A former Venezuelan army general on Thursday denounced what he called the widespread involvement of Cuban troops in President Hugo Chavez's military.
Former Brig. Gen. Antonio Rivero, who used to head the government's emergency management agency, said his decision to retire from the army this month was motivated mainly by "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers" in Venezuela's armed forces.
He told reporters that Cubans are now involved in training troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in intelligence, weapons, communications and other areas. There was no immediate reaction from Chavez's government.
Rivero's televised remarks add to claims by government critics that Cuban advisers and operatives hold various positions in the government and military.
Opposition politician Julio Borges demanded earlier this month that the government provide information about Cubans working for the government, saying "never before in our history have we allowed citizens of another country to assume key posts associated with national security."
Borges said without providing details that Cuban advisers are now working at high levels in ports administration, telecommunications, immigration, the police, the electrical sector and the key oil industry.
As director of the emergency management agency, Rivero used to be the voice of the government in responding to disasters including plane crashes and floods. He was replaced in that post in 2008 after five years and returned to his army duties.
Rivero said in his infantry division there were "classes like the one for snipers" where Cuban soldiers and personnel provided training.
He said Cubans were also involved in teaching military doctrine at the command level, and are also in divisions like military engineering. Cubans, he said, are now placed "at a high level in vital areas of national security."
Rivero also denounced the "politicization" of the military, including the slogan soldiers now repeat when saluting: "Socialist homeland or death!" Among other complaints, he condemned Chavez's enlistment of supporters in a growing civilian militia and said it's improper for the president, a civilian, to wear a military uniform as Chavez often does.
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, has made Cuba his closest ally since he took office in 1999. He often visits Fidel Castro, calling him a mentor, and has praised Cuba as a "revolutionary democracy."
Venezuela has also become a key economic benefactor to Cuba, sending the island about 100,000 barrels of oil a day on preferential terms in exchange for the services of thousands of Cuban doctors, whose work in free clinics has helped boost Chavez's political support.
During a speech to Cubans in that medical mission last week, Chavez told the crowd: "Cubans, I tell you speaking from the heart, I feel like I'm from Cuba now. I feel like I'm one more Cuban."
During a meeting in Caracas this week, neither Chavez nor Cuban President Raul Castro publicly discussed details of Cuban advisers' other government roles.
The Cuban president said before leaving on Wednesday that he is pleased relations are growing stronger. Increasingly, Castro said, "we're the same thing."
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