Chavez Appoints Defense Minister Accused Of Drug Ties

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has appointed General Henry Rangel Silva, a man accused by the US of having ties to Colombian guerilla group the FARC, as the country’s new defense minister.

Rangel, a longtime ally of Chavez who participated in the failed coup in 1992, was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in 2008 for allegedly helping the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to smuggle cocaine through Venezuela. At the time he was head of military intelligence, before becoming second-in-command of Venezuela’s armed forces in November 2010.

In addition to his supposed ties to the FARC, analysts and political opponents in Venezuela fear that his appointment points to a tightening of Chavez’s grip on power, in light of Rangel’s statements last year that the armed forces were “married to the socialist political project,” and would not accept any other government

This latest appointment comes amidst a cabinet reshuffle that will see several key ministers moved prior to the October presidential elections to allow them to run for governorships in December’s regional elections.

InSight Crime Analysis

Rangel’s insertion into the cabinet is a product of Chavez’s determination to hold on to power in 2012’s elections. It suggests that Chavez is unlikely to take steps to tackle corruption and links to the drug trade in his military. As InSight Crime recently noted, Chavez relies heavily on key military officials within his government, precluding serious efforts to purge and reform the institution.

The choice of a man who has been publicly sanctioned by Washington indicates that the president is not planning to deepen cooperation with US anti-drug operations in the near future.

Rangel’s appointment could be good news for the FARC, whose new leader is thought to be at least partly based over the border in Venezuela, signalling that the government does not plan to work closely with Colombia to fight the rebels.

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