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Chavez Returns to Venezuela Presidential Palace - 2002-04-14

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is back in the presidential palace in Caracas after being removed from office by the military Friday. The interim president who replaced Mr. Chavez, Pedro Carmona, fled the presidential palace and is now reported in military custody. Thousands of mostly poor people are celebrating the return of the Chavez government, but other sectors remain opposed to his rule.

Appearing on national television wearing a dark blue jump suit, Hugo Chavez thanked those who had helped him and those who had continued to support him during his two days of captivity.

He called on those who oppose him to be honest and constructive in their criticism. He said the common objective should be to do what is best for the nation and he said he hoped to achieve a consensus with opponents.

The restoration of the Chavez government followed a day of strife on the streets of Caracas and in other parts of the country. Chavez supporters, streaming out of mostly poor neighborhoods and shanty towns, blocked roads and chanted slogans calling for his return. For most of Saturday, pro-Chavez demonstrators barricaded the main road connecting Caracas with the international airport on the Caribbean coast.

In addition to demanding the restoration of the Chavez government, the protesters objected to Mr. Carmona's dismissal of the cabinet and dissolution of the National Assembly. In this, they found international support, as several nations in the region condemned the move against the Chavez government as a disruption of democratic institutions in Venezuela. Latin American presidents meeting in Costa Rica last week called for an investigation by the Organization of American States and a delegation from that organization is expected to arrive in Caracas soon.

But the return of Mr. Chavez is bound to create a bitter reaction among those sectors of society that have opposed him in recent months. The business community, Catholic church leaders, labor unions and several high-ranking military officers have criticized his rule. Many of them cheered the removal of Mr. Chavez last week and supported Mr. Carmona.

A strike by anti-Chavez oil workers last week cut Venezuelan exports in half and led to a spike in prices on the world petroleum market. Venezuela is the fourth-largest oil producer in the world. The workers have been protesting since February when President Chavez removed directors of the state-owned oil company and replaced them with people loyal to his government. It is unclear what effect the events of the past few days will have on this dispute and the nation's all-important oil industry. It is also unclear what, if any action, will be taken now by those groups who remain firmly opposed to Mr. Chavez.