The head of Venezuela’s armed forces has thrown his weight behind the embattled president, warning that the country could be thrust into a devastating civil war by what he called a US-backed “criminal plan” to unseat Nicolás Maduro.
In a live address to the nation on Thursday, the defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, accused the Venezuelan opposition, the United States and regional allies such as Brazil of launching an attempted coup against Maduro that risked bringing “chaos and anarchy” to the country.
“We are here to avoid, at all costs … a conflict between Venezuelans. It is not civil war, a war between brothers that will solve the problems of Venezuela. It is dialogue,” said Padrino, declaring unwavering support for “our commander-in-chief, the citizen Nicolás Maduro”.
“We members of the armed forces know well the consequences [of war], just from looking at the history of humanity, of the last century, when millions and millions of human beings lost their lives,” Padrino added, flanked by the top brass of Venezuela’s armed forces.
Padrino described Juan Guaidó’s decision to declare himself Venezuela’s president as a shameful and laughable fact but one that risked unleashing a wave of bloodshed. “I have to alert the people of Venezuela to the severe danger that this represents to our integrity and our national sovereignty.”
Facing “a criminal plan that flagrantly threatens the sovereignty and independence of the nation”, Padrino said the armed forces would remain loyal to Maduro. Dissent would not be tolerated, he added ominously.
“We will not tolerate acts of vandalism or terrorism by groups that promote violence as a perverse mechanism to achieve their objectives,” he said before ending his address with the rallying cry “Chávez vive y la patria sigue!” (“Chávez lives and the homeland goes on!”).
Analysts have long held that Maduro’s survival depends on the backing of the military, who he has rewarded with senior positions in government and the state oil company PDVSA.
But it is unclear how solid that support is. Guaidó and the opposition-held national assembly have sought to peel away the military, offering an amnesty to members of the armed forces who help bring about a return to democracy. This week, authorities arrested 27 national guardsmen who tried to launch an uprising against Maduro.