Caracas, November 6, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's former Defense Minister, Raul Isaias Baduel, who played a key role in defeating the opposition military coup against Chavez in 2002, came out against the president's proposed constitutional reforms saying they represent a "constitutional coup" and that people should vote against them in the referendum on December 2. Chavez accused Baduel of betraying his own ideals with his new hard-line opposition.
Baduel, who called a press conference Monday, to which only opposition media were invited, argued that the proposed reform would "seize power away from the people," and constitutes a "total change in the content of the structure and fundamental principles of the constitution approved by the Venezuelan people in 99."
"This proposal is definitively not a constitutional reform; it is not a partial revision, nor a replacement of some of its norms. It is a transformation of the state, and a different model for the country," he continued.
"I feel the moral obligation to continue traveling the country to explain my opinion," Baduel commented, "I'm also considering an international campaign." Baduel also said he wouldn't rule out a future political career.
Baduel's statement occurred only a day after President Hugo Chavez had warned the Venezuelan people of the possibility that some high profile figures in the Bolivarian movement would "jump ship" and join the ranks of the opposition.
Chavez, who phoned into current affairs TV talk show, Contragolpe, said "Baduel is betraying years of friendship" and "himself" and that he was aligning himself with the opposition and imperialism. He also revealed that he had known of Baduel's announcement two days previously.
According to Chavez, the constitutional reform, which would allow him to stand for re-election, recognize new types of social and collective property, end the autonomy of the Central Bank, and give more power to grassroots communal councils, among other measures, are necessary to deepen the creation of socialism in Venezuela.
He also said that Baduel's shift to the opposition in the context of the deepening struggle for socialism was good because it clarified his position. "It is not strange that when a submarine goes deeper the pressure is increased and can free a loose screw, the weak points are going to leave, and I believe it is good that they leave," said Chavez.
Although Baduel claimed he was simply stating his own personal opinion, he made a particular call to the Armed Forces, to "profoundly analyze" the proposed changes to article 328, which would change the structure of the Armed Forces, saying, "it must be stopped," and that "the capacity of Venezuelan military men to analyze and think," should not be underestimated.
Retired General Alberto Müller Rojas, who is a long-time advisor to Chavez on military affairs, said he considers Baduel's statement as a call for a civil rebellion, arguing that notification of a rebellion is given when you accuse the National Executive and the National Assembly of usurping constitutional power.
Various reports have surfaced over the past few months of anti-Chavez and anti-reform material circulating within the military barracks, and Baduel's comments have led many to question the extent of his influence within the Venezuelan military.
However, two former Defense Ministers, General Jorge Luis García Carneiro and Admiral Orlando Maniglia have categorically rejected Baduel's comments and come out in support of the reforms.
According to Garcia Carneiro and Maniglia, the sentiments expressed by Baduel do not have wide support within the military.
Maniglia also made a call to all Venezuelans for "peace and good sense" and said, "the debate will continue and it will be the people who decide, Yes or No."
Chavez said he was attentive to the effect of Baduel's speech on the Armed Forces, however, he assured, "I'm completely sure there is no current within the Armed Force that has the necessary strength to carry out a successful coup d'état or to lead the country to a civil war - we have to avoid that."
Vice President, Jorge Rodriguez , said, "General Baduel has said the same thing that the opposition has been saying... he is not saying anything new." However, he welcomed his call to the opposition to participate in the referendum.
Violent protests by opposition student groups in recent days and calls by some opposition groups to stop the reforms "by any means possible" have prompted many Venezuelans to fear a repeated coup attempt, or other attempts destabilize the country in the lead up to the referendum.
However, Baduel's comments appear to have boosted opposition confidence. Immediately after his press conference, six opposition parties, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Causa R, Primero Justicia, Copei, Acción Democrática, (AD) and the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), some of whom were previously calling for a boycott, called for "massive" participation and a No vote on December 2.
The opposition has called a further demonstration against the reforms for November 9. However, Chavez supporters are also mobilizing in favor of the reforms.
Vice-President Rodriguez affirmed, "We are in the streets defending the proposal of the constitutional reform... we are not going to leave the street until the day of [November] 27th," which is when the campaign for the reform officially ends.