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Feb 22, 2019 | 21:19 GMT

3 mins read

Venezuela: A Military Leader's Break With Maduro Hints at an Amnesty Deal

The Big Picture

In Venezuela, the opposition, the government and the United States are negotiating to remove President Nicolas Maduro from the presidency. But successfully negotiating Maduro's removal will be difficult, considering that many of his officials face criminal charges and could be imprisoned or extradited to the United States under a new government. However, the talks may be yielding results, as a key former military figure now seems confident enough about his future to support the opposition in its bid for the presidency. 

What Happened

On Feb. 21, former Venezuelan military intelligence chief Hugo Carvajal posted a video to social media in which he called for the Venezuelan armed forces to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro and announced his recognition of Juan Guaido's claim to the interim presidency. Carvajal has publicly criticized previous moves by leading Venezuelan officials to consolidate political power, including the creation of the National Constituent Assembly to rule by decree in 2017.

Why It Matters

Carvajal's statement suggests that he is not seriously concerned about what a transition to an opposition-led government would mean for his safety. This is significant because regime change in Venezuela would, by all other accounts, risk his imprisonment in the country or prosecution in the United States. While his tenure as director of military intelligence officially ended five years ago, Carvajal still faces extradition to the United States after being detained on cocaine trafficking charges in 2014. The retired general also served as a key link between Maduro's predecessor, President Hugo Chavez, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for years. 

Other military officials facing prosecution and extradition on similar cocaine trafficking charges could start to follow suit, finding that switching sides now to safeguard their future is a more palatable option.

Therefore, Carvajal's sudden support of Guaido's claim to the presidency raises the possibility that the opposition and U.S. efforts at negotiating political amnesty with Venezuelan officials have yielded a satisfactory agreement with the retired general. As a former high-ranking official, Carvajal also likely retains a degree of influence among Venezuela's armed forces. This means that other military officials facing prosecution and extradition on similar cocaine trafficking charges could start to follow suit, finding that switching sides now to safeguard their future is a more palatable option.

However, regime change negotiations between the opposition, the United States and members of the Venezuelan armed forces aren't necessarily going to yield a seamless political transition. There is a chance they could instead result in a schism between officials who feel safe negotiating a transition with Washington and its political opponents, and those who see remaining loyal to Maduro as the safer option. Such a rift would increase the likelihood of a violent attempt to remove Maduro by warring factions of the armed forces.

Background

Venezuela's political opposition and the U.S. government have been engaged in backchannel talks with Venezuelan armed forces in an effort to persuade more members to switch allegiance to Guaido and pressure Maduro to leave political power. However, extensive amnesty agreements backed by the opposition and the United States would need to be cemented for such talks to succeed. 

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