Following Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó’s efforts to restore constitutional order on April 30, 2019, Nicolás Maduro ordered 56 members of the Bolivarian Army expelled. The illegal regime also violated the parliamentary immunity of representatives, detained National Assembly Vice President Édgar Zambrano, and formally accused several opposition lawmakers of “high treason.”
“The regime is evaluating the international community’s response to these detentions to decide whether or not to arrest Guaidó,” said Carlos Murillo, an international relations expert at the National University of Costa Rica. “This is a form of intimidation, because the regime is now desperate and will have to find a way out before the end of the year.”
Maduro’s strategy could however influence other service members to turn their backs on the illegal government. “We must not forget the role of Venezuelan service members in narcotrafficking, which provides resources to the leadership. Those belonging to that circle are not willing to relinquish their positions, and be exposed to criminal groups’ reactions and lose money. Service members outside this leadership will probably [resign] as the situation in the country gets worse,” Murillo said.
Among the expelled service members are Major General Cristopher Figuera, former director of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, and National Guard Lieutenant Colonel Ilich Sánchez, who used to lead the National Assembly’s security command. On May 9, Maj. Gen. Figuera appeared in a video condemning the regime’s abuses. Two days earlier, the United States removed sanctions previously imposed on him.
Meanwhile, Lt. Col. Sánchez was the most visible military figure that accompanied Guaidó at the April 30 movement. Some of the expelled service members found refuge in embassies, including 25 soldiers who sought asylum at the Brazilian Embassy. As for opposition leaders, on May 10, the regime detained Zambrano — his whereabouts are still unknown. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas requested his immediate release.
The regime also revoked the parliamentary immunity of 14 other representatives, some requested asylum at the Argentine, Italian, and Mexican embassies, while others are still underground.