Venezuelan General Breaks With Maduro Ahead of Street Protests

(Bloomberg) -- A top Venezuelan air force officer broke with embattled President Nicolas Maduro and called on the military to back U.S.-supported opposition leader Juan Guaido.

In a video message reported by El Nacional and other Venezuelan media, General Francisco Esteban Yanez Rodriguez pledged his support to Guaido and asserted that 90 percent of the armed forces oppose Maduro, who faces increasing pressure by President Donald Trump’s administration to make way for his rival.

The defection of a senior officer may be a sign of weakening support for Maduro ahead of demonstrations in Caracas on Saturday by backers of Guaido, the national assembly leader who on Jan. 23 declared himself interim president. Maduro’s backers are also taking to the streets, though those demonstrations are expected to be smaller.

Yanez said Maduro has two planes at his disposal to potentially leave the country and urged him to use them. The Associated Press reported it reached the general on a Colombian mobile phone, though he refused to say whether he had left the country.

Discontent has been swirling in the armed forces for years as hunger and hyperinflation have gripped the rank and file. Last week, dozens of national guardsmen mutinied at a base near downtown Caracas. They stole weapons and took officials hostage, but were quickly suppressed by security forces.

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