Venezuelan opposition leader Julio Borges called on Latin America to exert pressure of the government of President Nicolas Maduro to implement a “democratic agenda.”
Speaking from the Peruvian capital Lima on Thursday, the opposition-led National Assembly president said the humanitarian crisis and strong protests against Maduro’s socialist government had crossed Venezuela’s borders because of a wave of refugees across the region.
Borges traveled to Lima to meet with Peruvian legislators and President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who has been one of Maduro’s most vocal critics among Latin American leaders.
“It’s important – fundamental – that we get several governments in the region to unite in the short term to make sure in Venezuela there exists nothing other than a popular and democratic agenda,” he told Reuters.
Venezuela has suffered through more than five weeks of violent anti-government protests in which 39 people have died. The opposition has decried Maduro as an autocrat who has wrecked the OPEC member’s economy, and demanded elections to resolve the political crisis.
Peru recalled its ambassador to Caracas in late March.
Appearing together with Borges in the Presidential Palace later on Thursday, Kuczynski said he had “no desire to interfere in the internal matters of other countries” but that countries in the region must support the wellbeing of Venezuela’s people and provide “humanitarian assistance.”
Borges told Peruvian reporters after his speech to Peru’s congress that he would travel to Brazil next week to convene a summit with congressional leaders from across the region to push for a “democratic transition” in Venezuela.
Socialist Venezuela has lost many regional allies as several Latin American countries have moved to the right in recent years.
Last week, Borges met with US President Donald Trump’s national security advisor H.R. McMaster, where they agreed on the need to bring Venezuela’s crisis to a quick and peaceful conclusion.
Meanwhile, protests in Venezuela continued amid reports that at least 65 members of the military, ranking from officers to the captain of an important border region unit, have been detained, raising questions about whether a fissure exists within the nation’s armed forces, according to an attorney representing several of those arrested.
Some of the officers have been charged with betraying the motherland and instigating rebellion while others are still awaiting a court hearing, said Alonso Medina of Foro Penal, a non-governmental lawyers’ organization.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said last week that dozens of officers had been detained for “expressing discontent” and said Thursday the nation’s military is “profoundly unhappy” with the government.
“The armed forces are completely divided,” he said.
Maduro’s embattled administration rejects any notion that the 60,000-member strong military is wavering in its support as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans take to the streets demanding elections.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez told Russian broadcaster RT that the armed forces are concentrated on their “constitutional work” and that any suggestion that their loyalties are divided is an attempt to promote a military uprising.
Analysts are doubtful the defections represent a significant turning point.
“If people were to storm the palace, the military would not intervene to save Maduro,” said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, a Northwestern University professor. “But the military would not storm the palace under present conditions.”
Venezuela’s armed forces are considered a critical component to the stability of Maduro’s government, and during the four years of his administration, he has significantly increased their authority over a wide range of affairs. He has also ensured that in a country with triple-digit inflation and shortages of everything from toilet paper to Tylenol, they have access to hard-to-find benefits like food imports and bonuses in dollars.
Lansberg-Rodriguez said those within the military who dislike the government tend to be lower-ranking officers, and that it is possible there will be more defections. But he said none of the four branches are likely to move against him.
“The government has done its best to keep the military comparatively happy,” he said.