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Venezuelan Soldiers Choose to Desert


Colombia Venezuela Political Crisis
Venezuelan Soldiers Choose to Desert
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A Venezuelan opposition plan failed to bring humanitarian aid into the country Saturday.

Soldiers loyal to President Nicolas Maduro refused to let the trucks carrying food and medical supplies cross the border from Colombia. Many of Venezuela’s National Guard then made the decision to flee the military and their country for Colombia. Immigration officials there said that more than 320 soldiers have sought shelter in Colombia since Saturday.

Many of the military dissenters ended up in a shelter run by a Catholic religious worker. There, they can find information about family members back home. The former soldiers are also learning how to request for asylum.

Nine of them spoke with the Associated Press. They described the day they were ordered by commanders to stop aid from entering Venezuela. Many feared they would be placed in jail. So, they obeyed their orders and fired tear gas at protesters. Two soldiers said they were part of the failed aid transport plot.

The soldiers’ escape comes as the Venezuelan opposition pressures the military to accept Juan Guaidó as the nation’s true president. More than 50 nations -- including the United States and many Latin American countries -- have recognized Guaidó as such.

But top military officials have stood by Maduro, who has shown no sign that he will surrender power.

The soldiers who fled say within the military, breaking from Maduro is almost impossible. The Venezuelan army includes at least 200,000 troops.

Severe shortages of food and medicine in the last few years have led more than 3 million people to leave Venezuela

When Guaidó first announced the aid push, Jorge Torres said he and three other soldiers began to form a plan. As National Guard drivers, they had access to armored trucks. They planned to drive the vehicles across the Simon Bolivar International Bridge, break down the barriers that stood in the way and permit opposition trucks to carry the aid in.

Saturday morning, Torres climbed into one of the trucks and drove it across the bridge. He broke through several barriers, but also hit a woman trying to enter Colombia. She escaped serious injury, but he was forced to stop.

Torres raised his arms in surrender and helped the woman toward a hospital emergency vehicle. He was quickly taken and presented to Guaidó, who secretly came across the border into Colombia to lead the aid launch.

Torres said he stood at attention and promised his loyalty to Guaidó. “We’re still in time to change history,” he said Guaidó told him.

Many of the soldiers said they worry their wives and children will now face problems. They are also concerned about finances. Many soldiers who have fled in the last year have had difficulty getting work. They end up making a little money selling food on the streets.

Almost all the soldiers who left would support a foreign intervention in Venezuela and join in the fight.

Guaidó called on the international community Saturday to consider all possible actions to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. The conflict over the aid shipments caused four deaths and injured 300 other people.

Several of the dissenters said they believe the best way forward is for more troops to leave and help form a resistance from outside. Some say Venezuelans alone should lead such efforts. Others believe resistance requires the help of an international coalition.

All said they do not see themselves as dissenters, but as troops set on restoring Venezuela’s democracy.

“We’re going to change history,” Torres said. “We are history.”

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Christine Armario reported this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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