As is so often the case in Latin America, the Venezuelan political crisis has brought in the military. Already the government had militarized a lot of functions, and now it has trotted out the leadership to warn the opposition and signal that the military leadership was on the government's side. Francisco Toro argues that Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López's speech may well also have been signalling that the armed forces were not tied to any political faction and therefore (perhaps) would remain neutral.
Significantly, he reads out the constitution’s Article 328, which establishes the Armed Forces as apolitical and in the service of the nation rather than any political partiality. This is one of those “inconvenient articles” chavista propaganda has banished from the public sphere, so to hear a Defense Minister cite it is highly significant. But then Padrino López goes on to argue that the Commander in Chief is not “a political partiality.” He closed the whole thing with a ¡Chávez vive!, but his speech steered clear of the kind of highly divisive language that’s the hallmark of chavismo.
Either way, the military is getting sucked in whether it wants to or not. It has already been in the business of making arrests. A question I always have, especially given Hugo Chávez's origins, is whether there are ideological gaps between the leadership and the rank-and-file. The latter don't have the political and economic access of their superiors and are more connected the hunger and shortages on the ground.
It is depressing that years after we spent so much time studying "consolidation" of democracy and what that meant, we're back to reading the military tea leaves.
Update: go check out this analysis of the Venezuelan military by Brian Fonseca, John Polga-Hecimovich, and Harold Trinkunas. Basically, it's complicated. But we also just don't know what these junior officers are saying to each other in private.