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The $1.2 million traitor

I've long wondered what could have induced no less a figure than the former Venezuelan minister of defence, Gen. Raul Baduel (retired), to suddenly abandon both his post and his good friend. Now, it seems, we have an answer. From Aporrea:

The Vice-President of the Interior Politics Commission of the National Assembly, Iris Varela, denounced Gen. Raul Baduel on Thursday for having presumably received $1.277 million dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

[...]

The assemblywoman made the denunciation in the legislative chamber and asked that Assembly President Cilia Flores order an investigation on behalf of the Public Ministry against the ex-minister of defence. She assured that she had the transfer numbers of the accounts in which Baduel received the money.

"From a bank in the United Kingdom, $2.144 million dollars were transferred to Hermagoras Gonzalez Polanco, who has been arrested for drug trafficking and is linked to Interpol. The bank transaction number is 0895801004865, dated September 2007. The other transfer, dated November 2007, is for $1.277 million dollars, to Raul Isaias Baduel, and the transaction number is 0895209039485."

Translation mine.

Interesting that she mentions the transaction as being dated in November of last year. That would be right about the time that the former general jumped the shark, according to Venezuelanalysis:

Caracas, November 6, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's former Defense Minister, Raul Isaias Baduel, who played a key role in defeating the opposition military coup against Chavez in 2002, came out against the president's proposed constitutional reforms saying they represent a "constitutional coup" and that people should vote against them in the referendum on December 2. Chavez accused Baduel of betraying his own ideals with his new hard-line opposition.

Baduel, who called a press conference Monday, to which only opposition media were invited, argued that the proposed reform would "seize power away from the people," and constitutes a "total change in the content of the structure and fundamental principles of the constitution approved by the Venezuelan people in 99."

"This proposal is definitively not a constitutional reform; it is not a partial revision, nor a replacement of some of its norms. It is a transformation of the state, and a different model for the country," he continued.

"I feel the moral obligation to continue traveling the country to explain my opinion," Baduel commented, "I'm also considering an international campaign." Baduel also said he wouldn't rule out a future political career.

Check the date. Emphasis added.

We can now see that all the high-flown talk of "moral obligation" and upholding the constitution against "dangerous" structural changes was a sham. The details I underlined are crucial to a real understanding of the situation.

The timing of the transaction, and the ex-general's remarks, is paramount. There was a good chance that the constitutional reforms would win a popular vote (the margin of defeat was extremely slim), so naturally, those who stood to lose the most as a result were in a panic. They had to get someone prominent, someone trusted, to betray Chavez, and they found him.

And apparently, the ruse worked, but only barely. Now it's falling apart. A pity it couldn't have done so before the vote, but at least we know what really prompted the general's sudden defection, and we know it wasn't an acute attack of last-minute integrity.

There's a big hint in that he has since become associated with PODEMOS, a formerly pro-Chavez party which refused to join the PSUV coalition, positioning itself instead as "moderate left". Could the ex-general be, like his old colleague in arms Francisco Arias Cardenas, a coattail-rider who misoverestimated his ability to siphon off the "pro-Chavez, but" vote? If so, he'd do well to take a closer look at what happened to Arias. The latter came back with a big metaphorical tail between his legs when it became apparent that nobody was going to elect him president.

(Remember, kiddies, that the Venezuelan people who voted for Chavez and brought him back are poor but loyal. They have almost nothing, but they'd risk everything to protect their beloved president. Six years ago today, dozens of them laid down their lives, in fact. They're not likely to look kindly on anyone who stabs him in the back, especially if Yanqui dinero is involved.)

The amount of money Gen. Baduel stands accused of receiving is also significant; a large cash infusion, in excess of $1 million US, is the norm for a presidential candidate in many countries. Maybe this was just a foretaste of "campaign financing" to come.

And of course, there's the little matter of what media were present when he made his big announcement. Only opposition media? Hmm, now why would that be? Maybe because if government-funded media such as VTV, or independent and community media sympathetic to Chavez, such as Catia TVe or Radio Perola, the reporters would have asked him questions that might force him to give an "off message" answer. Something that would have given the game away. The handlers wouldn't like that. But the corporate opposition media could be counted on NOT to ask any hard questions, so of course they were the only ones invited!

Most interesting, though, is what Chavecito said. Apparently, he knew what was coming. From the same report:

Baduel's statement occurred only a day after President Hugo Chavez had warned the Venezuelan people of the possibility that some high profile figures in the Bolivarian movement would "jump ship" and join the ranks of the opposition.

Chavez, who phoned into current affairs TV talk show, Contragolpe, said "Baduel is betraying years of friendship" and "himself" and that he was aligning himself with the opposition and imperialism. He also revealed that he had known of Baduel's announcement two days previously.

