Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Saturday, 8 May 2010 11:38 UK

Venezuelan ex-defence minister Raul Baduel jailed

By Will Grant
BBC News, Caracas

Raul Baduel
Baduel has become a rallying point for Venezuela's opposition

The former defence minister of Venezuela has been sentenced to almost eight years in prison for corruption while he was in office.

Raul Baduel was a key Hugo Chavez ally, and played an important role in defence of the president when he was temporarily ousted in a 2002 coup.

But after the two fell out in 2007, Mr Baduel was arrested on corruption charges.

He has also been banned from ever holding political office again.

Mr Baduel was one of the four founding members of President Chavez's revolutionary movement, MVR-200.

'Twittering' from jail

But, more than that, he was the key military man who returned Mr Chavez to power after a short-lived coup against the socialist leader in 2002.

Mr Chavez values loyalty like no other trait in his inner circle, and responded by making Mr Baduel his defence minister.

But in 2007, while President Chavez was campaigning to change the constitution to allow him to stand for office beyond the limit of two terms, his former confidant and friend deserted the party and denounced the campaign.

He said that Mr Chavez was attempting to usurp the constitutional powers of the Venezuelan people, and wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled Why I Parted Ways with Chavez.

Several months later, the retired general was arrested on corruption charges, accused of misappropriating state funds while he was defence minister.

For the past year-and-a-half he has been in prison awaiting trial.

His case has now been heard in a military court and Mr Baduel, who insisted he was innocent, has been sentenced to seven years and 11 months in jail.

During his imprisonment, he has become something of a rallying point for the opposition, who consider him to be a political prisoner in Venezuela.

Mr Baduel has maintained his opposition to Mr Chavez from prison, using the social networking website Twitter and other devices to get his message out.

As well as his jail sentence, he has been banned from ever holding political office again.

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