Venezuela General Who Broke With Hugo Chavez Dies In Prison

FILE - In this  Aug. 11, 2006 file photo, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, and his Defense Minister Raul Baduel attend the military reserve changing of command ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela, The former Defense Minister has died on Oct. 12, 2021, after contracting COVID-19 inside the prison where he was being held, accused of plotting a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero, File)
FILE - In this Aug. 11, 2006 file photo, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, and his Defense Minister Raul Baduel attend the military reserve changing of command ceremony in Caracas, Venezuela, The former Defense Minister has died on Oct. 12, 2021, after contracting COVID-19 inside the prison where he was being held, accused of plotting a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (AP Photo/Gregorio Marrero, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Raúl Isaías Baduel, a former Venezuelan defense minister and ally-turned-critic of the late President Hugo Chávez, died from COVID-19 while in prison, where he had been awaiting trial since 2017 for alleged links to a purported plot to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro, the government said Tuesday.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab announced the death of the 66-year-old Baduel on Twitter, saying that “we convey our condolences to his family and friends.”

Baduel was considered by some to be a political prisoner since his initial arrest in 2009 and subsequent prosecution, just after breaking with Chavez and becoming one of the leader's staunchest critics.

He had been in a SEBIN political police cell since 2017 following the revocation of a house arrest benefit received in 2015 after serving more than half of a seven-year sentence for the alleged theft of public funds and abuse of authority during his tenure as defense minister in 2006-2007.

In 2019, another judicial process was opened alleging that Baduel was linked to a coup plot. That move came a day after the Maduro government said authorities had thwarted a coup plot by a group of retired military, civilians and police. Officials alleged the plot was planned to include the murder of the president and his wife along with other officials and military chiefs.

Baduel led the military movement that put Chávez back in the presidency after a failed two-day coup attempt in April 2002. After being considered one of Chávez’s most loyal collaborators, he broke with Chavez in a disagreement over a constitutional reform the president sought to implement in 2007 that would have allowed indefinite re-election and the creation of a socialist state.