January 31, 2019 12:29 am
Updated: January 31, 2019 3:13 pm

Juan Guaido says Venezuelan opposition has held secret meetings with military officers

WATCH: Juan Guiado introduces his 'national plan' for Venezuela

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Venezuela’s self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido says the opposition movement that he leads has met with elements of the military amid efforts to topple President Nicolas Maduro.

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In an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Wednesday, the 35-year-old said that he believed most service members agreed that Venezuela is in a desperate situation and requires an urgent change of leader.

“The transition will require support from key military contingents. We have had clandestine meetings with members of the armed forces and the security forces,” Guaido wrote. “The military’s withdrawal of support from Mr. Maduro is crucial to enabling a change in government, and the majority of those in service agree that the country’s recent travails are untenable.”

Amnesty will be offered to all service members who are not found guilty of human rights violations, he added.

READ MORE: Venezuela’s opposition leader Guaido urges mass walkouts in protest of Maduro

Guaido’s opinion piece was published one day after his wife said that the support of the military was the only factor remaining between her husband and his successful overthrow of Maduro.

“What’s missing here is what we’ve said every day: the military,” Fabiana Rosales, a 26-year-old journalist, told Argentine newspaper La Nacion on Tuesday. “We have everything else: the international community, the people on the streets and the resources that will be repatriated.”

WATCH: Foreign interference in Venezuela likely to prolong instability

Maduro, whose presidency is no longer recognized by the U.S., Canada and dozens of other countries, has insisted throughout the crisis that he retains the support of the Venezuelan military.

On Sunday, he took part in a photo-op with members of the armed forces and looked on as they unleashed machine-gun anti-aircraft fire, tank rounds and rocket-propelled grenades on a hillside in a show of force and loyalty.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores are seen atop a military vehicle during a military exercise in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela Jan. 27, 2019.

Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Maduro said the display demonstrated to the world that he had the backing of the Venezuelan armed forces, and that the military was ready to defend their country. He added that even bigger exercises were scheduled from Feb. 10 to 15.

That same day, Guaido sent his own message to the military, imploring them not to repress their civilian compatriots and asking for their support.

READ MORE: UN says over 40 Venezuelans killed, 850 detained in recent anti-Maduro protests

As inflation under Maduro’s presidency hits 1 million per cent, soldiers have seen the value of their salaries plummet and watched their military’s facilities crumble along with much of the country.

Over 4,000 low-ranking officers deserted the military last year, according to official documents seen by Reuters.

WATCH: Urgent calls for action in Venezuelan Humanitarian crisis

On Jan. 21, a pair of low-ranking officers with the National Guard attacked a military facility in the capital Caracas, but the incident was quickly snuffed out.

A high-ranking officer, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters that the military leadership remains faithful to Maduro.

For his part, Maduro has worked to keep the military onside, giving officers key positions in the government and state-run oil giant PDVSA while granting lucrative contracts for oilfield services to military-linked firms.

WATCH: Political crisis in Venezuela as military backs Maduro

Maduro became president in 2013 following the death of his mentor Hugo Chavez.

Since then, Venezuela has spiraled from one economic crisis to the next, with soaring inflation and severe food shortages prompting an exodus of refugees.

READ MORE: At Venezuela briefing, John Bolton holds up note saying ‘5,000 troops to Colombia’

Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was widely condemned as a sham, with the socialist president romping to victory after blocking several opposition candidates from running in an election marked by low voter turnout.

— With files from Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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