Chavez to military: socialism or leave

Por Venezuela Real - 13 de Abril, 2007, 10:41, Categoría: Prensa Internacional

Christopher Toothaker
The Boston Globe
April 12, 2007

CARACAS, Venezuela --On the fifth anniversary of a coup that briefly toppled him, President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that soldiers who disagree with his government's socialist leanings should leave the military.

Chavez marked the anniversary of his 2002 ouster repeating his accusation that the U.S. was behind the coup and telling troops to be on alert for new plots against the government.

"Today every commander at every level is obliged to repeat, from the soul and raising the flag high, this slogan: 'Fatherland, Socialism, or Death!'" Chavez told an audience of soldiers in a televised speech. "If some feel uncomfortable with this, well, ask for your discharge and go do something else."

Chavez, a former paratrooper who led his own failed coup in 1992 before being democratically elected president six years later, has vowed to transform Venezuela into a socialist society. Government opponents accuse Chavez of leading the country toward authoritarianism, while U.S. officials call Chavez a destabilizing influence in Latin America.

Chavez, a close ally of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was arrested by rebel officers on April 12, 2002, and was briefly replaced by a transitional government, but returned to power in less than 48 hours amid street protests and with the help of loyalist generals.

"We must remember that five years ago today, the first government that declared its support for the new transitional government was the U.S. government -- of course, they planned the coup," Chavez said.

The Bush administration has repeatedly denied involvement in the coup. It initially blamed Chavez for his own ouster, then joined other countries in criticizing it.

"We cannot let down our guard," Chavez continued, drawing comparisons between the coup and the war in Iraq. "Five years ago we were there on the verge of a civil war, which is what some people want. Why? To justify the intervention of the United States."

Chavez's ouster came after 19 people were killed when shooting broke out during a massive opposition march that was headed for the presidential palace. Chavez opponents accused government loyalists of firing on the marchers, while the president's backers blamed police and anti-Chavez snipers of firing on both pro- and anti-government demonstrators.

No suspects have been convicted of those slayings, though eight former police officers are jailed on charges linked to the killings of two pro-Chavez protesters. The ex-police insist they are innocent.

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