January 11, 2019 / 10:36 PM / in 3 months

Venezuela opposition plans incentives for officers who disavow Maduro

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s opposition-led congress is considering offering legal incentives to military officers who disavow President Nicolas Maduro and help lead a transition to a new government, according to four legislators and a draft document seen by Reuters.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro attends a ceremony, after his swearing-in for a second presidential term, at Fuerte Tiuna military base in Caracas, Venezuela January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro

Maduro was sworn in on Thursday for a second term following a disputed 2018 election, triggering a hailstorm of international criticism that his leadership of the country suffering a hyperinflationary collapse is illegitimate.

The proposal, which comes in part at the request of high-ranking officers on active duty, seeks to ensure that defectors from the armed forces would not be persecuted by a future government if they abandon Maduro, according to the legislators, who asked not to be identified.

It would apply to officers who “do not obey the orders of the man who has usurped the Presidency of the Republic ... and collaborate with the tradition and re-establishment of constitutional order,” the draft says.

The plan shows the opposition increasingly focused on the military as crucial in removing the ruling Socialist Party from power. But the law will almost certainly be thrown out by the pro-Maduro Supreme Court, meaning its legal impact would remain symbolic as long as Maduro is in office.

Opposition leaders have faced significant hurdles in recruiting military dissidents due to Maduro’s continued sway over the armed forces and a crackdown on accused insurgents that human rights groups have said includes torture of officers and abuse of their families.

Plans to offer incentives to officers as a way of hastening Maduro’s departure has not been previously reported.

Opposition leaders have publicly discussed creating a transition plan, as well as amnesty for military officers who are already in jail on accusations of conspiring against Maduro - many of whom the opposition considers political prisoners.

Congress plans to vote on the 17-page draft document entitled “Law Governing the Transition to Democracy” in the coming weeks, the legislators said.

The draft does not detail what the incentives would be or under what conditions they would be offered, which would be approved in a separate law, they said.

The overall transition law is in principle supported by major opposition leaders including Popular Will, First Justice, and Democratic Action, the lawmakers said.

Spokespeople for the three parties did not respond to requests for comment.

The Information Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.

Human Rights Watch and local rights group Penal Forum found 32 cases in which military officers accusing of plotting against Maduro’s government were subjected to beatings, asphyxiation and electric shocks.

Internal military documents reviewed by Reuters in 2018 showed that the number of soldiers detained for treason, rebellion and desertion rose to 172 in the first four months of that year, up three-and-a-half times on the same period of 2017.

Reporting by Corina Pons and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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