Chavez locks up his military leadership

NY Times:

They say prison life can be lonely, but not for Raúl Isaías Baduel, Venezuela’s former army chief and once one of President Hugo Chávez’s confidants, who was detained last month.

Among his cellmates in the Ramo Verde military prison here are a former admiral, Carlos Millán, and Wilfredo Barroso, a onetime general arrested along with Mr. Millán on charges of conspiring to oust Mr. Chávez.

Since February, Mr. Chávez has moved against a wide range of domestic critics, and his efforts in recent weeks to strengthen his grip on the armed forces have led to high-profile arrests and a wave of reassignments.

These are seen here as part of a larger effort by Mr. Chávez to cement loyalty in the military, where some officers are growing resentful at what they see as his micromanagement and politicizing of a proud and relatively independent institution.

“Chávez does not have the support he thinks he has in the armed forces,” Mr. Baduel, 53, said in an interview in the cell that has become his home since agents from the military intelligence service arrested him, shoving him into a vehicle and holding a pistol to his temple.

In March, Mr. Chávez replaced the chiefs of the army, the air force and the Bolivarian Militia, a Cuban-inspired reserve force created to repel what Mr. Chávez repeatedly raises as the threat of an invasion by the United States.

During the same wave of dismissals, Mr. Chávez also cashiered his defense minister, Gen. Gustavo Rangel Briceño. On Thursday night, intelligence agents detained another former officer, Otto Gebauer, a retired captain who was ordered to hold Mr. Chávez during a brief coup in April 2002. Mr. Gebauer, who had angered Mr. Chávez by saying the president cried during the 48-hour coup, was accused of violating the terms of his house arrest, his wife said.

The authority of as many as 800 military officers was stripped away last year after doubts surfaced over their loyalty to Mr. Chávez, according to news reports. The officers were said to have been angered by favoritism shown to pro-Chávez officers, as well as by revelations of the military’s close ties to leftist Colombian guerrillas and by infiltration of the military by Cuban intelligence, civilian experts on Venezuela’s military said.

Real leaders do not need coercion and jails to create loyalty. In part it is created by loyalty from the top. Chavez's paranoia and insecurity makes that impossible. One of the problems with paranoia is that it creates real enemies eventually. Chavez appears to be at that stage. He may find like Stalin did, that locking up most of his military leadership means he will be found short when he needs them most.


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