Chavez critic convicted in Venezuela


A retired general and onetime confidant of President Hugo Chavez has been sentenced to prison in a case that revealed the divisions in Venezuelan society.

The retired general, Raul Isaias Baduel, was sentenced to a nearly eight-year prison term Friday night by a military court on charges of abuse of power, misappropriation of funds and violation of the military code while he was an officer.

Baduel’s family criticized the verdict as unjust and said imprisoning him was a means of silencing a prominent critic. Baduel sent a Twitter message Saturday to family and friends saying, “God is with us and divine justice always present.”

Chavez has denounced his former ally as a traitor. “The extreme right has found another pawn,” he said in 2007 after Baduel criticized his policies. “Baduel is betraying years of friendship, solidarity and at the same time himself.”

Baduel was one of a group of military leaders who helped restore Chavez to power after a short-lived military coup in April 2002. Chavez subsequently named him defense minister, but the two had a bitter falling-out, and Baduel resigned in 2007.

The officer, who took a secret oath with then-army officer Chavez and others in 1982 to free Venezuela from capitalism, later denounced the fiery anti-U.S. leader’s socialist policies, saying they were ruining the country.

Baduel campaigned in 2007 against a Chavez-backed constitutional amendment referendum to advance the socialist model and to enable the president to run for reelection indefinitely, which voters rejected. Baduel has been in custody since his arrest in April 2009.

Charges against him included the misuse of $3.9 million, a charge the court said it proved through testimony of army officials who said they never received money budgeted to them.

Baduel’s daughter Rayrin told television reporters that the verdict was rendered “without the slightest proof.... My father is an honest man and will always be.”

The conviction comes in the aftermath of several arrests of opposition figures. In March, former Zulia state Gov. Oswaldo Alvarez Paz was arrested after saying Venezuela had become a narco-state and implying that Chavez was responsible.

Congressman Wilmer Azuaje was jailed for allegedly attacking a police officer, but supporters say the arrest was retaliation for accusing Chavez family members of corruption. Alvarez Paz is being held in a military prison, and Azuaje is under house arrest.

Mogollon reported from Caracas, Kraul from Bogota.