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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Under the political-military and the citizen-soldier sign

Hugo Chávez's rise to power has generated a deep transformation, not only within the National Armed Forces, but also within the framework of the civil-military relations, the essential impact of which has been reflected in the trend towards the "politicization" of the military, the dismantling of the institutional apparatus from civilian control, and a break with the paradigm that establishes that the men and women in uniform are the sole responsible for the defense of the country.

Since 1992, Chávez proposed as one of "the ways out of this labyrinth", to reestructure the FAN, "breaking with their authocratic character", and in August of 1998, while being a presidential candidate, he promised to end with the promotions granted by means of "political influences."

The adoption of a new Constitution in 1999 consolidates part of his Chávez's aspiration, by removing the parliamentary control over the promotions, giving the power to promote generals and admirals only to him; by including the vote of the military and, above all, by eliminating the "apolitical" and "not deliberative" character that the FAN has had since 1961, which - accoording to Jesús Sanoja Hernández - represented the "greatest danger."

"The wall that separates the streets from the barracks has now been, and remains, torn down, and a bridge is being built over the gap between active and retired military. Politics are politics and not a baseball game, and one will always be troubled by the suspicion that a retired military officer in power, a commander in chief of the FAN, would not hesitate to misuse this privilege", further stated the historian.

"Views taking root" in the barracks

Even though the Military Institutional Front warned about the "politicization of the FAN" in the year 2000, the former Minister of Defence, Raúl Salazar, considers - upon hearing the Chief of State insulting his adversaries in military events or upon seeing him wearing the military uniform in political events - that it was in April 2002 when the institution went through a "transformation", in which "the most damaging issue has been its involvement in the political sphere".

And all this is due to the fact that for Chávez, the FAN is a "political resource of the State". That was his statement in July of 1999, when he asked, "why do the military have to be apolitical? Nobody said that the military should have a political party, but we cannot confuse politics with the denaturing practice of politics."

In this sense, in 2005 he urged the military to take, "without fear," the debate on socialism to the barracks, and in 2007 he told them that they were "obliged to repeat from their soul, and lift the Flag with, the slogan 'Motherland, socialism or death', without ambiguities of any kind and without complexes", giving them this warning, "if any of you fells uncomfortable, then you better leave."

According to general (r) Alberto Müller, "the apoliticism in the FAN is a fallacy, the National Armed Forces have always been politicized, they have always followed the political trend of the Administration."

Rocío San Miguel, director of the civil association Citizens' Control for Security and Defense, believes that "it is not worth to continue talking about the politicization of the FAN. That is already a reality."


In May of 2004, Chávez began to give the guidelines to "open up the channels for the massive popular participation in the integral defence", because although some steps had been given in the organization of the reserve, "it was not enough". A year thereafter, the National Command of the Reserve was created and four years upon that it is already a body in continuous training.

Both, Salazar and Manuel Andara, former inspector of the FAN, have agreed in that the Reserve is acting within the law, provided that they are "active in the defense of the sovereignty and not at the service of a political project." Yet, the 14th of April of 2005 Chávez stated that "if the empire aims at coming here once again, it will collide against the people and the FAN. Hence the importance of the Reserve."

For the analyst Carlos Blanco, the objectives behind the creation of this body are "to constitute a shock force against the institutional FAN, and to have a 'civilian force' scattered in the heart of the society, which may carry out tasks of intelligence and repression activities against the dissidence," he said in an article published in 2005.

In his defense, Héctor Herrera, president of the Bolivarian Civil-Military Front, claims that the Reserve is a "sample of the civil-military union."

Maria Daniela Espinoza/Nadja Prophete
El Universal
Pictures collected by myself

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