Chavez, On the Offensive

(International Relations and Security Network, 12/03/2007)


Venezuelan military intelligence officials arrested a retired national guard general, Ramon Guillen Davila, on 6 March for plotting to kill the president. Guillen's son, National Guard Captain Tomas Guillen Kodinsky, was arrested two days later and is a suspected as a co-conspirator along with an unknown number of retired military personnel.


These events come as no surprise. Many analysts agree Chavez's thinly veiled march toward autocracy has sown discontent within the Venezuelan military and national guard.


Chavez benefits from revealing plans to assassinate him however real or fabricated. They play into his strategy of constantly reminding his followers of the struggle associated with the revolution. Yet real attempts on his life are likely to increase in the coming months.


Because of this unconfirmed information or because of his own paranoia, Chavez has announced his government will move from a defensive to an offensive posture to prevent assassination attempts. The arrest of Guillen Davila and his son may reflect a change in posture, which could lead to more arrests and talk of assassination attempts in Venezuela.


Ramon Guillen Davila is an easy target. He worked with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the CIA in the 1980s in Venezuela and was the chief of Venezuela's anti-narcotics unit from 1987 to 1991. He is wanted for questioning in Miami, Florida, for his alleged connection with shipping some 22 tonnes of cocaine from Venezuela to the US, according to the Miami daily El Nuevo Herald. But Guillen's lawyer, Guillermo Heredia, maintains his client is not guilty of plotting to kill Chavez.


During a televised interview that aired on 4 March, Chavez said assassination attempts on him were on the rise for several reasons. He focused on former US intelligence chief John Negroponte, calling him a "professional killer." Chavez believes that since Negroponte's move to the State Department, the US official has stepped up efforts to thwart Chavez's government.


The other target, known anti-Castro conspirator Luis Posada Carriles, is gathering explosives and missiles to kill the president with a car bomb or a surface-to-air missile to shoot down his presidential plane, according to Chavez.


Warning that his government would go on the offensive to defend, Chavez said during the interview that "it's possible that surprises could soon occur."


Venezuelan state television VTV aired a tape on 6 March revealing a conversation Tomas Guillen had with his wife Sindry Patricia concerning an alleged plot to kill Chavez. During the conversation, Guillen Davila was mentioned as well as a second retired general with the name of Ferruti or Serruti, according to Venezuelan daily El Universal.


Only days later, both Guillen Davila and his son had been arrested, accused of plotting to kill the president.


Though many doubt the veracity of Chavez's claim, it is certainly possible that a group of individuals in Venezuela are currently planning to kill him or remove him from office. The increased pace of Chavez's push to make Venezuela a socialist state, including his recently passed enabling law, and attempts to unify Venezuela's socialists into one political party are enough to convince anti-Chavez Venezuelans that something must be done.


Chavez's landslide victory in the last election and his complete control of the Venezuelan government and major businesses in the energy and telecommunications sectors leave little room for an opposition. Violence is one of a limited number of options for change.


Over the course of his presidency, Chavez has faced very real attempts on his life. The protests that led to Chavez's removal from power in April 2002 nearly led to his death at the hands of men controlled by a small but powerful group of military generals who see themselves as Venezuela's protectors of democracy.


The further Chavez steps from democracy, the more likely it is that people within the Venezuelan military will try to kill him. It is unclear how and when these individuals will act, but they have been warned. Chavez is on the offensive.