Defectors from Venezuela's army who are now loyal to self-declared president Juan Guaidó have called on the Trump administration to arm them in what they refer to as their quest for "freedom," and are strongly opposed to the United States conducting a broad military intervention.
Two former soldiers, Carlos Guillen Martinez and Josue Hidalgo Azuaje, who live outside the country, told CNN they are in contact with hundreds of willing defectors who want US military assistance in their revolt against the Maduro regime.
"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.
Hidalgo Azuaje said: "We're not saying that we need only US support, but also Brazil, Colombia, Peru, all brother countries, that are against this dictatorship."
The appeal came as US national security advisor John Bolton on Sunday warned the Maduro government that violence against Venezuela's political opposition—or against its leader and self-declared president Juan Guaidó—would be met with stern reprisals.
Bolton also appealed to the Venezuelan military to assist in the smooth transition of power from Maduro to Guaidó, whom the US has recognized as the legitimate head of state.
American officials have repeatedly warned that no options are off the table, in terms of US intervention. -CNN
Over a dozen defectors who appeared in one recent broadcast say that devastating hyperinflation, food scarcity and economic malfeasance have many rank and file soldiers enraged.
The soldiers say that despite their efforts, they are seeing limited success in inspiring a true military revolt. On January 21 a military unit was arrested after they rose up against the Maduro government.
Martinez and Azuaje showed CNN their WhatsApp chat groups, which they say are connected to "thousands of angry junior officers and soldiers." They claim to be working to bring several factions of disgruntled soldiers into a cohesive group.
They flatly reject any suggestion of a broader US military intervention in support of Guaidó. "We do not want a foreign government [to] invade our country," Hidalgo Azuaje said. "If we need an incursion, it has to be by Venezuelan soldiers who really want to free Venezuela." -CNN
Guaidó has called for demonstrations this week, which the military defectors say they will use as an opportunity to pressure soldiers they know into similarly flipping their allegiance.
"There are soldiers in every unit that are willing to rise up in arms," one soldier told CNN in an underground parking lot in Caracas. "They are preparing themselves and learning from past mistakes. They are waiting for the right moment, so they can hit even harder that people feel it."
The soldier said that some units have reported missing weapons and ammunition which they suspect may have been stockpiled by opposition supporters to help stoke an uprising.
"Past operations have failed because the higher-ranking officers were against it. They still control every area, and if an uprising happens, it's swiftly neutralized," said the man, who acknowledged that the messages sent by defectors outside the country were "very positive" and "give us hope."
"They are outside Venezuela, but feed our soul. They inspire us and raise the military's self-esteem."
Venezuela's top military attaché at the Washington D.C. Embassy, Colonel José Luis Silva, broke with the Maduro regime, urging other members of the Venezuelan armed forces to recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president, according to the Miami Herald.
"As the Venezuelan defense attaché in the United States, I do not recognize Mr. Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela," Silva told el Nuevo Herald in a telephone interview from Washington.
"My message to all armed forces members, to everyone who carries a gun, is to please let’s not attack the people. We are also part of the people, and we’ve had enough of supporting a government that has betrayed the most basic principles and sold itself to other countries," he added.