Military officers are joining the exodus of Venezuelans to Colombia and Brazil, fleeing barracks and forcing President Nicolas Maduro’s government to call upon retirees and militia to fill the void. High desertion rates at bases in Caracas and the countryside are complicating security plans for the presidential election in 13 days, which by law require military custody of electoral materials and machinery at voting centers. “The number is unknown because it used to be published in the Official Gazette. Now, it is not,” said Rocio San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, a military watchdog group in Caracas. She said soldiers are fleeing for the same reason citizens are: “Wages are low, the quality of food and clothing isn’t good.”
Last week, officers who rank as high as general were called in and quartered for several days at their units. Retired officials and militia members were also contacted by their superiors, according to one retired officer who asked not to be named for fear of angering the regime. Government officials are training these fill-in personnel for the election, said a second retired officer.
The shortage of troops comes as hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans flee a societal collapse, crowding cities and makeshift camps throughout the region in the largest mass emigration in modern Latin American history. Hyperinflation has made the currency virtually worthless, and malnutrition is endemic. Almost 2 million Venezuelans are living outside the country.