Members of Venezuela’s opposition canvassed military bases across the embattled nation on Sunday, offering amnesty to troops and police officers who defect from the South American nation’s embattled president Nicolás Maduro.
The bold attempt to dent Maduro’s grip on the military – long seen as the arbiter of political disputes in Venezuela – was led by Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-held national assembly, who last Wednesday declared himself interim president until fresh elections are held.
“What you have, not with me but with us, is a guarantee of protection,” Guaidó said to supporters and troops at one event in Caracas.
Copies of an amnesty law drafted by the national assembly, though not approved, were also distributed.
“In Venezuela there are more than 300 political prisoners, citizens subjected to torture and the unjust justice of the regime, for raising their voices and fighting for a free, democratic and just nation,” Guaidó tweeted on Sunday morning. “The amnesty law is for them and by them.”
At that event and several others that began on Sunday morning, members of the opposition handed out letters to troops, which promised that members of “the military and police that contribute to the reestablishment of democratic order will be able to reinsert themselves in the democratic life of our country”.
In Petare, a working class neighbourhood in Caracas, officials burnt the documents, while at one event outside a base attached to La Casona, a presidential residence in Caracas that Maduro has opted not to use, soldiers opened the gate to receive the documents before moments later launching the papers across the floor.
“This is why this amnesty law is so important,” said Nancy Zea, a Guaidó supporter. “We don’t want any confrontation with the security forces; we don’t want a coup.”
Despite high tensions, violence had not broken out by Sunday lunchtime. Some police officers even expressed support for the amnesty.
“We have had enough – we are also normal people and we are suffering like everyone else,” said one police officer who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. “That’s why why want change and we believe that this government must go. We want these insects to go.”
Oil-rich Venezuela is racked with hyperinflation, rendering the bolivar currency practically worthless. Shortages in food staples and basic medicines are rampant, and crime is widespread. More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled, causing consternation across the continent.
Sunday’s attempts to sway the military follow the defection of Maduro’s defence attache to the Venezuelan embassy in Washington to Guaidó on Saturday.