Chavez's party suspends Venezuelan state governor

March 14, 2012 - 7:56 PM
APTOPIX Venezuela Protest

Opponents of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez join hands as they form a human chain calling for peace and reconciliation ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday March 14, 2012. Chavez is hoping to return from Cuba, where he is recovering from cancer surgery, to his country to resume his duties as president sometime during the week. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A state governor was suspended from President Hugo Chavez's governing party on Wednesday after making critical remarks about the president of Venezuela's National Assembly.

Leaders of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela suspended Monagas state Gov. Jose Gregorio Briceno after he accused National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello of trying to seize control of the governor's office in his eastern state.

Briceno made the comments two days earlier on the anti-Chavez television channel Globovision.

Vice President Elias Jaua said Briceno had committed a "serious offense against the revolution" led by Chavez. The vice president said leaders of the party have repeatedly warned Briceno during the past three years about "the public remarks he's made against members and government officials."

Jaua said that in addition to being suspended, the governor will be summoned to appear before the party's leaders and faces possible expulsion.

Chavez chimed in with a message on his Twitter account after Jaua's announcement, saying: "I fully support the decision... I think Gov. Briceno has arrived where he had to arrive."

The decision to suspend the governor comes amid accounts by some analysts and government opponents that infighting appears to have erupted among some of Chavez's allies seeking control of the party after the president's cancer reappeared last month. Chavez had a second tumor removed from his pelvic region in a Feb. 26 surgery in Cuba, and has said he is recovering smoothly and plans to return home this week.

Political analyst Ricardo Rios said he thinks Briceno's suspension is intended as a warning to others.

"They're very divided internally," Rios said. "Briceno represents the tip of the iceberg of a big internal argument."

Jaua denied that there are any such divisions within the party.

Briceno had been a prominent party leader in eastern Venezuela. Jaua said the governor had tried to disrupt the unity of Chavez's movement and had violated "the ethical rules of behavior of a member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela."

Briceno responded by telling reporters on Wednesday: "Those who attack me at the national level, you all know whether they're an example of decency, of honesty."

"I'm not going to allude to anyone. I'm not going to fall for provocations," Briceno said at a news conference in the eastern town of Maturin.

Cabello, a former army officer and longtime Chavez ally, took over as National Assembly president in January. He is also a vice president of Chavez's party.

Briceno told Globovision that as soon as Cabello took office, "he searched for everybody who was an enemy... to put them in the (party) to leave me this pack of hounds in the state."

Briceno also criticized Yelitza Santaella, a vice president of the party for the eastern region, saying she "represents some political and economic interests." He divulged only partial details of his complaints, saying he hoped that Chavez would, upon his return from Cuba, "put the house in order."

Friction between Briceno and other party leaders also became more visible in February following an oil spill caused by a ruptured pipeline that polluted a river in the governor's state.

While government officials sought to play down the seriousness of the spill, Briceno went to the Venezuelan news media to raise concerns saying the spill had tainted one of the main supplies of drinking water in the state.

Briceno is the second governor in the last two years to have a public falling out with Chavez's party. In 2010, Henri Falcon, the governor of western Lara state, resigned from the party citing differences with its leaders.

Rios said it's too early to say whether Briceno's suspension might have a broader effect on Venezuelan politics ahead of this year's presidential election on Oct. 7. But if Briceno ends up joining the opposition, Rios said, he could take some members of the governing party with him.