The initiative, tentatively entitled Mission Soldier, will raise salaries for all those working in the Venezuelan military, regardless of rank, and will prioritize the housing needs of the members of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB).
“One of the objectives of Mission Soldier is to ensure by 2014 there is not a single military professional that doesn’t have his or her own home. We’re going to achieve this in 2 and a half years”, the Commander in Chief of the nation’s armed forces said during an act held at Tiuna Fort in Caracas.
While the new program is still in development, Chavez commented that the mission will boost “social security, housing, salaries, loans, special attention, equipment, infrastructure and education” for the GNB’s personnel.
The announcement came as Chavez was decorated with the honor of the GNB Cross in the First Degree for his service to the country and his devotion to the nation’s armed forces. The medal was bestowed by Major General Juan Francisco Romero, head of the national guard and Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva.
The Venezuelan President accepted the prestigious distinction and took advantage encourage military youth to continue strengthening national sovereignty and fighting to protect the country.
“I want us to continue strengthening our spirit as soldiers and I want us to feel proud to be soldiers, to wear the uniform, carry our flags... and do our job with the humbleness of this great system which is the National Bolivarian Armed Forces”, he said to the nearly three thousand members of the GNB assembled before him.
“Count on me just as I know that I can count on you to continue guaranteeing national independence and socialism. Until victory, always”, he added.
Changing Role of the Military
As a former lieutenant colonel and firm backer of the nation’s armed forces, Chavez has made it a point to transform the Venezuelan military from a previously repressive institution into one geared towards promoting the development of the South American nation.
“We used to be a repressive corp. The horrible phenomenon of corruption had infiltrated our ranks and we need to continue battling against this disease”, the head of state recalled on Friday.
To this end, Chavez has increased the role that the GNB plays in civil affairs including employing soldiers and military professionals in the implementation of various social benefit initiatives such as the Mercal subsidized food program.
Chavez has also led a movement to transform the expansive military complex of Fort Tiuna in western Caracas into a residential area as part of his government’s bid to construct 3 million new homes in the country by 2019.
Under the auspices of the program Mission Housing Venezuela, President Chavez highlighted last week his plan to build 30 thousand homes in the complex to benefit some 150,000 people.
The houses are being built with the collaboration of Chinese, Belarusian and Russian firms and are intended to provide dignified homes to disadvantaged families from nearby shantytowns.
“This is to benefit those most in need who are having a difficult time finding a home on the capitalist market”, Chavez said.
The idea to put the underutilized terrain of Fort Tiuna to use for the needs of local residents was first proposed after heavy rains at the end of 2010 led to the displacement of tens of thousands and the death of more than a dozen people. After the tragedy, Chavez resolved that the only way to avoid such disasters in the future would be to provide the inhabitants of the precariously built shanties that skirt the capital with well-constructed, subsidized homes.
As part of the Fort Tiuna initiative, Chavez also informed that a portion of the residences would be directed towards the military personnel of the GNB which “is growing every day”.
In terms of the costs to Venezuelan homebuyers, government subsidies will be provided to families based on their income, he affirmed.
“The subsidy can be as high as 100 percent without a down payment. This is only possible in socialism with a humanistic government. This is the path to construct a fair nation in conditions of equality”, Chavez said.
On Alert for Elections
During his address on Friday, the two-time incumbent also spoke of the need to be on alert for opposition plans to destabilize the country in the weeks leading up to and after October 7’s presidential contest.
“There are moments, just like in this electoral process, where if it were not for the violent, fascist, and anti-democratic character of the opposition, there would be no threat of danger”, he said.
But given the Venezuelan opposition’s history of coup-plotting, foreign financing, and relentless accusations against the democratic process inside the country, Chavez made a point for the nation’s military to be on guard for potential attacks from conservative elites.
The socialist candidate called on the armed forces to be on guard “for any kind of unwillingness to recognize [the will of the people]. If [the opposition] tries anything, they’re going to crash against the wall of our national dignity”, he said.