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Venezuelan army defectors appeal to Trump for weapons


IANS Caracas
Venezuelan army defectors are calling on the Donald Trump administration to arm them, in what they call their quest for "freedom", the CNN has said.
Former soldiers Carlos Guillen Martinez and Josue Hidalgo Azuaje, who live outside the country, told CNN in an exclusive interview that they wanted the US military's assistance to equip others like them inside the beleaguered nation.
"As Venezuelan soldiers, we are making a request to the US to support us, in logistical terms, with communication, with weapons, so we can realise Venezuelan freedom," Guillen Martinez told CNN.
"We're not saying that we need only US support, but also Brazil, Colombia, Peru, all brother countries, that are against this dictatorship," Hidalgo Azuaje added.
However, they have flatly rejected any suggestion of a broader US military intervention in support of Guaido.
The defectors showed Whatsapp groups, through which they claim to reach thousands of angry junior officers and soldiers. They said they were working to bring various disgruntled factions together.
"We do not want a foreign government (to) invade our country," Azuaje said. "If we need an incursion, it has to be by Venezuelan soldiers who really want to free Venezuela."
They claimed to be in contact with hundreds of willing defectors mostly junior officers, and called on enlisted Venezuelan soldiers to revolt against the Nicolas Maduro regime, through television broadcasts.
The defectors -- more than a dozen of whom appeared in one such broadcast -- said that many rank and file soldiers share ordinary Venezuelans' fury at hyperinflation, food scarcity and economic mismanagement that has turned one of South America's richest petro-states into an impoverished wreck, the CNN said.
However, despite repeated appeals, the group has seen limited success in inspiring a military revolt. A single unit rose up in Cotiza on January 21 -- its members were swiftly arrested.
CNN said it got a rare glimpse of the internal difficulties of dissent in the army, when it met with an enlisted soldier in an underground parking lot here in the capital.
"There are soldiers in every unit that are willing to rise up in arms," he told CNN on assurance of anonimity. "They are preparing themselves, learning from past mistakes, waiting for the right moment, so they can hit even harder."
He claimed some units have weapons and ammunition that have gone missing and may have been taken to help foment 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 neutralised," he said.
He acknowledged the messages sent by defectors from outside Venezuela, and said they were "very positive". "Somehow they give us hope," he said. "They are outside Venezuela, but feed our soul. They inspire us and raise the military's self-esteem."
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 Guaido would be met with stern reprisals.
He has also appealed to the Venezuelan military to assist in the smooth transition of power from Maduro to Guaido, whom the US has recognised as the legitimate head of state.
American officials have repeatedly warned that "no options were off the table", in terms of US intervention.
Venezuela's top brass and high ranking officers in the army have shown unflinching loyalty to Maduro, with their declarations in support of his regime airing in a loop on state television.
Defense minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez has said that Venezuelan soldiers would "die" for their government.

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First Published: Jan 30 2019 | 10:04 AM IST

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