By Pacifico Sanchez
Dr. Rocio San Miguel, president of the venezuelan non-governmental organization Control Ciudadano, human rights defender and expert in military matters, considers that the military institution has lost credibility due to the partisanship of high-ranking officers who have enrolled in the government’s party and, consequently, acted as political activists.
She affirmed that General in Chief Vladimir Padrino López has not presented any Annual Report since 2014, when he took office as Minister of Defense.
She perceived as very regrettable matter that more than 70 percent of the Venezuelan territory is being controlled by guerrilla groups and criminal gangs, which have boomed and consolidated due to the neglect of the State.
When interviewed by El Impulso, venezuelan news portal, she referred to the irregular practices and violations of the Constitution regarding public administration and the commission of crimes, such as that of Lieutenant Commander Rafael Acosta Arevalo, who died on June 29 She affirmed that General in Chief Vladimir Padrino López has not presented any Annual Report and Accounts since 2014, when he took office as Minister of Defense.
She observed as very regrettable that more than 70 percent of the Venezuelan territory is being controlled by guerrilla groups and criminal gangs, which have boomed and consolidated due to the neglect of the State.
She also referred to the participation of military personnel in executions very similar to extrajudicial executions.
Is the disappearance of 3 billion dollars of Pdvsa’s income, for which President Nicolas Maduro is, according to his own words, “giving birth” to pay teachers and the training of the Armed Forces, a betrayal of the homeland, as General in Chief Vladimir Padrino Lopez, Minister of Defense, says?
Corruption is a criminal offense, not a political offense. A political crime, such as treason, cannot be confused with the crime of corruption. Also, Congressman Diosdado Cabello spoke of 16 members of the military allegedly involved in corruption within the corruption scheme in Pdvsa, but he did not provide their identities. We do not know if they are being held for negotiations or to make statements in this case. There must be transparency in the investigation of this type of situations. Regarding allegations that have been made about irregular acts in the public administration, during all these years, there has not been any arrest of a single high-ranking military officer.
This government describes itself as civic-military and, indeed, it has many officers performing governmental functions. How do you see this participation of military officers in public administration? Doesn’t their management, which has often been bad, affect the image of the institution?
Within Maduro’s cabinet there are fourteen ministers who come from the national armed forces. Maduro from the beginning of his government bet on the involvement of the national armed forces in his administration. In 2017, after the repression in the protests, he reached the highest point with the appointment of military in his cabinet, which was at that time 14 military ministers. Again, in 2023 we witness this peak that represents a high military presence in the management of his government. Of course, the responsibilities of these individuals are personal.
However, when there is no success in the management of these ministers, people observe that their professional training comes from the armed forces.
Are the young people entering the military academies being well trained?
It is difficult to speak of good training when the military training schools are so biased. In this aspect, there have been very deep deviations after 2004, when many teachers who were part of the staff of the training schools of the different components began to be dismissed from their positions. This was due to the application of the Tascon list at the time. Then, the purging of the military curriculum and greater degrees of political partisanship were escalating, separating the military from the necessary debates in training, such as operational challenges, knowledge of military doctrine in accordance with the law, specialization based on the knowledge of military exercises in other countries and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, that is, many of the elements that once made the Venezuelan armed forces great and prestigious in the continent were lost.
Do these war games exercises promoted, among other countries, by Russia and with the participation of Iran and others considered dangerous due to their terrorist activity, affect Venezuela’s image?
The issue of new strategic military allies for Venezuela, unfortunately, was not a national debate. It was Chavez’s decision. A matter so important for its strategic character, that it compromises national security. This is a problem of the State and not of the government. However, strategic alliances were established with new partners, which have not been satisfactory throughout the last 18 years. And for example, many of the weapons systems acquired from these new partners, such as Russia, which are geographically distant, have not brought operational benefits to the national armed force; in other words, such an important issue was taken lightly and resulted, in my opinion, in the short and medium term in numerous problems for the national armed force. Hence, the importance of a reform of the security and defense sector in order to effectively achieve autonomy mechanisms. That they do not come to symbolize being condemned to an empire for having ceased to be friends of the other. This is a little of the logic to which we aspire.
