Rather than backing Guaido, hundreds of Venezuelan soldiers defect and flee the country

As the standoff in Venezuela between socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro and only slightly less socialist legislative leader Juan Guaido grinds on, the big question remains whether or not the military will remain loyal to Maduro or turn on him. There’s still no sign that the high ranking military officers are ready to make the switch, but that doesn’t mean that the tyrant isn’t losing soldiers. During the recent showdown over foreign food and medical aid waiting at the border with Colombia, hundreds of members of Maduro’s military – primarily enlisted men – made a run for the border, took off their uniforms and sought asylum with the Colombians. (Associated Press)

In interviews with The Associated Press, nine National Guard soldiers described the day that they were ordered by commanders to stop the humanitarian aid from entering Venezuela. Fearful of being jailed, many complied with orders and admitted to launching tear gas at protesters. Two said they were part of a failed plot to get the aid in. All fled after making unplanned, split-second decisions with only the uniform on their backs.

“Son, if this decision is to save your life and so that there is change, do it,” [Sgt. Jose ] Gomez said his father told him in a brief phone call before he sprinted across the border.

The defections come as the Venezuelan opposition puts pressure on the military to recognize congress leader Juan Guaido as the nation’s rightful president.

That AP article is worth the click if only for the interviews with some of these soldiers, many of whom are now living in church sanctuaries in Colombia. The ones that bailed out say that they’re taking a terrible risk. Any expression of dissent with Maduro subjects the soldiers to potential arrest and imprisonment. They also fear they will be putting their families in danger if they are perceived as being supporters of Guaido.

Unfortunately, at least some of these defecting military members sound like they’re waiting for a foreign invasion to tip the scales. Jose Gomez, quoted in the article, said that it would require “direct intervention from the international community.” I hate to disillusion someone in such dire straits, but I don’t see that happening. The only country moving any troops in that direction so far has been Colombia and they don’t have an invasion force near the border. The United States isn’t going to do it (or at least I sincerely hope we’re not), so it’s going to be up to Venezuela’s army.

How many such defections can the military sustain before they’re no longer seen as a powerful enough force to keep Maduro in office? It sounds like it would require losses in the tens of thousands, not just hundreds before they were sufficiently weakened. But by that point, the generals would probably see the writing on the wall and formally switch sides.

In any event, something needs to be done. That plan (involving Richard Branson) to pump a lot of aid over the border didn’t go as planned this weekend. The aid trucks attempting to enter Venezuela were reportedly ‘incinerated’ before the food and medical supplies could reach anyone. And the aid that Maduro promised was coming from Russia has yet to be seen in any significant amounts. This story continues to careen forward toward a very dark ending.