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Venezuela's Rank-and-File Soldiers Have Been Deserting in Droves

  • About 4,300 national guardsmen have left in the past 5 years
  • Active and reserve military barred from leaving the country
Members of Venezuela’s national guard stay inside their base after an attempted mutiny.
Members of Venezuela’s national guard stay inside their base after an attempted mutiny.Photographer: Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images

Even before the U.S.-backed leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly called on the military to abandon President Nicolas Maduro, the government was trying to stop a surge of desertions and ordered border guards to stop soldiers trying to leave the country without permission.

Two documents illustrate the erosion of the armed forces. One lists about 4,300 national-guard officers who deserted since 2014, giving their ranks and serial numbers. Signed by the guard’s commander, Major General Jesus Lopez Vargas, the Dec. 21 order removes them from rolls. All are non-commissioned officers or enlisted men and women and represented about 6 percent of the guard.