According to Chavez, the constitutional reform, which would allow him to stand for re-election, recognize new types of social and collective property, end the autonomy of the Central Bank, and give more power to grassroots communal councils, among other measures, are necessary to deepen the creation of socialism in Venezuela.

Emphasis added.

Apparently, Chavecito knew where the weak links in the chain of command were. Had he been tipped off by military intel, by DISIP, or did he know just by watching his old friend and noticing some disturbing changes in him? We have yet to find out.

But one thing is clear--Chavecito is not the only one who noticed something amiss with Gen. Baduel:

Although Baduel claimed he was simply stating his own personal opinion, he made a particular call to the Armed Forces, to "profoundly analyze" the proposed changes to article 328, which would change the structure of the Armed Forces, saying, "it must be stopped," and that "the capacity of Venezuelan military men to analyze and think," should not be underestimated.

Retired General Alberto Müller Rojas, who is a long-time advisor to Chavez on military affairs, said he considers Baduel's statement as a call for a civil rebellion, arguing that notification of a rebellion is given when you accuse the National Executive and the National Assembly of usurping constitutional power.

Various reports have surfaced over the past few months of anti-Chavez and anti-reform material circulating within the military barracks, and Baduel's comments have led many to question the extent of his influence within the Venezuelan military.

However, two former Defense Ministers, General Jorge Luis García Carneiro and Admiral Orlando Maniglia have categorically rejected Baduel's comments and come out in support of the reforms.

According to Garcia Carneiro and Maniglia, the sentiments expressed by Baduel do not have wide support within the military.

Interesting, that. Six years ago today, a small group of high military commanders made a video in the presence of a CNN reporter, in which they claimed a number of people in Caracas had been killed and wounded even before a single one had fallen. This video was supposed to have been broadcast on an illegal split-screen transmission during the presidential address, to urge the masses to rise up against the president; the plot was foiled by the antenna operators on El Avila. They had a lot of help from the US military, it turns out.

Now, it looks like El Imperio has been trying its luck again at bribing Venezuelan generals to rise up against a democratically elected leader. And with Baduel, they apparently succeeded.

Gen. Garcia Carneiro, on the other hand, is notable in that he was, then as now, a staunch supporter of his president. When the coup went down, he actively sabotaged it from within Fuerte Tiuna, the big military installation near Caracas. His part in the salvaging of Venezuelan democracy can be read in Aleida Guevara's book, Chavez, Venezuela and the New Latin America.

The depth of Baduel's treachery, on the other hand, is apparent from Kiraz Janicke's report in Venezuelanalysis:

Violent protests by opposition student groups in recent days and calls by some opposition groups to stop the reforms "by any means possible" have prompted many Venezuelans to fear a repeated coup attempt, or other attempts destabilize the country in the lead up to the referendum.

However, Baduel's comments appear to have boosted opposition confidence. Immediately after his press conference, six opposition parties, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Causa R, Primero Justicia, Copei, Acción Democrática, (AD) and the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), some of whom were previously calling for a boycott, called for "massive" participation and a No vote on December 2.

Funny how they could all do such a quick 180. Wonder what changed their minds?

Baduel's treachery is not so surprising in light of not-so-recent history. A political theorist from Berkeley explains why:

Alongside Chávez, Baduel was a founding member of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement (MBR-200), a clandestine grouping that formed in the early 1980s within the Venezuelan Armed Forces. This group of conspiratorial idealists was rooted in the parachute regiment at Maracay, a stiflingly hot city of a million some two hours west of Caracas, from where they began to chart an escape from the corruption and repression of the late Fourth Republic. Together, they swore a Bolivarian oath under the historic Samán de Güere, a massive tree under which Simón Bolívar is said to have rested.

But when it came time to act, Baduel himself was notably absent. In an interview, he told Marta Harnecker that he chose to sit out the 1992 coup attempts because he considered them premature. While Baduel has been often criticized for this decision, he wasn't entirely wrong: the coup itself, however necessary for what followed, was indeed premature and poorly organized. But other aspects of Baduel's concerns prior to the 1992 coup stand out. "What will happen to the military structure?" Baduel recalls asking himself, "What are we going to do with those with a higher rank than us? They can't be subordinated to us... because a fundamental element of military life is verticalism." Baduel, in this 2002 interview, even prophetically jokes about having felt like Eden Pastora, the Sandinista "Commander Zero"-turned-Contra who "was not loved by either side, because some said he had betrayed them and others that he had infiltrated them."

Sitting out the 1992 coups did not spell the end of Baduel's relationship with the MBR-200. He would maintain contact with the imprisoned leaders and support Chávez's eventual bid for political power in the 1998 election, and in 1999, Baduel was named commander of the 42nd Parachute Infantry Brigade, Chávez's own regiment in times past. While his reticence to participate in the 1992 coup had cast a long shadow over Baduel's revolutionary credentials, his mythical status would be cemented a decade later, when he nearly single-handedly spearheaded the military response to the April 2002 coup against Chávez.

