For the first time since the recent crisis triggered by embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's reelection to a second six-year term began which a dozen countries led by the United States condemned as "illegitimate", a high ranking general in the country's armed forces has defected while declaring loyalty to opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim head-of-state.
Air Force General Francisco Yanez, identified by Reuters as part of the air force's high command, published a short video via Twitter on Saturday wherein he called on Venezuela's armed forces to follow his lead in recognizing Guaido. Notably Gen. Yanez is identified on public state military information web pages as the air force's head of strategic planning, making him the highest military official to break from the Maduro regime in months.
In the video Yanez urges other members of the military to defect in opposition to "dictator" Maduro's rule immediately as "the transition to democracy is imminent." He held up Guaido as the true president of Venezuela. His statement claims further that "90 percent" of Venezuela's military is against Maduro; however there's yet to be any signs of a mass waves of defections.
"The people have already suffered enough", he says further in the video, describing famine-like conditions for lack of food and basic necessities such as medicine in the severely mismanaged and corrupt socialist country. "Do not repress (them) any more," he asserts.
Also notable is that Gen. Yanez says "Mr Maduro has two planes on standby to flee the country" should his regime crumble, and Yanez follows by saying "he should go" as "the time for democracy is now."
Meanwhile Caracas was quick to hit back, as the country's Twitter account for the Air Force's High Command issued an alert saying Yanez has committed treason. News of his defection came Saturday morning as opposition protests gained momentum across the country.
Previously the only military defection of note was the Jan. 26 defection of Venezuela's top military attaché serving at country's Washington D.C. Embassy. National Guard Col. José Luis Silva, who told reporters "enough already!" and declared, “As the Venezuelan defense attaché in the United States, I do not recognize Mr. Nicolás Maduro as president of Venezuela.” He urged security forces to join the mass anti-Maduro protests taking place, and to ensure the state doesn't resort to violence, saying “My message to all armed forces members, to everyone who carries a gun, is to please let’s not attack the people.”
Last month National Assembly leader and now US-recognized "Interim President" Guaido first began appealing to the military to switch sides following a local and short-lived attempt of 27 officers to lead a revolt on Jan. 21, quickly put down by security forces after they stormed an armory and police checkpoint.
To encourage more such defections, which so far hasn't appeared to penetrate the top layers of military leadership, Guaido has offered amnesty protection to any officer previously accused of corruption or human rights abuses should they defect.
And another significant development came Friday night when US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted that the United States will begin humanitarian aid shipments into Venezuela, despite Maduro denying acceptance of such aid.
Pursuant to the request of Interim President Juan Guaido, and in consultation with his officials the US will mobilize and transport humanitarian aid—medicine, surgical supplies, and nutritional supplements for the people of Venezuela. It’s time for Maduro to get out of the way. https://t.co/LXZsBf8vq6— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 2, 2019
This comes after opposition leader Guaido declared his willingness to accept the aid as "interim president" - despite the United Nations days ago reaffirming that Nicolas Maduro is the only legitimate head of state, contradicting the White House position.
Bolton tweeted on Friday: "Pursuant to the request of Interim President Juan Guaido, and in consultation with his officials the US will mobilize and transport humanitarian aid_medicine, surgical supplies, and nutritional supplements for the people of Venezuela. It's time for Maduro to get out of the way."
This raises the interesting scenario or possibility of the US initiating covert humanitarian shipments across the border, likely from ally Colombia, in defiance of Maduro's ban on such aid. And it further raises the question: how long until Syria-style US covert weapons shipments make their way into the "humanitarian" supply line?