The following is excerpted from the Miami Herald: “On paper, the Venezuelan armed forces count more than 120,000 men among its ranks and possess roughly 600 armoured vehicles and 200 main battle tanks, half of which are Soviet era T-72s. It also has 100 combat-capable planes and dozens of helicopters. But Venezuelan officers, active and retired, told the Miami Herald that the country’s four military branches have been decimated in recent years by massive desertions. The Defense Ministry has been swamped by a wave of resignation requests from more than a quarter of its officer corps, which are constantly turned down or placed on hold. “We have had reports of battalion level units being shrunk down to about 95 men” — about a fifth of their regular size — “because they don’t have anyone to fill those positions,” a retired Venezuelan Major said. “The actual operational capacity of the army is little more than a third.”
Officers consulted said they have not seen any evidence of a Venezuelan military buildup along the border, aside from a seasonal rotation of personnel. While not a new phenomenon, mass desertions have increased during the past three years amid rapidly deteriorating living conditions for officers and professional troops, whose salaries are among the lowest in the hemisphere. Growing discontent among uniformed men has forced the top brass to grant troops personal free time from their duties to be able to obtain second jobs to make ends meet. And an economic spiral which has seen Venezuela’s gross domestic product plunge by 75% has also severely impaired the operational status of the country’s military equipment. The Air Force, for example, has been forced to ground much of its fleet for lack of maintenance and parts. In some cases, fighter jets are capable of flying but are missing missiles, or are carrying bombs with lapsed life expectancy, Figuera said.
Even if Maduro were to muster the men and equipment, a Venezuelan incursion into the Essequibo region would then have to traverse thick jungles and swampland. There are no roads between the two countries. And while some of Venezuela’s armoured vehicles do have amphibious capabilities, they would still be ill-fitted to cross through large swamps. In a hypothetical armed conflict, Venezuela could deploy its Navy — which has one frigate and patrol boats — to block Georgetown, the Guyanese capital, and enter the nearby Essequibo River, establishing a potential beachhead on the West Bank, Figuera said.
But that beachhead would be isolated by land from the Venezuelan side, and would have a very precarious supply line, giving Venezuelan troops no other option than to stay near their boats. The difficulties of the terrain and the army’s state of disrepair would make it very difficult for Venezuela to take military control of the vast region that it claims. Experts say Caracas could flex its muscles with an attempt to blockade Georgetown, or even bomb the Guyana capital. But sustaining a military presence in the bordering country would be a far more ambitious challenge.
Despite Venezuela’s weaknesses, Guyana’s military by comparison is far weaker still. With military strength between 4,000 and 5,000 troops, Guyana would find itself at a disadvantage. A Venezuelan attack on Guyana could trigger Article 4 of the Regional Security System, an international security agreement among some Caribbean nations that Guyana joined last year, becoming its eighth member. That provision states that an armed attack against one member by a third state “is an armed attack against all”, and would trigger a collective military response.
Guyana is also a member of the 15-member Caribbean community known as CARICOM. But “the CARICOM military assets are no match for Venezuela,” said Anthony Bryan, co-founder of the Caribbean Policy Consortium. “Logistically, it would be difficult for them to come to the assistance of Guyana, except in a supportive position,” Bryan said. That leaves the United States. Maduro’s threats come as relations between Guyana and the United States have strengthened, particularly under current Guyanese President Irfaan Ali. It appears that the administration has realistically accepted a US military base in Essequibo as a deterrent to Maduro.