Army chief condemns bosses' strike, oil executives' actions

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Dec 16 20:05:14 MST 2002


AFP and AP. 16 December 2002. Venezuela's army says troops are ready to
intervene in strike.

CARACAS -- Venezuela's army chief said Monday his troops could counter a
crippling 15-day-old strike, which overstepped "the boundaries of the
democratic game."

"The army is willing to use its full capability to prevent the success
of this gamble for an economic and social collapse of the nation," said
army chief General Julio Garcia Montoya, adding that the strike's impact
on the oil industry amounted to sabotage.

"The PDVSA case amounts to sabotage against the state's main source of
wealth," Garcia Montoya said in a message to the nation broadcast on
radio and television. "It is an aggression against the survival of the state
... an attack on
the vital interests of the nation," the general said.

In a blow to leaders of the 15-day-old general strike against President
Hugo Chavez, Garcia Montoya called on citizens to distrust opposition
leaders mounting "an irrational and brutal action against the country."
It was the clearest position yet taken by the armed forces toward the
general strike, which has crippled oil exports in the world's
fifth-largest oil producing nation.

On Monday, soldiers took over the Paraguana refinery complex, the
world's largest, according to the manager of the installations.

Meanwhile, skirmishes between Chavez supporters and opponents erupted in
several parts of Caracas and other cities as outnumbered police officers
and national guard troops desperately tried to keep them apart.

"You can't throw rocks at police!" one officer pleaded with residents of
a central neighborhood. Above him, opposition supporters leaned out of
windows banging pots and
pans in protest. Officers fired rubber bullets at the buildings,breaking
windows and sending residents scurrying for cover. The sting of tear gas
filled the air.

Elsewhere, soldiers with assault rifles lined up outside a police
station occupied by the army as opposition marchers demanded that the
soldiers leave. As the crowd grew, the soldiers retreated and police in riot
gear fanned
out to keep hundreds of opposition and Chavez supporters apart.

"Take your street! Take your avenue! Take your plaza! Take your
neighborhood! Take Caracas!" opposition leader Jesus Torrealba yelled to
supporters over Union Radio.On the Prados del Este highway, opposition and
government supporters, separated only by the highway median, skirmished with
rocks and bottles.

"We're not leaving," said Ana Reina, a 58-year-old retired teacher, one
of about 1,000 opposition supporters on the highway.

Across the median, Gisela Perez, a 42-year-old street vendor, said she
wasn't leaving either.

She and about 200 others were defending Chavez, whose 1998 election
ended 40 years of alternation between two U.S.-aligned -- and corrupt --
political parties.

"If we waited 40 years, they can wait until August 2003 for a
referendum," she said. "If they try to get rid of our president like
this, we're going to kill one another."

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