Energy Affairs, Technology and Security of the State

Recently appointed Venezuelan Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raul Baduel talks about the importance of oil as a matter of national security, and about his proposal to create an Oil and Energy State Council

Translated by David Cabrera 

General Raul Baduel, during a break at the “Petroleum Congress” forum, a week before he was named Army Chief of Staff
Photo: Gonzalo Gomez

The lock-out, strike and sabotage of the oil industry by the Venezuelan opposition in December 2002 and January 2003 against the government of President Chávez, helped to highlight the importance of oil as a matter of national security. Hence, the importance of the proposals that Gen. Baduel has been making at forums and meetings with diverse sectors connected to the national oil industry Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), including management, unions, field experts, organized communities involved in production and service activities, and members of the Armed Forces.

These forums and meetings represent an effort to develop a new kind of doctrine regarding national security and sovereignty in energy affairs, according to the principles and dispositions of the new Venezuelan Constitution. As Gen. Baduel has stated it, all these forums, workshops and meetings has been implemented with the full knowledge and approval of Venezuelan government authorities and PDVSA officials. Authorities receive the results, proposals, and complaints raised the events.

General Baduel participated at the “Energy and Security of State, Development and Latin American Energy Integration” forum on Jan. 9, 2004, in Puerto La Cruz, the Anzoategui State. His participation in these forums have a special connotation, given his role in the defeat by the mobilized masses and loyal sectors of the Armed Forces against the brief, yet brutal, fascist dictatorship imposed by the anti-democratic opposition during the coup d’etat of April 2002. Back then, rebel military officers backed by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce (FEDECAMARAS), the corporate media, political parties that ruled before Chavez, and the discredited bureaucracy of the pro-bosses Venezuelan Confederation of Workers (CTV), removed democratically-elected President Chavez and imposed a regime that dissolved the National Assembly (Congress), dismissed the Supreme Court, State Governors, and the Attorney General, apart from unleashing a wave of repression unseen in Venezuela since the dictatorships of the 1950’s. As the coup was carried out and the brief dictatorship unleashed, Gen. Baduel was the first high ranking military officer who refused to recognize the dictator’s authority, and maintained his defense of the Constitution approved by the people. At the time, he was chief of the 42nd Airborne Brigade of paratroopers, and helped organize the operation that rescued President Chavez from prison on a Caribbean island. He was subsequently promoted to Commander of the 4th Armored Division, and now to Army Chief of Staff.

The Interview with Gen. Baduel follows:

Venezuelanalysis.com: One of the central issues that you’ve touched upon at the forums on security, defense, petroleum and energy, has to do with the creation of the Executive Council of State for the Security and Defense of Energy and Petroleum Affairs: What answers have you so far received on the matter? How much resonance has this had? Has there been any progress? Are current efforts heading toward the creation of such council?

Baduel: Firstly, I’d like to highlight certain things: The treatment that we have had on this matter —specially, after the experience we have acquired from the events of December 2002 and January 2003 (the sabotage of the oil industry), and from the participation at different forums, also at the levels of academia and popular assemblies— has driven us into the structuring of ideas around an investigative project around defense and security; which I have called “Energy Affairs, Technology and Security of the State,” which emphasizes specifically on oil and national security.

General Raul Baduel, during his intervention at the “Petroleum Congress” forum in January 2004
Photo: Gonzalo Gomez

We have discussed this proposal after learning quite a lot through this interaction [at the forums and workshops], compiling relevant information from other sources, and then complementing it with my knowledge as a security and defense officer. We have also thoroughly reviewed article 251 of the Venezuelan Constitution (which states that the President could appoint a State Council to deal with matters of national interest).

I believe that during the lock-out and sabotage of PDVSA last year, we saw the seed of such Council with the meetings between the Defense Minister, a number of high-ranking officers in the military, the Minister of Energy and Mines and several oil industry representatives.

I still haven’t received an official answer about the proposal. However, I once read in the press that the Minister of Energy and Mining spoke about this in some way, and I felt alluded as he mentioned that the Petroleum Congress [Congreso Petrolero – an event that took place at the end of last year, without the approval or consent of PDVSA officials] was organized by the communities, oil workers and members of the Armed Forces. I decided not to participate at the Petroleum Congress, mainly because as an on-duty officer of my rank, I must demonstrate obedience, subordination and discipline. I did not want to let actions as a military officer and citizen be interpreted as choosing a certain political sector. Nevertheless, the Minister seems to have flatly rejected the Oil and Energy State Council, on the grounds that it would represent a supranational entity taking over tasks that are strictly under the competence of the President and the Ministry of Energy and Mines. But I have never doubted nor questioned that it must be the President the one presiding over this Council. However, given my familiarity with the President, I know that he would be open to receiving all the assistance and information to enrich and strengthen such Council, which would in turn guarantee that such a vital issue for survival of the Venezuelan State, be managed in the best way possible.

Venezuelanalysis.com: Would the oil workers, alongside social organizations linked to the oil sector, be able to participate in the State Council? What other kind of participation do you foresee?

