Would generals accept handover?

SEVEN years before Hugo Ch__vez was elected as Venezuela_s president in 1998, he tried to seize power in a failed ...
SEVEN years before Hugo Ch__vez was elected as Venezuela_s president in 1998, he tried to seize power in a failed military coup. He has since been re-elected twice, but will face a strong opponent this October in Henrique Capriles, a former state governor. Although Mr Ch__vez leads in the polls, he has been receiving treatment in Cuba for cancer, and concerns about his health could weaken his support. The president says he will respect the voters_ decision. But some in the opposition fear that he may seek to stay in office even if he loses the election.

If Mr Ch__vez does try to flout the electorate, the army may determine the outcome. Legally, it must provide security and logistical support during elections. The constitution Mr Ch__vez enacted in 1999 limits it to a non-partisan role. And the officer corps as a whole is no more chavista than the general population.

However, the defence minister, General Henry Rangel Silva, said in 2010 that the army was _wedded_ to the president_s leftist project, and Mr Ch__vez calls the army both socialist and chavista. Many senior generals have openly supported Mr Ch__vez politically, and would probably be sidelined if Mr Capriles wins. Some could face legal threats: the United States_ Department of the Treasury has put General Rangel Silva on a blacklist for allegedly aiding drug traffickers.

Mr Ch__vez further complicated the situation with a law in 2011 that assigned the president the military rank of commander-in-chief. A future president-elect, who would rank as his junior, might have to retire him. Although the constitution bans serving members of the army from standing for office, the electoral authority has looked the other way.

Even if the army does abandon Mr Ch__vez, he could still try to cling to power by other means. In recent years he has created a separate militia corps to aid the _construction of socialism_. The government puts its strength at 125,000, making it comparable in size (if not in firepower or training) to the formal army. Their loyalty is to Mr Ch__vez, not the Venezuelan state.

Mr Capriles is seeking to defuse this threat by courting the army himself. He recently promised to improve soldiers_ welfare benefits, base promotions on merit rather than patronage and end foreign meddling_a reference to the presence of senior Cuban officers. Mr Ch__vez then accused his rival of hating the army. Both candidates seem well aware that campaigning in the barracks could matter just as much as it does in the barrios.

By The Economist

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