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A view from inside the Venezuelan military

The Venezuelan daily, Ultimas Noticias, published a very interesting interview which is essential reading on the Venezuelan armed forces and some of the debates that are occuring (which stepped up quite a bit in April this year when Chavez told all those in the military who did not support the slogan "homeland, socialism or death" to leave). Since this interview both Chavez and Müller Rojas, long-time revolutionary involved in the Venezuelan military, who after 20 years of inactivity was asked by Chavez to return to the armed forces to help guide it and who only a week before this interview asked to be passed into retirement to concentrate on his new assignment, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, having been once again picked by Chavez to be part of the promoter commission. The translation below (posted here on LeftClick) is the first available anywhere in english. [ I hope to follow this up in the next few days with articles expressing Chavez's comments in response to Müller Rojas

Alberto Müller Rojas: “The armed forces is politicized and partyised”

Interview with the ex-head of the presidential general staff and member of the Promoter Commission of PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela]

Paula Ramon, Ultimas Noticias, June 30
Translated by Federico Fuentes

For (r) General Alberto Müller Rojas, it was surprising the speed with which President Hugo Chavez resolved to pass him into retirement, something he himself had asked for on June 23, during the event to mark the second phase of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV).

The head of state did not immediately respond that day, but a few hours later Müller Rojas received information notifying him that during the ceremony on June 24, Day of the Army, there would be a separate event to stand him down. He smiles when he recalls the words that the president dedicated to him that afternoon.

Although he believes that it would have been pertinent for the head of state to have converse with him prior to accepting or rejecting the proposal, this did not take away from his decision, and he trusts that they will speak when [Chavez] returns [from his trip to Russia and Iran].

What motivated you to request to be retired from the FAN [National Armed Forces]?

I had been thinking about it since December.

I had not done it before because my comrades on the General Staff pressured me to stay on in the coordination, but I was already kind of irked.

Why?

Because my activity after passing into retirement in 1985 was political, being reincorporated into the FAN implied restrictions, obviously, I did not follow all of them, and this was one condition that put to the president when he asked me to return. I said that I could not retire from political activity. He said to me "do it, but with discretion". That is how I carried out my work, but this discretion had to be abandoned when he named me as part of the Promoter Commission of the PSUV, an essentially political activity, and by which I was being incorporating into the party.

Were you surprised by the reaction from Chavez to your request?

The speed with which the decision came about – deciding it the day after - was relatively surprising. I thought that prior to taking the decision of removing me, there should have been a conversation between the head of state and me to evaluate the issue referred to, but this did not happen..... However, I know the president very well and I know that he is not a man who holds back in taking decisions when he thinks they are convenient. A lot of the time he makes impulsive decision, as soon as a problem arises, but generally his decisions are wise because he has a great intuition and knows the Venezuelan reality very well.

You were saying that your entry into the Promoter Commission reflects the position of Chavez over soldiers in politics...

This is obvious, it is not only the fact that he named me which points in that direction, there are other indicators of the sympathy of President Chavez of being frank about the situation that actually exists.

What indicators?

The presence of uniformed soldiers at political acts, this is a politicisation and partyisation of the Armed Forces, as is the general adoption within the FAN of the slogan "Patria, socialismo o muerte" [Homeland, socialism or death], this to is a clear indication. I believe that he [Chavez] contradicts himself when he points out that achieving the partyisation of the FAN is not his objective.

Your position kicked off a debate which was also led by Francisco Ameliach and ex-minister Orlando Maniglia. Did you receive demonstrates of support from the military sector?

I did not receive any signal in any direction .... the strange thing about the attitude of Ameliach and Maniglia is that they coincide with the approach of the Institutional Military Front and the opposition. The attack that the Institutional Front made was not directed at me, but rather expressly at the president and the movement he heads.

But Chavez intervened in favour of this position....

This is one of the contradictions that I observed in the speech that the president gave on June 24, a very profound contradiction. There, he spoke of the professionalisation of the active force, whilst simultaneously he spoke of all-peoples defence and war of resistance, and the two are absolutely incompatible concepts.

Why?

Because all-peoples defence does not distinguish between citizen and soldier, and does not maintain a fixed, professionalised Armed Forces, all citizens have the responsibility of defending the state; there is an important group of professionally-qualified cadres from the point of view of dominating the military technical academies, who are in charge of permanent training of the society for defence. The existence of this model of a few active professionalised forces and a reserve force is the model that the United States uses... in the case of Venezuela, the adoption of the US thesis in the military sphere would be useless because we do not have the possibility of having a highly technical, dissuasive armed force which could defend against anyone, because we neither do we produce any type of bellicose energy nor do we have the industrial capacity to sustain an armed force of this type.

So then, what is occurring in the quarters?

