Venezuela’s military defectors backed Guaido. Now they’re lost
Now he faces his last days in the Colombian border town of Cúcuta, as he prepares to become a civilian again, at the urging of the Colombian government. After a month of waiting to join a rebellion in Venezuela, his main concern has shifted to supporting himself and his pregnant wife.
But there were too few like Díaz, and the excitement of that day was quickly repressed. Guaidó later admitted that he was not able to motivate enough members of the armed forces to join the opposition’s side. Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino later said Guaidó was “trying to break the military’s honor, which is the most sacred thing a soldier of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces has.” Maduro, meanwhile, has sought to affirm through videos and statements that the country’s armed forces are united behind him.
An endless, anxious wait
Most defectors were sent to hotels by Colombian immigration, military officials or Venezuelan opposition officials. The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also assisted defectors like Díaz to get settled and to begin processing their paperwork as refugees. He said he does not know who has been paying for his hotel.
In response to queries by CNN, neither Colombia’s Foreign Ministry nor the Venezuelan opposition has claimed credit for funding the defectors’ accommodation. “The Colombian government has and will continue to seek financial resources for the strategic development that allows the best attention to ex-military and their families,” Colombia’s foreign ministry told CNN.
On May 15, a change finally came. But it wasn’t the change in Venezuela that Díaz was waiting for; instead, it was a shift in policy from the Colombian government, which announced several initiatives to encourage the defectors and their 600 family members to become financially independent civilians again. A voluntary program called Permiso Especial de Permanencia (PEP) would allow them to live and work legally in the country. Another option offers the defectors a three-month stipend to help get them on their feet.
PEP is designed to allow Venezuelan ex-military a “temporary mechanism for protection,” Christian Krüger Sarmiento, Colombia’s director general of migration, said in a press conference at the end of May. Krüger Sarmiento added that Colombia wants these men and women to become part of its economic growth.
Díaz said he plans to take the Colombian stipend (250,000 pesos per month, or about $74 USD), and use the money to travel to Chile where he has friends and hopes to find a job. Eventually, he wants to return to Venezuela — just not right now. “I want to return and continue with my life and with my family, fight for everything that we left behind,” Díaz said.
Deciding to move on
On Saturday, Guaidó promised a sea of supporters in the Venezuelan state of Barinas that a resolution would come within the year. “This did not start in 2019, but will end in 2019,” he said. “Let the regime decide if they go out on good or bad terms.”
But can he inspire a critical mass of the country’s crucial armed forces to switch sides? If defecting means hiding, finding themselves jobless, risking their safety and that of their families, many might think twice.
CNN’s Natalie Gallón reported and wrote from Mexico City. Journalist Diana Castrillon reported from Bogotá, Colombia.