- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela The leader of the Organization of American States (OAS) arrived yesterday in a fresh attempt to end an increasingly bitter division between President Hugo Chavez and dissident military officers demanding his ouster.
OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria failed in a similar conciliation effort early this month.
The officers, all implicated in the short-lived coup that ousted Mr. Chavez for two days in April and since stripped of their commands, lead several thousand demonstrators camped in a Caracas plaza demanding Mr. Chavez's resignation or an immediate referendum on his rule.
Last week, the 14 officers declared themselves in disobedience to the government and since have been backed by some 100 other officers, opposition political parties and the nation's largest union.
However, key military leaders have made repeated declarations of loyalty to the president.
The dissident officers and their supporters accuse Mr. Chavez of ruling autocratically, ruining this oil-rich nation's economy and trying to lead Venezuela into communism.
"The time has come to put an end to this tyranny, this dictatorship," said Gen. Enrique Medina Gomez.
Mr. Chavez first ignored the dissident officers, then called them "criminals" and accused them of planning another coup.
"Is it a democratic gesture to call on the military to disobey the president?" he asked.
Observers said the ongoing protest would keep Mr. Chavez on the defensive, but would not threaten his government.
"If [the dissident officers] lacked backing in April, when they were in charge, then how will they have it now that they've been expelled?" asked retired Gen. Alberto Mueller.
Saturday, the government interrupted television and radio to broadcast a series of speeches by military officers declaring their loyalty to the president and the constitution.
A judge has ordered the generals' detention, but authorities have not moved to arrest them.
The dissident officers have seized upon a clause in Mr. Chavez's own 1999 constitution permitting the people to disobey any government that behaves undemocratically or infringes human rights.
The dissidents say Mr. Chavez has done those things and demand his resignation or an immediate referendum on his rule.
The plaza demonstration is only the latest in a series of opposition actions over the past weeks, which have included a huge march through downtown and a one-day nationwide business strike.
A weak economy and high unemployment, as well as his own leftist rhetoric, have made Mr. Chavez many enemies here.
However, an estimated one-third of Venezuelans still support Mr. Chavez and his "revolution for the poor."
Despite their country's being the world's fifth-largest petroleum producer and a key oil supplier to the United States, two-thirds of Venezuelans are considered poor.
While the standoff has kept Venezuelans on edge, it is also a welcome innovation on a continent whose history is marked by bloody military coups, says Cesar Perez Vivas, leader of the opposition Christian Socialists Party.
"It is something unheard of," he said. "Traditionally, Latin militaries demonstrate with arms, but now they're doing it peacefully."

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