Venezuelans awoke this morning to news that a group of National Guard soldiers were staging a mutiny against the Maduro regime in the Cotiza neighbourhood of Caracas. The mutiny began at approximately 3:00 AM, when the rebellious soldiers began sharing videos on social media stating their intentions.
Below, the soldier suspected of leading the mutiny identifies himself as Sergeant Third Class Andres Figueroa. In the video, you can hear resident banging pots and pans from inside their homes nearby, indicating that they had become aware that something was happening at the base:
Figueroa: Well–people of Venezuela, here we are locked down in the Cotiza Mounted Squadron [National Guard base]. I am Sergeant Third Class Andres Figueroa. I’m here with my soldiers from the National Guard, who will not fail. I’m also asking the street warriors to please, go out, go out onto the streets and protest. Go out and demand your rights, so that your rights will be respected. Here we are, fighting for you, people of Venezuela.
Another video of Figueroa:
Figueroa: I’m here with my soldiers. Well, let’s move forward, people of Venezuela. You’ve got our support. All of this is for Venezuela. We’re here for you. This is the National Guard–the National Armed Forces, ready to go.
Below, two more videos of the soldiers:
Soldier 1: People! The National Guard is here. Look! This is what you wanted. People of Venezuela, here is [the National Guard] united to restore constitutional order. You wanted this? So did we. Here it is! Enough is enough!
Solider 2: Let’s go. Let’s go support the other unit!
Solider 1: Here we are, people!
Soldier: … against this regime which we completely disavow. I need your support, people of Venezuela! Take to the streets. You were asking us to take to the streets and defend the constitution? Here we are! Here we are. The platoon is here. The platoon is here.
Today is the day. People, come out! Support us. You wanted the National Guard to take to the streets and light the fuse? Here we are. We need your support.
Regime Reacts; Mutiny Ends Before Dawn
Reports suggest that the mutiny was over before the sun rose over Caracas. While details are scarce, a conversation between a ranking National Guard officer who tried to get mutinous soldiers to lay down their arms suggest that they received fire from regime forces.
That exchange was caught on video, a section of which I’ve translated below. In the video below, the commander tries to give the soldiers the regime line that the country’s problems are the fault of the United States, an assertion which the soldiers immediately dismiss:
National Guard Commander: Buddy, look, we’re here to talk. Look-you’re criticizing me saying, “They shot at us”. Fuck, look–I’m sitting here without weapons. The only one with a weapon is you.
Soldier: No, not me.
National Guard Commander: Well, everyone who is here except for me. I don’t have a weapon.
Soldier: All around. All of the National Guard [soldiers] here and those outside are also supporting us.
National Guard Commander: That’s good, buddy. Look–
Soldier: The other units, the other bases are also supporting us. This is all over social media already.
National Guard Commander: Alright. Look, I’m going to tell you something. Listen well, because maybe you’re right about the fact that many of your needs are not being met–
Soldier: Not our needs, the needs of all of Venezuela!
National Guard Commander: Fine, buddy. All of Venezuela. But you have to understand who is behind all of this–
Soldier: No, let’s not start with that.
National Guard Commander: Haven’t you heard everything that the U.S. has said? Doesn’t that tell you something?
Soldier: No, we’re not going to
As the sun rose, residents of the area observed members from the National Bolivarian Police’s special operations unit (FAES) on the scene:
Several hours of silence gave the impression that the soldiers had been detained and that the mutiny was over. That fact was confirmed at 10:23 AM local time, when the Maduro regime issued a statement on the mutiny. Part of it reads:
The National Bolviarian Armed Forces announce to the people of Venezuela that in the overnight hours of January 21 2018, at 2:50 AM, a small group of attackers who formed part of the National Bolivarian Guard’s No. 43 Zone Command, in betrayal their oath of loyalty to the motherland and her institutions, overwhelmed Captain Gerson Soto Martinez, commander of the Macarao Police Coordination Outpost, from which they left aboard two (02) military vehicles: [sic] later they broke into the Urban Security Outpost office in Petare, in the Sucre municipality, and stole a cache of weapons and kidnapped under threat of death two (02) officers and two (02) National Guard soldiers of that same outpost.
