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Venezuelan military officer defects from Maduro government

Caracas  :  A Venezuelan military officer publicly defected from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, provoking a swift response from defence leaders, amid an ongoing political turmoil in the South American country.

Venezuela’s military attache in Washington, Col. Jose Luis Silva Silva, told CNN on Saturday that he’s breaking with Maduro in support of Juan Guaido, the self-proclaimed interim President.

“I stand by the roadmap of acting President Juan Guaido,” Silva said on a video shared on social media.

Silva said the roadmap included “ceasing the usurpation of the executive power”, the “beginning of a transition to a new government” and “free and transparent elections for all Venezuelans who want to participate”.

The announcement led the Venezuelan Defence Ministry to put out a critical tweet on the its official account.

The tweet showed a screen grab from the video of Silva declaring his defection with the word “TRAIDOR” (traitor) emblazoned over it.

“Insubordination in the face of international interests is an act of treason and cowardice with the fatherland inherited from our liberator Simon Bolivar. As such, we reject the declarations made by Col. Jose Luis Silva Silva, who was acting as military attaché in the US,” the Ministry wrote on Twitter.

Also on Saturday, the opposition-controlled National Assembly drafted an amnesty bill to protect military members who want to defect from the Maduro government, CNN reports.

The measure would also offer pardons to civilians, politicians, public officials and military members accused during the governments of Hugo Chavez — who was President from 1999 to 2013 — and Maduro of committing crimes or supporting unconstitutional acts.

Lawmakers are likely to vote on the bill on Tuesday.

Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, has called on the nation’s military to work with him, but the head of Venezuela’s armed forces said that he still supported Maduro.

He emerged this week as the biggest challenge to Maduro’s turbulent presidency and declared himself Acting President amid massive anti-government protests, claiming Maduro was illegitimately elected for a second term.

Earlier Saturday, UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt joined Spain, Germany and France in delivering Maduro an ultimatum: “Guaido will be recognised as President if elections are not called before their deadline”.

The European Union (EU) also warned of “further actions” against Venezuela if elections are not called in the coming days.-IANS