Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ex-comrade helps keep Chavez in line

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appears to have put the brakes on his socialist revolution in the last few days, a welcome sign of political realism.

He backtracked over a controversial new spy law that decreed anyone refusing to work as an informant for state intelligence agencies would face four-year prison terms. "This is a government that rectifies," he said.

Whatever happened to the stubborn old Chavez and his "my way or the highway" approach?

Fact is, Chavez has been having a hard time of it lately, his popularity is down, and he seems to realize it's time to make nice with his critics.

One of the most important of them is Gen. Raul Baduel, his former defense minister. Baduel publicly denounced Chavez's political ambitions last year, calling him a dangerous megalomaniac and helping defeat a December referendum that would have permitted Chavez to stay in power indefinitely.

Recently, I sat down with Baduel to ask why he made the dangerous leap into opposition politics.

The 36-year army veteran and avid parachutist is accustomed to dangerous jumps. Feeling fear is a healthy sensation, he says.

The former general looks comfortable these days in a business suit. But for two decades he and Chavez were comrades in arms. Baduel, 52, and Chavez, who is one year his senior, were part of a group of idealistic officers who signed a secret oath in 1982 to fight government corruption.

But in 1992 when Chavez launched an officer's coup, Baduel did not join him. It was a smart decision, as the coup failed and Chavez ended up in jail.

A decade later when Chavez was himself ousted in a civilian coup, Baduel came to his rescue.

His loyalty earned him promotion to defense minister, as well as almost mystical status in Venezuela. But Baduel, a devotee of Taoism's emphasis on resolving conflict without violence, broke with Chavez last year when he tried to rewrite the constitution.

Chavez responded with a furious speech, leading a crowd of supporters who chanted, "Baduel, traitor! To the firing squad!"

It was Chavez, however, who came away wounded. His defeat may have irreparably damaged his hope of staying in power beyond 2013, when his current term ends.

Baduel says his mission is unfinished. Gubernatorial and municipal elections in November are the next battleground.

"The only thing that interests him (Chavez) is infinite re-election, even if it pushes the country off a cliff," he said.

Baduel accused Chavez of picking fights with Colombia and the United States in order to boost his popularity by stirring up "false nationalism."

He was referring to a scandal involving seized computer documents that appear to show Venezuelan government support for Colombia's main rebel army, the FARC. Chavez has cast the scandal as a conspiracy by the United States and Colombia to besmirch his government.

With polls showing Chavez's party trailing in key states, Baduel said it is conceivable Chavez might cancel the November election to avoid a defeat that would undermine a future attempt to revoke his term limit.

What his country needs is not more Chavez, Baduel says, but stronger democratic institutions so that it can properly administer its vast oil wealth to meet the needs of its 28-million people.

"We need to armor-plate our democracy to ensure that no one, Chavez or anyone else, can arbitrarily take control of the country's resources, especially the oil revenue," he said.

Ex-comrade helps keep Chavez in line 06/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Metal engine cover piece breaks off jet, falls from sky in Clearwater


    CLEARWATER — A piece of metal broke off a jet leaving St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport Sunday morning, but the aircraft turned around and landed safely about 8:40 a.m., according to investigators.

  2. AP Top 25: USF stays ahead of UCF, but just barely


    USF remains ahead of UCF in the latest AP Top 25 poll - but just barely.

    Quinton Flowers and USF dropped one spot to No. 17 in the latest rankings.
  3. Lightning Strikes! podcast: Breaking down the Bolts' record start


    In this episode of our Lightning Strikes! podcast, we break down the Lightning's record 7-1-1 start. Why are Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos clicking so well? Why Mikhail Sergachev is likely here …

    Why are Steven Stamkos, pictured, and Nikita Kucherov clicking so well?
  4. Girl's fatal fall aboard cruise ship in Miami raises concerns over safety


    A child's fatal fall aboard a cruise ship a week ago appears to be an unusual accident, but it still may raise concerns about safety for potential passengers traveling with children.

    Friends and family mourn Zion Smith, the 8-year-old girl who fell to her death aboard a Carnival cruise in Miami this weekend. [Image from Facebook]
  5. My AP Top 25 ballot: UCF moves into the top 15, Michigan falls out


    No major changes in my latest AP Top 25 ballot.