Venezuelan soldiers are starving and the military is ‘degraded’, but for now at least the armed forces remain loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, a top US admiral said Thursday.
Admiral Craig Faller, who is in charge of US forces in South America said ‘the rank and file are starving, just like their population’, and that he had seen Venezuelan soldiers who had lost as much as 30lbs in a year.
He called the Venezuelan military a ‘degraded force,’ but one that ‘remains loyal to Maduro – and that makes it dangerous.’
Admiral Craig Faller, who is in charge of US forces in South America said ‘the rank and file’ in the Venezuelan army are starving ‘just like their population’
Faller, who assumed command of US military’s Southern Command in November, said the US military was keeping a close eye on Venezuela and was prepared to protect American personnel and diplomatic facilities ‘if necessary.’
‘We are prepared to protect U.S. personnel and diplomatic facilities if necessary,’ Navy Admiral Craig Faller, the head of U.S. Southern Command, said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
He did not provide any details on how the U.S. military might respond.
Though President Donald Trump has declined to rule out military intervention in crisis-gripped Venezuela, Faller said the focus is on supporting diplomatic efforts.
He said the United States is looking for signs the Venezuelan military’s loyalty to Maduro might be ‘cracking,’ but he declined to elaborate in the public hearing.
Armed and starving: Admiral Fuller said he had seen Venezuelan soldiers who had lost as much as 30lbs in a year
Members of the Venezuelan army and National Guard block the main access to the Tienditas International Bridge that links Colombia and Venezuela, near Urena, Venezuela
Aerial view of trucks loaded with humanitarian aid for Venezuela drive to the Tienditas Bridge on the border between Cucuta, Colombia and Tachira, Venezuela
Yesterday, Maduro attended a rally in Caracas where he called Venezuelans ‘warriors for peace’ who will ‘defeat the US coup attempt’.
He also signed an ‘open letter to the US demanding peace’ urging Washington to stop what he perceives to be intervention threats against his government.
International pressure is intensifying on Maduro to step aside and support is growing for his opposition rival Juan Guaido, who has so far been recognized by around 40 countries since declaring himself interim president on January 23.
Faller said he had visited the Colombia-Venezuela border, where US troops deployed on the USNS Comfort medical ship are operating medical camps.
In an apparent reference to enlisted Venezuelan soldiers, he said he had seen ‘kids’ who had lost as much as 30lbs (13.5 kilos) in the space of a year.
‘They are stick thin, they’d never had medical attention, we think that condition affects a large swath of the population and we think that population’s ready for a new leader,’ Faller said.
Admiral Faller said the Venezuelan army is dangerous because while it is ‘degraded’ it remains loyal to President Maduro
Maduro, seen standing next to his wife Cilia Flores, holds up a flying urging foreign nations to ‘keep their hands off Venezuela’
A supporter of President Nicolas Maduro holds a sign that reads in Spanish ‘I sign for peace’ during a event at Bolivar Square in Caracas
Food and medicine shortages have pushed 2.3 million people to flee Venezuela since 2015, but despite this, the army has maintained the barricade on a bridge cross the Colombian border where aid trucks wait.
Maduro claims humanitarian aid is a forerunner of a US-led invasion, and has fervently defended his decision to block the bridge as a safety measure.
Guaido claims that up to 300,000 people face death if the aid being blocked by Maduro’s army is not delivered.
Yesterday, two semi-trailers loaded with boxed emergency food and medicine rolled into the border city of Cucuta, on the Colombian side of the bridge.
The focus of Venezuela’s political fight now hinges on whether Mr Maduro will allow the aid to enter the country, a move anticipated in coming days.
President Nicolas Maduro says he believes humanitarian aid is a forerunner of a US-led invasion and says he will therefore not let the shipment enter from Colombia. Pictured is the tanker and trailer being used by the Venezuelan army to block the bridge
Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido claims that up to 300,000 people face death if the aid being blocked by Maduro’s army is not delivered
Starving: Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans desperately need the aid set to come through via Colombia. Pictured is a starving young patient at Caracas’ main children’s hospital
Mr Maduro denies a humanitarian crisis exists and says Venezuela is not a country of beggars.
Also on Thursday, a coalition of European and Latin American nations called on Venezuela to hold free and transparent elections to peacefully resolve its crisis.
A majority of 14 countries in the ‘International Contact Group’ urged Venezuela to return to the rule of law and respect its constitutional institutions – starting with the democratically elected National Assembly.
Spain, Italy, Portugal were among European nations signing the declaration with Uruguay, Ecuador and Costa Rica. Mexico and Bolivia participated but did not sign.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that the coalition did not intend to impose a solution but was focused on finding answers to avoid violence or foreign intervention in Venezuela.