Thirty Venezuelan military officers, including several generals, have been arrested for alleged conspiracy to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro, a leading national newspaper has reported.
The information, reported by Ultimas Noticias, was attributed to “high level sources” in Miraflores presidential palace. Most arrested were from the Venezuelan Air Force, however a few officers from the National Guard, Navy and Armed Forces were included.
According to the sources, loyal military figures told the national intelligence service that “something strange” was being planned by a group of officers. As a result, the alleged conspirators had been under observation by authorities for some time.
The report added that a “destablisation attempt” was supposedly planned to occur on 20 March with an air operation and strafing of soldiers, among other incidents, to create “confusion” and “clashes”.
The report said “it has been confirmed” that officers has been in contact “with at least one opposition leader”.
The armed forces are considered to be generally loyal to the government. The head of the Operational Strategic Command of the Armed Forces, General Vladimir Padrino, said on April 13 that a while a campaign was underway to “manipulate” the armed forces, the troops were committed to upholding the Venezuelan constitution.
2002 failed coup commemorated
On April 13, thousands of people marched in remembrance of the popular uprising in the streets of Caracas that reinstated late president Hugo Chavez on April 13, 2002 after he was forcefully removed from office on April 11th that year.
On April 11, Chavez was detained by sectors of the military and elite businesspeople of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecamaras). Federcamaras chief executive Pedro Carmona was declared interim president. During the 47 hours of his rule, Carmona dissolved the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Supreme Court, and declared the 1999 constitution void. Many mainstream media outlets supported the coup and falsely reported that Chavez had resigned.
On April 13, the Metropolitan police of Caracas tried and failed to repress a colossal monlisation of civilian Chavez supporters and military loyalists who marched against the coup, shouting “Chavez didn’t resign, they have held him hostage”. Under pressure from the huge popular resistance, the Carmona government was forced to surrender to the pro-Chavez Presidential Guard, who retook Miraflores presidential palace without firing a shot.
On April 13, Maduro, who was elected after Chavez's death on March 5 last year, oversaw a Day of Dignity march in front of Miraflores. Both military and civilian government supporters gathered to remember their 2002 victory. The term “every 11th has its 13th” was written across the podium from which Maduro spoke, honouring what he called one of the “decisive days of 21st Century history… [in which] the fate of Venezuela was determined.”
Foreign minister Elias Jaua reflected on the importance of unity between military forces and civilians. “The civil-military union is a democratic vaccine against coup attempts,” he said. “It was this union that made the democratic rebellion of April 13, 2002 possible.”
Members of Venezuela's popular militia from all across the country, who often originate from the working class, took part in the march. Chavez placed special emphasis on the militia, referring to April 13 as the Day of the Bolivarian Militia, and added 35,000 to their ranks in 2010.
Maduro responded to opposition claims the military had been “politicsed” by the Bolivarian revolution, insisting the military should not be “a class apart from society, distanced and viewing people with suspicion while the people view [them] with fear”.
“We will not return to this,” Maduro said. “Now it is the people in arms, organised in four professional components and in the National Bolivarian Militia.”
Padrino, as armed forces commander, used the occasion to reject the possibility of another 2002 style coup today. He also emphasised the “union” between uniformed and ordinary Venezuelans, and warned that anyone hopeful of promoting a “soft coup” will find they are “deeply mistaken”.
Many in the crowd felt that recent opposition protests could be compared to the threat posed 12 years ago.
“We remember how the right-wing advanced with manipulative rhetoric, with lies, myths, and everything else we call media war,” said Oliver Rivas, member of the Advanced Popular Collective and Cultural Left Front.
“We saw how they set the stage for a coup, supported by traitors within the military, who are no longer there. Today we remember this and are aware, we are together and determined in our goal to end poverty and misery on this continent … through socialism. We will continue with the government’s plan, which we, the people, voted for on April 14th [2013, when Nicolas Maduro was voted into presidency.”
April 14 marks one year since Maduro was elected. Marked by conflict and economic difficulties, polls conducted by the private firm Hinterlaces last week indicate that the president enjoys the same 51% approval rating as when he took office last year.
In terms of the recent unrest, 85% of Venezuelans reject “violent protests and street barricades” and 87% want the perpetrators of these actions to be punished.