Dissidents in Venezuela's Military Say Another Coup Is Likely ; Four Junior Officers Say That They Are Planning to Overthrow President Hugo Chavez by July 5

Article excerpt

The problems for Venezuela's embattled President Hugo Chavez just keep getting worse.

Chastened by a coup in April in which he was ousted from power for 48 hours, Mr. Chavez vowed to improve relations with groups that had initiated his overthrow, including the military, business leaders, and much of the public.

But Chavez's opponents are as determined as ever to see him removed from office.

On Saturday, tens of thousands took to the streets of Caracas and continued calls for his resignation. The protests were peaceful, in contrast to the April 11 march preceding the coup, in which 18 people were killed the first day. Dozens more were killed and hundreds more were injured in the following days.

Now Chavez is facing another potential showdown. A second coup, possibly much bloodier than the first, is likely between now and July 5, according to experts here and military officers.

"We are in an irreversible situation," says political analyst Alberto Garrido, and author of a number of books on Chavez's political movement. "There is no buffer between the two sides."

E-mails circulated last week saying that the overthrow of Chavez was likely. And 10 masked figures claiming to be military officers appeared on television condemning the government's behavior. Chavez dismissed the rumors as opposition-led propaganda.

Four junior officers who say they are part of a fresh coup plot agreed to talk with the Monitor on condition of anonymity. Three wore masks and camouflage fatigues, while the fourth - a national guard lieutenant - agreed to appear with his face uncovered.

"We want to put a stop to an unsustainable situation," says an Army captain. "If nothing changes, we're heading for civil war."

Claiming to represent as much as 70 percent of the armed forces, the officers cited specifically military grievances, as well as their rejection of what they call the government's "communist tendencies." They produced a payslip showing that an ordinary member of the national guard earns as little as $150 per month after deductions.

The armed forces, they claim, are being deliberately starved of resources while money is diverted to bolster so-called "Bolivarian circles." These civilian groups are seen by the Venezuelan opposition as partly a cover for the creation of militias. …