Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Venezuelan general: an opposition government "is not going to be accepted"

Gen. Henry Rangel Silva (image source).

Venezuela’s 1999 constitution, written during President Hugo Chávez’s first year in office, is pretty clear about prohibiting military involvement in politics. “The National Armed Forces are an essentially professional institution, without political militancy,” reads Article 328. Article 330 prohibits military personnel from participating in “acts of political propaganda, militancy or proselytization [i.e., campaigning].”

It is very hard to square this with the statements of Major General Henry Rangel Silva, head of the Venezuelan Armed Forces’ Opertional Strategic Command, made in an interview published Monday in the Caracas newspaper Últimas Noticias.

In the interview Gen. Rangel, who coordinatesPlan República,” the Venezuelan armed forces’ election security and protection operation, lashed out at President Chávez’s political opponents.

For many [opposition figures], there are some military leaders who aren’t suitable, and they say, ‘we have to get them out of the way.’ … They [the opposition] act with the support of third governments, and that affects nationalism. The hypothesis [of an elected government led by today’s opposition] is hard to swallow, it would mean selling the country, and that is not going to be accepted, not by the armed forces and much less by the people.

This is not a left-right issue. In a region where many countries are still emerging from decades of authoritarian military rule, the idea of a high-ranking military officer going on record to imply that the armed forces would not accept an election result demands universal condemnation.

Control Ciudadano, the Venezuelan NGO most engaged with civil-military affairs, called Gen. Rangel’s comments “inadmissible, particularly coming from the second-in-command of the national armed forces, which puts the institution on the wrong side of the Constitution.”

It would be simple enough for the Chavez government to put this behind it by having the President or another top official say clearly, on the record, that Gen. Rangel’s words do not represent the government’s view. So far, though, top pro-government officials have gone the other way.

In the National Assembly, which until the end of the year has a near-unanimous pro-Chávez majority, the body’s first vice president, Darío Vivas, voiced his support for the General’s statement, characterizing it as an expression of military loyalty to President Chávez, their commander in chief.

Leaders of the tiny opposition bloc in the Assembly (whose numbers will grow to over a third of the body once the legislature elected on September 29 is seated) sought to schedule a debate over Gen. Rangel’s words, but the Assembly’s leadership denied their request.