Venezuelans watch the military for signs of fraying loyalty

As Venezuela’s political crisis spins further out of control, many are looking to the military to see if its once-unflinching loyalty to the socialist revolution might be fraying.

On Sunday morning, Venezuelans awoke to news that a small group of armed men tried to take over a major military base in the central city of Valencia after a long-mutinous national guard captain appeared in a video calling for rebellion.

The government said what it described as a “terrorist attack” led mostly by civilians dressed in fatigues and deserted officers, not active troops, was quickly put down and seven people were arrested. It wasn’t clear how much support existed for the so-called “Operation David,” but dozens of civilians startled by the sound of gunfire poured into the streets singing Venezuela’s national anthem to back the rebels.

Many people wonder whether the tension-filled incident could foreshadow a bigger uprising to come from a military with a long history of rebellion and whose troops — like many Venezuelans — are increasingly caught up in the nation’s economic and political crisis.

Analysts say that such a scenario is unlikely for now.

While signs of disgruntlement are growing as security forces come under a barrage of rocks and Molotov cocktails during almost-daily anti-Maduro protests, soldiers also fear persecution under an opposition government. In addition, they face risks that any plans for a secret uprising would be found out.

“They feel trapped,” said former army Gen. Hebert Garcia Plaza, a former Maduro minister. Since seeking exile in Washington in 2015 following accusations of corruption by Maduro, he has emerged as a sought-after filter of information for journalists, the opposition and, increasingly he says, distraught soldiers.

“There’s lots of unease, but they can’t provoke a political change without a clear horizon of what comes after Maduro,” Garcia Plaza said.

Venezuela’s military accumulated unmatched power and privilege in the past two decades of socialist rule, and Maduro has been increasingly relying on the armed forces as his own grip on power weakens. Last week, with the support of top generals, he plowed forward with a plan to seat an all-powerful assembly mandated with rewriting the constitution. Political opponents and dozens of foreign governments consider it an illegitimate power grab that will strip Venezuela of its last vestiges of democracy.

The opposition is urging the military to switch loyalties and…

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