Caracas: President Hugo Chavez dismissed a retired general`s warnings about a growing Cuban presence in Venezuela`s military, accusing the officer on Sunday of helping opponents portray his government a pawn of Fidel Castro.
Former Brig Gen Antonio Rivero has denounced a widespread involvement of Cuban troops in the military.
Chavez made no denials on that point, saying that Cubans are merely aiding soldiers in a limited capacity, and he defended his government`s increasingly close cooperation with communist-led Cuba.
"What Cubanisation? The Cubans are helping us here," Chavez said during his television and radio program, `Hello President`.
"They`re telling us how to store compasses, how to repair radios inside tanks and how to stockpile ammunition," Chavez said of the Cubans` activities.
Chavez said he suspected Rivero was making inroads with opposition groups long before he retired, saying the former officer speaks with "the same voice of the enemy”.
"He was already among bad company," Chavez said.
Opposition leaders and other critics have long accused Chavez of allowing Cuban advisers and operatives to hold key positions in the military and state institutions, but have failed to produce concrete evidence of their allegations.
Rivero`s detailed descriptions of Cuban involvement and his high standing in military circles have added new credibility to the concerns.
Rivero has said he retired from the Army this month after 25 years of service, mainly because of "the presence and meddling of Cuban soldiers" in the armed forces. The former Chavez ally said he witnessed Cubans training Venezuelan troops during his last assignment as an infantry commander.
In televised remarks on Thursday, he said Cubans currently train Venezuelan troops, including courses for snipers, and are also playing a role in intelligence, weapons, communications and other strategic areas.
He also has denounced the politicisation of the military, including the slogan that soldiers now repeat when saluting: "Socialist homeland or death!" He has condemned Chavez`s enlistment of supporters in a growing civilian militia.
Rivero told the Globovision television channel on Sunday that intelligence agents have been spying on him since he denounced the Cuban presence in the military, taking photographs of his home and questioning his neighbours. He called the actions "part of the consequences" of criticising the government and expressed concern for the safety of his family.
Chavez, a former paratroop commander, has made Cuba his closest ally since he took office in 1999. The President frequently visits Fidel Castro, calling him a mentor, but he rejects allegations that Cuba`s communist leaders hold sway over his plans to transform Venezuela into a socialist state.