REPORTING FROM CARACAS, VENEZUELA, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- With a week to go before opposition candidates hold a primary election to determine his main opponent in October’s presidential election, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez threw a military parade Saturday to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of his abortive coup.
On Feb. 4, 1992, then-army Lt. Col. Hugo Chavez led dissident troops in an attempt to overthrow President Carlos Andres Perez. The mutiny failed, Chavez surrendered and was later sentenced to prison. He was pardoned after two years’ confinement, and later mounted his successful 1998 presidential campaign. He recently marked the end of his 13th year in office.
Observers saw the parade, which included Russian tanks and high-tech weaponry, as an effort to fire up Chavez’s support base before the election, which could be Chavez’s toughest electoral test yet. Chavez, who has undergone surgery and chemotherapy for cancer diagnosed last June, looked somewhat bloated but otherwise in good form.
The guest list included Cuban President Raul Castro, as well as Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega, the leaders of Bolivia and Nicaragua, respectively. Actor Sean Penn, whose Haiti relief efforts have been supported by Chavez, arrived in Caracas on Friday night accompanying Haitian President Michel Martelly.
In a joint communique, opposition candidates slammed the parade, arguing that commemorating an overthrow attempt was “anti-constitutional.” Former Defense Minister Fernando Ochoa Antich said the coup attempt was a “betrayal of the oath of a soldier,” noting that Chavez came to office not because of a coup but because he won a democratic election.
In a speech Thursday, Chavez said that “the opposition likes to say the armed forces should be purged of Chavistas. The armed forces of Venezuela are Chavista, whatever anyone says, whoever that bothers.”
-- Mery Mogollon and Chris Kraul
Photo: Soldiers take part in military parade Feb. 4, 2012, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the failed coup attempt by President Hugo Chavez in Caracas, Venezuela. Credit: Ariana Cubillos / Associated Press