Golpistas Offer Bribes to Venezuelan Military Officers

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Fri Dec 20 22:55:17 MST 2002

New York Times  December 21, 2002

A Top General Still Stands Behind Chávez

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 20 - The telephone calls have come by the
dozens, from leaders of the antigovernment movement, ordinary
Venezuelans and even a couple of military officers, all pleading with
Gen. Raúl Baduel for his help in removing President Hugo Chávez from

But General Baduel, commander of Venezuela's most important division
and the general most responsible for ensuring Mr. Chávez's hold on
the presidency, has rejected the requests.

"There have been calls and propositions, even from high levels, of an
economic nature that at this point have reached hundreds of thousands
of dollars," General Baduel, a 26-year army veteran, told a group of
foreign reporters on Thursday at his office in the city of Maracay.

The general said government foes wanted him to put pressure on the
president so that he "understands that he has to resolve this
situation by resigning."

As a punishing national strike continues into its 19th day, rumors of
a possible coup against the left-leaning president abound. After all,
he was briefly deposed in April when high-ranking military officers -
who had been holding secret meetings with opposition figures -
withdrew their support for the government in the wake of street

Military officers and experts said Mr. Chávez, a former army
paratrooper with close ties to the military, has taken steps since
April to ensure that important commands are in the hands of trusted
allies - even if he cannot account for the loyalty of all
middle-grade officers. He has also spent much of his time visiting
bases and talking with soldiers, building ties that could prove
useful if some officers grow restless.

Eight months of reshuffling of commands and pressing of the flesh may
be paying off now, military experts say, as the government continues
to weather the strike. Today, hundreds of thousands of anti-Chávez
marchers took to the streets, while oil workers defied a Supreme
Court ruling issued on Friday that ordered the reactivation of the
state oil company, the lifeblood of the country's economy.

To this point, the military experts said, there is little sign of
unrest in the ranks. "The government can feel secure," said Antonio
Berarducci, who teaches military strategy to majors and lieutenant
colonels at the air force's war school. "As long as Chávez is
president of the republic, the armed forces are going to support him."

The president is counting on generals like General Baduel, 47, who
has been his friend since the early 1970's and was the most visible
officer to remain loyal to him when he was removed from power on
April 12.

General Baduel, then a brigadier general and commander of a
paratrooper brigade, has since been promoted to head the 12,000-man
Fourth Armored Division, which has troops in seven states. Five of
seven other high-ranking officers who joined him in supporting the
president in April were also promoted to important posts, including
commands of the army and navy.

At Plaza Altamira, a public square in an affluent section of Caracas
that has become the center of antigovernment activity, generals and
admirals who withdrew support for Mr. Chávez in April rail against
him daily. Privately, they urge their former colleagues to join them,
hoping to split the military and weaken the government. But they also
acknowledge that the president has strengthened his hold.

"He took us out of our key jobs in the armed forces, and he put in
people close to his ideology," lamented Gen. Carlos Alfonzo, the
former second in command of the National Guard. "Every day that
passes, he is gaining more space in the armed forces."

Still, some military experts say there are occasional rumblings of
dissent in the barracks.

Col. Joseph Nunez, who teaches at the United States Army War College
and has close contacts with the Venezuelan military, said there were
officers in the forces with divided loyalties. They are subjected to
heavy pressure from both sides, he said, with the government urging
officers to speak out for Mr. Chávez and the opposition pleading for

"There are lot of retired senior officers who are working very
aggressively to get active duty officers to turn, and to get them to
take a stand publicly against the president," Colonel Nunez said.

The president, in an interview on Sunday, said he was well aware that
military officers had been approached by opposition leaders. But he
was confident about the military's support, and described how he met
regularly with soldiers and officers. "I have to permanently be
sending messages to them, clarifying things," he said with a smile.


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