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A second military rebellion against President Hugo Chavez will erupt in a matter of weeks if the Venezuelan leader does not resign soon or is not legally or constitutionally removed, according to the prediction of STRATFOR sources with the country’s National Armed Forces and a government civilian security entity.
Even if unsuccessful, sources said, the second attempt to topple Chavez likely will be violent and will affect at least a half-dozen major garrisons simultaneously, demonstrating that the president does not control the deeply divided military.
If the reports are accurate, fighting likely would erupt between military units in different garrisons, and the resulting bloodshed could push Venezuela to the edge of a civil war, especially if the Chavez regime calls on the civilian Bolivarian Circles for its defense.
Even if Chavez were to leave office peacefully, however, Venezuela is likely to remain a deeply divided and conflictive society for years to come.
Jorge Olavarria, a seasoned political analyst who was Venezuela’s ambassador to Britain and an early supporter of Chavez, told STRATFOR today, “While the Chavez government is bad, the myopic and mediocre opposition to Chavez is even worse.”
The threat of forthcoming violence is significant. Interior and Justice Minister Diosdado Cabello told a National Assembly hearing yesterday that Venezuela now has some 130,000 Bolivarian Circles, compared with only 80,000 a month ago, according to the daily El Universal.
During his tenure as vice president, Cabello was responsible for organizing and coordinating the Bolivarian Circles. Although STRATFOR security sources in Caracas believe Cabello is grossly exaggerating the number of Bolivarian Circles in a possible effort to intimidate the political opposition, the violent events of April 11 – when 17 civilians were killed and more than 100 were wounded by gunfire during an anti-Chavez demonstration – showed that even a small number of armed civilian militias can inflict significant physical and material damage.
Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions within the National Armed Forces, or FAN, over recent military purges and other political differences with the Chavez regime, the president traveled to Madrid yesterday to attend the second summit of European Union and Latin American heads of state.
Sources inside the Venezuelan government’s security establishment reported that Chavez left the country on what is supposed to be a three-day trip with nearly 40 large pieces of luggage. The sources also said Chavez’s wife is presently in the Dominican Republic and other members of his family are in Aruba, and they suggested this means the president may not return to Venezuela.
If not, the military has a chance to heal its divisions and possibly avoid violent confrontations between opposing units in FAN garrisons. However, if Chavez does return, a conflict between military forces is virtually certain before mid-year, according to STRATFOR’s sources.