Venezuelan general calls on armed forces to rebel against President Nicolas Maduro amid protests
A high-ranking Venezuelan general has called on the armed forces to rebel against President Nicolas Maduro.
- General Francisco Yanez is the first active Venezuelan general to defect
- Anti-government protesters continue to demand the resignation of Mr Maduro
- Mr Maduro held a rally celebrating the 20th anniversary of Hugo Chavez’s inauguration
The defection of General Francisco Yanez came as tens of thousands of opposition supporters, many sporting clothes in the yellow, blue and red colours of the Venezuelan flag, turned out at rallies nationwide to protest against Mr Maduro and show support for opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“People of Venezuela, 90 per cent of the armed forces of Venezuela are not with the dictator, they are with the people of Venezuela,” the air force general said in a video circulating on Twitter.
“Given the happenings of the last few hours, already the transition to democracy is imminent.”
On its Twitter account, the air force’s high command accused the general of treason.
Mr Maduro claims he is a victim of a coup directed by the United States.
General Yanez is the first active Venezuelan general to recognise Mr Guaido since he proclaimed himself president on January 23.
Venezuela’s chief military attache to the United States also said he was defecting last week.
While small rebellions against Mr Maduro have broken out in Venezuela’s armed forces in recent months, there has been no large-scale military uprising against him.
Mr Guaido’s opposition has declared Mr Maduro a usurper after last year’s elections. (AP: Fernando Llano)
‘It’s time they leave’
Mr Guaido swore himself in as interim president in a direct challenge to Mr Maduro’s rule, but still has no control over state institutions or any functions of day-to-day governance.
“We are going to send a very clear message in all the municipalities of Venezuela and in each city of the world, we are going to give a demonstration of strength, in a pacific and organised manner,” Mr Guaido tweeted on Saturday (local time).
Mr Maduro’s adversaries say he has run roughshod over democratic institutions, including the opposition-run congress, and destroyed the once-buoyant economy through a corruption-riddled exchange control system and arbitrary nationalisations.
Australia, along with many countries in the West, has recognised Mr Guaido as the legitimate president.
The US has argued Mr Maduro stole his second term and imposed potentially crippling sanctions this week that are likely to further weaken the OPEC nation’s struggling oil industry.
Mireanna Fernandez, a 20-year-old student at a protest in the eastern city of Ciudad Guayana, said before Mr Guaido’s January 23 proclamation she wanted to leave Venezuela, but now she had hope that Mr Maduro’s government would end.
“I have no quality of life, I can’t go out onto the streets, my university is falling apart, they’ve closed classrooms, there are no teachers,” she said.
“It’s time they leave.”
Mr Maduro’s administration could also crack down on the Opposition, or try to jail Mr Guaido. (AP: Ariana Cubillos)
Trump ‘thinks we are his slaves’
Mr Maduro also held a rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s first inauguration as president in 1999, proposing early parliamentary elections as he seeks to shore up his rule.
Mr Maduro said the powerful government-controlled Constituent Assembly would debate calling elections this year for the National Assembly parliament, which is opposition-controlled.
Mr Guaido has called for a new, fair presidential election after the disputed vote won by Mr Maduro last year.
“You want elections? You want early elections? We are going to have parliamentary elections,” Mr Maduro told the pro-government rally in Caracas.
Supporters of the “chavismo” movement gathered in Caracas for the government rally on Saturday morning. (AP: Ariana Cubillos)
“For us Venezuelans, there is only one president — President Nicolas Maduro,” said government supporter Gregory Carrasquel, 35.
“The other is someone who is being led to carry out a coup.
“[US President Donald] Trump is imposing measures because he is the dictator of the world and thinks we are his slaves.”
Washington has imposed sweeping sanctions on state-owned oil firm PDVSA in the toughest financial challenge yet to Mr Maduro, as the Trump administration openly seeks to push him from power.
Venezuela is suffering from hyperinflation, produce shortages and a mass migration of citizens to neighbouring Latin American countries — a situation likely to be worsened in the short term by the new sanctions.