CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Opponents of President Hugo Chavez on Monday accused Venezuelan military commanders of abandoning democratic ideals by publicly denigrating government foes and backing the socialist leader.
Opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa said recent statements by military leaders aimed at discrediting Chavez’s adversaries ignore constitutional norms designed to guarantee the military’s democratic and apolitical character.
He urged middle-level officers and rank-and-file soldiers to ignore political commentary voiced by their superiors.
“We call on the military, if its members believe in democracy and the constitution, to understand these messages from the high command do not represent the feelings of the vast majority of the national armed forces,” Guanipa said at a news conference.
Guanipa was responding to statements made by Gen. Major Euclides Campos Aponte to soldiers on Saturday that ridiculed the opposition and accused it of trying to divide the military.
Campos Aponte said the discourse on the military by anti-Chavez politicians “is one from those who see themselves as beaten, that the possibility of winning the presidency through the vote is almost null.”
“They don’t have leadership,” he said of Chavez’s critics while speaking to a crowd of uniformed soldiers.
Chavez quickly congratulated the general.
“What an extraordinary speech Gen. Major Euclides Campos Aponte has given! Bravo!” Chavez commented in a Tweet posted shortly after the general’s address.
Polemical statements made by military commanders have irked Chavez’s opponents in the past, but the most recent statements have raised fresh concerns as Venezuela’s political rivals prepare for the 2012 election.
Last year, army Gen. Henry Rangel Silva said in a newspaper interview that neither the military nor the public would accept an opposition victory in the 2012 election. He also said officers are loyal to Chavez’s Bolivarina Revolution, a political movement named after 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar.
The president further angered opposition politicians by promoting the general to general-in-chief after the pro-Chavez comments.
Chavez appears to be using the issue to try to capitalize on tensions between his political opponents and allies within the military.
“The squalid ones are going crazy: They have an obsession with the military, with us soldiers,” Chavez said Sunday.
Chavez, who is being treated for cancer, has accused his political adversaries of conspiring to spur a military uprising with help from officials in Washington.
Government adversaries deny seeking a military rebellion. They say they are dedicated to ousting Chavez at the ballot box.
Political analyst Ricardo Sucre said he thinks Chavez’s influence over the armed forces is limited.
“I don’t think his strategy has been completely successful,” Sucre told the Globovision television channel Monday. “It does not permeate the entire institution.”