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Two Chávez-era military officers call on President Maduro to step down

Former lieutenant colonel Yoel Acosta says Venezuelan leader’s “resignation is inevitable”

Nicolás Maduro at an event with military officers.
Nicolás Maduro at an event with military officers. LEO RAMÍREZ (AFP)

Yoel Acosta Chirinos, one of the founders of the Venezuelan military movement from which the late Hugo Chávez emerged, has called on President Nicolás Maduro to step down. Acosta, Chávez and three other lieutenant colonels led the 1992 coup d’état against then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez.

On Monday, Acosta and another dissident ex-military officer, Carlos Guyón, issued a joint statement in which they examined the political and economic crisis suffocating the country. “Maduro and his ministers’ resignations are inevitable; taking more time would be a useless sacrifice,” the statement said. The former lieutenant colonel also called on his old army comrades to “assume the historic mission of saving our democracy.”

Acosta was a member of MBR-200, a movement that Chávez and figures such as Jesús Urdaneta (now retired), Francisco Arias Cárdenas (governor of the state of Zulia) and Raúl Baduel (now serving five years in a military prison) founded to overthrow the government in 1983, the year that marked Simón Bolívar’s 200th birthday. Since the beginning of the self-described “Bolivarian Revolution,” Acosta has sometimes supported the movement and at other times denounced it. He is currently fighting for control of the Vanguardia Bicentenaria Republicana party against the leftist social democrat Eustaquio Contreras, the veteran director of that dissident faction of the Chavista movement.

Maduro and his ministers’ resignations are inevitable”

Yoel Acosta, Venezuelan military officer

As if on cue, Florencio Porras, a former officer who also participated in the 1992 rebellion and later served as governor of Mérida in the Andes under the United Socialist Party’s banner, said: “We are living through a counter-revolution.” Porras left the party in 2012 and ran for governor as an independent. In remarks made to El Universal newspaper in Caracas, he criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to allow military personnel to participate in political activism. “We’ll see if this looks like what we were saying should be done,” Porras said in reference to the founding ideals of military Chavismo.

Both statements echoed the clash of swords that, according to columnists, is once again emanating from the country’s military barracks.

Three weeks ago, ousted minister Jorge Giordani published a letter that showed the first signs of dissent and a growing schism in the upper echelons of the Chavista movement. The armed forces have also pulled back their support. They had been a substantial, if independent, part of the movement. The Maduro administration has fueled rumors with its constant warnings of alleged coup d’état plots. In March, the president announced the arrest of three high-ranking air force officers who, according to the administration, planned to rebel “against the legitimate government,” and had “direct ties to the opposition.”

On Tuesday, General Vladimir Padrino López, chief of operational strategic command of the armed forces, said in a TV interview that “the idea of not recognizing the president’s legitimacy has been ruled out. We don’t see anything in the Constitution that says whether his resignation is the solution, even if it is forced or induced, as they tried to do through violent means in past months.”

The idea of not recognizing the president’s legitimacy has been ruled out”

Vladimir Padrino, chief

of the strategic command

of the armed forces

Freddy Bernal, another Chavista who participated in the 1992 putsch, issued what amounts to criticism of the government’s handling of the economy – criticism that was unthinkable until now. “For some reason, we did not know how to manage the expropriated companies properly and we drove them to bankruptcy,” Bernal told privately held TV station Globovisión. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the government to have some advisors who were not just Chavistas but economists as well.” Bernal was a special operations agent in the police force. He also served as mayor of Caracas from 2000 to 2008.

These statements keep the spirit of Giordani’s letter alive. In a note published on June 14, the former planning minister and Chávez mentor denounced Maduro’s ineptitude and warned against a rising group set to benefit from the country’s oil profits by using their influence or corruption.

The release was the starting signal that unleashed a public exchange of accusations and counter-accusations among high ranking officials and those who see themselves as guarantors of the authentic Chavista movement.

Meanwhile, in order to clean up the economic mess, President Maduro seems to favor a pragmatic line and tolerance toward the businesses run by Oil Minister Rafael Ramírez. The president has also said he will carry out an “exhaustive review” of his administration in order to restructure it. In that same speech, Maduro called on the nation to “leave behind the fights and letters and make a fresh start.”

“Enough already! We have said everything we had to say to one another, but now, I stretch out my hand and my arms are ready to embrace all our comrades,” Maduro said, in a failed attempt to ride out the storm.

Public expressions of dissent continue, offering clues that expose the cracks in the movement.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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