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The Military Career of Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez graduated from the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences in 1971 as a sub-lieutenant. He received his sword from President Carlos Andres Perez. While in the military he led a kind of double existence, in sympathy with communist rebels, but at the same time obligated by the organization to which he belonged to support the then current Venezuelan government. The military unit to which he had been assigned was sent to Sabaneta to put down a Maoist uprising. He was not happy about the situation. Later saying:

It is there I began to see that the peasants were subject to huge repression. The army would burn their houses down, accuse them without respecting the rule of law.1
Hugo Chavez in Military

In 1977 his unit was transferred to Anzoategui, another Venezuelan state where there was fighting with guerrillas. In 1978 he went to Maracay. It was here that he began to make speeches and meeting with revolutionary elements. In 1979 he went to Caracas, assigned to teach at the Venezuelan Academy of Military Sciences where he had graduated some eight years before. He taught military ethics.2 He began to cultivate a following among younger officers in the military.

In 1982 he made a speech in Maracay that was suppose to honor the hero Simon Bolivar. The speech took on an anti-government form. Afterwards, he and several other officers went to a tree and repeated an oath similar to one Bolivar had made to liberate the people from their oppressors. Hugo Chavez made the same oath. The next year he formed a radical organization he called the "Bolivarian Revolutionary Army - 200" (Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucinario -200 or MBR-200)3. The oath, translated to English:

I swear by the God of my fathers, I swear by my honor, and I swear by my homeland that I shall give no respite to my arm nor rest to my soul until we have broken the chains that the powerful have placed upon us.

The men who took Bolivar's Oath at the "Saman de Guerre" and created the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army - 200 would be the nucleus of a group dedicated to bringing down the government by a coup, to set up a socialist military government. The coup attempt would be made ten years later in 1992. Chavez used the ten years leading up to this event to carefully prepare, plan, and recruit. He continued to teach at the military academy until 1984. From here he was assigned to a motorized squadron in Elorza close to the Columbian border. The move was precipitated by rumors that he was teaching radical doctrines to the young students.

Because of his attitude, Chavez worked his way slowly up through the ranks and was seldom given combat troops to command. In 1986 he was promoted to major, and in 1990 he was put in command of a civilian affairs garrison and promoted to lieutenant colonel. In 1989 he was taken into custody and charged with conspiring to assassinate the president of Venezuela, Perez. Fortunately for Chavez an influential General sympathized with his plight and gave him backing. Instead of being tried, he was given command of a parachute brigade of six hundred troops in Maracay.4 It was from this position that Chavez would launch his long planned coup.

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  1. The Threat Closer to Home
  2. Chavez Bio
  3. Forgotten Continent p. 165
  4. Military Radicalism in Venzuela