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Fourth Official Calls for Chavez Resignation - 2002-02-26


Venezuelan Air force general Roman Gomez has become the fourth serving military officer this month to call for the resignation of President Hugo Chavez. Like his predecessors, all of whom have faced internal disciplinary proceedings, the general expressed particular concern over what he says is the manipulation of the armed forces by the president.

Until last week, General Gomez was Director of Air Transport in the Venezuelan infrastructure ministry. Like fellow officers who have spoken out before him, he does not command troops, and he made it clear that he is not calling for a coup. What he, and they, say they do want, however, is for the country's civilian institutions to operate constitutionally and call the president to account.

The general is demanding that President Chavez recognize that his government has failed and resign before he does more damage to the country. The military dissidents, who do not appear to be operating in concert with one another, claim to represent the vast majority of serving officers in all branches of the armed forces.

While there is some evidence from opinion polls to suggest that the officers' claim may be accurate, the government continues to insist that these are isolated cases, and that the armed forces -- as a whole -- are solidly behind the president. This argument, however, has been badly dented, not only by the handful of officers who have called for his resignation, but by the critical stance taken by two other generals. One of the two, Guaicaipuro Lameda, was recently replaced as head of the state oil company, PDVSA. The other ran the country's main international airport. President Chavez, who is simultaneously facing an economic crisis and rapidly declining popular support, badly needs to staunch the flow of dissenters. But there is little sign of his being able to do so.