Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has appointed Adm. Remigio Ceballos Ichaso to replace Defense Minister Gen. Vladimir Padrino Lopez as head the country's Strategic Operational Command, a position that gives Ichaso operational control of the Venezuelan armed forces. A Stratfor source has said that Diosdado Cabello, an influential powerbroker in the country, influenced Maduro's decision. The move made June 20 could be seen as an attempt by Cabello to shield himself and his allies in the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) from pressure by members of the armed forces.
In his new position, Ichaso gains the power to issue orders directly to the country's eight lower-level regional defense zone commanders. Padrino Lopez remains defense minister. The PSUV has been riven into opposing factions that disagree on a constitutional rewrite ordered by Maduro. A core of ruling party elites allied with the president intends to rewrite parts of the constitution to cement their hold over the country's institutions amid Venezuela's deepening economic crisis. The country's political opposition, along with the dissident Chavistas, perceives the involvement of the armed forces, whether through political pressure or a coup, as vital to ending the constitutional redo.
Therefore, it's not surprising that, faced with a dissident movement within his own party and an increasingly disloyal military, that Cabello would try to shield himself through his influence with the military. It's customary for the Venezuelan armed forces to reshuffle its commanders at this time of year, and Cabello appears to have used his influence in this process to protect himself.
Still, Venezuela's economic crisis is set to grow more intense, and political confrontation by the opposition and dissident Chavista faction against the government will only increase. As the constitutional rewrite process proceeds, it will trigger additional protests, and the armed forces' loyalty will remain in doubt despite the PSUV's influence in appointing its leadership.