October 04, 2008
CARACAS, Venezuela, Oct. 3 -- Military intelligence agents on Friday detained a former defense minister who broke with the populist government of President Hugo Chávez last year and became one of its most vociferous critics.
Retired Gen. Raúl Baduel was shopping with his family in the city of Maracay west of Caracas, the capital, when he was taken into custody to answer questions about alleged corruption, military officials said.
Baduel was once one of Chávez's most trusted advisers, conspiring with him against the government when the two were young army officers. In 2002, Baduel played an instrumental role in turning back a coup that briefly deposed Chávez.
But last year, Baduel turned against Chávez, saying he had become increasingly authoritarian and was taking Venezuela on the road to ruin. Baduel's forceful opposition to constitutional changes that would have expanded the president's powers helped defeat the plan in a December referendum.
In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Baduel said that state intelligence agents were pursuing him and that he feared for his life. "A persecution has begun that has been getting worse," he said. "There are some who say that a way has to be found to silence Raúl Baduel."
The Globovision TV network showed a dozen men from the Military Intelligence Directorate forcefully push the retired general into a four-wheel-drive vehicle as his wife tried to help him.
"I was not going to give in voluntarily, so this was done with force," Baduel told Globovision. "I have no idea what the motives were. I can only say that I have been violently detained."
Ernesto José Cedeño, the chief military prosecutor, said at a news conference that Baduel was being investigated for stealing funds from the armed forces. He said the detention came after a 16-month probe in which Baduel was called to appear in hearings four times but failed to do so.
Cedeño said the detention was "simply part of the process" of clearing up what happened to the missing funds. "I think it's right to come and clear up this situation," he said.
Chávez and his followers have increasingly accused their opponents of conspiring against the government with the help of the Bush administration. Opposition leaders say the allegations are part of an effort to deflect attention from crime, inflation and other serious issues ahead of regional elections on Nov. 23.
"They know that they are going to suffer a complete defeat, and so they want to intimidate the population," Ismael García, a former Chávez ally who now heads a small opposition party in Congress, told reporters.