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Chavez Returned to Venezuelan Presidency

BY Admin  April 15, 2002 at 1:00 PM EDT

Appearing on television Sunday morning, the Venezuelan leader called for a national reconciliation.

“I do not come with hate or rancor in my heart, but we must make decisions and adjust things,” Chavez said at dawn Sunday. “I am issuing a call for understanding.”

Chavez was ousted from power Friday after his military refused to use as much force as he requested to stop a major protest. Sixteen protesters died when gunmen fired on a crowd of nearly 200,000 as it marched towards the presidential palace. Commanders accused Chavez of ordering the troops to fire, but he said the shooters were policemen linked to his political opponents.

After military leaders forced Chavez to resign, he was detained at a nearby military base. In many of the slums and towns of Venezuela, pro-Chavez rallies broke out late Friday and into Saturday. Chavez, whose populist rhetoric had angered many business leaders, is viewed as a hero by many of the poor.

Some of the protests turned deadly, totaling at least 40 dead in the 24 hours of marches and looting before and following the removal of Chavez.

Following the ouster, business-leader Pedro Carmona announced he would take over as interim leader; he had also been one of the organizers of the original protest. Upon taking office, Carmona angered many, quickly moving to eliminate any vestige of Chavez’s rule, dissolving Congress and canceling the constitution.

Carmona resigned within a day as street protests spread. Vice President Diosdado Cabello said Carmona supporters who were to form the new cabinet and more than 100 military personnel were under arrest. Carmona himself will likely face trial for conspiracy.

Many nations, including Argentina, Brazil and Russia welcomed the return of Chavez saying it was a triumph for democratic rule, while nations like Cuba and Iraq called it a victory against American imperialism. On Friday, 19 Latin American leaders had condemned the ousting of Chavez as a “constitutional interruption.”

The U.S., which did not condemn the military move on Friday, had blamed Chavez for the crisis.

“Though details are still unclear, undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chavez administration provoked [Thursday]‘s crisis in Venezuela,” Philip Reeker, deputy State Department spokesman, told reporters on Friday. “The essential elements of democracy, which have been weakened in recent months, must be restored fully.”

Following Chavez’s return to power, the U.S. called on him to learn lessons from the last week.

“The people of Venezuela have sent a clear message to President Chavez that they want both democracy and reform,” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleicher said in a statement Sunday. “The Chavez administration has an opportunity to respond to this message by correcting its course and governing in a fully democratic manner.”

Oil prices rose Monday, in anticipation of a return to Chavez’s policies of slowed oil production. Venezuela, a leading member of OPEC oil cartel, is the third largest provider of oil to the U.S.