Carmona Dismisses Pinochet Comparison


By: Vivian Sequera
 The Washington Post, April 19, 2002



Caracas, Venezuela The man who dissolved Venezuela's Congress and other democratic institutions during his one-day rule insisted he's not a "Pinochet Light" and acted only to fill a vacuum of power created by Hugo Chavez's temporary ouster.

Pedro Carmona dismissed comparisons to Augusto Pinochet's 1973 CIA-backed coup in Chile. But he admitted he made several errors, including not receiving a confirmed resignation letter from Chavez before he swore himself in as president on Saturday.

"I should have had the signed resignation letter in hand," Carmona, who is under house arrest, said in interviews with El Nacional and El Universal newspapers published Thursday. Chavez insists he never resigned, as several rebellious military officers had claimed.

The 60-year-old Carmona heads Fedecamaras, Venezuela's biggest business association. He had previously said he had no interest in political office.

Carmona and Venezuela's largest labor confederation called a general strike against Chavez on April 9. Two days later, gunfire erupted at a massive opposition march, killing 16. The military ousted Chavez, installed Carmona as head of a transitional junta, then reinstated Chavez on Sunday after a popular rebellion.

Carmona said he agreed to become de facto leader only after repeated calls from military commanders, whom he refused to identify. "After reflection, I made the decision because the worst that could happen would be a vacuum of power," he said.

Carmona said he dissolved the National Assembly, Constitution, the courts and other public offices to facilitate a rapid transition to new elections. The decrees were written and rewritten by numerous people during the chaos following Chavez's ouster, he said.

"I want to emphasize that I have a proven commitment to democracy, and that this image of a 'Pinochet Light' they're trying to put on me is totally false," he said.

Before he could swear in his Cabinet, a military rebellion for Chavez erupted, and Carmona fled from the presidential palace to Fort Tiuna army base, where he resigned and was detained. Chavez returned to the palace hours later.

Carmona is under house arrest pending charges of rebellion. He suggested several people never fulfilled promises to make the interim government work, though he didn't elaborate.

"This setback, and the frustration of countless hopes, have left a bitter taste in my mouth" he said.

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