Accessibility links

Venezuela: Chavez Meets with Council of State - 2002-04-18

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez on Thursday inaugurated a meeting of the nation's council of state, which includes state governors, members of congress and cabinet officials. Mr. Chavez opened the meeting by praising the role of the armed forces in restoring him to power.

A day after Organization of American States Secretary General Cesar Gaviria called on President Chavez and his opponents to leave the military out of politics, the president put the armed forces front and center. He praised military officers and troops for ending his captivity and restoring as he put it "the constitution."

He said soldiers who opposed him had been tricked and were confused by events.

He thanked God, the Venezuelan people and the armed forces central structure for having saved the country from something that he said could have been far worse. He said that the country had been on the edge of anarchy before he was restored to power.

Thursday's meeting is to set the stage for a national dialogue aimed at ending divisions in society. Church officials, some business leaders and some opposition political figures have given Mr. Chavez the benefit of the doubt and say they are willing to participate. But many opponents say they do not trust Mr. Chavez and that he must show a willingness to change policies before there can be a meaningful discussion. In his address Thursday, Mr. Chavez insisted that the national debate should come "from below," meaning that citizen groups and indigenous groups as well as elite members of society should participate.

Opponents object to Mr. Chavez's leftist programs, his close relations with Cuba, Iraq, Libya and Iran and his creation of civic groups, called Bolivarian Circles, which opponents say have weapons and constitute an unofficial armed force.

Mr. Chavez was removed from office by rebellious military officers last Friday after a violent confrontation between soldiers and protesters outside the presidential palace. But the interim government failed to win the confidence of many other officers and, after pro-Chavez groups took to the streets on Saturday, troops loyal to Mr. Chavez freed him and placed members of the interim government under arrest.