Another officer blasts Chávez

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Fri Feb 8 20:10:04 MST 2002

[There he goes again! Pascal Fletcher now has two -- count em -- military
officers "blasting" Chávez.

[This gives Mr. Fletcher an opportunity to rehash all the same accusations,
add some new ones, and give any fair-minded person proof of his own bias and

[Consider the following sentence:

["Opinion polls show the president's popularity has fallen sharply since his
landslide 1998 election, which he won six years after failing to seize power
in a botched coup."

[That's from today's article. Compare it to this one from yesterday's
Fletcher article:

["Opinion polls show Chavez's popularity has fallen sharply since he won an
election in 1998, six years after failing to take power in a botched coup

[You'll notice how conveniently Fletcher "forgets" that since 1998, there
have been a half dozen national elections, referendums or plebiscites, all
of them won quite convincingly by Chávez and his supporters.

[In particular, Chávez handily won re-election as president in 2000 with 60%
of the vote, in elections that even Jimmy Carter and an OAS observer mission
could not find fault with.]

*  *  *

Second Officer Blasts Chavez Amid Protests
Fri Feb 8, 3:42 PM ET
By Pascal Fletcher

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Another Venezuelan military officer blasted
President Hugo Chavez on Friday as a threat to democracy as the president's
supporters and opponents staged rival protests for a second day.

A day after Air Force Colonel Pedro Soto lambasted Chavez as a "tyrant" and
demanded that he resign, National Guard Captain Pedro Flores accused the
president of endangering the country's democratic system through corruption
and attacks on the Catholic Church, the media and "the rule of law".

"All this is carrying us to the cliff edge," Flores told reporters.

The overt discontent from inside the armed forces posed a headache for
Chavez, a firebrand ex-paratrooper who is facing falling popularity, a
crisis of economic confidence in his oil-rich nation and widespread
criticism from home and abroad.

In a square in eastern Caracas on Friday, a small crowd of supporters of
Soto and Flores held a noisy anti-government protest for a second day. At
the other end of the city, followers of the president gathered outside the
Miraflores palace to stage a counter-demonstration in favor of Chavez.

Friday's demonstrations in Caracas were peaceful and considerably smaller
than similar rival protests on Thursday.

But in the western oil city of Maracaibo, supporters and opponents of Chavez
clashed in a running battle, hurling stones and other objects at each other,
local television reported.

Saying his feelings were widely shared in the military, Flores called on
other serving officers to join him and Soto in their public acts of defiance
against Chavez.

Opinion polls show the president's popularity has fallen sharply since his
landslide 1998 election, which he won six years after failing to seize power
in a botched coup.

He has recently come under fierce criticism from business foes, the Catholic
Church, the media and the United States but has insisted the country's armed
forces are fully behind him.

The hostile outbursts from Soto and Flores indicated this military support
was not as solid as he might think and their actions clearly emboldened
Chavez' political opponents, who have been stepping up street protests
against him.

"The increasingly deep political crisis in the country now has a military
element that cannot be concealed," political analysis Teodoro Petkoff, who
edits the TalCual daily, said.

Government officials, dismissing rumors of a possible coup, said all was
calm in the country's military barracks.

They portrayed Soto and Flores as isolated misfits who did not represent the
rest of the armed forces. Both officers were ordered to turn themselves over
to military authorities.

Soto told reporters he would not give himself up.


Flores, like Soto, accused Chavez of dragging the armed forces into politics
and of trying to imitate Cuban president Fidel Castro (news - web sites).
"At any moment, the president might try to become an exact copy of Fidel
Castro, who is not exactly an object of devotion for us Venezuelans," the
National Guard captain said.

Flores said he would present a written denunciation against Chavez to a
human rights rapporteur from the Organization of American States (OAS) who
was visiting Venezuela.

Chavez, who has stayed out of public sight since Soto's surprise outburst on
Thursday, remained closeted on Friday in meetings with his ministers in the
presidential palace.

In their criticism of the president, Soto and Flores echoed arguments used
by Chavez' hard-line political opponents, who accuse him of trying to
install a Cuban-style, authoritarian, leftist regime in Venezuela, the
world's No. 4 oil exporter.

Cuba's President Castro, a friend and ally of Chavez, came to the defense of
the Venezuelan leader on Friday, describing him as "the greatest democrat in
South America".

Chavez faced the public acts of defiance from the two officers only days
after celebrating the 10th anniversary of the failed Feb. 4, 1992 coup that
made him famous.

The unrest, and fears of further political confrontation, has spooked
investors and triggered escalating capital flight, draining the oil-rich
country's foreign reserves and putting heavy selling pressure on the local
bolivar currency.

For the second consecutive day, the currency fell 10 bolivars against the
dollar, to 792/793 bolivars Friday.

The international rating agency Fitch said Venezuela could face a forced
currency devaluation if it failed to tackle the capital fight and
hemorrhaging foreign reserves.

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