- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) A navy vice admiral added his voice Monday to demands that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resign, becoming the highest-ranking officer yet to publicly oppose the leftist president.
The latest challenge to Chavez is likely to produce more turmoil for Venezuela's struggling economy. A call for his resignation earlier this month by two other military officers provoked large anti-Chavez protests and prompted investors to pull hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country.
On Monday, Vice Adm. Carlos Molina Tamayo, a U.S.-trained electronics warfare expert who recently was appointed ambassador to Greece, urged his armed forces colleagues to demand that Chavez step down. If Chavez refuses, he said, the courts and the legislature should initiate impeachment proceedings.
"Venezuelans! For Venezuela, its future and the well-being of our children, we must unite to demand the immediate resignation of President Chavez … to avoid the civil conflict that is being instigated by the presidency," said Molina Tamayo, who directs Venezuela's naval weaponry program.
Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel insisted the armed forces remain loyal to the president and said Molina Tamayo's dissent will not produce unrest within the ranks. There was no immediate response from Chavez, who is a former paratrooper.
"There is calm in all of country's institutions and barracks," Rangel told state television Venezolana de Television. "Will (Molina Tamayo's dissent) affect the armed forces? No, it won't."
A military investigation will determine whether Molina Tamayo should be sanctioned for his dissent, said the armed forces' inspector general, Vice Adm. Vicente Quevedo Moreno.
Molina Tamayo said Monday he won't serve as envoy in Athens.
He accused Chavez and a National Assembly, Supreme Court, elections board and Finance Ministry dominated by Chavez allies of seeking to impose a totalitarian regime.
He warned that Chavez's divisive rhetoric and pro-government neighborhood committees known as "Bolivarian Circles" could provoke bloodshed.
Molina Tamayo accused Chavez of damaging Venezuelan interests by offending traditional allies such as the United States and cozying up to Cuba and other authoritarian regimes.
He condemned Venezuelan ties to "terrorist Colombian guerrillas," alleged corruption and Chavez's criticism of the news media. He called on Chavez to stop Venezuelan oil sales to Cuba and to revoke 49 economic laws that provoked a general strike Dec. 10 by business and labor groups.
Chavez insists his contacts with the Colombian rebels are meant to help end that nation's 38-year-old civil war and are endorsed by Colombia's government.
On Feb. 7, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto and National Guard Capt. Pedro Flores set off large street protests by demanding the president resign. The protests and counter-protests by Chavez supporters frightened investors.
Partly as a result, Chavez was forced to abandon a costly fixed currency exchange regime last week and let Venezuela's currency, the bolivar, float against the U.S. dollar. The bolivar has lost nearly 15 percent of its value against the dollar.
The dissident officers say Venezuela's military is also upset with being forced into roles such as crime fighting and social work.
Chavez led a failed coup against President Carlos Andres Perez in 1992, accusing the traditional political elites of corruption. He spent two years in prison, campaigned on an anti-corruption and anti-poverty platform and won the presidency with 80 percent of the vote in 1998.
Over the past year, however, his popularity has plunged as his combative rhetoric and unilateral decree of economic laws alienated business, labor, the news media and the Roman Catholic Church.
Support among the poor, his key constituency, could weaken as unemployment persists, crime soars, and Venezuela's oil-dependent economy suffers from the global drop in petroleum prices.

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