CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez yesterday ordered a 40 per cent pay rise for the armed forces, an increase that may help consolidate his support with troops by countering inflation ahead of legislative elections.
Chavez said the pay rise would bring a cadet’s salary to 2,500 bolivars ($543). The former soldier has ramped up military spending during his 11 years in power, buying billions of dollars of mainly Russian and Chinese made arms to replace aging equipment.
“I will always be alert so that we do not fall behind,” he said, making reference to a recently announced pay rise for doctors. “So that you can do your jobs and live with dignity with your families.”
Surrounded by British-made Scorpion light tanks, Chavez spoke on his weekly television show broadcast yesterday from a new tank division base accompanied by the military high command and a group of female cadets.
Himself a former tank soldier, Chavez said all ranks would be eligible for the increase.
In recent years Chavez’s socialist government has ordered some of the world’s largest hikes to minimum wages and public workers’ salaries, helping offset the highest inflation the hemisphere that was 25 per cent in 2009 and will likely be higher this year.
Chavez has lost popularity in recent months because of electricity and water shortages and a long recession.
Opposition politicians are expected to weaken Chavez’s huge majority in the national assembly in legislative elections in September. The opposition has almost no seats right now after boycotting the last elections five years ago.
“Soldiers do not participate in political parties, but they are not apolitical, no man is apolitical,” said Chavez, whose government granted the armed forces the right to vote.
A military coup in 2002 ousted Chavez for 48 hours, but he was brought back to power by loyal officers and popular protests. The socialist Chavez has since begun to reorganize the military with the help of Cuban advisers, adding a heavy ideological component to their training.
This week a former general said he had retired because Cuban military advisers had too much power in the armed forces. Chavez said the Cubans were just advisors and did not have the power that US officials had over the armed forces in previous governments.
In a live link up on yesterday’s programme, Chavez talked with a Chinese diplomat on another part of Venezuela who was inaugurating a simulator to train pilots for a fleet of Chinese K-8 jets.