Regarding the image, as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Venezuela sided with the Russians. Doesn’t that position isolate our country even more?
Statements of solidarity of the national armed forces with Russia have been nothing more than that, declarative, inasmuch as it does not involve mobilization or presence of military troops in that country, accompanying the war effort. In a way, it is a comfortable position. I believe, in any case, that what has to be evaluated in this year of the Russia-Ukraine war is how Venezuela has worsened the reception of the strategic commitments that had been subscribed with Russia. There were already problems in the fulfillment of Russia’s military agreements with Venezuela, an issue that has worsened as a result of Russia’s stubbornness in a war, which abstracts it from its obligations with countries like ours. This is what Venezuelans should be concerned about, since aspects of technological transfer are still absent and problems of inoperability in weapons systems acquired from the Russians are still very present.
Talking about technology, what is Venezuela’s technological level in the military field?
It has very powerful weapons systems. Venezuela managed to renew weapons systems in the period from 2005 to 2012 with the largest investment in economic resources it has ever had in its history. However, we would have to look at whether this investment corresponds to the effectiveness in the results of national security and defense. I think there is a very big gap there.
Regarding technology, this is an infinite subject in which we should continue to grow. Venezuela was once among the four countries in the continent with the greatest military capabilities in the region, behind the United States, of course, and today it is difficult to consider that place. It could have better levels in that sense.
Isn’t the amount of military personnel Venezuela has too much, since according to the national budget there are four million troops, more than the United States?
Yes, the budget was leaked and that figure of 4 million military personnel was there, but this cannot be considered an official document, since the Ministry of Defense has failed to present the Annual Report to the Venezuelan people since 2012, in order to know the strength of the institution. But, the most laughable thing about this budget is that it not only contained 4 million military personnel, but what it included as a budget to honor their payments, incredible numbers, yielding about five dollars of salary for these people every month. There is an error or a lie there. According to Control Ciudadano data, is estimated that the national armed force at this moment does not exceed 120 thousand troops in its four components.
For some time now in Venezuela people have been talking about the inadequacy of the minimum wage. Are the military well paid or not?
They are not well paid. Compared to the region, they receive the lowest salaries. I am referring to countries like Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Mexico. We are talking about officers, whose salaries oscillate between a little more than 200 dollars and they can reach 300 dollars. However, it has been known about the payment of some bonuses, particularly for specialized personnel such as pilots, in order to avoid the request for discharge. We calculate that the training of a fighter pilot in Venezuela requires an investment of 7 million dollars, to take into account the loss of human capital that is occurring in the national armed forces for reasons of political partisanship, salaries, lack of social security and the future of the institution. A military fellow in Venezuela has serious doubts about the future of remaining in the institution.
Doesn’t this idea of the government that the military should undertake enterprises, such as the one of troops selling bread in the Bolivar Square in Maturin, degrade the institution?
The problem with the call for ventures is that the military are the depositaries of the arms of the Republic, and this can have very dangerous confusions for society. Are we going to have armed ventures, is the question we ask ourselves. This is a moral and constitutional dilemma, taking into account the role of the military.
Do you remember that with the Bolivar 2000 Plan, the military were put to sell chickens and vegetables, as well as to build houses? Did the collapse of the institution begin at that time or, in any case, what do you think has happened since that year until now?
That’s when the institution began to crumble. The institution became the pillar of the revolution, and the military has not stopped building houses and selling meals; that is to say, the military continues to do it through the ministries. In fact, the Ministry of Public Works is in charge of a military man, and so on, things like that. What we have here is a nonsense, a loss of focus, with very petty and perverse interests of permanence in power with respect to what should be the military institution, preserved in the Constitution.
With this Plan Bolivar 2000, there were allegations of corruption. Did it begin that year in the armed institution?
