About 1,000 members of the Venezuelan security forces have fled to Colombia since last month, giving up weapons and uniforms as they abandoned the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Colombian authorities said on Monday.
The Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released the updated number of Venezuelan police and soldiers who had crossed the border, many at about the time of a Feb. 23 attempt by Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido to deliver US-provided humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
The attempt failed because Venezuelan forces blocked trucks trying to cross from Colombia into Venezuela.
The deserters have received lodging, healthcare and legal aid, and were accompanied by about 400 family members, Colombian officials said.
Colombia, the US and about 50 other nations support Guaido’s claim that he is the interim president of Venezuela and that Maduro is illegitimate because his re-election last year was marred by irregularities.
The welfare of the Venezuelan deserters and their families back home is a growing concern.
Venezuelan Army Captain Jean Marchena Castillo told local media that pro-Maduro forces were threatening relatives of some of those who have fled Venezuela.
Some deserters have said that their small military salaries were the only source of income for their families.
Humberto Calderon Berti, Guaido’s representative in Colombia, said that he plans to work with Colombian authorities to provide training and employment opportunities to the men.
Venezuelan Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a leading pro-Maduro politician, said in Caracas on Monday that the security forces who fled to Colombia had been offered bribes to do so.
Deserters have strongly denied such allegations.
Despite the desertions, Maduro has retained the support of Venezuela’s key military leaders, who are considered pivotal in determining the outcome of the power struggle.
Maduro has said that Guaido is a collaborator in a US plot to overthrow the government in Venezuela, whose population is enduring hyperinflation and a scarcity of medicine and other necessities that the opposition blames on the administration’s socialist policies.
More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country in the past few years, about one-third of them finding refuge in Colombia.
Nearly one week after Venezuela’s worst blackouts inflicted more hardship across the country, Maduro was reportedly planning a Cabinet reshuffle.
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez made the announcement on Twitter on Sunday, although she did not provide details.
Some past reshuffles have entailed rotations of ministers rather than a major overhaul of leadership.
Guaido scoffed at the report of Cabinet changes, telling journalists that it merely reflects how the government is weakening and “without answers.”
The nationwide power outages were the result of government corruption and mismanagement and not, as Maduro has claimed, an act of sabotage directed by the US, the opposition leader said.
Meanwhile, envoys loyal to Guaido took over two Venezuelan diplomatic buildings in Washington and the consulate in New York City.
Panama also accepted a Guaido loyalist as Venezuela’s ambassador.
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