CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday there's no risk of a military rebellion against him, and he called a dissident officer a "traitor" for asserting there is unrest in the armed forces.
"There is no serious opposition" in Venezuela, Chavez told Chilean State Television in an interview broadcast Saturday.
"There is no risk [of a coup]," the former army paratrooper said. "I know the Venezuelan armed forces. ... I know who is who in the barracks."
Streets in Caracas were quiet as many people prepared for a weeklong carnival. But there was still tension after Air Force Col. Pedro Soto stunned the nation by calling on civilians to oust Chavez and hold new elections.
"There's a feeling of suspense because no one knows what's going to happen," said Luis Gonzalez, a street vendor.
Soto said most of the armed forces resent Chavez's uncompromising style of governing and his verbal attacks on the news media. Thousands of people joined him Thursday in Caracas, the capital, for a protest that prompted the United States and the Organization of American States to express concern for Venezuelan democracy.
"The armed forces stand behind the president," National Assembly Vice President Rafael Simon Jimenez told reporters Saturday at the presidential palace.
Chavez said Soto was "a traitor" who acted out of frustration over being bypassed for promotion to general. Soto has until Monday to report to his superiors before officers are dispatched to arrest him.
An officer who sided with Soto, National Guard Capt. Pedro Jose Flores, also was summoned to headquarters to face disciplinary action. Their whereabouts were unknown Saturday.
"The National Guard will never support a military coup," Guard Cmdr. Francisco Belisario Landis said on Friday.
Vice President Diosdado Cabello said Venezuela "is in complete and total calm." Guillermo Garcia Ponce, director of Chavez's "Revolutionary Political Command," said the president has decided there is no need to personally respond to Soto.
"The country has returned to normalcy and Venezuelans are preparing for Carnival," Ponce said. "This individual doesn't have the means to endanger political stability."
OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria urged Soto to surrender, noting that Chavez was democratically elected president in 1998 but that the international community was watching to ensure Soto's rights are respected.
Deputy Gerardo Blyde of the opposition Justice First party said the spontaneous protests showed people are tired of Chavez's provocative rhetoric and lengthy broadcasts of his activities and want him to start governing.
"People were protesting not for the colonel, but for dignity," Blyde told Globovision television.
The Chavez-controlled National Assembly said it will open an investigation into an alleged conspiracy involving Soto and Flores.