Why did Baduel, for whom a respect for the military hierarchy had prevented action in 1992, choose to break with that very hierarchy a decade later when it had turned against Chávez? Because by then another crucial element had intervened: the new 1999 Constitution. In 1992, the conspirators were all clear that, in Baduel's own words, "the ruling class wielded the existing Constitution, but applied it according to their own interests." In 2002, on the other hand, the coup-plotters and the military hierarchy (but crucially, not the middle ranks) had moved against the new "Bolivarian" Constitution. Confronted with a conflict between his two primary values, loyalty to military structure and loyalty to the Constitution, Baduel finally decided to act. He declared the 42nd Brigade in open rebellion against the illegitimate interim government of Pedro Carmona Estanga and initiated "Operation Restore National Dignity," thereby providing the spark that allowed the majority of loyal officers to turn against the coup. This loyalty to the Constitution was repaid: within two years, Baduel would be named Army Commander, before becoming Defense Minister in 2006.

In the aftermath of the failed coup and Chávez's return to power, Baduel would come to represent the quintessence of loyalty and moderation in the popular imaginary. It was not until he passed into retirement in July 2007 that the public was given any glimpse of potential discord between this hero of "April 13th" and the direction of the revolutionary process. Baduel took the opportunity of his retirement speech to urge caution when it came to Chávez's proposed project of "21st Century Socialism." He praised socialism as a concept, but warned against its state capitalist manifestations: "Our socialism must be profoundly democratic," he counseled, one focused on the redistribution of wealth and the correction of inequalities. Further, he distanced himself from the view that "the division of powers is merely an instrument of bourgeois domination," arguing that such division, generally associated with liberal constitutionalism, remains essential.

Ah, there's that "moderation" thing again. I was wondering when it would rear its scruffy little head.

One wonders, however, just how sincere it is. After all, Baduel is also a graduate of the infamous School of the Americas, and his pro-US biases, carefully inculcated there, are not exactly a secret:

Although Baduel did not join the uprising, military chiefs were suspicious of his ties with the plotters. In an effort to prevent him from imbuing others with conspiratorial ideas, they sent him to the U.S. Army's School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., for training, Baduel said.

Nothing that comes out of Ft. Benning has ever come to any good, with the possible exception of Omar Torrijos, the president-general of Panama, who persuaded Jimmy Carter to hand over the Canal Zone to the Panamanians. The fact that Torrijos's SOA training didn't "take", however, was probably why John Perkins was sent to sell him on something he didn't want to buy--and also why the CIA jackals got Torrijos in the end. I'm sure Gen. Baduel wasn't unmindful of that when recalling his days in the School of the Assassins, and mulling the million-dollar offer he couldn't refuse.

But oh, what am I saying. According to the same AP report I just cited, the good general had much loftier motives.

Baduel denies any ambition of running for office, saying his motivations stem from patriotic duty and a revulsion to Chavez's "thirst for power."

"I pray to God everyday that he may allow me to serve our nation's supreme interests, and for that I also ask the Lord to provide me with three tools: humility, patience and wisdom," Baduel said.

Oh, and he also claims to be receiving a lot of visits from young military malcontents, and that there is "dissent in the ranks" (contradicting Gens. Garcia Carneiro and Maniglia, who were cited by Venezuelanalysis--a source much more reliable than the Asinine Press.)

I believe all that about as much as I believe him when he claims not to have political aspirations of his own. If he didn't have any, why did he join a ship-jumping party pejoratively nicknamed "Pedimos" ("we ask", as in for money, as opposed to "Podemos", which means "can do")?

And if there are so many young soldiers against Chavez, why did we not see evidence of this six years ago today? Then, the majority of the army, from the middle ranks on down, was with Chavez. It was a combination of loyal militaries and loyal civilians that brought him back and restored constitutional order, remember?

Oh sure, a lot can change in six years. A lot of US money has flowed under the bridge in that time. Once, in Venezuela, there was a book about judicial corruption titled "How Much Does A Judge Cost?" Now, we can add generals to the price list of public officals for sale. And in the case of a top general and former defence minister, the down payment is apparently at least one and a quarter million US dollars for one human soul.

But one ex-general does not an army make, and neither does he any longer command it.

Fortunately.

Comments

great post. thanks for the update on a guy we all thought the best of a year ago.

Thanks, John. You said it--a year ago, I thought this guy was the coolest soldier on the planet, after (maybe!) his commander-in-chief. What happened in November was devastating and bewildering, a real betrayal of an entire country who trusted him. Now we're starting to make sense of it. I'm only sorry no one found this all out sooner.