- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela An apparently chastened Hugo Chavez returned to power yesterday two days after being ousted in a military coup, offering thanks to the sea of supporters who forced his return but admitting astonishment at the rapid turn of events.
In a pre-dawn address to the nation yesterday, Mr. Chavez, 47, called his return to power a vindication of the constitution and announced the reversal of some of the policies that prompted his ouster.
"I'm still stupefied," he said of the rapid-fire developments. At least some of the coup leaders were under arrest and facing trial for rebellion.
Mr. Chavez, a populist president who had angered the United States by forging close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and flirting with Iraq's Saddam Hussein, was removed from office by the military Friday after a protest march turned violent and 16 persons were killed.
The former army paratrooper said he had been held prisoner at five locations, the last of them a Caribbean island military base, during the weekend.
He was transferred into the custody of friendly military forces late Saturday as popular protests against the new leadership mounted and military units began shifting their allegiance to Mr. Chavez, who has always enjoyed strong backing among the military rank and file.
Mr. Chavez returned from detention in the early hours yesterday and at about 4:30 a.m. began one of his characteristically long speeches to the nation and the National Assembly. Unlike past speeches, this one was free of threats and fiery language.
"I do not come with hate or rancor in my heart, but we must make decisions and adjust things," said Mr. Chavez, who added that he has reflected on his mistakes and was prepared to "make corrections."
Caracas journalist and political commentator Manuel Malaver said it appeared that the temporary loss of power had demonstrated to Mr. Chavez his own vulnerability and moved him toward moderation.
He noted that the president, in his biggest concession, had accepted the resignations of a new board of directors whom he had named to the state petroleum company. It was these appointments that had sparked the strike and protests that led to his downfall.
"He's calling for dialogue, for tranquility," Mr. Malaver said. "He's totally changed."
In Washington, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, "We do hope that Chavez recognizes that the whole world is watching and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."
The drama began Thursday evening when a group of military leaders renounced their loyalty to Mr. Chavez, saying they could not tolerate the shooting apparently by Chavez-allied sharpshooters of 16 persons during a protest over his appointments to the state oil company.
The generals placed Mr. Chavez in detention and designated a business leader, Pedro Carmona, in his place. However, the new president immediately made sweeping changes, annulling parliament and the courts, thus undermining his own legitimacy.
Thousands of Venezuelans fearful of dictatorship poured into the streets to demand Mr. Chavez's reinstatement.
Mr. Carmona reversed himself, restoring the Chavez constitution, but it was already too late. The generals then replaced the interim president with Mr. Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello, who announced that Mr. Chavez was on his way back to resume the presidency.
"What has occurred in Venezuela in the last hours is truly unheard of in history," Mr. Chavez said in his speech.
At least 40 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the weekend's unrest. Mr. Chavez accused police of using brutal force against demonstrators who called for his reinstatement. Police had reportedly opened fire on some demonstrators in Caracas' slums.
Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said at least nine persons were killed and 40 wounded Saturday, but an Associated Press reporter described seeing dozens of bodies at city hospitals.
The United States has had a strained relationship with Mr. Chavez, who once equated the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan with the September 11 terror attacks on the United States.
After Mr. Chavez's ouster Friday morning, U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Charles Shapiro said the Chavez government had "apparently opened fire on its citizens," hinting that Washington was willing to recognize the militarily installed government.
Mexican, Argentine and Paraguayan leaders all termed the new Venezuelan leadership illegitimate.
Cuba yesterday hailed Mr. Chavez's return to power as a "revolutionary victory" over a "fascist and reactionary counterrevolutionary coup."


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