Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has added three generals to the growing list of people and entities he accuses of plotting against him.
Maduro announced on Tuesday that his socialist administration had brought three air force generals before a military tribunal on charges of plotting a coup amid the antigovernment protests throughout the country.
He said the generals, whose names have not been released, were working with political opponents and their attempt failed because younger officers became alarmed.
The announcement came during a meeting of South American foreign ministers aimed at easing the conflict between the Venezuelan government and its increasingly strident opponents.
Since taking office last year, Maduro has routinely accused opponents of plotting a coup like the one that briefly ousted former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in 2002. He has rarely offered details or proof, and few arrests have been reported.
Recently, Maduro has called the protest movement an “evolving coup d’etat,” and accused the US of waging an “economic war” and supporting those who wish to do violence to Venezuela.
The protests, which were sparked by shortages, runaway inflation and rising crime have left dozens dead.
Analysts said the arrests do not necessarily mean Maduro’s administration is losing ground with the Venezuelan military, which has historically decided political fortunes at moments of crisis.
The government might be publicizing the purported coup as a way to emphasize the need for unity, said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“When you talk about conspiracies, it’s basically a way of rallying the troops. It’s a way of saying this is no time for dissent,” Smilde said.
The timing also allows the administration to portray to visiting dignitaries that Maduro’s opponents are playing dirty.
Maduro has been careful to cultivate loyalty among the armed forces. His government bureaucracy is replete with former officers, and uniformed or retired military occupy a quarter of his Cabinet.
He has also given troops a television station and showered them with raises in excess of double-digit inflation.
Smilde said the three generals might have been expressing their disagreement with Maduro instead of a plotting a full-blown overthrow of the government, given their small numbers.
“What does Maduro consider a coup? Students in the street is a coup for him,” Smilde said.