There were also cases of corruption in the Fourth Republic, which should be remembered. Everything related to the repowering scheme of the AMX-30 combat tanks and other allegations that were made at the time. But, yes, we have in force a project that has been in power for 23 years and, unfortunately, there are corruption schemes within the national armed forces and, much more dangerous, there are individuals within the institution associated with criminal plots that have to do with international trafficking, which has to be looked at very carefully.
Until about twenty years ago, the Church and the national armed forces were the most respectable and trustworthy institutions among the Venezuelan population. Is it very difficult to recover that condition?
The credibility of the armed forces has certainly crumbled. The reason is that some members of the military joined the government party and even enrolled in it, acting later as political activists. And they were integrated into the public administration in different functions with very limited results, in addition to the serious violations of human rights that have been allowed to occur in the institution without corrections or sanctions. I do not think it would be difficult for the military institution to regain its prestige, respect and admiration if it follows a very clear path, which is the constitutional path. From the moment we see officers of the national armed forces enforcing the Constitution, non-partisan, at the service of the Venezuelan people, I believe that they will quickly have the support and recognition of all Venezuelans, because it is an institution that the country needs, it is a fundamental institution for the integrity and defense of sovereignty. Unfortunately, it has taken paths that have distanced it from the constitutional principles on which it is based.
The image of the military as repressive bodies is due to the fact that in the peaceful demonstrations carried out in the last few years, they were the ones who arbitrarily assumed the functions of public order and even committed homicides. Don’t you think they abused their power?
The Bolivarian National Guard has to be seen as a component that must be re-founded. The violations committed in the control of demonstrations and the generalized repression by this and other components of the national armed force, more than despicable, are criminal. But we are also witnessing another phenomenon which is the participation of members of the armed forces in citizen security tasks. Every day we see more and more executions, very similar to extrajudicial killings. In Venezuela there is an urgent need for a reform project of the security and national defense sector; that is to say, to move from the problem, which is very deep, to the construction of solutions to be able to have in the country, State security forces and a national armed force necessary for Venezuelans.
How can it be explained that the militias have been incorporated as another component of the armed forces?
Militias cannot be explained under any argument because the Constitution is very clear on the matter; but it is also a concept that has been constitutionally rejected by Venezuelans, as was demonstrated in the consultation project for the reform of the Constitution, which was carried out in 2007, where the inclusion of militias as the fifth component of the national armed forces was expressed and was rejected by Venezuelans. It is not only unconstitutional, but morally unacceptable for not having the legitimacy of the acceptance of the Venezuelan people.
What can you tell us about the Colombian irregular groups that have control of Venezuelan territory?
The situation in the states of Amazonas, Bolivar and Apure, as well as in the south of Maracaibo Lake, is seriously compromising for the country, in terms of national integrity and sovereignty. The inability of the State to exercise territorial control in what represents more than 70 percent of the national territory is a reality. We are no longer talking about guerrilla presence in Venezuela, something the government has called “tancoles”, but also the rise and consolidation of criminal gangs operating from north to south and east to west in the country. Venezuelans no longer have the security to transit through some areas of the national territory, but this is also happening in the main cities of the country. And unfortunately, it has to be said: there is a consolidation of guerrilla and criminal groups in Venezuela.
There is also an underlying reason. The Colombian peace process has never taken care of its effects on neighboring countries; that is to say, the whole process of laying down arms and demobilization of the FARC guerrillas at the time, did not look after of its effects on Venezuela. There is the presence of the second Marquetalia and the excesses that were committed, for example, throughout the years 2021 and 2022 when the guerrilla murdered members of the national armed forces in Apure.
Doesn’t it create resentment in the military institution that a Minister of Defense remains in office for nine years?
I believe that there is a natural desire of the succeeding generations to hold that position. But, in addition, so much permanence in power without evaluation and without the presentation of the Annual Report generates very big vices for the institution. A minister can be in office for nine years as long as he/she renders accounts of the exercise of his/her mandate, but this has not been happening with General Padrino as minister since 2014. There is not a single Annual Report that General in Chief Vladimir Padrino López can show.