Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Chavez uses troops in vote gambit

DEMOCRATIC GAME Venezuela's president forced broadcast media to televise military graduations, an act which attracted an angry response from the opposition

AP , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez waves to the crowd during an event naturalizing 20,000 new Venezuelans -- most of them from Colombia -- in San Cristobal, 840km from Caracas, on Tuesday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Outraging Venezuela's opposition, President Hugo Chavez has enlisted the military and the broadcast media in his bid to defeat an recall referendum next month.

On Tuesday, Chavez presided over the graduation of hundreds of officers from military academies. He forced all of Venezuela's broadcast media to show the event, using a law that allows the head of state to take over the airwaves for matters of national importance.

Opposition leaders charged Chavez had violated an agreement under which the government and the private news media, which is mostly pro-opposition, pledged to give equal time to both sides in the campaign before the Aug. 15 referendum.

"This wouldn't happen in a country that truly respects the democratic game," opposition leader Pompeyo Marquez said.

On Monday, Chavez, a former army paratrooper who led a botched 1992 coup, presided over an elaborate military parade on Venezuela's Independence Day -- traditionally a nonpartisan event.

It featured soldiers re-enacting the Battle of Santa Ines, a 19th-century clash which Chavez has adopted as the theme of his anti-recall campaign.

Pompeyo said the re-enactment by soldiers was "one of the most dishonest acts in Venezuelan history. The military overtly surrendered itself to political proselytism."

"Are the armed forces a Pretorian Guard in the service of one person, or are they the military organization of the Republic for its defense?" the Caracas newspaper Tal Cual wrote in its editorial.

Santa Ines was one of the bloodiest conflicts to take place during near-continuous factional warfare in Venezuela in the 1800s.

ambush

Outnumbered by conservative forces, federalist General Ezequiel Zamora devastated his opponents by luring them into an ambush on Dec. 10, 1859, in the central-west town of Santa Ines.

Chavez vows his "Battle of Santa Ines" campaign will produce an ambush from which his opponents will never recover. Using untold amounts of funds from state oil revenues, he has inaugurated dozens of social projects since the recall was approved last month.

On Tuesday, Chavez announced that Venezuela had granted citizenship to 216,000 immigrants since May under a fast-track nationalization plan. Critics say the program is designed to win Chavez anti-recall votes.

Chavez systematically purged the military after a brief 2002 coup. Troops participate in numerous social projects for the poor.

Chavez has portrayed the recall as an effort by the Venezuelan elite, backed by Washington, to end his revolution on behalf of the poverty-stricken, who are a majority in this oil-rich nation.

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