The military hawk culture

Hugo Chávez left us with a highly politicized and an ideologically biased armed force; many of those military officers now hold influential government positions.

Por Paulina Gamus

El País 16 de Marzo 2014

In 1950’s Venezuela, then ruled by the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, Billo’s Caracas Boys, the most popular dance band ever, released a “guaracha” —a Cuban-originated dance rhythm that makes dancers move their hips as sensually as their own demure allowed— called “Los Cadetes” (“The Cadets”), honoring those who graduated from a branch of the military. This “guaracha” had the chorus “the navy has a boat, the air force a plane; cadets have a sword and the guard a cannon” (“La marina tiene un barco, la aviación tiene un avión, los cadetes tienen sable y la guardia su cañón”). Young (and not so young) men and women of those days enthusiastically danced and sang this elegy to the military, without thinking that this was the world from which came the very dictator that ruled the country with an iron fist and the servicemen that abused their power. These men only had to place their caps on the back of their cars to get away with all sorts wrongdoings. There were political prisoners, terrible torture, and exiled politicians but above all, there was fear. The regime also had spies. You could never tell if someone could inform on you if you spoke more than you should. But sometimes it wasn’t very hard to detect them, as some were truly naive. For instance, in 1955, when I was in my first year of law school at the Central University of Venezuela an man older that most of us sat in the back of the room with sunglasses, a fedora hat and a raincoat. His name was not the in roll call; he didn’t take any tests or spoke to anyone. He just smiled. I guess our classroom spy could never draft a report and God knows how or why he was even getting paid.

That dictatorship —which started on 1948 with the coup that ousted president Rómulo Gallegos— seemed undefeatable and unshakeable despite widespread student protests in October and November 1957, which lead the government to close the universities. However, in January 1st 1958, the people that hours earlier had been celebrating the New Year in Caracas woke up to the sound of fighter planes flying over the city. My parents’ house was only a few blocks from the headquarters of Venezuela’s political police, “Seguridad Nacional” —National Security—, where prisoners of conscience and torture chambers could be found. My brothers and I climbed to the roof; just as many neighbours did to wave handkerchiefs and flags to the planes that rid us from the yoke of dictatorship. They failed. The leader of the coup, Colonel Hugo Trejo was jailed. A few weeks later, bomb squads vacated several blocks from our neighbourhood -El Conde- as several of the bombs the planes had dropped fell everywhere except their target: Seguridad Nacional’s headquarters. Luckily, none of them exploded, which is why I’m here to ell the story.

On January 21st of that same year, a general strike was called and Seguridad Nacional rounded up many protesters. On the 23rd, however, General Pérez Jiménez fled the country, as the military had joined the civilian protesters and withdrawn their support for the dictatorship. Some credit must be given to the former dictator: he chose to resign before causing a blood bath.  Once democracy was established, some army officers wanted to retain their old status, but were rebuffed by civilian protests. When Rómulo Betancourt became the first democratically-elected president after ten years of dictatorship, he had to face two military coups known as El Porteñazo and El Carupanazo, named after the cities in which they took place, (Puerto Cabello and Carúpano, respectively). These insurrections ended up in shameful defeats, not before leaving many casualties and injuries.

In the 1960’s the Venezuelan Armed Forces successfully defeated the urban and rural guerrillas formed by local politicians with military and logistical support from Fidel Castro. They won the respect of the citizens, and they themselves seemed to respect the Constitution. That is, until the morning of February 4th, 1992, when the people of Caracas were once again roused out of bed by a military coup. The people who, like me, lived near the presidential palace -La Casona- and those who lived near Miraflores palace (the seat of government) witnessed first-hand gruelling assaults to both places. Carlos Andrés Pérez’s wife, daughters and grandsons resided at the time in La Casona and they miraculously escaped with their lives. The current minister of Justice and Peace was the commander of that criminal operation. He has apparently admitted since then that the February the 4th coup was simply an “adventure”.

It’s not an easy task for the uninitiated to understand how a group of officers who over ten years planned a coup to overthrow and replace a government could fail so spectacularly. Even harder to understand is that the leader of such an “adventure” didn’t fired a single shot, entrenched as he was in the Cuartel de la Montaña, a military garrison in Caracas, where now his mortal remains might be laying (I say ‘might’, as in Venezuela everything is but uncertain). He didn’t risk his skin, and yet he ended up being transformed into a national hero and then into a demigod, comparable only to Simón Bolívar, the Liberator, in his epic dimensions.

That same year, on 27th of November, a new coup occurred. Only this time it was the turn of admirals and Air Force generals. The planes flew threateningly over the city that day and over a hundred casualties were registered. Yours truly would have been one of them, if the bomb dropped by one of the planes meant for the Miraflores palace had not fallen three block off its target; right next to the where I was staying at the time. The bomb didn’t go off, as it usually happens. In Venezuela, where —luckily and thanks to entrenched corruption— frigates don’t float, cannons don’t shoot, tanks don’t run, bombers don’t hit their target, and bombs don’t go off, lieutenant colonel Hugo Chávez Frías became president of the Republic thanks to the votes by the majority of an electorate who thought that the iron hand of an Army officer was needed to curb crime and corruption. After fifteen years, the results are evident: Chávez died prematurely, not before destroying the economy, institutionalizing criminal impunity, dividing the country with the hate that he himself worked so hard to make irreconcilable, giving away billions of dollars to other countries and other extraordinary expenses, strengthening diplomatic ties with the Castro brothers in Cuba and therefore turning Venezuela into a Cuban colony. His worst action was bequeathing absolute power to an inept, ignorant, disoriented, bumbling crony of the Cuban regime.

His other legacy left us with a highly politicized and an ideologically biased armed force; many of those military officers now hold influential government positions. Many of these individuals have now become extremely wealthy through embezzlement and corruption. He didn’t make them the defenders of the nation, but the defenders of the Revolution, the so-called “proceso” or 21st century socialism. Today Venezuela is out on the streets protesting; students and civilians alike demanding a safer country, freedom to all political prisoners, an end to food shortages, and the humiliating presence of Cuban forces among our own military forces. Today we can see the resuts in our nation of this militaristic aberration. Those who, like me, believed the Venezuelan military was made of a different stuff than others in the south, the torturers and assassins of the Chilean, Uruguayan, and Argentinean dictatorships of the 1970’s, never imagined that a Venezuelan soldier would, beat, berate, and torture one of his own countrymen. However, we currently are witness to violations of the most basic human rights. Worse yet, we can see their willingness to take instructions from the Cuban high command and the cowardice to shelter the paramilitary groups, who attack, sack, and burn – under president Maduro’s orders- those very same universities which he didn’t attend. Once upon a time, the National Guard’s maxim was “Honour is our Badge”. Nowadays, there’s no honour in them or in any other branch of the armed forces.

 

Source: Gamus, Paulina “El gorilismo como cultura”. El País 16 Marzo 2014

http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/03/16/actualidad/1395001762_139340.html

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