More than 500 Venezuelan soldiers have fled President Nicolás Maduro’s crumbling regime for neighboring Colombia, the Colombian migration authority reported Thursday.
The number of Venezuelan soldiers and policemen who have arrived in Colombia in search of humanitarian aid continues to increase, according to data from Migración Colombia.
The area where they have crossed most is the eastern region, which includes the department of Norte de Santander. There, 415 soldiers crossed, according to Migration. Other points where the Venezuelan military has arrived in Colombia are by the regional Orinoquía (46), Guajira (30); Caribbean (23), Andina (30), Antioquia (14), Occidente (6) and Nariño (3). These are the regional ones in which Migration has received the request of the military.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s defense minister, Vladimir Padrino López, said on Wednesday that more than 100 soldiers “have defected” from the Venezuelan military.
Padrino López referred to the 109 soldiers as “expelled and degraded by instructions from the president of the republic,” in an interview with the Telesur channel.
The Venezuelan armed forces are an important power base for Maduro. Military leaders in Venezuela publicly backed him last month.
The soldiers who left for Colombia are mostly from middle and lower ranks, who are more affected by the country’s hyperinflation and shortages, according to The Associated Press.
Amanda Lapo, a defense and military analyst at the IISS, said that it is not yet certain that increasing defections are a threat to Maduro.
“The defections don’t appear to be on a senior enough level to undermine Maduro,” she told Business Insider.
Venezuela’s military, which employs between 95,000 and 150,000 active soldiers, has wide reach in the country. But the power is concentrated among high-ranking officials, who hold important government positions and control influential companies.
Venezuelan officers also appear under pressure to support the Maduro regime. One defected soldier told Al Jazeera English that the government would “threaten us. If we weren’t part of their political party, they’d lock us up.”
Venezuelans are living through one of the world worst’s economic crises under Maduro’s socialist regime, and are struggling with shortages of food and medicine.
Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have called on Maduro to step down, saying that his presidency is unconstitutional and fraudulent. Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, has declared himself interim president, on the grounds that Maduro’s reign is illegitimate.