Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Forces urged to stay out of poll

An opposition candidate has accused President Hugo Chavez of seeking to politicise the armed forces in Venezuela (AP)

Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles has urged Venezuela's armed forces to stay out of politics in a carefully crafted plea to an institution that has long been moulded by President Hugo Chavez.

During 13 years in office, Mr Chavez has endeavoured to place his political stamp on the military command, promoting trusted officers and also giving former barracks comrades key political posts.

On Sunday, Mr Chavez used an appearance at a military graduation ceremony to accuse Mr Capriles of seeking to foment violence by trying to make inroads in poor neighbourhoods, which have long been bastions of support for the leftist president.

The Capriles camp accused Mr Chavez, a former paratrooper, of seeking to politicise the armed forces.

"The current government wants to confuse political rights with party activities, showing disrespect for soldiers and their families," Mr Capriles said in a speech broadcast by private television channels.

"The cult of personality they try to establish in our armed forces makes it lose its bearing, that's not the mission of a commander in chief."

Mr Chavez, who led a bloody but failed 1992 coup attempt, insisted during a news conference that soldiers "will be the first ones to support the will of the majority, whatever it is".

During the election, soldiers are responsible for keeping order and safeguarding voting equipment and voter rolls. And because the election is expected to be hotly contested, there are fears that tensions could boil over into violence.

"Never before in Venezuela's history is their role going to be so decisive in maintaining calm inside polling stations," Rocio San Miguel, leader of the independent watchdog Control Ciudadano, said of the nation's troops.

Opposition concerns of potential armed forces meddling in politics were spurred by a close Chavez confidant, General Henry Rangel Silva, who told a newspaper in 2010 that the military would refuse to recognise an election victory by the opposition.

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