The delinquents surrendered and were captured….
Efecto Cocuyo reported that the surrender took place at 7:40 AM, and that approximately 14 soldiers were involved in the mutiny.
Mutiny Sparks Protest, Internet Crackdown
As news of the mutiny spread through social media, residents of the Cotiza neighbourhood and others in Caracas began to take to the streets in support of the soldiers.
Below, a video of protesters in Cotiza running away from a cloud of tear gas:
A journalist from NTN24 was on the scene at around 8:19 AM, and captured a protest in Cotiza. At around the 0:30 mark, two women speak with the journalist. Below, the video along with his interaction with the women:
Woman in White Tank Top: We didn’t do this! We wanted a better country. Do you knwo waht the police did? They threw tear gas at us. Five kids who were at the place where I live had to be taken to the hospital because they were choking, because they had asthma. We didn’t start this. They did! They did it!
Woman in Black: We don’t have water! We don’t have water! We’ve gone a year without water. We want a better Venezuela! We want our chidlren to come back to Venezuela. We want freedom!
Journalist: What do you think about the soldiers who mutinied?
Woman in Black: We’re with them! If they join forces with the country, we’ll be with them! We’ll stay on the streets. We want freedom!
Some of the protesters approached the front gate of the National Guard base where the mutiny had taken place, and chanting the slogan “The people united will never be defeated!”:
Netblocks–an organization that monitors web traffic and detects when governments restrict its access–confirmed in a tweet shortly after 8:00 AM that the Maduro regime was limiting access to websites, including Twitter and Instagram:
There were sporadic protests in other areas of Caracas today. The unrest spread to Los Mecedores:
As of 6:30 PM, there were still protesters and National Guard soldiers engaged in confrontations in the Los Mecedores area of the capital:
Supreme Court Moves Against National Assembly
Throughout the morning, National Assembly opposition legislators tweeted about the mutiny. One of them was Juan Guaido, the president of the legislature and the apparent leader of the opposition movement.
1/3 what is happening at the [National Guard] base in Cotiza es a sign of the general feeling that reigns inside the [army]
2/3 Our soldiers know that the chain of command is broken thanks to the usurpation of the presidency. The National Assembly is committed to give every necessary guarantee to members of the [army] who actively contribute to the restoration of the constitution.
3/3 We don’t want to [army] to become divided or fight against itself, we want it to stand as one besides the people, the constitution, and against the usurpation [of the presidency].
National Assembly deputy Delsa Solorzano wrote a similar message:
We demand Nicolas Maduro’s usurping regime to respect the Human Rights [sic] of the [National Guard soldiers] arrested today in Cotiza, specially the right to life and due process, [which are] guarantees established in our Constitution and in international treaties 1/2
We stress from within the [National Assembly] that we will give civilian and military officials who contribute to the restoration of democratic order every constitutional guarantee. We continue to work #AmenestyAndSafeguardsLaw 2/2
The messages–which openly entice members of the armed forces to rebel against the dictatorship–fueled speculation that the regime would take action against either individual deputies or the National Assembly in general.
Those fears were confirmed shortly before noon, when the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), the country’s top court, issued a ruling declaring the National Assembly to be in contempt, and that as a result it did not have a leadership. The ruling was a clear shot at Guaido, the Assembly’s president, and the rest of the opposition leadership.
The decision from the TSJ stopped short of ordering the arrests of the National Assembly’s executive committee, a fact that is likely reflective of the regime’s hesitance to spark a wider revolt in the country.
