Diálogo: What military unit did you belong to in Venezuela?
First Sergeant: I was part of the Venezuelan Armed Forces’ Special Forces. I was an instructor of light and crew-served weapons. It was a school where we conducted international courses for special forces. We received students from Bolivia, China, Cuba, and Ecuador, until recently. We trained them in land, sea, and air techniques.
Diálogo: When you entered the armed forces, Hugo Chávez was the president of Venezuela. What’s the difference between serving under Chávez and under Nicolás Maduro’s current government?
First Sergeant: There has been a drastic change now with Maduro, compared to the Chávez administration. During the Chávez government, there was a clear and recognized ideology. But when Maduro took office, the Venezuelan military forces began to crumble from the inside. I’m saying this with full awareness of the situation, because I had a strategic position within the Armed Forces, and I saw how they began to destroy everything, day by day. I saw how they manipulated everything: resources, food... And it was always the high commanders, because I used to work with the high command.
Diálogo: Are you talking about corruption among the military forces’ leadership?
1st Sgt.: Yes, a lot of corruption among high-ranking commanders. Today, many of those who are over there live in fear, because their families are in Venezuela and they are afraid of taking action, because who can keep their families safe?
Diálogo: So, many service members within the Venezuelan military are living in fear for what might happen to their families?
1st Sgt.: Yes, of course. I was there; I experienced that up close. I used to be a weapons instructor at the Special Forces School, and I remember how they threatened many of the boys in the unit. There was even an operation where one of our men was killed and another wounded when they found an ELN (National Liberation Army) camp in Venezuela. I asked why we didn’t do anything about it, if we knew where they were, and the general in charge told me to shut up. I was then removed from the operation. I didn’t want to stay silent. I had already been 14 years [in the service], and I wanted to protect my troops.
Diálogo: What was the breaking point that led you to decide to leave the country for Colombia?
1st Sgt.: I had been thinking about it for a few years, but I had to do it right, because my family’s safety was first and foremost. I wasn’t going to put my children at risk. One day I told my wife to get things ready because we were leaving for Colombia.
Diálogo: Interim President Juan Guaidó encouraged the military to leave. Did this influence your decision?
1st Sgt.: Yes. I saw that he wanted to take sound action for the country, so that motivated me a bit with the decision that was already in my head.
Diálogo: Do you know about any colleagues of yours who want to step down and do the same thing?
1st Sgt.: Yes, plenty! Almost 90 percent of the entire Armed Forces want to step down. I’m sure about that. I spent 14 years there, I led troops and subordinates, and most of them want to do things in a better way, but they can’t. Their safety and that of their families are threatened. I still have contact with many of them, and they tell me: “You’re fine now, you’re in Colombia… but us, what do we do?’’
Diálogo: You have been in Colombia since December 2018. How was your trip to get here?
1st Sgt.: It was quite tough, especially for my family, my children. I left Venezuela through Paraguachón [and we spent] three days walking through trails. I even wore my uniform, because I had colleagues at different checkpoints, and that’s why I was able to move. Every time I saw them I told them that I was on an official mission, and that’s how I was able to move from place to place until we reached Colombia.
Diálogo: What will it take for things to change in Venezuela?
1st Sgt.: My colleagues in the Armed Forces have the opportunity to change this. They must be brave enough and take the actions they have to take. Because they know perfectly well what they have to do. We are specialists; we don’t need anyone to come and help us in this fight. We are trained and are capable of taking the actions we need to take. Is there fear? Of course there is, but we are all sick and tired of fear. It’s time to take actions. The current government is not fulfilling the constitution nor the main function of the military forces.
Diálogo: What message would you send to your colleagues in the Venezuelan military forces?
1st Sgt.: My main message is to be strong, to be brave. I pledged allegiance to the flag and I committed myself to defend my country with my life, if necessary. I was trained by the special forces; I know that I’m willing to give it all for my country. I told some of my colleagues: If necessary, we must take up arms and take action. I’ll do it. I tell my children: I’m on my way out, but you are the ones who will inherit this country. What I want most is for them to return to Venezuela, and for the country to be free.