It’s Official: Venezuela’s Military Available for Political Proselytism

EspañolOn the 193rd anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo, President Nicolás Maduro led a “civil-military” parade yesterday afternoon. During his speech, Maduro demanded loyalty from his followers, in the face of “separatist forces” that threaten the revolution.

“I call for maximum loyalty; I call for maximum discipline. Never have doubts about me; I’m a man of the people,” Maduro said to the attendees.

But that afternoon wasn’t all about the commemoration. On that same day, the Supreme Court of Justice made a ruling that may change military institutions forever, by allowing military officials to participate in political proselytism.

Military parade in venezuela
Military members hold flags with Chavez’s eyes that reads “Chávez lives, the struggle continues.” (Miraflores Press)

The decision comes after the Military Institutional Front (FIM) — a military-veteran NGO that watches over the institution’s performance — introduced a writ of amparo constitutional remedy in March against the Minister of Defense, Admiral Carmen Meléndez. On March 15, Minister Meléndez had ordered members of the armed forces to attend a rally organized by the ruling party, Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), to show support for the National Guard’s performance during the student protests.

However, the members of the Constitutional Chamber have decided that the military’s participation is not a violation of the Constitution. It declares in articles 328 and 330 that the military is an institution “essentially professional, without political affiliation,” that it’s “at the exclusive service of the nation and in no case, to a person or any political partisanship,” and prohibits its members from participating “in acts of propaganda, militancy, or political proselytism.”

According to the magistrates, the participation from members of the military in events with political aims “do not act to the detriment of their professionalism,” but rather it enhances their “democratic and leading participation.” In their view, military officials shouldn’t be banned from exercising the right guaranteed in the Constitution (article 62) that states that every citizen can “freely participate in public affairs.”

Military tanks on display in Venezuela
Military tanks on display in the parade, with a banner that reads: “Independence, Socialist Fatherland, We Will Defeat.” (Miraflores press)

The ruling is based on the fact that “all armies in the world have a military salute, which responds to the country’s idiosyncrasy or culture, or the political, social, and historical moment that it has experienced in the past. At the same time, it represents a symbolic, professional, and institutional display of respect, discipline, obedience and subordination to the upper hierarchy.”

The court’s sentence also adds that the military’s participation in political affairs is part of a “progressive process of consolidation for the military-civic union.” Curiously enough, the same words were used by President Maduro last October, when he talked about the need to erase the line between the civic and military, and merge them, since it’s an element that can guarantee the construction of the socialist state.

The lack of neutrality of high military officials during the Chavista era is not new. One of the many open demonstrations of political affiliations occurred last March, when the minister of defense at that time, Diego Molero, said on his Twitter account “@NicolasMaduro Our institution is impervious to intolerance and the hate of some,” and called himself a “beloved son of El Comandante Supremo,” referring to Hugo Chávez.

Nonetheless, with members of the military now officially able to attend political rallies and marches — and likely strongly advised to if they want to rise up in the ranks — its alleged institutional and neutral nature is in doubt.

According to Rocío San Miguel, president of Citizen Control for Security and Defense (Control Ciudadano), an NGO dedicated to citizen oversight over military matters, the court’s ruling has dismissed democracy’s essential principle: the subordination of military power to civil authority.

In the words of San Miguel, this sentence is an “historical coup to institutions, and it implies the legalization of the FAN [National Armed Forces] as an armed party in Venezuela.”

The opposition coalition, known as Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), criticized the decision through a public statement.

“Ruling Nunber 651 expects to give judicial grounds to a government practice: the partisanship of the armed forces, which is quite different from the political rights that FAN [National Armed Forces] members can have. That’s exactly what the Constitutional chamber hopes to mix, thinking that Venezuelans are naïve.”

According to the MUD, the worst part is that this decision tries to conflate a military salute, clearly is clearly biased (it reads “Fatherland, Socialism, or Death”), with an alleged idiosyncrasy of culture. “The ‘idiosyncrasy’ is the constitution, and it’s very clear,” the statement says.

Vice Admiral Rafael Huizi Clavier, president of FIM’s directive board, spoke exclusively with the PanAm Post regarding the implications this ruling could have for the military institution:

“The Institutional Military Front deplores that the magistrates from the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Chamber, who are supposed to safeguard respect for and compliance with the constitution, have made this unnatural decision that sets a serious precedent in Venezuela’s institutions. It destroys the rule of law, and breaks from the a fundamental principle in democracy that is the subordination of the military power to the civil power.”

The vice admiral describes this outcome as “ignominious,” and states that during the past 15 years, the Venezuelan Armed Forces and their values of discipline, respect, obedience, and subordination have been destroyed. “Now, we will see the institution ‘legally’ transformed into a revolutionary, anti-imperialist, socialist, and Chavista political party, just as their members constantly claim.”

Editor’s note: we updated this article, to include additional commentary, at 2 p.m. EDT.

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