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Venezuelan Navy Rear Adm. Carlos Molina Tamayo. Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 18, 2002. Harold Escalona

Venezuela's Chávez In The Hot Seat

by Juan Pérez Cabral

FEBRUARY 21, 2002. Resplendent in his gold-braided white naval uniform, Rear Admiral Carlos Molina publicly demanded on Monday the resignation of the democratically elected President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez.

Molina was the third and highest ranking military officer to demand Chávez' resignation since U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell broke Washington's disapproving silence and criticized Chávez by name before the U.S. Senate on February 5th. The rear admiral told a packed news conference in Caracas that 90 percent of the military shared his position.

Like the two disaffected officers that preceded him, Molina accused Chávez of trying to "install an extreme left-wing tyranny" and blasted him for his links with China, Cuba, and Iraq, as well as the Colombian guerrillas (the latter, a charge Chávez has denied). Some of the officers' views echoed Powell's, albeit in much less diplomatic language.

Chávez was elected in a landslide three years ago by poor and middle class voters fed up with the widespread corruption and looting of Venezuela's riches by the traditional political and economic elites.

He has now been abandoned by a large chunk of the middle class, increasingly disenchanted with his administration's inability to deliver the promised goodies, and scared by the retired paratrooper's authoritarian streak and his clashes with Venezuela's three traditional powerbrokers: the Catholic hierarchy, the media, and the (not quite untainted) labor unions.

After sharing a plane ride with Chávez in 1999, Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez wrote in "The Enigma of the Two Chávez'" that he felt he had met "two opposite men." One, "to whom obstinate chance had offered the possibility to save his country. The other, an illusionist, who could well go down in history as just another despot."

It's anyone's guess which of the two Chávez' will prevail, now that Venezuela's currency and oil prices are being battered and Washington's not just blowing cold, but hot, in their direction.

Related links:

For Venezuela looks to leader to perform social miracles, an interview with the embattled President in The Irish Times.

For The Financial Times' Chavez's spent revolution.

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