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Chavez Shores up His Military Support

Released on 2012-03-09 04:00 GMT

Email-ID 1382436
Date 2010-11-12 19:19:23
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Chavez Shores up His Military Support

November 12, 2010 | 1739 GMT
Chavez Shores up His Military Support
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in October

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez promoted Maj. Gen. Henry Rangel Silva,
currently Venezuela's chief of strategic operations for the armed
forces, to general in chief during a state television address late Nov.
11. Announcing the promotion, Chavez said "the imperialist oligarchs
will never have an armed forces subordinated in the shadows to their
gross interests."

The promotion comes after Rangel Silva publicly reaffirmed the loyalty
of the armed forces to the president Nov. 8, saying the military is
married to Chavez's political project. Rangel Silva added that the
military will not tolerate an opposition government win in 2012
elections, as it would try to "sell" the country to foreign interests.

A Chavez loyalist, Rangel Silva is thought to be one of the chief drug
traffickers in the Venezuelan armed forces. In 2008, the U.S. Treasury
Department listed Rangel Silva and Director of Military Intelligence
Hugo Carvajal as drug kingpins involved in financing the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group.

Not by coincidence, Rangel Silva's defensive statements and his sudden
promotion come as Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, in Colombian
custody since his late August arrest, faces possible extradition to the
United States. Makled is thought to possess valuable recordings of
transactions incriminating high-ranking members of the Venezuelan
government in money laundering, drug trafficking and perhaps terrorism.
Rangel Silva, Carvajal, and Interior and Justice Minister Tareck El
Aissami could be on Makled's list. Given the tumult that would ensue
should high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government face such
serious criminal charges in a U.S. court, Caracas has pressed the
Colombian government to extradite Makled to Venezuela on the grounds
that he is a Venezuelan citizen.

Colombia is benefiting greatly from holding the threat of Makled's
extradition over Chavez. It is sharing intelligence from Makled with the
United States and would rather amplify Caracas' discomfort after years
of struggling to get the Venezuelan government to stop supporting FARC
rebels who have enjoyed refuge in Venezuela.

As the pressure has increased, so has Caracas' desperation. By promoting
Rangel Silva, Chavez is attempting to reassure the armed forces that
regardless of Makled's fate, the president will not sacrifice his
loyalists to bargain his way out of a crisis. Such assurances may not
hold as much weight as before. High-ranking members of the government
may prove unwilling to gamble on Makled's fate and could make
contingency plans to protect their assets and themselves.

The president's biggest fear is that such planning could destabilize his
government, perhaps culminating in a coup attempt down the road. This
explains almost daily announcements by Chavez's allies in the government
regarding mass expansions of the National Bolivarian Militia (NBM). The
NBM expansion has long upset many in the armed forces, who remain wary
that the NBM will encroach on their authority. The NBM is not a
particularly well-trained or capable fighting force, but recent efforts
to recruit trained soldiers to the militia indicate an effort by the
president to stymie possible coup plans by other segments of the armed
forces. The Rangel Silva promotion is thus a stark reminder that the
armed forces should be watched closely for any breakdowns in cohesion.
The potential for fissures in the military rises with the Venezuelan
government's vulnerabilities.

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