CARACAS, Venezuela — Members of the Venezuelan National Guard were detained in the capital early Monday, the military said, after online videos showed a group of soldiers pledging allegiance to an opposition leader seeking to oust President Nicolás Maduro.
The soldiers’ apparent defiance at a military installation in the western Caracas neighborhood of Cotiza occurred days after opposition leaders offered amnesty to members of the armed forces who turned their backs on the government and helped establish a transitional government that would convene fair elections.
The opposition leaders have called for nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday, which they hope will show that their bid to replace Mr. Maduro has widespread support.
The United States and several governments in the region have backed the opposition’s plan, but leaders of the movement acknowledge that getting the armed forces to flip will be the toughest hurdle.
“We need to appeal to their conscience and create incentives for them,” said Juan Andrés Mejía, an opposition lawmaker.
But creating incentives may not be enough if members of the military fear that any sign of disloyalty may carry face harsh consequences. On Monday, 27 people were detained after security forces surrounded the military installation, according to Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, a legislative body packed with Maduro loyalists.
The service members who had participated in the uprising had been “neutralized, defeated and captured in record time,” Mr. Cabello said. He added in a series of messages posted on Twitter that the men were “confessing details” and that they had turned on the government after being offered “villas and castles.”
Venezuela’s military said the rebellious soldiers had stockpiled weapons. “These subjects will face the full weight of the law,” it said in a statement.
Neighbors reported hearing clashes at the military installation as nearby residents banged pots and pans, apparently in a show of support for the mutinous troops.
Diplomats and security analysts in Venezuela said they found the soldiers’ actions on Monday morning puzzling. Some said the government may have staged a small act of defiance to justify taking extreme security measures ahead of Wednesday’s protests — and perhaps as a warning to any military groups that may be mulling switching sides.
Their skepticism was based on the hapless plan that the soldiers supposedly set in motion and the speed with which the government issued a detailed statement claiming that the plot had been quickly quashed.
Whatever the case, the events added to the tension palpable in the capital before the planned protests.
“What happened this morning is very dangerous for the opposition,” said Rocío San Miguel, a security analyst with deep knowledge of the country’s armed forces. “The government will use it to its favor.”
Ms. San Miguel said rank-and-file soldiers had been defecting from their bases in large numbers in recent weeks. Their salaries have become increasingly worthless amid soaring inflation.
Juan Guaidó, the recently installed president of the National Assembly who is leading the effort to establish a transitional government, called the soldiers’ actions “a show of the generalized feeling” in the armed forces after Mr. Maduro was sworn in for a second term, on Jan. 10.
His re-election in May was widely condemned as rigged, and the United States and several Latin American governments have said they do not consider him a legitimately elected leader.
“Our troops know that the chain of command is broken due to the usurpation of the presidency,” Mr. Guaidó wrote on Twitter on Monday. “We don’t want the security forces to split apart or clash, we want them to stand united on the side of the people, the Constitution and against the usurpation.”
The country’s Supreme Court, which is packed with Maduro loyalists, issued a ruling late Monday morning that called the current leaders of the National Assembly illegitimate.
The court warned that recent laws passed by the assembly, including one granting amnesty to members of the security forces who turn on the government, are unconstitutional.
The ruling appeared unlikely to have any practical effect. The court and members of the National Assembly have not recognized the legitimacy of each other’s actions since the court sought to assume the powers of the lawmaking body in March 2017.
Mr. Maduro first came to power in a snap vote after the death in 2013 of President Hugo Chávez, who anointed him as his successor. Over the years, Mr. Maduro has tightened his grip on power, and unrest within the armed forces has grown. Dozens of Venezuelan military officers have been detained in recent months on suspicion of plotting coups.
As residents in the area of the uprising awoke to the sound of clashes, many took to the streets to support the rebelling troops, according to videos posted online. Seeking to keep protests from growing, security officers fired tear gas, according to residents.
The beginning of Mr. Maduro’s new term drew an international outcry that has left the Venezuelan government more isolated than ever before. It also invigorated the opposition, which had appeared rudderless and largely ineffectual since a wave of protests in 2017 was crushed by the security forces.
Opposition leaders have convened town-hall-style meetings across Venezuela to build support for their vision of a transitional government. Those meetings have been attended by thousands of people. Some have been held in poor districts that have traditionally been bedrocks of support for Mr. Maduro’s party.
Orignially published in NYT.