Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro still has the backing of the military, despite new documents revealing that thousands of soldiers had deserted him in recent years as the regime struggled to temper the erosion of its armed forces.

Two documents obtained by Bloomberg highlight how Maduro’s regime was already attempting to stop a growing number of desertions even before U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó had called on the military to break from Maduro.

One document listed some 4,300 National Guard members who had abandoned their posts over the past five years. Signed by the Guard’s commander, Maj. Gen. Jesus Lopez Vargas on Dec. 21, the document orders the removal of their ranks and serial numbers from military rolls. All the names were non-commissioned officers or enlisted men and women.

The second document ordered personnel at entry and exit points to prevent soldiers and retirees on reserve duty from going abroad without authorization. The order was signed on Nov. 13 by Luis Santiago Rodriguez Gonzalez, the director of the country’s immigration service.

Though there have been mass protests in the streets across the country calling for Maduro to step down, mass defections from the military have not yet started. However, two high-ranking military officials recently broke with Maduro’s regime and recognized Guaidó, leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly. Jose Luis Silva, Venezuela’s defense attache to Washington and a key military official, said he broke with Maduro’s regime on Jan. 26, while Gen. Francisco Yanez, a high-ranking Venezuelan air force general, also sided with Guaidó.

Weeks ago, Maduro’s regime claimed to have foiled an attempted military insurrection. In a statement, the country accused a “small group of assailants” from the Bolivarian National Guard of “betraying their oath of loyalty to the homeland” by kidnapping two officers and two National Guardsmen in an attempt to steal weapons in the early hours of Jan. 21. The government blamed the mutiny on “dark interests of the extreme right.”

Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 amid worldwide condemnation that his leadership was illegitimate. He first gained power in the oil-rich nation in 2013 and is now in his second term.


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