In a widely circulated video, a high ranking military official said he publicly recognized Juan Guaidó, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as the legitimate president of Venezuela.
According to Reuters, General Francisco Yánez is a member of the Venezuelan air force high command.
Yanez used the video to call on other members of the military to defect. He added that the vast majority of the military is against Nicolás Maduro.
Yanez is the first active general to recognize Guaidó as the interim head-of-state.
Guaidó joined the call for more military leaders to defect from the Maduro government, according to the Associated Press.
“We don’t just want you to stop shooting at protesters,” said Guaidó. “We want you to be part of the reconstruction of Venezuela.”
Control of the military is crucial to the Maduro regime’s survival.
Over the years, Maduro has ceded power to the military in order to maintain its loyalty to his regime. In late-2017, Maduro appointed General Manuel Quevedo to lead the Oil Ministry and the state-owned oil company PDVSA.
At the moment, Yanez’s defection is an anomaly. If the military as an institution also joins the opposition and turns its back on the current regime, then there is no path for Maduro to stay in power.