CARACAS – Venezuelan opposition leader and two-time president Carlos Andres Perez has made a series of statements calling for violence to remove President Hugo Chávez from office, and hinting that the Venezuelan opposition may have to impose a dictatorial period to make his removal permanent.

“I am working to remove Chávez [from power],” Perez said in an interview published July 25 in El Nacional, one of the country’s main daily newspapers. “Violence will allow us to remove him. That’s the only way we have.”

Perez, who was speaking from Miami, denied being involved in a plot to assassinate the Venezuelan president, but said Chávez “must die like a dog, because he deserves it.”

Chávez is facing an Aug. 15 recall referendum on his mandate. Most polls show him as the likely winner.

In 1992, while he was a military officer, Chávez led an unsuccessful coup against Perez, who was very unpopular for having implemented economic policies mandated by the International Monetary Fund. Perez was later impeached on corruption charges, while Chávez remained in prison.

Shortly after his release, Chávez was elected president in 1998 and then re-elected to a six-year term in 2000. He has introduced numerous programs benefiting the country’s working population and the poor, and presided over the adoption of a new constitution widely hailed as profoundly democratic.

During the interview, Perez hinted at a possible dictatorial period to be imposed in the event that Chávez is removed from office. “We can’t just get rid of Chávez and immediately have a democracy … we will need a transition period of two or three years to lay the foundations for a state where the rule of law prevails … a collegiate body (junta) must govern during that transition and lay the democratic foundations for the future,” Perez said.

“When Chávez falls, we must shut down the National Assembly (Congress) and also the Supreme Court. All the Chavista institutions must disappear,” the opposition leader added.

When questioned on the Venezuelan people’s desire to not go back to the past when corruption and bad government policies – including his own – led to a significant decrease in living standards, the ex-president agreed that the past cannot return, but added, “I am not the past, I am the future [of Venezuela].” Perez’s political plans are unknown, but he denied seeking a third term.

President Chávez reacted to Perez’s comments by making an appeal to the rest of the opposition to distance themselves from the ex-president. “We need an opposition that’s loyal to the country, so we can work in the building of our nation in spite of our differences,” Chávez said.

Chávez said he hoped the “more rational opposition” would not welcome “that new call for violence from the most radical sectors of Venezuela’s oligarchy.”

Chávez said the opposition is desperately looking for another way to remove him from power, as polls – even those associated with the opposition – show he will survive the upcoming recall referendum.

On July 23, Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel asked opposition leaders to sign an accord in which both sides promise to respect the results of the recall, and not resort to violence. Chávez has repeatedly said he will abide by the results of the recall, but so far no opposition leader has made a similar promise.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush demanded July 19 that the recall referendum in Venezuela “be conducted in an honest and open way” and demanded the presence of international observers.

Ironically, Bush’s comments came just days after the U.S. Congress approved an amendment barring any U.S. funds from being used by the United Nations to monitor U.S. elections. The amendment was issued in response to a petition by several U.S. lawmakers for the UN to send observers to monitor the U.S. election in order to avoid another “Florida coup d’état,” in the words of Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.).

President Chávez rejected Bush’s remarks, saying the U.S. president lacks the moral authority to lecture Venezuela with regard to elections. “They said they will continue to pressure to guarantee that the recall process be transparent. Can you tell me which transparent process allowed Mr. Bush to win the U.S. presidential elections? … With what moral authority is he trying to lecture us?” Chávez asked.

– Reprinted with permission from