Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has made a bid to win the support of the armed forces, promising them better equipment and benefits, in the face of concerns that the military might not accept a change in government the upcoming elections.
In a speech broadcast Thursday (see video, below), Capriles said he would institute a new social security system for members of the military and would modernize and invest in better equipment, El Tiempo reported.
Capriles accused the administration of Hugo Chavez of trying to politicize the armed forces and create a "cult of personality," damaging the prestige of the institution, and called on soldiers not to follow this route.
The candidate also said that he would not permit the entry of illegal armed groups into Venezuelan territory; "we cannot allow drug trafficking, guerrillas, and paramilitary groups to infiltrate and use our institutions." This hints at accusations that Chavez has allowed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to use the country as a hideout.
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Chavez has made his own moves to win the support of the military, declaring a 50 percent pay raise for members of the armed forces in October last year.
The military leadership is considered to be highly loyal to the president, who has filled it with allies and purged it of opponents. There is reason to be concerned that the command might not accept a defeat for the government in October's presidential elections. In 2010, General Henry Rangel Silva, who is serving as defense minister despite being accused of drug trafficking by the United States, said that the military would not accept a change of government. In April this year he added fuel to these concerns, saying "We are going to recognize whoever wins the October 7 elections. We're not just going to recognize whoever says they won."
A recent report from International Crisis Group noted that the role of the military would be pivotal in ensuring stability around the elections, as they are tasked with maintaining security during the vote. The report says that it is not clear whether the military would support an attempt by the Chavez government to illegitimately hang on to power. According to Crisis Group, though there are high-ranking members of the force who may be unwilling to see a change in government, as they could face prosecution for drug trafficking, the ranks might not support an uprising led by people suspected of links to organized crime.
The government, however, has moved to assuage concerns -- Chavez declared Monday that soldiers “will be the first ones to support the will of the majority, whatever it is.”