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LatinNews Regional Monitor: Andean Group - 22 January 2019

Turmoil in Venezuela as gov’t fights off military uprising

Development: On 21 January there were impromptu street protests in Venezuela in support of the actions of a group of officers from the Guardia Nacional Bolivariana (GNB) military police who had taken over a military barracks and declared themselves in rebellion against the de facto government led by Nicolás Maduro.

Significance: The uprising, which the Maduro government says it has controlled, points to a growing loss of support for the Maduro administration, which has been declared illegitimate by the opposition-controlled national assembly (AN) and the majority of the international community, within the military ranks. The support that the armed forces command has expressed for the Maduro government is seen as critical to its survival. Dissent among the ranks could thus signal a turning point that could lead to the overthrow of the Maduro administration. However, there is a risk that this could come at the expense of a deadly internal civil conflict.

  • Reports of an uprising by GNB units emerged in the early hours yesterday after a group of GNB officers uploaded a series of videos on social media announcing that they had taken over GNB barracks located in the Caracas neighbourhood of Cotiza and declared themselves in insurrection against the Maduro government. The officers called on other colleagues to join them, and for the public to also support their cause by staging street protests.
  • The actions by the GNB came after the AN last week formally declared the usurpation of the presidency by Maduro, and AN president Juan Guaidó reiterated his call for the armed forces to disobey Maduro and step in to restore the country’s democratic and constitutional order. Notably, the actions by the GNB officers in Cotiza were supported by local opposition sympathisers, who congregated outside the GNB barracks, to show their support for the rebels and to set up a barricade to try to stop units from the armed forces special forces (FAES) from entering the barracks to regain control of it.
  • FAES units eventually did manage to disperse the protesters with tear gas and regain control of the barracks. An official statement signed by Defence Minister General Vladimir Padrino López confirmed that a group of GNB officers from the municipality of Macarao revolted, and after stealing “weapons of war” from a GNB depot in the municipality of Petare proceeded to take over the Cotiza barracks, holding four of their comrades hostage. The statement goes on to say that following the arrival of FAES units in the area, the rebels eventually decided to surrender and that 27 of them have been placed under arrest. Although there were reports of shots being fired inside the Cotiza barracks, Padrino López said that no one was wounded or killed during the operation.
  • Government figures such as Diosdado Cabello, the president of the constituent national assembly (ANC), said that the GNB rebels would be prosecuted for treason and that the authorities would launch a full investigation to determine if they had acted alone or if they had been receiving orders. Cabello went on to insinuate that the rebellion had been instigated by the opposition. Nevertheless, as news that the GNB rebels had been arrested became public there was a series of impromptu protests in Caracas and surrounding areas in support of the uprising. The protests mostly took the form of pots and pan protests, but in some areas protesters burned tyres and set up barricades. The security forces were deployed to clear the barricades, and late yesterday reports began to come in of violent clashes between the security forces and protesters in various places, which continued into the early hours of today (22 January).

Looking Ahead: Guaidó responded to the uprising by releasing a video message in which he says that the incident “shows the general discontent within the armed forces”; and while he is clear that he has not asked the armed forces to lead a rebellion against the Maduro government, he once again called on them to disobey orders and support the public protests calling for Maduro’s departure, starting with the protest march called by the opposition for tomorrow (23 January).