CARACAS — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez presided over a military parade Saturday marking the 20th anniversary of his failed coup attempt and affirmed that the country’s armed forces are loyal “Chavistas.”
The firebrand leader rode in an open car as he marked the 1992 rebellion which he led against then-president Carlos Andres Perez. The coup failed but thrust Chavez into the political spotlight for his criticism of the government as “subordinate” to the United States.
Also in attendance were Presidents Raul Castro of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Michel Martelly of Haiti, who were in Caracas for a summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
Chavez, who is recovering from cancer treatment and readying his re-election campaign this year, brushed aside criticism from his opponents who have said the armed forces should be cleansed of Chavez loyalists.
The opposition Coalition for Democratic Unity claimed Chavez was trying to force ideology on the armed forces.
But Chavez said the military is “an essentially professional institution, not political.” On Friday, he said the armed forces “have Chavez in their heart, in their core, in their soul.”
More than 12,000 people took part in the parade, which was broadcast by all Venezuelan TV networks. Some 8,000 watched from the stands, dressed mostly in red, the color of the ruling party.
Chavez’s relationship with the military has been under scrutiny in recent weeks following the appointment as defense minister of General Henry Rangel Silva, accused by Washington of links to drug traffickers and the FARC leftist rebels in Colombia.
The event showcased Venezuela’s mostly Russian military equipment including T-72 tanks and anti-aircraft equipment.
Chavez said the display showed “tanks for the people, for revolution, not the bourgeoisie or to serve imperialism.”
The parade marked the failed rebellion after which Chavez served a prison sentence of three years before being pardoned, but it catapulted him to a popular victory in the 1998 presidential election.
Chavez is seeking a third six-year term in elections on October 7.