Venezuelan general defects as anti-Maduro rallies draw huge crowds

Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela on February 2, 2019. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)
Updated 03 February 2019

Venezuelan general defects as anti-Maduro rallies draw huge crowds

  • Air force general Francisco Yanez is the first active Venezuelan general to recognize Guaido since he proclaimed himself president on Jan. 23
  • On its Twitter account, the air force’s high command accused the general of treason

CARACAS: A high-ranking Venezuelan general called on the armed forces to rebel against President Nicolas Maduro and to recognize the opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim chief as huge crowds rallied against the head of state, adding pressure on Maduro to step down.
The military’s support is crucial for the embattled Maduro, who is deeply unpopular largely due to an unprecedented economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of millions, but claims he is victim of a coup directed by the United States.
The general’s defection came as tens of thousands of opposition supporters, many sporting clothes in the yellow, blue and red colors of the Venezuelan flag, turned out at rallies nationwide to protest against Maduro and show support for Guaido.
Washington, along with many countries in the western hemisphere, has recognized Guaido as the legitimate president, arguing that Maduro stole his second term, and imposed potentially crippling sanctions this week that are likely to further weaken the OPEC nation’s struggling oil industry.
While small rebellions against Maduro have broken out in Venezuela’s armed forces in recent months, there has been no large scale military uprising against him.
“People of Venezuela, 90 percent of the armed forces of Venezuela are not with the dictator, they are with the people of Venezuela,” General Francisco Yanez of the air force’s high command said in a video circulating on Twitter on Saturday.
“Given the happenings of the last few hours, already the transition to democracy is imminent.”
On its Twitter account, the air force’s high command accused the general of treason.
Yanez is the first active Venezuelan general to recognize Guaido since he proclaimed himself president on Jan. 23. Venezuela’s chief military attache to the United States also said he was defecting last week.



Canada and several Latin American nations have already officially recognized Guiado. Some European Union member states are expected to officially recognize Guaido next week, while others will likely take a more cautious stance of support.
“We are going to send a very clear message in all the municipalities of Venezuela and in each city of the world, we are going to give a demonstration of strength, in a pacific and organized manner,” Guaido tweeted on Saturday.
Mireanna Fernandez, a 20-year-old student at a protest in the eastern city of Ciudad Guayana, said before Guaido’s Jan. 23 proclamation she wanted to leave Venezuela, but now she had hope that Maduro’s government would end.
“I have no quality of life, I can’t go out onto the streets, my university is falling apart, they’ve closed classrooms, there are no teachers,” she said.
“It’s time they leave.”

Two decades of ‘Chavismo’
Maduro on Saturday will also hold a rally to commemorate the 20th anniversary of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s first inauguration as president in 1999.
“Today is the anniversary of 20 years of work, fight, advances and important achievements, despite the difficulties and imperial conspiracies,” the president said on twitter.
“Congratulations to all.”
Supporters of the “chavismo” movement founded by Chavez gathered in Caracas’ Bolivar avenue for the government rally on Saturday morning.
“For us Venezuelans, there is only one president — President Nicolas Maduro,” said Gregory Carrasquel, 35. “The other is someone who is being led to carry out a coup.”
“(US President Donald) Trump is imposing measures because he is the dictator of the world and thinks we are his slaves.”
Washington has imposed sweeping sanctions on state-owned oil firm PDVSA in the toughest financial challenge yet to Maduro, as the Trump administration openly seeks to push him from power.
Venezuela is suffering from hyperinflation, produce shortages and a mass migration of citizens to neighboring Latin American countries — a situation likely to be worsened in the short term by the new sanctions.
Guaido swore himself in as interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro’s rule, but still has no control over state institutions or any functions of day-to-day governance.
Maduro’s adversaries say he has run roughshod over democratic institutions, including the opposition-run congress, and destroyed the once-buoyant economy through a corruption-riddled exchange control system and arbitrary nationalizations.


Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan govt

Updated 38 min 9 sec ago

Taliban attacks ‘damaging’ peace process, says Afghan govt

  • Spokesman for insurgent group accuses Kabul of making ‘excuses’ to delay talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government on Sunday accused the Taliban of increasing its attacks, casting doubt on future negotiations with the insurgent group.

A promise of future peace talks was part of a historic peace deal signed in February between the Taliban and the US in Doha, Qatar. But negotiations have already been delayed twice because of disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the Taliban. The talks were expected to pave the way for a total withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by next year.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, Sediq Sediqqi, Ghani’s chief spokesman, said the “intensification of violence by the Taliban lately,” which also claimed civilian lives, “damages hopes for the start of the talks and stable peace in the country.”

It follows a statement by Hamdullah Mohib, Ghani’s national security adviser, who said in a statement last night that the escalation of Taliban attacks was the “main cause for the postponement of the talks.”

He said: “The Taliban have intensified their violence in many parts of Afghanistan, disrupting the process of direct talks and making it harder.”

Mohib’s spokesman, Javid Faisal, said on Saturday that in the past week alone, the Taliban had staged attacks in 16 of the country’s 34 provinces, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 civilians.

He did not give an estimate of casualties sustained by government forces. However, official data released last month showed that hundreds of army and police personnel died during Taliban attacks in June.

The Taliban has rejected the claims of the government. Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid blamed Kabul for several strikes which “led to the fatalities among non-combatants.”

These include a rocket attack at a cattle market in southern Helmand in June, where human rights groups say dozens of civilians, including children, were killed.

“A political solution is the only alternative that we have for ending the war and changing the situation in Afghanistan. No hindrance should be created against this,” Mujahid told Arab News on Sunday.

He accused Kabul of blocking the start of peace talks by not releasing 5,000 Taliban prisoners, a condition demanded by the insurgent group ahead of negotiations.

While Kabul has freed over 4,000 Taliban prisoners, it said last week that it would not release 600 of them, “as they had committed various types of crimes.”

Mujahid described the government move as “one excuse after the other.”

He said: “The release of the rest of the prisoners is a must. If the process of release of prisoners is not completed, the talks cannot begin, and there is a possibility that fighting will intensify and then we will have to settle the conflict through military means.”

Experts warn that Ghani’s government is under increasing pressure.

Former diplomat and analyst Ahmad Saeedi said Ghani is under pressure from Washington, which “wants to show that it is keen to conduct talks, but from the other side wants this process to continue for five years,” until Ghani’s term ends.

“Ghani wants the Taliban to join his government, while the Taliban consider his government fragile, arguing that if he does not engage in talks, then they will take power by force after the US pulls out troops,” Saeedi said.

Another analyst, Taj Mohammad, said the lack of progress in setting a fixed time for the talks was a blow for the peace process and “showed that the actual negotiations would be highly complicated and difficult.”

Related