Critic of Chavez faces charges
Venezuela on Friday charged an ex-defense minister and ardent critic of President Hugo Chavez with corruption, a move that could sideline one of the socialist leader’s most important opponents.
Retired Gen. Raul Baduel rescued Chavez from a 2002 coup, but broke with him in 2007 and joined opposition parties in accusing the popular leftist leader of concentrating power and using state institutions to crack down on dissidents.
Venezuelan military prosecutor Gen. Ernesto Cedeno said Baduel was charged with stealing about $14 million.
“This investigation has to do with the theft of funds and assets belonging to the armed forces,” Cedeno told reporters.
The charges could deal a blow to the opposition as it heads into regional elections of governors and mayors next month.
Last year Baduel, who had been highly respected among Chavez supporters, helped the opposition thwart a constitutional overhaul that would have let Chavez run indefinitely for reelection and strengthened his hold on the economy.
Chavez has faced withering criticism around the world for blocking the candidacies of numerous politicians, including one emerging opposition leader slated to run for mayor of Caracas, the capital.
The government last month threw two human rights activists out of the country after they presented a report saying Chavez used state power to intimidate dissidents.
The leftist leader, whom the U.S. State Department calls an autocrat, enjoys strong support from the oil-rich nation’s poor for spending petroleum revenue on social development programs.