Early this September, during a shakeup of his cabinet, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro made a surprising pick. Rodolfo Marco Torres, his nominee for vice president for the economy, was a former brigadier general in Venezuela’s army. He had first stepped into politics as head of a state bank in 2005 and had been rising through the civilian ranks since then. Earlier this year, he became minister of finance, and then he made history this past June as the first military officer to join the central bank’s board of directors. Now, after only eight months in the minister’s chair, he will take charge of Venezuela’s battered economy.
Torres is not alone. He is among tens, if not hundreds, of former army officers who have secured high government posts over the past two decades thanks to their loyalty to the late President Hugo Chávez, and his successor, Maduro. These days, the Venezuelan state’s every move bears the army’s fingerprints. With these postings, Maduro seeks to shore up his rule, but many fear that he will lead the country down an uncomfortable and unhealthy path.
Chávez, who was himself a lieutenant-colonel when he took charge of the antigovernment uprising in the 1990s, often boasted that the principal accomplishment of his 14-year presidency was forging a union between Venezuela’s military and civilian authorities, which, he believed, strengthened the socialist revolution. At the same time, however, he never wanted the military’s influence to get out of hand. Recalling the Venezuelan army’s history of political intervention -- the country was under military rule for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- Chávez stipulated that the military serve the civilian government as a whole and maintain no political affiliation (provisions that were eventually worked into the constitution).
To split the difference and bind the army to his cause, following his inauguration in 1999, Chávez installed military men in senior positions at key government