Chavez dismisses 'Cubanization' accusations
By CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER
Associated Press Writer
CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez dismissed a retired
general's warnings about a growing Cuban presence in Venezuela's
military, accusing the officer Sunday of helping opponents portray his
government a pawn of Fidel Castro.
Former Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero has denounced a widespread involvement
of Cuban troops in the military.
Chavez made no denials on that point, saying that Cubans are merely
aiding soldiers in a limited capacity, and he defended his government's
increasingly close cooperation with communist-led Cuba.
"What Cubanization? The Cubans are helping us here," Chavez said during
his television and radio program, "Hello President."
"They're telling us how to store compasses, how to repair radios inside
tanks and how to stockpile ammunition," Chavez said of the Cubans'
Chavez said he suspected Rivero was making inroads with opposition
groups long before he retired, saying the former officer speaks with
"the same voice of the enemy."
"He was already among bad company," Chavez said.
Opposition leaders and other critics have long accused Chavez of
allowing Cuban advisers and operatives to hold key positions in the
military and state institutions, but have failed to produce concrete
evidence of their allegations.
Rivero's detailed descriptions of Cuban involvement and his high
standing in military circles have added new credibility to the concerns.
Rivero has said he retired from the army this month after 25 years of
service, mainly because of "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers"
in the armed forces. The former Chavez ally said he witnessed Cubans
training Venezuelan troops during his last assignment as an infantry
In televised remarks Thursday, he said Cubans currently train Venezuelan
troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in
intelligence, weapons, communications and other strategic areas.
He also has denounced the politicization of the military, including the
slogan that soldiers now repeat when saluting: "Socialist homeland or
death!" He has condemned Chavez's enlistment of supporters in a growing
Rivero told the Globovision television channel Sunday that intelligence
agents have been spying on him since he denounced the Cuban presence in
the military, taking photographs of his home and questioning his
neighbors. He called the actions "part of the consequences" of
criticizing the government and expressed concern for the safety of his
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, has made Cuba his closest ally
since he took office in 1999. The president frequently visits Fidel
Castro, calling him a mentor, but he rejects allegations that Cuba's
communist leaders hold sway over his plans to transform Venezuela into a
Venezuela has become a key economic benefactor to Cuba, sending the
island oil on preferential terms in exchange for the services of
thousands of Cuban doctors, whose work in free clinics has helped boost
Chavez's political support among the poor.
Chavez turned to Cuba this year for help in tackling Venezuela's energy
crisis. His allies in Havana responded by dispatching Cuban Vice
President Ramiro Valdes to lead a team responsible for revamping the
South American country's electricity grid.
During Sunday's program, Chavez also announced a 40 percent pay raise
for soldiers of every rank - a move that could bolster loyalty to "El
Comandante" within the military ahead of congressional elections in
September while the country struggles with 26 percent inflation.
"Boys, we're going to increase salaries by 40 percent for all the
ranks," he said.