Jorge Luis García Carneiro, governor of the Venezuelan state of Vargas, remembers the day on August 8, 1971, when he first met Hugo Chávez. It was the day those starting out as cadets in the Military Academy swore their oaths of allegiance to serve their country before the national flag.
Odette Díaz Fumero
“He (Chávez) was a very well-known figure: he spoke in public, sang and was a good friend and joke teller; and that allowed us to get to know each other better. He was a young man with great responsibilities and was an immensely talented communicator”, recalls the governor. Carneiro says that during his time at the Military Academy, the young man, born in Sabaneta in 1954, always promoted harmony between comrades for which he won the companionship award in recognition of his achievements in fostering solidarity. They also had a great sense of loyalty towards him. He was always an eternal rebel and spoke up whenever he was in the right.
Among his anecdotes of Chávez, Carneiro recalls how, as a condition of graduating from their parachute course after three months of ground training, it was announced that they were to have their first real jump but during their descent it was forbidden to have any object that might interfere with it.
However, he tells Prensa Latina, “Chávez hid a camera to take photos of himself and his comrades at that unique moment.”
“After graduating,” says General Carneiro, “they placed us in units located in the most inhospitable parts of the country, where we witnessed the Venezuela with all its wonders that we had been told about in the Academy vanish before our very eyes amid people plagued by misery and high rates of extreme poverty.”
“A country full of material wealth, with tens of thousands of precious natural reserves, but whose military barracks were full of illiterate soldiers – this was the reality that motivated Chávez to take power in 1999,” he emphasizes. And there the Bolivarian revolution began.
But in 2002 a coup d’état, promoted by the United States government, took place. Carneiro recounts how “that whole situation became strained and without thinking any more about it, I left for the Ministry of Defense where the high command was gathered which is when General Néstor González first appeared on television, declaring he did not recognise the authority of Comander Chávez, an act that the leadership of the ministry then endorsed: it was obvious that a coordinated operation was taking place”. At that time Carneiro had under his command the Garrison of Caracas, located at the Fuerte Tiuna barracks; from there, together with Generals Silva Wilfredo and Lameda Hernández, he came to the conclusion that a coup d’état was about to take place.
“We were in no doubt about it. We came out to defend the country and Chávez,” he states.
“I took the reins. Fort Tiuna barracks and the troops were under my command; we brought out the tanks and from that moment on I dug in and held fast. We ignored orders from superiors and with the support of the people we demanded the presence of the democratically elected president,” he recalls as if still living the events.
After that, there were some difficult times: the general/oil strike, the military intervention in Plaza Altamira, the presence of paramilitaries very close to the centre of power … all this to overthrow Chávez, “but in less than 72 hours we managed to overcome all these threats and the Bolivarian Revolution was reinstated”. says Carneiro.
According to the general, Chávez, at the beginning of his administration, was only trying to get people out of poverty and tackle illiteracy; and he knew that these things could not be achieved without the social missions because of the way the government was structured..
Thus, the Robinson Mission was born, based on the Cuban international literacy programme, which – thanks to the fraternal relations Chávez enjoyed with Cuban leader Fidel Castro – was implemented in Venezuela and adapted to its particular brand of needs and rolled out to every part of the country with all the necessary resources, reaching more than two million people in the beginning.
After tackling the literacy problem, Chávez appointed Carneiro as commander of the Army and later Minister of Defence.
Having been Minister of Defence and serving 30 years in the military, Chávez asked him to create the Ministry of Social Development and Popular Participation (a name Carneiro created himself) with the task of founding the communal councils.
Carneiro acknowledges that the social missions were in no way easy: “there were many who criticized me because I had stepped down from being practically the second in command in the country in order to devote myself to lifting people out of poverty – they saw it as a lesser task”.
“To those who have criticized me for complying with Chávez’s request to leave military life behind and focus on social work, my answer has always been that I preferred to be useful rather than important. Poverty eats at the very soul and I reached out to those who needed help and I thank God and Chávez for that opportunity,” he says. He recognises that the current president, Nicolás Maduro, is striving to ensure Chávez’s ideas and achievements are preserved in each governing administration at a time when the difficulties – a challenging political war, a financial and economic blockade and media smear campaigns all of which are being driven by the American Government – are greater than at the start of the Bolivarian process. (PL)
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)