A raid on a Venezuelan military base on Sunday has raised the threat of a military coup or outright civil war.
Explosions were heard in the Paramacay base as a group of men in military fatigues released a video declaring their “rebellion”. Small groups of protesters gathered outside in their support.
In Britain it has largely been used as an excuse to attack Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. As well as Tories and Lib Dems, much of the bile came from the Labour right.
MP John Spellar said Corbyn should “recognise the failure of the regime”. He is part of a new all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela—despite never having raised Venezuela in parliament.
Corbyn meekly condemned violence on “all sides” but stood by his previous support for Venezuela’s left wing presidents, first Hugo Chavez and now Nicolas Maduro.
“I gave the support of many people around the world for the principle of a government that was dedicated towards reducing inequality and improving the life chances of the poorest people,” he said.
Sunday's attack follows months of right wing protests and violence, including roadblocks and assassinations, against the left wing government of president Nicolas Maduro.
A successful coup by the US-backed Venezuelan right would be a disaster for the working class. Their attempts to violently roll back the clock on the left's reforms must be opposed.
In their statement, the rebels called on soldiers to take up arms against the government. Chillingly, they warned anyone who remained loyal to Maduro to “consider yourself a military target and assume the consequences”.
Two people were killed in the clash. Other rebels escaped, carrying away newly stolen weapons. Paramacay is Venezuela’s most important base for armoured vehicles, and some reports suggest they came close to capturing it.
Maduro’s number two Diosdado Cabello announced that the army had regained control and captured seven “terrorists”.
An army statement described the rebels as “civilian delinquents” and at least one “deserting” officer. It also said that those captured admit to having been “hired by activists from the Venezuelan far right connected to foreign governments.”
Their leader was former captain Juan Caguaripano, wanted for treason since 2014 when he supported an anti-government demonstration.
The attack comes two months after rogue police used a helicopter to attack the Supreme Court building. Their spokesman Oscar Perez made a declaration similar to Caguaripano’s.
Right wing opposition leaders insist they want to restore “democracy” against Maduro’s “tyranny”. But as well as stoking violence on the streets some have sought to encourage a military coup.
Perez has been a speaker at some of their rallies. The opposition organised an unofficial referendum in protest against Maduro’s summoning of a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution.
Its questions included whether the army should “defend” the current constitution and “back the decisions” of the right-held National Assembly.
This effectively means refusing to recognise Maduro’s Constituent Assembly or its decisions.
The US and its allies have also refused to recognise the Constituent Assembly, and have a record for rapidly endorsing coups in Latin America. The US most recently backed the government set up in Honduras after the military overthrow of elected president Manuel Zelaya.
Maduro’s government counts on the support of the army, and so far there is little sign of a generalised military rebellion against him.
But his response to Venezuela’s deepening economic and political crisis has been to give the army more powers—a trend the Constituent Assembly is set to continue. This could lethally backfire.
Workers and the poor have much to lose if the right seize power—but the events at Paracamay are the latest reminder that the armed wing of the state is never a reliable ally.