Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela promotes 16,900 soldiers for 'loyalty'

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro changes the epaulette of a soldier during a promotion ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela July 2, 2018. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Almost 17,000 members of the armed forces have been promoted

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has promoted 16,900 soldiers as a reward for their "loyalty".

The promotion comes amid a worsening economic and political crisis during which opposition politicians have called on the armed forces to side "with the people".

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino said those promoted had been "loyal to the constitutionally elected president".

He also praised them "for respecting human rights".

The promotion comes just 10 days after the UN human rights body released a report saying that Venezuelan security forces had carried out hundreds of arbitrary killings.

According to the report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, there has been "a pattern of disproportionate and unnecessary use of force by security forces".

"The failure to hold security forces accountable for such serious human rights violations suggests that the rule of law is virtually absent in Venezuela," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said on 22 June.

Venezuela's foreign ministry rejected the report, calling it the "result of a highly questionable methodology that buries the credibility and technical rigour demanded of an office of this nature".

'Safeguarding peace'

Speaking at a ceremony in the capital, Caracas, Gen Padrino said those members of the armed forces who had been promoted had played a key role in securing "the institutional stability in the country and the safeguarding of Venezuelan democracy and peace".

A little over a month ago, President Maduro demanded that members of the armed forces sign a document declaring their loyalty.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The armed forces wield a lot of power. They were recently deployed to check prices at markets

Speaking in front of military cadets, he said that his government had dismantled a "conspiracy financed by and orchestrated from Colombia and backed by the US government to divide the Venezuelan armed forces".

Dozens of officers, some of them high-ranking, are being held over allegations they plotted against the president, says non-governmental group Foro Penal, which provides legal help to inmates.

The Venezuelan government blames the economic crisis which has led to hyperinflation and severe shortages of food and medicines on sanctions imposed by the US.

But government critics say President Maduro and his predecessor in office, Hugo Chávez, caused the current crisis through years of mismanagement.

Faced with growing shortages and hunger, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have left the country. A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency estimates the number leaving daily at 5,000.

The armed forces have play a key role in the government of President Maduro, with many officers holding posts as ministers or other influential positions.

Two weeks ago, soldiers were deployed to almost 100 food markets to check prices and arrest sellers allegedly charging over the odds for price-controlled goods.

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