Venezuelan military targets Chavez critics in its ranks

Venezuela is clamping down on criticism of Hugo Chavez that circulates through the military ranks.

Officers and soldiers in the Venezuelan army must now report messages considered offensive, critical or contrary to the government, according to a recent official order.

The crackdown on critical comments comes as Chavez is tightening his grip on the country by targeting opponents, questioning the loyalty of former supporters, and nationalizing the economy.

The military measure, which has no precedent, is generating fear in the ranks and violates Venezuelan law, experts and analysts said.

In an order issued last month, Gen. Jose Cristobal Fuentes Torres, the army's director of intelligence, ordered all military personnel "to notify at once" their superiors about any type of message that questions Chavez.

"Any military personnel who receives via the Internet, text messaging or other media, electronic mail, offensive messages, criticism or analogies of different natures that are contrary to the system of government presided by our Commander in Chief, Lt. Col. Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias, must notify its contents at once to his natural commander or to the intelligence directorate of the National Army," stated the message issued by Fuentes, who was assigned to his post in April.

Through an active-duty officer, El Nuevo Herald obtained a copy of the message directed at multiple addressees and marked "urgent" and "confidential."

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