November 29, 2002


THE WORLD’S fourth largest oil producer, a key American supplier and ally, stands on the brink of a political explosion, and possibly a civil war. Its capital increasingly is split between hostile armed camps; military and police units are faced off against each other, central highways are sometimes blocked by burning barricades. . . .

Mr. Chavez, a muddled socialist whose closest political ally is Fidel Castro, was himself democratically elected in 1999; he then used a series of referendums and new elections to rewrite the constitution and extend his term until 2007, even as he wrecked Venezuela’s economy and antagonized the military and middle class. A new election or referendum — like that ordered yesterday by Venezuela’s national electoral council — would offer a way out. But Mr. Chavez has been reluctant to agree — his supporters said they would appeal the council’s decision — and increasingly the opposition appears to hope that he can be forced out of office, as he was briefly last April. Opposition supporters rally around some 140 military officers who have rebelled against the government and occupied a city square, while Mr. Chavez’s followers vow to fight any coup in the streets. Both sides have been arming themselves.

Hmm. Where might you have heard about this before?

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