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Venezuelan Admiral Calls for Chavez Resignation - 2002-02-19


A navy admiral has become the third serving military officer in less than two-weeks to call for the resignation of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Rear-admiral Carlos Molina accused the president of a wide range of offenses against the nation, and said if he did not resign he should be prosecuted.

Admiral Molina is the most senior officer, and the first from the navy, to call openly for the removal of President Chavez. His views, given during a brief news conference, are similar to those of Air Force Colonel Pedro Soto and National Guard Captain Pedro Flores. Those two men are under investigation for calling for the president to resign and leading a spontaneous demonstration on February seventh outside the president's official residence.

All three men accused President Chavez of authoritarian tendencies, of unhealthily close relations with Fidel Castro's Cuba and Colombia's leftist guerrillas, and of dividing and impoverishing the nation.

They also object to the use of the military for party political purposes. All are likely to be dismissed from the armed forces, and there is as yet no indication that their insubordination will spark a military coup.

Defense minister Jose Vicente Rangel said the country's garrisons are operating normally and all is calm. He dismissed the admiral's actions as unrepresentative of sentiment within the armed forces. But Admiral Molina says more than 90-percent of his fellow officers feel the same way.

With each fresh incident, this is the fifth of its kind in the three-years since Hugo Chavez came to power, it becomes harder to sustain the argument that all is well within the armed forces.

Moreover, there is considerable support among opposition leaders and the population at large for the view that the president must go.

Simultaneously, President Chavez faces an economic crisis that last week led him to announce a major budget cutback and the floating of the Venezuelan currency, the bolivar. This latest incident seems bound to place the already sinking bolivar under further pressure and add to the government's political headaches

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