President Chavez Warns Of Conspiracy


By: Alexandra Olson
 The Washington Post, April 30, 2002


Caracas, Venezuela Three weeks after an attempted coup, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday designated a commission to try to smooth relations with his political opponents while warning that some were still seeking his ouster.

Chavez also promised to soften his uncompromising style after one military and popular rebellion ousted him April 12 and another swept him back into power two days later. At least 50 people died and dozens were injured during that weekend of protests and rioting.

"We must acknowledge that there are still disruptive elements," Chavez said Tuesday after inaugurating the panel of economists, businessmen, labor leaders, journalists and church leaders.

"There are actors still seeking an unconstitutional way" of deposing the government, he added.

The so-called "Commission of National Dialogue" was charged with promoting tolerance in a country bitterly split over Chavez's rule. Chavez has alienated business associations, labor unions and civic groups with his fiery populist rhetoric, labeling them "oligarchs" and "enemies" of his efforts to ease poverty.

Since regaining power, Chavez has promised to reshuffle his economic Cabinet. Ruling party legislators are considering changing laws that expanded the government's control over the economy and prompted two national strikes.

Most opposition parties in Congress, however, dismissed Chavez's conciliatory gestures. Some are promoting a constitutional amendment to shorten the presidential term and convoke elections as soon as December.

Chavez holds a slim majority in Congress and can block those efforts.

Most key opposition figures including the business group Fedecamaras, which played a central role in the attempted ouster, and the main labor confederation did not attend Tuesday's ceremony.

Opposition lawmaker Liliana Hernandez said the commission appointed Tuesday amounted to "a virtual reconciliation."

"There was a time for dialogue and change of course and the government made a mockery of it," said Hernandez, a Justice First party member.

Chavez supporters and opponents planned separate demonstrations Wednesday amid tight security to prevent clashes.

A congressional commission investigating the role of political and business leaders, and the armed forces, during the violent demonstrations was scheduled to begin its questioning on Thursday. The first witness called is Pedro Carmona, the business leader who was sworn in as interim president for a day, and is now under house arrest.

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