to the “situation in Venezuela as an armed insurrection.” “Military actions continue to increase around the country,” he said.

Venezuelans have seen a greater military presence within the government since Maduro took office in April of 2013. This civic-military scheme was imposed by the late President Hugo Chavez, who was an army official and headed a failed coup against Carlos Andres Perez in February of 1992.

That year saw another failed coup attempt, led by a group of Air Force and Navy officials in November.

On entering office in 1999, Chavez set in motion a series of military reforms which made the slogan of “Homeland, Socialism or Death” official. In addition, he labeled the Bolivarian Navy as “furiously pro-Chavez.”

The Armed Forces turned on Chavez in 2002, leading a coup that removed him from office for 48 hours. One of the officers who remained loyal to him during this episode, General Raul Baduel, is currently serving a prison sentence on charges of corruption.

Political activism at military barracks has been stepped up under the Maduro administration, and it is common for officials to salute the president during military parades with the slogan of “We are the anti-imperialist, socialist and Chavista Armed Forces.”

Recently, Maduro authorized military officials to publicly respond to the attacks leveled at them over Twitter and other social networks in connection with the operations they lead to contain protests.

Minister of Defense Carmen Melendez warned that the protests will be addressed with severity and declared that the demonstrations are the work of “internal aggressors.”

Melendez signed the declaration in support of Maduro’s statements as to the absence of any “divisions” within the Bolivarian Armed Forces.

“The cohesion of the Armed Forces, its awareness of its mission and vision, need not be decreed or expressed in words. The conduct of our institution has been coherently demonstrated since the beginning of the current situation, which has been termed a ‘soft coup’, as has been underscored since February 12, 2014,” the communiqué declared.

Anti-government protests have left 35 dead and hundreds of injured.