CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez celebrated the 20th anniversary of the failed coup attempt that launched his political career on Saturday, presiding over a military parade while fighter jets and helicopters roared overhead.
Chavez was flanked by allies including Cuban President Raul Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales while his military showed off some of its newest and most sophisticated weapons, including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles mounted on trucks.
Chavez also used the occasion to reiterate to Venezuelans that the military is firmly behind him as he runs for re-election in October.
"From now on we will have generals, admirals, officers and troops (who are) revolutionaries, anti-imperialists, socialists and Chavistas, so that it hurts the bourgeoisie and imperialism all the more," the president said at the televised parade. "The armed force is Chavista."
Chavez's adversaries have condemned the increasingly politicized military leadership as the president has recently promoted outspoken loyalists to top posts. Chavez, who survived a 2002 coup that briefly ousted him, has since sought to ensure the military is solidly behind him.
Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Michel Martelly of Haiti also accompanied Chavez at the parade in the military base Fort Tiuna in Caracas. They planned to attend a weekend summit of the eight-nation Bolivarian Alliance bloc, or ALBA, which Chavez has promoted.
Chavez was an army paratroop commander when he led the failed attempt to topple the government of President Carlos Andres Perez on Feb. 4, 1992. Chavez was jailed and later pardoned.
The government has held celebrations on the date since Chavez took office in 1999. Opponents have criticized the festivities while noting that dozens were killed in the coup attempt.
"How can a failed coup that was unjustified, violent and bloody ... be celebrated?" asked Carlos Vecchio, an opposition politician.
Chavez said the military coup attempt of 1992 was a rebellion against political leaders who were "subordinated to U.S. imperialism."
He said the sort of generals who were in charge two decades ago "will never again exist in Venezuela."