'It's time to rise up,' Venezuelan general tells military officers in video

Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido take part in a rally in support of the Venezuelan National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 11, 2019.
Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido take part in a rally in support of the Venezuelan National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela, on May 11, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

CARACAS (REUTERS) - A Venezuelan general called on the country's armed forces on Sunday (May 12) to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro, who has relied on the backing of the military to hold on to power despite an economic collapse.

Mr Ramon Rangel, who identified himself as an air force general, said the Venezuelan government is being controlled by the "communist dictatorship" in Cuba - a key Maduro ally.

"We have to find a way to get rid of the fear, to go out into the streets, to protest, and to seek a military union to change this political system," Mr Rangel, dressed in a suit with a copy of the Constitution in his hand, said in a video posted on YouTube. "It's time to rise up."

While Mr Rangel's pronouncement marks another blow to Mr Maduro after a handful of similar defections by senior officers this year, there is little to indicate that he will tip the scales.

Officers who have disavowed Mr Maduro have fled the country, and the military top brass - most notably those who command troops - continue to recognise Mr Maduro.

The information ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Reuters was also unable to obtain comment from Mr Rangel.

Air Force Commander Pedro Juliac posted a picture of Mr Rangel on Twitter on Sunday with the words "traitor to the Venezuelan people and the revolution" printed across the image.

Mr Rangel was an active military officer who fled to Colombia last month, according to a source close to Venezuela's military who asked not to be identified.

 
 

Unlike other officers who have made similar pronouncements, Mr Rangel did not voice support for Mr Juan Guaido - the opposition leader who invoked the Constitution in January to assume the interim presidency, arguing that Mr Maduro's 2018 re-election was a fraud.

More than 50 nations, including the United States and most South American nations, call Mr Guaido Venezuela's legitimate leader.

Mr Guaido and a group of soldiers called on the armed forces on April 30 to turn on Mr Maduro, but the military never joined and the uprising collapsed. The government called the event a coup attempt and accused a group of 10 opposition legislators of treason for joining rallies that day.

Venezuela is suffering a hyperinflationary collapse that has fuelled a migration exodus of some 3.5 million people in the past three years.