As he readied for the visit of a close ally, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez undertook a cabinet shuffle in the fashion of the defunct Soviet politburo. Before Christmas, he announced a pending reassignment of his Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Vice President Elias Jaua, and Interior Minister Tareck El-Assami to state governor candidate status.
He elevated Congressman Diosdado Cabello, an influential former soldier, to head the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, or PSUV.
On January 6, Chavez named Henry de Jesus Rangel Silva, former director of Venezuela’s Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services (DISIP) and general-in-chief, to the critical position of Defense Minister. Silva’s resume includes participation in the failed 1992 coup that vaulted an obscure Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez into the public limelight.
As head of DISIP, Rangel Silva established working relations with the narco-terrorists of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In September 2008, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned him under the Drug Kingpin Act, stating that he had “materially assisted the narcotics trafficking activities of the FARC” and “pushed for greater cooperation between the Venezuelan government and the FARC.”
In November 2010, Silva declared that Venezuela’s military was committed to defending Chavez’s revolutionary project against a possible reversal at the polls.
The hypothesis of an “opposition government is hard to swallow, it would mean selling the country, and that is not going to be accepted, not by the Armed Force and much less by the people.”
As an analyst commented for The Wall Street Journal, “the exit of three civilian figures from government positions leaves spaces that could be acquired by the military wing of the government…Greater power in the hands of the military could increase the possibility that it may not abide by a victory of the opposition in the elections, should that occur.”
Silva’s appointment leaves little doubt that the Chavez loyalist will work to solidify the position of Venezuela’s armed forces as Chavez’s Praetorian Guard and defenders of a one-party state.
Chavez’s political-military gambit leaves a door open to—in the event of his incapacity to govern—the establishment of a military dictatorship. The selection of a senior official so closely linked with the FARC, coupled with the visit of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, leader of the “the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2010,” once more offers convincing support to the argument that the Obama Administration must respond to these latest developments by placing Venezuela on the state sponsors of terrorism list.