There is a debate that i believe should be public, a professionalised forces is extraordinarily costly.

The FAN, more than half of which is made up of conscripts, has generated labour costs in terms of payment of extremely high work benefits, which means that 75% of military costs in the country are spent on costs in human resources and only 25% for the operation of equipment and maintenance of state infrastructure, this historically has allowed our country to be in a situation of virtually not being able to defend itself in the face of threats that it has had to confront throughout the 20th century, because the structures operational abilities are very low, and in the current conditions will not improve. My personal position is one of totally opposing the professionalising the armed forces.

In what direction should we go then?

It should go in the direction of an all-peoples defence, towards the war of resistance that the people wage in the face of an external invader.

How do you evaluate these changes in the positions of the president?

I would consider the fact that there are pressures in the military command in relation to change that the adoption of the new model of defence would signify, because this would take away a series of privileges and definitively takes away from the FAN the role of dominant political actors in Venezuelan reality.... in some way the armed forces had converted itself into a super-constitutional political movement... Venezuelan democracy was in fact tutored by the FAN.

With your passing into retirement, will you also step down from the Presidential General Staff?

Of course

Would will fill this position?

General Jacinto Pérez Arcay.

The president told me that I would continue being an adviser to him on military matters.

What would you like to talk to him about when he returns?

I would like to put forward my point of view on the issue of national defence.. to see what are the arguments that he has for going backwards and totally assuming the tendencies which were dominant in the Fourth Republic which tended towards the professionalisation of the FAN.... it could be that those in the military have pressured him, and that, for the sake of maintaining harmony, he is assuming this position, even though he understands that it is not the most appropriate.

They say that Chavez has lost contact with the people, is there any truth to this?

There is some truth to this. The problem in relation to his security obliges him to take many precautions in regards to direct contact with the multitude, but this does not stop him from dedicating time in his agenda to speak with people who are recognised in society as spokespeople that can give him a different insight to that which he receives from an entourage that sometimes tends to behave in the manner that Pío Gil described, when he spoke of Cipriano Castro and the sycophants... this absence of communication with society has meant that he has been a little removed from direct knowledge of what the people are feeling.

And does he maintain contact with the [military] quarters?

He does go to the quarters, he always stops off at the military installations... I believe that this is where the contradiction comes from because knowing him, I know that he would not allow himself to be intimidated by a group of soldiers, no matter how well prepared they were. The support he has liberates him from the necessity of succumbing in front of pressures from specific sectors of society.

Does the right dominate in the FAN?

I don't know. Those of us from the left have always had a presence in the quarters, but we have never been the majority.

Which tendency do you think might gain momentum?

I don't know, ever since I was Captain I yearned for the return to the practise that Juan Vicente Gómez maintained of having civilian ministers, nearly all people apply this, because such a role is political, not a military technical one. That helps solve many of the political problems where blackmail is used as an instrument of action. It was very emotional for me when the president named José Vicente Rangel, a political activist with experience.

And the subsequent changes?

I didn't like it after they replaced Rangel, because they did not have a similar person following on from this flexible and political man, which is what is needed in regards to political direction for the efforts of defence of the State. The Ministry of Defence does not have a command, it politically orientates the effort of defence of the state, exercising it through the administration of the fiscal budget

Between the Ministry of Defence and the FAN there is an administrative chain which is not based on command. The command is born directly in the president, who can not delegate it, only in times of war

What is your opinion of the management of General Baduel?

The only thing I can say is that in his position of Minister of Defence, is that the previous ministers allowed the members of the General Staff, because of our experience and the confidence that the president had in us, to participate in the deliberations of the Superior Junta of the FAN, with voice and no vote, only are speakers and advisors. The first decision that Raúl Baduel took was to exclude us because the law was to be applied strictly to the letter. In my opinion this impoverished the discussions that were carried out there.

Do you believe that this conservative line will be maintained in the military sector?

That’s how it seems, because the decision of the professionalisation of the FAN that the president took is a clear indication that, at least for the moment, he prefers the conservative line over the revolutionary one in relation to the defence of the country. He would have his reasons for this.

[Accompanying box]

Soldiers in waiting

When (r) General Alberto Müller Rojas announced his enrolment for the PSUV, he mentioned that he was not the only one, nevertheless he avoided giving names. Consulted over the destiny of these soldiers, the interviewee underlined that it is not a decision that corresponds to the Promoter Commission that he is part of. Despite the promise by President Hugo Chavez to not modify the articles that refer to this issue in the constitution, Müller Rojas maintains the position that it will be the Founding Congress of the organisation….which will deliberate over whether they will accept amongst their ranks members from the military sector. "The practice here has been that soldiers sign themselves up on secret lists, I was a member in this way and my political affiliation was known, that is the real constitution" he said.

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