FILE PHOTO: Rally against the government of Venezuela's President Maduro and to commemorate May Day in Caracas
By Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS (Reuters) - A Venezuelan general called on the country's armed forces on Sunday to rise up against President Nicolas Maduro, who has relied on the backing of the military to hold on to power despite an economic collapse.
Ramon Rangel, who identified himself as an air force general, said the Venezuelan government is being controlled by the "communist dictatorship" in Cuba - a key Maduro ally.
"We have to find a way to get rid of the fear, to go out into the streets, to protest, and to seek a military union to change this political system," Rangel, dressed in a suit with a copy of the constitution in his hand, said in a video posted on YouTube. "It's time to rise up."
While Rangel's pronouncement marks another blow to Maduro after a handful of similar defections by senior officers this year, there is little to indicate that he will tip the scales.
Officers who have disavowed Maduro have fled the country and the military top brass - most notably those who command troops - continues to recognize Maduro.
The information ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment. Reuters was also unable to obtain comment from Rangel.
Air Force Commander Pedro Juliac posted a picture of Rangel on Twitter on Sunday with the words "traitor to the Venezuelan people and the revolution" printed across the image.
Rangel was an active military officer who fled to Colombia last month, according to a source close to Venezuela's military who asked not to be identified.
Unlike other officers who have made similar pronouncements, Rangel did not voice support for Juan Guaido - the opposition leader who invoked the constitution in January to assume the interim presidency, arguing that Maduro's 2018 re-election was a fraud.
More than 50 nations, including the United States and most South American nations, call Guaido Venezuela's legitimate leader. Guaido and a group of soldiers called on the armed forces on April 30 to turn on Maduro, but the military never joined and the uprising collapsed. The government called the event a coup attempt and accused a group of 10 opposition legislators of treason for joining rallies that day.
Venezuela is suffering a hyperinflationary collapse that has fueled a migration exodus of some 3.5 million people in the past three years.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Paul Tait)