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Chavez Tries Charm to Disarm Critics (Russian and Cuban security advisers in Venezuela) ^ | February 25, 2002 | Pascal Fletcher

Posted on 02/25/2002 2:23:00 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, launching a charm offensive to disarm his critics, hailed his left-wing government on Sunday as "everyone's friend" and said the armed forces were solidly behind him.

Dropping his usual class-war rhetoric in favor of a message of national unity, Chavez used his weekly "Hello President" broadcast to try to defuse a storm of domestic and foreign criticism against his three-year-old rule.

The campaign comes at a time when the populist Venezuelan leader faces a faltering economy, loud rumblings of discontent within the military and a growing crisis of confidence at home and abroad in his government.

"This government is for all Venezuelans," Chavez said in the four-hour radio and television program conducted by him.

"This government is not the enemy of any Venezuelan ... it's the friend of everyone, of good faith, the family, love, Venezuela, the whole of society," the president added.

His appeasing tone was a far cry from the confrontational style usually employed by the firebrand former paratrooper.

But it may not cut much ice with his many critics -- in politics, business, labor, the Catholic Church and the media -- who have been relentlessly pilloried by him in the past as a "squalid", unpatriotic minority of rich, corrupt "oligarchs."

"I've got nothing against high society. They're not our enemies ... we respect all their rights, we love them and were ready to work with them too," the president said on Friday.

Chavez heaped praise on the country's 120,000-strong armed forces and denied recent public allegations by a handful of dissident officers who said his divisive left-wing policies were threatening to tear apart the military and the nation.

"That's a lie. The military are with the government and with the people," he said.

In acts of defiance this month, a small group of dissident officers denounced what they called Chavez's "left-wing tyranny" and demanded that he resign or be impeached.

Their heavily publicized outbursts touched off noisy anti-government protests in Caracas and raised fears of a possible coup in Venezuela, the world's No. 4 oil exporter.


"Some are saying that it's me who is dividing the country. But it's not. It is our terrible history which has divided the nation between a privileged minority and a majority of neglected poor," the president said on Sunday.

Chavez, who staged a failed coup bid six years before winning a 1998 election, says his self-proclaimed revolution seeks to close the gap between rich and poor with reforms to strengthen social justice and fairly redistribute oil wealth.

Echoing the views of civilian opponents of the president, the military critics who emerged this month accused him of trying to transform Venezuela into a left-wing authoritarian regime modeled on Fidel Castro's communist Cuba.

One of the dissident officers, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto, was forced to retire on Thursday. Another officer, National Guard Capt. Pedro Flores, was sentenced to 15 days arrest, while Gen. Guaicaipuro Lameda voluntarily retired from the army after being sacked as the head of the state oil firm PDVSA.

Emergency meetings between Chavez and top military chiefs led to the armed forces high command making a public pledge of allegiance to the president on Friday.

Chavez said on Sunday this show of support for him had been "very well received" both nationally and internationally.

He accused his political enemies of trying to turn the U.S. government against his rule so that Washington would break off relations or impose sanctions against Venezuela, which is one of the top suppliers of crude oil to the U.S. market.

"I am sure that the organs of power in Washington are not going to let themselves be duped or manipulated ... that the U.S. government knows what's really happening here," he said.

He acknowledged, however, that the two countries had "different views" on some subjects.

The U.S. government has criticized the Venezuelan leader for befriending its enemies like Iraq and Cuba and also for questioning the U.S-led anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan.

TOPICS: News/Current Events
"I am sure that the organs of power in Washington are not going to let themselves be duped or manipulated ... that the U.S. government knows what's really happening here," he said.

Chavez security chief alleges FARC links--[Excerpt] I am resigning because I disagree with the DISIP's policy of providing security to Colombian guerrillas ... this policy is more than just irregular, it approaches treason to Venezuela given the innumerable deaths, kidnappings and other crimes for which these groups are responsible in our country."

Egui Bastidas said 90 percent of his fellow officers "obey orders but do not agree with them" and called on President Hugo Chavez to reverse his policy of tacit support for the rebels.

"All the peace negotiations there are over and open confrontations between the guerrillas and the Colombian government have begun. Are they going to carry on letting them cross over into Venezuelan territory?" Egui Bastidas asked.

The former DISIP official called on the Armed Forces to issue a statement about their view of the Chávez government's alleged support for the Colombian guerrillas.

Egui Bastidas also made a number of revelations about DISIP activities in recent months. He said the Venezuelan security service had collected personal information about all serving military officers and had also tried to smear opposition figures, such as Alberto Pena, the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas.

The official said he was also concerned at the growing role of Russian and Cuban security advisers in Venezuela.

Egui Bastidas said he had experienced "the direct participation and the attempts at indoctrination by the Russian and Cuban intelligence services, who have direct and virtually unlimited access within the Helicoide (DISIP's headquarters building)."

The official's lawyer, former DISIP Secretary-General Joaquin Chaffardet, said around 100 members of the Cuban intelligence services are currently operating in Venezuela.

The new allegations would, if proven, further strain the already difficult relationship between the United States and Venezuela. [End Excerpt]

Chavez: Castro II (REUTERS/Kimberly White)

Facing crisis, ''El Chalibán'' aims to soften his tough image

1 posted on 02/25/2002 2:23:00 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Ah yes, Fidel Castro redux.
2 posted on 02/25/2002 3:46:39 AM PST by OldFriend
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To: OldFriend
3 posted on 02/25/2002 4:10:03 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
4 posted on 02/25/2002 5:50:12 AM PST by Chapita
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To: Chapita; All

The broken LINK was a photo of Chavez and Castro hugging.

5 posted on 02/25/2002 5:57:09 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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