- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela Venezuela's military selected a leading businessman yesterday to replace former leftist President Hugo Chavez, whose combative rule was ended by army commanders after a bloody repression of a huge street protest.
Pedro Carmona a figure straight from the economic elite Mr. Chavez had demonized during his three-year rule said he would hold legislative and presidential elections within a year to replace Mr. Chavez.
The ousted president, who could face charges for the deaths of protesters, was being held in an army base after being taken from his palace before dawn.
The former paratrooper's strong-arm drive to impose a "revolution" had polarized Venezuela, and his friendships with Cuba's Fidel Castro and Iraq's Saddam Hussein had angered the United States.
In addition, the Venezuelan armed forces with traditionally strong ties to the U.S. military resented Mr. Chavez's distancing of Venezuela from Washington.
Mr. Carmona promised an end to anti-Chavez strikes, which had severely cut oil production by Venezuela, the third-biggest supplier to the United States and the world's fourth-biggest oil exporter.
"Everyone will feel that there exists plenty of freedom, pluralism and respect for the state of law," the mild-mannered 60-year-old Mr. Carmona said. He urged Venezuelans to help him restore stability to the struggling economy.
Late yesterday, Mr. Carmona dissolved the former Chavez-controlled Congress, Supreme Court, and attorney general's and comptroller's offices, and he declared a 1999 constitution sponsored by Mr. Chavez null and void. Venezuela will return to a bicameral legislature under the previous constitution, he said.
Mr. Carmona also suspended 48 laws decreed by Mr. Chavez in November that generally increased the state's role in the economy. A 25-member advisory council was appointed.
Generals said Mr. Chavez, 47, was forced out by his military high command overnight after his civilian supporters opened fire on protesters in a 150,000-strong anti-Chavez march on Thursday. At least 14 persons were killed and 240 wounded.
However, Mr. Chavez's allies yesterday called the army move a coup.
The United States called for calm and blamed Mr. Chavez for his own ouster.
The State Department said that "undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chavez administration" provoked Thursday's crisis.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer quoted President Bush as saying that "now the situation will be one of tranquility and democracy."
Streets were quiet yesterday after a night of celebrations. Venezuelans' triumph yesterday was mixed with sorrow as vigils were held for the dead and wounded. "Day of Sorrow," read newspaper headlines.
Angered by the order to turn their weapons on civilians, the military rejected Mr. Chavez's request for exile in Cuba and took him from the palace to an army base before dawn.
Security forces conducted house-to-house searches yesterday for members of so-called "Bolivarian Circles," citizens' groups said to have been armed by Mr. Chavez's government.
Anti-Chavez politicians said they still feared assassination by the "Chavistas." Police searched the home of Caracas Mayor Freddy Bernal, a Chavez supporter, who was missing.
Miguel Dao, head of Venezuela's security police, said his forces were looking for 1,500 rifles missing from a police station and reportedly given to Chavez supporters.
Police captured former Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, and a mob tried to attack him as he was led away.
Resentment toward Mr. Chavez, who was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform and whose term was to expire in 2006, had been building for months.
Many grew alarmed at Mr. Chavez's ties with Cuba and with Marxist Colombian guerrillas, some of whom were said to operate from Venezuelan territory.
Many senior Venezuelan officers had fought Cuban-backed communist guerrillas in the 1960s and early 1970s.
The president alienated Washington with his close ties to Mr. Castro, visits to Iraq, Iran and Libya, criticism of U.S. bombings in Afghanistan and opposition to free trade.
He exasperated Venezuelans by implementing economic policies by decree and accusing the media and Roman Catholic Church leaders of constantly conspiring to overthrow him.
Many blame him for squandering an opportunity to improve the lot of the 80 percent of Venezuelans who live in poverty.
Mr. Chavez's former 80 percent popularity ratings had plunged to below 30 percent.
Monsignor Baltazar Porras, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said Mr. Chavez called him at midnight to the palace Thursday to ask him to guarantee his life as the military turned against him.
Monsignor Porras, who sparred frequently with Mr. Chavez, said Mr. Chavez asked him for forgiveness for his clashes with the church.
Mr. Chavez's daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, told Cuba's state-run television that her father had contacted her and denied that he had resigned.
His arrest was "simply a coup," she said. The attorney general, Isaias Rodriguez, said Mr. Chavez was still considered president because Congress had not accepted his resignation.
Mr. Chavez's replacement was a leader of the general strike this week that eventually sparked his removal.
Mr. Carmona's business association, Fedecamaras, joined the 1 million-member Venezuelan Workers Confederation in calling the strike in support of executives at the state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, who were protesting moves by Mr. Chavez.
The strike culminated with Thursday's giant march through the capital, Caracas.
Mr. Carmona is an economist who has degrees from Caracas' Andres Bello Catholic University and the University of Brussels. He has represented Venezuelan commercial and diplomatic missions abroad.
"He always surrounds himself with capable people, and I'm sure that's what he will do now," said Juan Calvo, an executive who has known Mr. Carmona for more than 30 years.

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