Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Friday appointed General Henry Rangel Silva as his defense minister despite US accusations he participates in drug trafficking.
"Today I announce his appointment as the new minister of defense of the republic here in this sacred temple in front of the Virgin of Coromoto," Chavez said during an outdoor mass in Guanare, in northwestern Venezuela, as it was broadcast on radio and television.
At the same time, he appointed General Jose Gregorio Perez Escalona as the new commander of Venezuelan Aviation.
"Let's give applause to the new appointed defense minister, Rangel Silva, and the new commanding general of the Bolivarian Aviation, Major General Perez Escalona," he said.
In 2008, the US Treasury Department froze assets of Rangel Silva, then director of the Venezuelan intelligence service, accusing him of drug trafficking and supporting Colombian guerrillas associated with the revolutionary group FARC.
In 2010, Chavez promoted Rangel Silva to general-in-chief, the highest military rank in Venezuela, days after the military officer had declared in an interview that the military was "married" to the political projects of the president, to whom they had vowed "complete loyalty."
In response to the controversy created in Venezuela by Rangel Silva's statements, Chavez said the general had been misunderstood. Chavez said Rangel Silva meant he was dedicated to the projects of the country, not a person.
The president attended the mass on Friday to give thanks for his health, which he says is fully recovered from the cancer that was diagnosed in June.