Guaido Records Message to Venezuelan Army
In the late afternoon, a video message recorded by Guaido to the country’s armed forces appeared on social media. In the video, Guaido explains that he is not asking soldiers to launch a coup d’etat against Maduro: rather, he is asking the soldiers “to not shoot” when Venezuelans take to the streets in protest against the regime.
Below, the video along with my translation:
Juan Guaido: You have my respect, and my greetings. I’ve asked that this message be delivered to you through your relatives and friends, because I know that if I use common channels you will not be able to see it. I also know that if you receive it directly you can be turned into another scapegoat, either you or the friend who sends it to you.
I am not the one who wants you to be persecuted. On the contrary: I grew up in a home where I was taught the value and the honour that a person who belongs to the Venezuelan Armed Forces feels. You have my respect, not only because I know the military family, because I know how it lives and I understand it from the inside, because I am a part of it through my grandparents who belonged to the National Guard and the Navy. I know, from inside my own home, the honesty and the way of thinking [exhibited] by the majority of our National Guard soldiers. I know the shame of spending important days away from loved ones.
That’s why, brothers, I’m sending you this message. Brothers and sisters who belong to [the National Guard] and all of the state’s security forces: you were witness to the difference between the parliamentary elections in 2015 and the disputed process of May 20 of last year [the presidential election that Maduro won]. You know the constitution, and you know very well what is the path that we in Venezuela have to take in decisive moments such as these.
All of us in Venezuela have become victims of a system that forces us to look the other way while other steal. You know what I’m taking about. However, there are facts that are indisputable and impossible to hide. For example, the horrible state of your salaries. None of you can live with dignity as soldiers with your army salary. You cannot meet your children’s needs, or those of your relatives. And, amidst this debacle, those responsible for this crisis have forced you to attack and repress protests by people who are only asking for something to eat, for healthcare, for water, electricity, gas; that the money that we earn afford us things. The same things, by the way, that all of your relatives need and do not have today.
I remember seeing those cadets in their beautiful uniforms in La Guaira on Fridays going to visit their loved ones during the weekend. Now, today, those same cadets and officers are asked that they do not go out in uniform, both because it is not safe [because they might be robbed] and because the honour and respect of that uniform has unfortunately, sadly been lost. This is obviously something an opinion that I do not share. It should not be shameful to wear the dignified uniform of our armed forces. But, the origin [of this opinion] is clear: the shame that is generated by this regime.
This has to end. You know that the path that we have laid out from the National Assembly is legitimate and constitutional. You also know that this corrupt government is still in power because it only has the monopoly of violence, both through you and through the colectivos [pro-government armed groups] that should not have weapons. In the Miraflores [presidential palace], they hope that you will defend them, while they demonstrate each that that they will not defend you. I saw how officers who had orders to arrest me went from being false flags to scapegoats, in the regime’s own words. They are in prison today without a just trial, without explanation.
Hear me, Venezuelan soldier: Do not be distracted by fear. We are not asking you to revolt, nor is this a call to rebellion: on the contrary, we are inviting you to help us restore constitutional order and the democracy that you will help defend will once again direct the political destiny of this country. Our country.
The democratic forces elected by the parliament and the people are offering you amnesty and peace with a law that will protect those who defend our democracy. This is the moment to defend the constitution. But, above all it is the time to defend your family, their future, and [to give them] the honour of you forming a part of their lives.
We’re not asking you to launch a coup d’etat. We’re not asking you to fire a shot. On the contrary, we are asking that you not shoot us, that you defend alongside of us the right that our people have to be heard, to be happy, to be free.
We are waiting for you. Because the rest of the country–including your family–is already on this side of history. You see us on the streets. The millions who, despite the tear gas, keep taking to the streets. You are the only one who isn’t there.
Take care. Look after your safety and that of your family. But do not deny the country that you swore to protect a future. This is not the only way in which we can live. The moment is now: there is no other. This is our invitation for you to join the freedom that has returned to the streets of Venezuela.
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