The Cable

Health Minister Sacked, Military Officials Detained as Chaos Continues in Venezuela

That won't make medicine less scarce or stop protests.

maduro military

Venezuela’s unraveling is claiming more victims, this time a government minister scapegoated for the country’s deteriorating health situation and military officials suspected of disloyalty to the regime.

On Thursday night, Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who is currently under sanctions from the United States for alleged drug trafficking, announced over Twitter that Health Minister Antonieta Caporale had been fired. She will be replaced by Luis Lopez, a pharmacist. (And yes, picking a pharmacist to run the Health Ministry is as confidence-inspiring as choosing a bus driver for president.)

Caporale’s termination comes just days after the government released health data for the first time in two years, showing the appalling toll of the country’s descent into economic dysfunction. The information showed that infant and maternal mortality rates had skyrocketed — by 30 percent and 66 percent, respectively. Malaria cases rose 76 percent last year.

Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela is currently marked by scarcity of medicine and food, as well as failing hospitals, where patients are required to provide even the most basic equipment and tools, like needles and gauze. Over 13,000 doctors have left Venezuela in recent years.

Lopez has been the government’s deputy minister for hospitals.

Also on Thursday, reports emerged that at least 65 members of Venezuela’s military have been detained, according to the attorney representing several of them.Some have reportedly been charged with “betraying the motherland” or “instigating rebellion.” Still others are awaiting trial.

Henrique Capriles, a top opposition figure currently banned from holding office for 15 years, said there is great discontent amidst the military’s ranks. Maduro insists that all of his military’s members are standing together in support of the government. (Well, all but 65 at least.)

The military’s tolerance for the political meltdown will be key to the near-term future of Venezuela. Maduro, instead of offering to hold already-delayed elections, is now calling for a handpicked assembly to write a new constitution, reinforcing worries that the embattled government will go to almost any lengths to cling to power.

For now, Maduro might just be right about the military’s loyalty. He is still in office, even though massive protests have rocked Caracas and other cities, and clashes between protesters and security forces have left nearly 40 dead since early April. Maduro secured a vow of “unconditional loyalty” from the head of the military just before the nationwide protests began. One way Maduro has ensured the military’s loyalty is through a top-heavy general officer corps — with about five times more generals than the military actually needs — which lets him dole out control of lucrative parts of the economy, from food to medicine to energy, which gives soldiers a stake in the permanence of the regime.

Photo credit: CARLOS BECERRA/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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