President Hugo Chavez ordered an investigation of Noticiero Digital after one of its regular columnists, Roberto Carlo Olivares (RCO), published a piece headlined: Los patriotas de las FAN en busca de Lucio Quincio Cincinato.
RCO has been posting at ND’s portal for a while now. He has a take-no-prisoners style of sharing his opinions about issues that interest him, whether it’s Bud Selig’s refusal to change the bad call by a first-base umpire that robbed Venezuelan pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game last week, or Maria Corina Machado’s decision to – as RCO puts it – sell out to the revolution.
RCO has been pitching hardballs at Chavez regularly without generating any significant blowback against himself or ND. But the column that really pissed off the president says that senior retired and active duty military officers are in talks with civilian leaders to prepare an “inevitable civic-military transition which, by the winds that are blowing, will happen in 2010 or the start of 2011.”
RCO also says that “many” of these military “patriots” have had “high-level meetings at the US State Department and with the ‘gringo’ ambassador to Venezuela….and there’s nothing the dictator can do about it.”
RCO adds says that 70% of the officer corps in the Armed Forces is definitely anti-Chavez. He breaks down the factions within the FAN as including 10% hard-core chavistas, 20% self-interested (corruption) chavistas, 50% institutional (meaning professional), and 20% radical anti-communists.
But this civic-military group has a problem: No consensus has been reached on who will run the country after Chavez is ousted. RCO writes: “Some propose the names of emblematic figures of civil society and others propose the names of retired military officers with unimpeachable service records. Another current proposes an “outsider…surrounded by brilliant minds and high-caliber advisers.”
The other big question, he adds, relates to the timing of when, precisely, Chavez is going down. But RCO says it’s certain that Chavez will be toppled even if the “pueblo” doesn’t take the streets to support his removal from the presidency.
Before continuing, a clarification: Caracas Gringo has worked with retired and active Venezuelan Army officers since about mid-2004. No conspiratorial stuff, just due diligence investigations, geopolitical consulting and private security services. It’s unclear if RCO has explicit sources or is picking up the memes floating around groups of increasingly enraged Venezuelans. Those memes are everywhere nowadays as the regime’s cash crisis increases and the economy continues to sink.
However, if RCO has what he believes is proof of the activities he writes about, then it is certain that the conspiratorial activities listed by RCO (1) have been infiltrated/compromised almost from the first day by the regime’s intelligence services, or else (2) are being instigated and stage-managed deliberately by the Chavez regime to trigger an apparent rebellion against the president. If so, in some respects it’s 2001 and 2002 all over again.
*The “senior retired officers” that RCO claims have been meeting recently with civilian political figures consist mainly of the same generals and admirals that have actively opposed the Chavez regime for years. They’re a noisy bunch with more intelligence leaks than a sieve, and many think their former ranks entitle them automatically to prominent positions in the government and FAN in a post-Chavez era…”pero no van p’al baile mas nunca.” They encourage lower ranking officers to conspire and rebel, but they always refuse to lead anything. “You do it, then we’ll come in and restore order,” one of these broken-bat generals said back in 2003 to a close friend of ours in the Army. Moreover, it’s been a longstanding rule in the FAN that when generals and admirals have gone into retirement, there’s no returning to active service. Sure, Chavez broke tradition by reinstating hundreds of officers and lower ranks that were tossed out of the FAN for participating in the twin failed coup attempts of February and November 1992. But the rule is, once out, never back.
*If any “senior active officers” – meaning generals and admirals – are involved in the meetings with civilian political figures that RCO alleges are taking place, it’s 100% certain that at least one of these officers is being controlled by the Chavez regime’s intelligence services. The military-civic group that RCO refers to already has been infiltrated by the regime and its leaders will be neutralized when Chavez wishes. Chavez has made sure after 11 years in power that his generals and admirals are (a) loyal to him, (b) bought off with corruption, (c) have no traction among the FAN’s lower-ranking officers, and (d) do not exert direct command over infantry and armored units that could threaten Chavez. Any generals and admirals that do not meet these criteria have been relieved of command and sent home, mostly. They do not command any troops. If any generals and admirals are, indeed, conspiring with civilian leaders, it’s a real-life case of dumb and dumber.
*The many retired and active Army officers that Caracas Gringo has interacted with continually for the past six years never meet to discuss politics, the economy or anything else with any civilian figures in Venezuela. Without exception, all of them – and we’re talking upwards of 100 officers, perhaps, none of them generals or admirals – hold the country’s civilian political sectors in contempt, perceiving the opposition figures who claim to be national political leaders today as a bunch of incompetent opportunists. These officers also tend to distrust and dislike the retired generals and admirals that position themselves in the news media as legitimate representatives/spokespersons of Venezuela’s democratic and institutional armed forces. Bitter experience taught these officers that any contacts with generals, admirals or civilian “leaders” will be exposed almost immediately to the regime.
*The four factions in the FAN listed by RCO (hard pro-Chavez, opportunist pro-Chavez, institutional and hard anti-communist), and their corresponding percentages, are virtually unchanged from 2001-2002, when some folks in and out of the regime were making public statements about violent confrontations and civil-military movements to put a stop to Chavez. These factions/percentages may have been true nine years ago, but realities today within the FAN are more complicated. Cuban military and intelligence officials are deeply involved in the FAN today, which wasn’t the case in 2001-2002. A very small element of today’s FAN also is engaged in criminal enterprises including drug trafficking, gold and diamond smuggling.
But within the FAN, the Cuban presence is very widely perceived as a much bigger threat to the Army of Simon Bolivar than the criminal enterprises that some officers have engaged in. Venezuelan military sources have assured Caracas Gringo on many occasions that if Chavez and his foes ever clash violently and the Cubans attempt to intervene, the Cubans will be neutralized quickly. “We know precisely where they are,” says one officer.
The Venezuelan officers nominally in command of the president’s Bolivarian civilian militia also will be neutralized if violence erupts because the traditional army establishment, including many who identify themselves as supporters of socialist revolution, see the militia as a political scheme to dismantle the FAN and replace it with an army of local and foreign volunteers that is loyal to Chavez and completely outside the control of the FAN’s chain of command.
But RCO is right about one thing: A reckoning is coming between Chavez and his many, many opponents inside and outside the revolution. Chavez has made it abundantly clear that he plans to be re-elected at end-2012, but long before that day arrives he will complete transforming Venezuela into a “21st Century Socialist State.” The president also has made it clear that he will resort to bloody violence to stay in power, if that’s what it takes. If Chavez won’t stand down democratically, what’s left but submission, flight or confrontation?