Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez may end up launching a war against his own people, just as his buddy Moammar Gadhafi has done in Libya, says Otto Reich ambassador to Venezuela under President Ronald Reagan.
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Chavez remains in Cuba following cancer surgery and remains in charge of the nation and its army, said military chief Henry Rangel Silva in an interview on state television Friday. The physically-weakened strongman will probably return to Venezuela soon, Silva said.
If Chavez were to lose an election for a third term after coming back to Venezuela, a military coup is certainly possible, Reich, who also served President George W. Bush and his father, told Newsmax.TV.
“Chavez came to the public stage by attempting a coup in 1992, so he’s perfectly capable of violating the law,” Reich said. “The supreme military commander, whom the U.S. Treasury declared a drug kingpin, has said the military wouldn’t accept the result of an election against Chavez.’
To be sure, there’s no guarantee the military could maintain control, Reich says. “I think that’s bravado. I don’t think the leaders have the moral capacity to lead the military against the people of Venezuela.”
So while it’s reasonable to fear a coup, “whether they succeed is very much in question,” Reich said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chavez act like his buddy Gadhafi is acting now. Chavez has supported Gadhafi and [Syrian ruler] Bashar al-Assad in an effort to put down a democratic rebellion with force.”
For Chavez to actually win re-election, “he would have to conduct massive fraud,” given his 40 percent approval rating, Reich says. And that’s despite the fact that Chavez has completely rewritten the rules of the game – rejiggering the constitution and electoral laws in his favor.
“He controls all of the court system, Congress, the military. He’s in complete control,” Reich said. “Whether he can manipulate elections under the current negative conditions isn’t clear.”
But demagogues always have their supporters, and Chavez uses the country’s oil wealth to benefit his. “That gives him a lot of ability to manipulate elections,” Reich said.
Regardless of whether Chavez stays in office, it’s clear he has run Venezuela into the ground during his 12 years in office, Reich pointed out. “Production of oil is down 40 percent, unemployment is up, poverty is up,” he said.
“There’s a scarcity of everything from water to electricity to food. Whether anyone is in control of the country today, I don’t think Venezuela could do much worse without Chavez.”
If the dictator’s ill health does force him to step down, according to the constitution that Chavez re-wrote, vice president Elias Jaua would step in. “But it’s not clear that would happen,” Reich said. “Politics in Venezuela is highly personalized. Jaua doesn’t have the political support that Chavez has.”
The whole western hemisphere would benefit from Chavez’ demise, Reich said. Not only has he destroyed his own country’s economy, but he has supported terrorism around the globe and may have personally benefited from drug trafficking.
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