Baduel: Well, first of all we have to acknowledge that in practical terms it would be quite difficult to do as in the Hill of Niza, in ancient Athens… an assembly of all and for all. But there exists the possibility to encourage an open discussion at the national level so all sectors of the country can share their views on the matter. 

Venezuelanalysis.com: In any case, these other sector’s participation in the Council would be consistent with the principles of participatory democracy embodied in the Constitution and with the state-society shared responsibility? 

Baduel: That is in fact established in the Constitution in the Seventh Title of the National Security section; it clearly explains that national security issues are not the exclusive competence of the State. Every citizen of this country shares a responsibility alongside the State when it comes to national security.

Venezuelanalysis.com: From that perspective, could we then expect that PDVSA’s recent business plans be openly discussed by the Council?

Baduel: Well, I could not deny the complexity of the oil business, and we must acknowledge that it should be the job for the country’s best prepared minds in order to guarantee the well being of our national interests.

Venezuelanalysis.com: Prior to this interview, we made references to the impunity that exists today not only in the political arena, but also in the oil sector as a consequence of no one going to trial for the coup d’etat, or the lock-out and the sabotage of PDVSA. From a security and defense perspective, what are your thoughts on the impunity enjoyed by those who participated in the April and December sabotages in 2002, who are still roaming around free without having gone to trial or asked to pay for the 10-15 billion dollars in losses to the nation?

Particularly, my perspective as a soldier and citizen is that it’s difficult to comprehend how a group of people —regardless of their academic, technological and scientific know-how— could give themselves the right to employ the nation’s resources to cause such harm to it. I am a fervent supporter of the strengthening of the nation’s institutions. I particularly hope for the eventual strengthening of the Judicial Branch. I believe it is a fair and legitimate demand of all the Venezuelan people that proper punitive actions are taken against the perpetrators, so they finally face the consequences of the damages they caused to the country, and pay accordingly.

Army Chief of Staff, General Raul Baduel, at the celebration of the 190th anniversary of the Battle of La Victoria where an inexperienced batallion of Venezuelan students and seminarists defeated a professional Spanish Army batallion.
Photo: Venpres

Venezuelanalysis.com: The Aporrea.org collective, along with other social organizations such as the Bolivarian Association of Attorneys, the Petroleum Congress, the 13 of April Movement, the Option of the Revolutionary Left party (OIR), the National Workers’ Union… have proposed starting a campaign against impunity. We believe that social activism is essential to untie that knot. What are your thoughts on this?       

Baduel: In this unique sociopolitical situation we are witnessing in our country, I truly believe that nobody could ignore the extent at which every Venezuelan, as humble and poor as many may be, has become acquainted with the spirit and word of the Constitution. They have come to demand their rights and also assume their duties, specially those constitutional provisions related to the genuine participation by the citizens in local and national affairs, as stipulated in Article 62 and also included in some sections of Article 168 trough Article 184. I firmly believe that we have to focus on making these constitutional provisions into a reality, and create the appropriate mechanisms to make the people’s participation benefit all Venezuelans.

Venezuelanalysis.com: As the newly appointed Joint Chief of Staff, what are your plans regarding security and defense in the current circumstances that the country is going through?

Baduel: I particularly believe that we must give great importance to collective action. By this I mean that changing the name of the National Armed Forces to National Armed Force wasn’t just about discarding a plural name to adopt a singular one, it was about making the point that the collective action within the military should prevail. Processes should precede functions. In the case of the Army, my vision points to emphasizing on the operational macro-processes without neglecting the logistic and administrative processes. That’s why I was working on the planning guide for this purpose, a master document that contains the policies of command. Those policies are already laid out, and I will soon make them known to my immediate subordinates. My goals are to guarantee the protection of the country’s independence, its sovereignty and the integrity of its territory, as well as accomplishing the fundamental tasks of military defense, cooperation, the preservation of order, and an active participation on the development of the nation.

Venezuelanalysis.com: By the way, the country’s integrity you are referring to is being threatened by the incursions by paramilitary death squads such as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, from Colombian mercenaries, and even from some elements of intervention from a super-power.

Baduel: Ever since my designation as commander of the 42nd Paratroopers Brigade in 1999, I made a proposal centered on three premises: deny, disarm and defend. Deny geographic space, in order to defend the operations being carried out by our unit, because we were ready to mobilize to the border region and disarm anybody that pretended to threaten the integrity of the Venezuelan territory.

It’s very lamentable the hardships that Colombians have to deal with everyday as a result of a conflict that has been going on for 50 years. We are saddened by that, but we also have to remember that it is a problem of Colombia, and that Venezuela has the right to avoid suffering the consequences derived from the violence that now plagues Colombia. [Venezuela recently accepted dozens of Colombians as official refugees and it is processing hundreds of additional applications -Ed]

Venezuelanalysis.com: Can you give us a final message?

Baduel: As a man of faith, I entrust myself to God almighty, Yahve, so he gives me enough humbleness, patience and wisdom to face the great responsibility that the Venezuelan state has entrusted me.