Military officers are joining the exodus of Venezuelans to Colombia and Brazil with mass desertions, fleeing barracks and forcing President Nicolas Maduro’s government to call upon senior citizen retirees and militia to fill the void.
Mass desertions at bases in Caracas and the countryside are complicating security plans for the presidential election in 13 days, which by law require military custody of electoral materials and machinery at voting centers.
“The number is unknown because it used to be published in the Official Gazette. Now, it is not,” said Rocio San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, a military watchdog group in Caracas. She said soldiers are fleeing for the same reason citizens are: “Wages are low, the quality of food and clothing isn’t good.”
Last week, officers who rank as high as general were called in and quartered for several days at their units. Retired officials and militia members were also contacted by their superiors, according to one retired officer who asked not to be named for fear of angering the regime. Government officials are training these fill-in personnel for the election, said a second retired officer.
The mass desertions of troops comes as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans flee a socialist collapse, crowding cities and makeshift camps throughout the region in the largest mass emigration in modern Latin American history. Hyperinflation has made the currency virtually worthless, and malnutrition is endemic. Almost 2 million Venezuelans are living outside the country.
As the once-prosperous nation fell apart under a crushing socialist regime, Maduro consolidated power by creating an all-powerful assembly to bypass the national legislature. The regime jailed and banned opponents and launched a wave of arrests before the May 20 vote. The U.S. and regional organizations have refused to recognize the balloting as legitimate, and the main opposition coalition has promised a boycott in the face of what it says will be a rigged contest.
Venezuelan elections are overseen by its military, the strongest force in the country and one increasingly intertwined with Maduro’s regime. The rush to fill out units is required by the so-called Plan Republica, the security deployment of the Defense Ministry that begins on the eve of election day and lasts until the day after. By law, the armed forces are guarantors of peace and security, guarding ballots and voting machines at all 14,000-odd voting sites. They transport these materials and machinery to each voting center, often a school, and guard it.
But the level of desertion from the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana has grown exponentially in the last year, especially among troops at lower ranks. At least 10,000 soldiers have asked to retire, Control Ciudadano’s San Miguel said in March.
“Since 2015 there has been an increase in military detainees accused of treason, desertion and other crimes,” she said. “Our estimate is that there are 300 people who are imprisoned, mostly troops. A few are senior officers, others are civilians linked to the military.”
A spokesman for the armed forces didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on the desertions.
Meanwhile, The flow of citizens fleeing Venezuela’s collapsing Marxist economy is increasing every day, putting a strain on Colombia’s health and education systems and its jobs market, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said.
“Venezuela is on the verge of imploding,” Santos told Bloomberg TV. “What we hope is that this implosion will be peaceful and not violent, because otherwise we will have a tremendous avalanche of more Venezuelans coming to Colombia.”
The migrant crisis is probably the biggest challenge facing Colombia at the moment, Santos said. Venezuelans are currently crossing the border into Colombia at the rate of more than 100,000 per month, according to data from the immigration authority, with many more arriving illegally.
Venezuela’s economy will contract 15 percent this year, according to the latest forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, while inflation accelerates to about 13,000 percent. As shortages worsen across the country, many people are lacking basic levels of nutrition.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
May 8th, 2018