sherrynstan at igc.org
sherrynstan at igc.org
Wed Dec 5 05:41:44 MST 2001
from Miami Herald, that bastion of reaction, but it clearly recognizes how dangerous this CIA plot is:
One, two, a hundred Vietnams...
Published Sunday, November 25, 2001
Venezuela's Chávez is facing coup rumors in Latin America
The talk of the day in Latin American diplomatic circles: whether there will be a coup against Venezuela's populist President Hugo Chávez, and whether the Bush administration would go along with it.
Rumors of a coup in Venezuela have grown so much in recent days that Chávez himself has had to publicly deny the existence of discontent within the armed forces, or that opposition demonstrations are threatening his government.
Street protests are escalating by the day. On Thursday, thousands of opposition demonstrators took to the streets calling for Chávez's resignation, and at least eight were wounded in clashes with smaller numbers of pro-Chávez activists. The protesters, taking a cue from Chávez's anti-American rhetoric, chanted, ``Chávez, Taliban, go to Afghanistan.''
Venezuela's biggest business organization, Fedecamaras, has called for an unprecedented national business strike Dec. 10. And Venezuela's labor movement, which has just elected an anti-Chávez leader as its president, may join the protest or stage a strike at a later date in a rare instance of business-labor unity against the government.
What's more, the Institutional Military Front, a group of former armed forces officials that includes recently retired generals, says there is ``profound discontent'' in military barracks. Many of the group's leaders are hoping for a ``Peruvian outcome.''
``I hope that civil society will force the president to quit, with actions such as the Dec. 10 strike,'' retired general Fernando Ochóa Antich, a former defense minister who is one of the Front's leaders, told me in a telephone interview. ``If civic society acts, a military intervention at the last moment would probably press Chávez to resign.''
That's pretty much what happened last year in Peru, when beleaguered former strongman Alberto Fujimori asked the military to repress protests, and the military refused. Fujimori had little choice but to step down.
Other political and civic leaders are not worried about keeping democratic forms, and are calling on the military hierarchy to oust Chávez by force.
Granted, there is little doubt by now that Chávez -- a former paratrooper who led a failed coup attempt in 1992 and was elected by a landslide in 1998 -- is one the most disastrous presidents Latin America has produced in recent times.
He has managed to turn oil-rich Venezuela poorer, despite a massive influx of dollars from sky-high oil prices during his first two years in office. With his endless television appearances filled with insults against his critics, he has antagonized virtually everybody: the business community, organized labor, the Roman Catholic Church, the Venezuelan media and his country's biggest client, the United States.
It's no surprise that capital flight has soared since Chávez took office little less than three years ago. Last year, amid record oil revenues, Venezuelans moved up to $10 billion to foreign banks accounts.
And lately, Chávez has begun to shift from rhetorical attacks to concrete actions against his critics. He has moved to effectively shut down the Catholic Church-run Vale TV and the independent Globovision network, and on Nov. 13 announced 49 economic laws that economists say will set the country back to the dark ages of massive state intervention in the economy.
But a military coup against Chávez would be a colossal mistake.
It would turn the Venezuelan president into a hero for a shrinking -- but still substantial -- portion of Venezuelans who still support him. A recent poll published by the daily El Universal showed that while opposition to Chávez is growing rapidly and has already reached 50 percent of the population, 48 percent still support him.
Ousting Chávez would guarantee him the role of savior of last resort for Venezuela's poor for decades to come. The country will have to continue its downward drive until Chávez's supporters convince themselves that -- for all his ``revolutionary'' rhetoric -- he has been bad news for Venezuela's poor.
And many Venezuelan opposition leaders may be making the wrong assumption when speculating that -- in the context of the new war on terrorism -- the United States would tolerate a friendly nondemocratic government in Venezuela, just as it has in Pakistan.
``We would categorically reject any attempt to remove Chávez,'' said Lino Gutierrez, the top State Department official in charge of Latin American affairs. ``We consider President Chávez to be the democratically elected leader of Venezuela.''
`WE STAND BY OAS'
Gutierrez told me in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.: ``We stand by the Organization of American States democratic charter, which says very clearly that any government that achieves power via extra-constitutional means will not be welcome in the OAS.''
I agree. Efforts to oust Chávez will only be legitimate if he breaks the rule of law -- as he may do -- and Congress or a national referendum asks him to go.
Otherwise, I'm afraid that Venezuela's best hope is to allow Chávez to continue messing things up, until the vast majority of Venezuelans decide not to reelect him ever again.
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