Hugo Chavez is once again the president of Venezuela. He was swept back into office early Sunday morning, after a one-day old military government collapsed amidst nationwide protest. He returned to a hero’s welcome: cheering crowds, waiving flags, the national anthem. In his first major address, he appealed for calm and vowed there would be no retaliation against those who had tried to oust him.
Venezuela’s military leadership took control of the government last Friday morning, arresting Chavez and installing a prominent businessman in his place. The military claimed that Chavez had resigned of his own accord, but the president’s family, supporters and government officials insisted this was not the case.
Friday’s military coup came on the heels of enormous anti-government protests sponsored by a coalition of military and business forces. Thirteen people died under circumstances that still remain murky. Eyewitness sources describe a band of opposition snipers firing into a crowd of pro-Chavez demonstrators, killing at least 10. By contrast, coup leaders describe government troops shooting into a crowd of opposition protesters. It is this version that is most often told in US newspapers.
Chavez’s ouster sparked mass protests throughout the country. Civilians rallied in the streets, while troops loyal to Chavez mutinied and seized control of the presidential palace. Twenty-four hours after he took office, Carmona resigned.
During his one-day presidency, Pedro Carmona, dismantled the National Assembly, fired the ministers of the Supreme Court, arrested high-level members of the Chavez government and sent others into hiding. Nations throughout the world deplored these actions and pressed for the return of democracy. Among the only countries that remained silent was the US.
- Gregory Wilpert, former Fulbright scholar who was eyewitness to the protests last week.
- William Cammacaro, Venezuelan activist living in the US.
- Eric Lecompte, outreach coordinator for School of the Americas Watch.