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Caracas Spring? Not so fast says Venezuela's armed forces



CARACAS (Reuters) – The breeding of a telegraphic new governor, Venezuelan resistance is waiting to hope that President Nicolas Madouro's working days could be numbered, but the base of the unpopular leader – the armed forces – shows few signs of erosion.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan National Guards are vigilant with clashes of resistance during a meeting to demand a referendum to remove President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela on May 18, 2016. REUTERS / Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Opposition members, rally around Opposition leader Juan Guaido is holding outdoor meetings at the City Summit, spanning the thrill of the legislature's recent challenges to Maduro's legitimacy, which this month began a new concept broadly disseminated as illegal.

Fortified by the United States and many Latin American neighbors who promised to back the opposition to seek a transition, the Guaido-led Congress last week told Maduro a "usurper" and asked foreign governments to freeze bank accounts controlled by his government.

But with the legislator removed its powers by a Supreme Court and evidence that the military top command is willing to give up Maduro, the spring of the opposition's steps and investor extermination triggered may prove premature.

"The military leadership is true to Maduro and will continue to be until he is gone," said an active duty senior military officer who asked not to be identified.

An attack on a military production from Caracas by two dozen low-level national security officers on Monday morning triggered opposition hopes for a rebellion, but the incident was sniffed out quickly.

"A sergeant on a National Guard outpost is not important to me, what would be important is a situation like a large entity or a battalion," said Rocio San Miguel, a military expert with nonprofit group Citizen Control.

Congress has declared Maduro illegal and promised a move to a new government that is bringing new energy to a resistance that has kept a low profile since protests in 2017 that left 125 people dead but did not shake Maduro.

The excitement has spread from the streets of Caracas to the Wall Street trading room, where investors have pushed prices of the country's defaulted bonds in the hope of a new government that will be more likely to resume debt payments.

Guaido got another US confidence vote on Tuesday as Vice President Mike Pence issued a video message of support to those who protested against Maduro.

AMNESTY PROPOSALS

Soldiers have many reasons to be angry.

Military plants are still co-operating with the rest of the country, and wages are rapidly disappearing within 2 million percent annual inflation.

More than 4,000 low-ranking officials left last year, according to official documents seen by Reuters.

Opposition lawmakers are developing a proposal for amnesty to bring together the dissatisfied military leaders to turn Maduro on, based on what they say, talks with active officers who are eager to change.

Cliver Alcala, a retired army general who was close to late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, but fell out with the ruling socialist party in 2016, said the disputed initiation has damaged Maduro's image among troops.

"Barracks are not entirely convinced that Maduro is really president," Alcala said in a telephone interview from Colombia.

But Maduro has worked hard to keep the military on the side, well aware of its crucial role.

He has put government officials in charge of state and state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] while offering lucrative oilfield business lucrative oilfield contracts.

And authorities have persecuted military personnel suspected of plotting against the government, as human rights groups say, have led to torture of suspected dissidents and abuse of family members.

Slideshow (5 Images)

The armed forces will also be sensitive to the 20th century homework. Promises of a military "quick fix" to political instability in the Latin American countries, including Brazil and Chile, gave rise to dictatorships lasting as long as 21 years and later demonstrated to have false human rights records.

And then the armed forces have been silent when the economic collapse has left millions of battles to eat.

Military leaders are "not at least worried about maintaining their professional obligations", the senior military officer said. "They're worried about protecting themselves."

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Mayela Armas, Editing Christian Plumb and Rosalba O&B; Brien

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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