July 17, 2008
CARACAS -- A former defense minister who has emerged as a leading critic of President Hugo Chávez warned on Wednesday that Venezuela's military is bringing trumped-up criminal charges against him.
Gen. Raúl Isaías Baduel said military prosecutors informed him of the impending charges without revealing details of the accusations. He denied any wrongdoing and accused Chávez of wanting to silence his criticism of the government.
''This is not a legal matter, it's political,'' Baduel said, predicting that he could soon be detained -- or even killed. ``Maybe they will jail me or I'll lose my life . . . by orders of President Chávez.''
Baduel broke with Chávez after retiring from the military last July and helped persuade Venezuelans to vote down constitutional changes that would have allowed the president to run for reelection indefinitely.
He has repeatedly raised concerns that Chávez loyalists could use trumped-up charges to accuse him of misspending public funds during his tenure as defense minister.
Military prosecutors and Information Ministry officials did not immediately return calls requesting comment on Wednesday, but in the past officials have rejected allegations the government is persecuting Baduel.
Baduel called for a ''quick way out of this government,'' suggesting that his proposal for the election of an assembly charged with drafting a new constitution could pave the way toward a transitional government.
The former paratroop commander cautioned against a military rebellion, saying an ``insurrection would change the country for the worst.''
Baduel was widely credited with helping to save Chávez during a short-lived 2002 coup when he sent paratroopers to rescue the president from a group of coup-minded officers.
Chávez now calls his former brother-in-arms ''a traitor'' who abandoned the revolutionary ideals they once shared. Baduel counters that Chávez has become increasingly obsessed with power and plans to hang on to it after his current term ends in 2013.