By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – Former defense minister Raúl Isaías Baduel is to be held in a military detention camp at the Fuerte Tiuna barracks in the Venezuelan capital during his trial on corruption charges.
Military Attorney General Ernesto Cedeño said the custody order had been granted on the basis that there were grounds for believing that Baduel, a retired general who turned against President Hugo Chávez after stepping down as minister, could flee the country.
Baduel -- who attended the School of Americas, an officer training school for Latin American military officers run by the United States Army, was instrumental in restoring Chavez to power during the 2002 Venezuelan coup attempt. He and an elite group of paratroopers located Chavez on Orchila Island where the President was incarcerated during the coup, rescued him and brought him back to Caracas.
Chavez then made Baduel General-in-chief and Minister of Defense from 2002 until he stepped down in 2007, when Chavez was first attempting to modify the constitution to allow for indefinite rule.
At the time, Baduel argued that the proposed reform would "seize power away from the people," and constituted a "total change in the content of the structure and fundamental principles of the constitution approved by the Venezuelan people in 1999."
"This proposal is definitively not a constitutional reform; it is not a partial revision, nor a replacement of some of its norms. It is a transformation of the state, and a different model for the country," said Baduel.
"I feel the moral obligation to continue traveling the country to explain my opinion," Baduel commented at the time. "I'm also considering an international campaign." Baduel also said he wouldn't rule out a future political career, which may explain why he is now being harassed.
Until now, Baduel has been at liberty while court proceedings continued. He was arrested by armed agents from the Military Intelligence Directive, DIM, shortly before noon on Thursday.
The agents are also said to have burst into Baduel’s home wielding firearms, and without identifying themselves. Baduel was pushed into a car at gunpoint, according to his son, Raúl Emilio Baduel.
Cedeño said Baduel would have to answer to the court for “administrative irregularities” while he was minister. Cedeño said that 31 billion bolivares (old currency, now the equivalent of BsF31 million and $14.4 million at the then official exchange rate) had gone missing.
Cedeño said Baduel had been summonsed six times and been “reluctant to accept Venezuelan legislation.” The authorities weren’t retaliating against Baduel but “guaranteeing his clear right to the exercise of defense and to oblige him to submit to the penal process,” he insisted.
After the ruling placing him in custody, Baduel said he had been put behind bars on orders from the President. Chávez, he claimed, was “using the judiciary as well as different public powers as mercenaries” to put obstacles in the way of his critics.
Calling for Cedeño to be dismissed, Baduel vowed to continue “struggling for democracy, the constitution and the laws.”
Baduel’s attorney, Omar Mora Tosta, argued that the proceedings were riddled with irregularities to the point that a mistrial might be declared “at any moment.”
National Assembly Deputy Ricardo Gutiérrez of Podemos, the social democratic party that broke with Chávez and went into opposition, rejected the custody order against Baduel.
Two other officers named as Lt-Col. Medina Malval and Vice Admiral Aponte Aponte are already being held at a military jail facing similar charges.
In October last year, Baduel was arrested by DIM in Maracuy, Aragua state and brought to Caracas. The court allowed him to remain at liberty on condition that he presented himself before the court every 15 days, and abstained from commenting on the case in public. He was forbidden to leave the country. Mora Tosta confirmed that Baduel had religiously checked in with the court every two weeks.
Baduel claimed that he’d been detained by force in the company of his wife after they’d stopped at a red traffic light. He was then forcibly taken to a court even though he’d always been willing to answer summonses, and this had been well known, he said.
Said one long-time Venezuela-watcher: "Just as in Fidel's Cuba, the Revolution eats its own. The 'useful idiots' usually realize too late the true nature of the beast they have been feeding and growing fat off of."