Late last month, Venezuela’s government arrested three generals of the country’s air force, accusing them of plotting a coup. In an email interview, Harold Trinkunas, senior fellow and director of the Latin America Initiative in the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program, explained the state of Venezuela’s civil-military relations.
WPR: What has been the overall state of civil-military relations in Venezuela in recent years?
Harold Trinkunas: In recent years, civil-military relations in Venezuela have become progressively less institutionalized and more politicized. After he was elected in 1998, President Hugo Chavez, a former army officer, took a particular interest in military affairs, and he used the armed forces to support social programs as part of his political project for Venezuela, which he termed a Bolivarian Revolution. Following an attempted military coup against his government in April 2002, Chavez focused on developing personal authority over the armed forces by controlling the officer promotion process and deciding who would command key military units. In addition, officers whose loyalties to Chavez were suspect were dismissed or retired. Chavez also took additional steps to safeguard the government, including introducing Cuban military and intelligence advisers into the Venezuelan armed forces, and creating a parallel military structure in the form of a national Bolivarian militia under a separate chain of command. This pattern has continued under the present administration, although Maduro has relied to a greater extent on increasing military pay and benefits to secure loyalty.