Venezuelan Troops Have Low Morale, Expert Says

A Venezuelan expert on security and defense issues says military support for Maduro is weak.
Ricardo Guanipa D’erizans/Diálogo | 5 June 2019

Transnational Threats

Venezuelan opposition supporters greet members of the Bolivarian National Guard who joined Juan Guaidó in his attempt to oust Nicolás Maduro in Caracas on April 30, 2019. (Photo: Cristian Hernandez, AFP)

Amid the military crisis in Venezuela, Diálogo spoke with Javier Ignacio Mayorca, a member of the Venezuelan Organized Crime Observatory and a consultant on security and defense issues in Venezuela, to understand the country’s situation.

Diálogo: People are asking a key question: If Nicolás Maduro doesn't have military support, how does he remain in power? 

Javier Ignacio Mayorca: There are multiple perspectives to understand regarding the rupture within the Armed Force. The first one is related to defection, also known as arbitrary stay outside the military unit, a term they [the regime] invented. Defection is a crime, and if they prosecuted 6,000 soldiers, they wouldn't be able to meet the demand. What they are doing is using administrative channels to remove or discharge the enlisted and professional troops, as they are called nowadays, without imposing any criminal sanctions.

The other response has to do with service members’ low morale, but it’s harder to measure. Morale within the Armed Force is aimed at defending values, such as sovereignty, the homeland, etc., which were closely linked to the military training. However, during the last 20 years, the troops’ focus has been connected to defending the regime, which is different from what the traditional institutionalism of the armed forces used to mean.

Diálogo: How can you tell if the troops’ morale is high or low?

Mayorca: The best example is what happened on Bolivar Avenue in Caracas, on August 4, 2018, when the explosion of two drones surprised all the troops of the National Guard in a military parade. Without an order to break ranks, the troops fled all over the place, showing that there was no willingness to defend the president or defend what he represents. Then you have to consider those taking advantage of positions of power to become involved in crimes — corruption, narcotrafficking, etc.

Now, the Venezuelan conflict has moved to the border with Colombia and Brazil, giving service members the opportunity to defect, as 1,000 service members already did.

Diálogo: What is preventing a rupture between the military and the regime?

Mayorca: Basically, there are no incentives to channel the energy of these troops toward a break with the regime. They believe it’s too difficult to accomplish so they work individually. They are not organized because fear and constant surveillance don’t allow it, so they flee the country instead on their own. Ultimately, the Venezuelan Armed Forces are of no use, except to defend a political status, but not much else.

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