CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela has captured a group of military officers who stole weapons and kidnapped four officials, the government said in a statement on Monday, hours after a social media video showed a sergeant demanding the removal of President Nicolas Maduro.
Protesters burned trash and a car outside the National Guard outpost where the officers were arrested in a sign of growing tensions following Maduro’s inauguration to a second term that governments around the world have called illegitimate.
Though the incident signals discontent within the armed forces, it appeared to involve only low-ranking officers with little capacity to force change in the hyperinflationary economy as many people suffer from shortages of food and medicine.
“The armed forces categorically reject this type of action, which is most certainly motivated by the dark interests of the extreme right,” the government said in a statement read out on state television.
Maduro was inaugurated on Jan. 10 under an avalanche of criticism that his leadership was illegitimate following a 2018 election widely viewed as fraudulent, with countries around the world disavowing his government.
Opposition leaders and exiled dissidents have called on the armed forces to turn against Maduro, which the president has denounced as efforts to encourage a coup against him.
In the videos that circulated on Twitter, a group of armed soldiers stand in darkness while their apparent leader addresses the camera and calls for Venezuelans to support their uprising.
“You all asked that we take to the streets to defend the constitution. Here we are. Here we have the troops, it’s today when the people come out to support us,” said the man in the video, who identified himself as Luis Bandres.
He said he was speaking from a military outpost in the Caracas neighborhood of Cotiza, where the government said the group of officers was arrested.
Security forces surrounded the Cotiza outpost early in the morning. In response, several dozen residents barricaded streets and set fire to rubbish, according to Reuters witnesses. Troops fired tear gas to disperse them.
In videos circulating on social media, residents can be heard chanting “Don’t hand yourself in” and “The people are with you.”
The United States and many Latin American nations say Maduro has become a dictator whose failed state-led policies have plunged Venezuela into its worst ever economic crisis, with inflation approaching 2 million percent.
Maduro says a U.S.-directed “economic war” is trying to force him from power.
Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Angus Berwick and Marguerita Choy