Merida, May 9th, 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Friday a Venezuelan military tribunal found Raul Baduel, former minister for defence and ally of Chavez who went over to the opposition, guilty of corruption and sentenced him to 7 years and 11 months in jail. Venezuelan media portrayed the verdict as a political silencing of the opposition.
Specifically, the military court found Raul Baduel guilty of taking $3.9 million in Armed Forces funds, crimes against military honour or decorum, and abuse of authority while he was minister of defence in 2006 and 2007. Apart from prison time, the sentence also includes a prohibition to run for political office and confiscation of goods obtained illicitly, the website Aporrea reported.
VTV reporter Boris Castellanos said Baduel diverted the $3.9 million that were under his authority away from where it had been assigned by the military administration. This was proven with testimonies by various military units that said they had not received the money, as well as testimonies, receipts, and bank documentation showing that some of Baduel’s relatives had benefited from or received money.
Hernan Medina, Lieutenant-Colonel under Baduel, was also found guilty of taking funds and crimes against military honour, and was sentenced to eight years prison, as well as the same prohibition to run for office and confiscation of illicitly obtained goods.
The tribunal said the full terms of the sentence would be published within ten days. Both men have been imprisoned in Ramo Verde jail for over a year and will remain there.
International and national mainstream media implied the sentence was an act of political repression. Such sources have also strongly criticised the level of corruption in Venezuela. The Wall Street Journal headlined with, “Critic of Venezuela’s Chavez gets 8-Year Prison Sentence”, the New York Times with, “Chavez Critic and Ex-Defense Minister Gets 8-Year Sentence” and the Los Angeles Times with “Chavez critic convicted in Venezuela”. However the BBC was less sensational with its headline, “Venezuelan ex-defence minister Raul Baduel jailed”.
Some national papers portrayed the sentencing as an act of revenge. For example, El Nacional headlined with, “Baduel’s sentence is a message to the FAN [National Armed Forces]” and “Retired soldiers assure that Baduel’s sentence is retaliation.”
On Saturday president Hugo Chavez stressed he had nothing to do with the trial or the sentencing and that he had found out about the sentence through the press. He said he regretted the turn of events, “We’ve known each other for many years, I know his family, sons, wife.”
Chavez called Baduel an “old pal,” who he had “fondness” for, “It hurts a lot, my soul hurts.”
Chavez also highlighted the range of evidence against Baduel and said the sentence showed that no one is “untouchable” in Venezuela. He said that the details of the case had been known for a while, and it was only when Baduel was discovered that “he came out attacking me so that later he could say that it was political persecution.”
Baduel was one of the four founding members of MBR-200, Chavez’s underground movement until the creation of the MVR and later the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in 2007. Also, in 2002 Baduel played a key role in defeating the opposition military coup against Chavez.
Then, in November 2007, after stepping down as defence minister in July, Baduel publically expressed his opposition to the president’s proposed constitutional reforms and encouraged people to vote against them in the referendum. Politically and publically, from that point on, Baduel sided with the opposition.
In April 2009 authorities arrested the former defence minister after having already detained and questioned him in October 2008 and summoned him several times throughout that year. Following his arrest Baduel told media that it was a form of political persecution ordered by Chavez.