The latest challenge to Venezuela's controversial President Hugo Chavez is a call for his resignation by an active-service air force colonel. The government is playing down the significance of Col. Pedro Soto's action, describing it as an isolated incident. But already a captain from the National Guard has joined Col. Soto in defying the commander-in-chief.
They are already calling it the rebellion of the Pedros. Col. Pedro Soto and Capt. Pedro Flores both want the president to resign. They agree that he has taken over every branch of government, that he wants to turn Venezuela into another Cuba, in essence, that he is no democrat and should step down, even though his term of office has five years to run.
However, neither officer proposes a military coup. Instead, they want a return to full civilian government, and for the armed forces to resume normal activities.
The president, himself a former army lieutenant-colonel who staged a failed coup in 1992, has involved the military in everything from social work to running the state oil company. And he insists that they support what he calls his revolution.
But the two Pedros claim 75 to 80 per cent of their fellow officers privately reject President Chavez's attempts to politicise what they say is an essentially professional officer corps. Col. Soto is particularly angry at the president's manipulation of the traditional Air Force day flyby in December. The flyby was moved to the capital from a provincial air-base in an attempt to upstage a national day of protest by the opposition. On that day, two Russian-built MiG fighters took part, allegedly flown by Cuban pilots.
President Chavez himself has yet to comment on the situation, even though Col. Soto led a spontaneous demonstration by thousands of opposition supporters who besieged the presidential residence Thursday night. The president, who rarely spends the night in the residence, was not there at the time. His ministers have been busy trying to discredit the rebel colonel. His actions, they say, stem from a personal grudge. That has not diminished the popular support the colonel commands.