Venezuela Replaces Defense Minister Accused of Drug Ties

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has replaced General Henry Rangel Silva as head of the Defense Ministry, which could indicate that Chavez is seeking to distance himself from the general, who has been accused of supporting the FARC‘s drug trafficking activities.

Chavez appointed Navy Admiral Diego Molero Bellavia as the country’s new defense minister, replacing General Henry Rangel Silva, according to El Universal. In an address to a rally in the state of Merida delivered by telephone and broadcast yesterday on state television, Chavez announced that Rangel would be stepping down to run for governor in his home state of Trujillo in the December 16 local elections.

The move is an effort by Chavez’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) to better position itself in Trujillo. The Associated Press notes that Rangel is seen a close Chavez ally, which may make him more popular in the state. PSUV head Diosdado Cabello echoed this in his party’s official endorsement of Rangel, expressing his belief that the former defense minister “will unite all the revolutionary forces in the state.”

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The decision may also be an attempt by Chavez to put some distance between his administration and Rangel, who is a controversial figure. The United States has accused the army general of providing “material assistance” to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) drug trafficking networks. The Venezuelan government, for its part, has dismissed these allegations as attempts to discredit Chavez and his Bolivarian revolution.

Rangel also raised eyebrows when, as head of the armed forces in 2010, he declared that the Venezuelan military was wedding to Chavez’s political future and would not accept an opposition government. As such, Rangel’s resignation could signify that the Venezuelan government is trying to get rid of its reputation for relying on the military for political support, as well as responding to reports that drug trafficking in the country has skyrocketed in recent years. 

A version of this article was previously published on the Pan-American Post.

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