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Rival Chavez factions resort to deadly force


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Anyone find the ironic twist in this story? The Left Wing of the Democrat Party in "The United States"

Support THESE types’ of regimes.



By Steven Dudley


McClatchy Newspapers




MIAMI - Cracks are becoming fissures in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's self-declared revolution, as armed groups of leftist supporters clashed in recent weeks in a rough and poor barrio in skirmishes that left at least four dead.


The gunfights are the first between Chavez supporters in public and seem to illustrate the rough scramble over the benefits from Chavez's oil-fueled government as well as bitter jealousies among leaders of Chavista groups.


"Wherever you go in this country, you'll find a (poor neighborhood) ... where there are internal fights," said Alberto Garrido, a longtime Chavez watcher and author of several books on the man and his ideology.


The fighting has put the government in a quandary because it has been arming civilian militias and other groups as part of its plan to defend itself against what it says is a possible U.S. invasion - something that Washington has repeatedly denied. Now Chavez has to decide how to deal with rogue groups that support him but may be getting out of hand.


Tensions between pro-Chavez organizations in the January 23rd neighborhood, a poor Caracas barrio of about 1 million people, have been simmering for months but bubbled to the surface June 21 when gunmen killed the son of a prominent community leader, Valentin Santana, after they played soccer. Santana allegedly responded by sending his own gunmen to kill two members of a rival neighborhood.


Police said they are searching for Santana and others, and authorities have called for a dialogue among all the factions before more violence erupts. But the groups - many of which call themselves Tupamaros after Uruguay's 1970s leftist Tupamaro guerrillas - seem bent on continuing their vendettas.


Chavez, elected in 1998, owes part of his staying power to such radical groups as the Tupamaros and their activities in poor neighborhoods like January 23rd, which has been at the heart of his socialist government's literacy and health programs that have helped him maintain high approval ratings.


The neighborhood also has long been a crime-ridden and volatile place. It was where remnants of Uruguay's Tupamaro guerrillas, crushed by a military dictatorship, took refuge in the 1970s and began sowing the seeds of vigilante groups that use the same name. Some of those groups drove out delinquents, while others slid into crime themselves.


Today, there are at least four groups using the Tupamaro title, and dozens more that sprung from the early groups. All support Chavez, but they also follow leaders who control city blocks and individual buildings in the barrio's 1950s public housing complex. The neighborhood was named after the date in 1958 when dictator Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez was toppled.


Some Tupamaros maintain their vigilante role and run government literacy and after-school programs, while others engage in criminal activities. But all are armed and seem to have benefited financially and socially from Chavez's rise to power. Some have government jobs, while others are living off the leftovers from the government's increased social spending.


Several of the January 23rd neighborhood leaders interviewed by The Miami Herald said one of the main sources of trouble has been Jose Pinto, the head of the Revolutionary Tuparmaro Movement, who according to local media reports may have sent the gunman to kill Santana's son.


Pinto could not be reached for comment by The Miami Herald, but he has denied the reports to the local media. A former ally, Alberto Carias, has said the attacks on Pinto are unfair and alleged that Chavez opponents had infiltrated the Tupamaros to cause discord.


This is not the first outbreak of violence among Chavistas. Lina Ron, a prominent Chavez supporter with her own armed group, complained recently that Carias was threatening to kill her. She did not say why.


Carias denied Ron's accusation and now seems to be helping the government scramble to shore up the differences between the Tupamaro factions before more bloodshed occurs.


However, threats of renewed fighting loom daily, and leaders of some of the factions say they are scuttling from safe house to safe house.


"They've created monsters," said Lisandro Perez, a leader of the Tupamaro Popular Resistance Front, referring to the myriad pro-Chavez vigilante groups. "And now these monsters are eating them."

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