The Venezuelan Army could be nearing a collapsing point, as high-ranking military officers and enlisted troops “are joining the exodus of Venezuelans to Colombia and Brazil, fleeing barracks and forcing President Nicolas Maduro’s government to call upon retirees and militia to fill the void,” said Bloomberg.
Venezuela’s economic crisis keeps getting worse, as high desertion rates are now plaguing military bases in Caracas and the countryside, which poses significant security challenges in the upcoming presidential election on May 20. By law, the military oversees all voting centers throughout the country, including the electoral materials and voting machines.
“The number is unknown because it used to be published in the Official Gazette. Now, it is not,” said San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, a military watchdog group in Caracas. She said soldiers are fleeing for the same reason citizens are: “Wages are low, the quality of food and clothing isn’t good.”
A massive shortage of enlisted troops and military officers comes as more than one million Venezuelans have escaped the collapsed economy, according to the International Organization for Migration. Hyperinflation has made the country’s currency worthless, which has sparked a biblical humanitarian crisis across the failed state.
According to one unnamed retired officer, military personnel who rank as high as generals were recently “called in and quartered for several days at their units.” The government has called in retired officers and militia members, as the hemorrhaging continued before the election in twelve days. “Government officials are training these fill-in personnel for the election,” said a second anonymous retired officer.
Bloomberg said the U.S. and regional organizations would not “recognize the balloting as legitimate,” due to the military’s deep involvement with the election process.
“As the once-prosperous nation fell apart, Maduro consolidated power by creating an all-powerful assembly to bypass the national legislature. The regime jailed and banned opponents and launched a wave of arrests before the May 20 vote. The U.S. and regional organizations have refused to recognize the balloting as legitimate, and the main opposition coalition has promised a boycott in the face of what it says will be a rigged contest.
Venezuelan elections are overseen by its military, the strongest force in the country and one increasingly intertwined with Maduro’s regime. The rush to fill out units is required by the so-called Plan Republica, the security deployment of the Defense Ministry that begins on the eve of election day and lasts until the day after. By law, the armed forces are guarantors of peace and security, guarding ballots and voting machines at all 14,000-odd voting sites. They transport these materials and machinery to each voting center, often a school, and guard it,” said Bloomberg.
Control Ciudadano’s San Migue said in March that the level of desertion from the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana has increased to dangerous levels in the last year, noting that the exodus is primarily enlisted troops. She said 10,000 troops have recently asked to retire.
“Since 2015 there has been an increase in military detainees accused of treason, desertion and other crimes,” she added. “Our estimate is that there are 300 people who are imprisoned, mostly troops. A few are senior officers, others are civilians linked to the military.”
Gonzalo Himiob, director of Foro Penal, a human-rights group, said, “those who ask to retire are put into arrest for a week at the military counterintelligence headquarters.”
Himiob added, “that’s how worried the government is.” He also said most flee the country after they are released from jail. In recent days, the government has run out of jail cells for military personnel who have asked to retire.
A flashpoint could be developing as President Maduro suggested that he will start an armed revolution if his opposition comes into power that wants to hand the country’s “riches” to “imperialist” forces [Americans]. In a campaign speech last week, President Maduro — who is hoping to win a new six-year presidential term in the highly disputed May 20 election — attacked his opposition rival, Henri Falcón, of wanting to sell the country’s vast natural resources to “the gringos.”
Nevertheless, Venezuela could soon face the first full-blown civil war the Western world has experienced in more than 100-years, as it now appears the country’s military is imploding before an election that the U.S. will not recognize the results.