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Democratic Win Seen in Venezuela

April 15, 2002

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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) _ From Mexico to Brazil, Latin American nations on Monday hailed the return to power of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a victory for the region’s democracies after years of military overthrows.

Chavez, a populist former paratrooper who was elected in 1998, reclaimed power Sunday after a popular revolt that undid his ouster by the military on Friday.

The head of the 35-member Organization of American States headed Monday for Caracas to lend visible support to Chavez’ restoration.

``It is important for the OAS to evaluate ... how we can best support Venezuela in its efforts to consolidate democracy in these difficult times,″ OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria said.

In Cuba, the reversal of the coup dominated state-run media. The Cuban Workers Union congratulated Chavez supporters for restoring Chavez, who has annoyed Washington with visits to Iraq and Libya, his close ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro and his opposition to the U.S.-led war against terror in Afghanistan.

The Bush administration on Sunday said Chavez should use his second chance as leader to strengthen the country’s democracy.

``The people of Venezuela have sent a clear message to President Chavez that they want both democracy and reform,″ White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

In Argentina, still racked by a deep economic crisis that saw a revolving door of five presidents over 12 days in December, newspapers said democracy passed a crucial test in Caracas.

Even if not all leaders particularly liked Chavez, ``if this uprising in Caracas had been tolerated, it wouldn’t be long before this could have blown up in the face of other democracies,″ Oscar Raul Cardoso wrote in the Argentine daily Clarin.

``The ouster of Chavez was the product of a classic Latin American coup,″ Cardoso said. ``The majority of Latin American governments pulled out the stops and condemned the coup, refusing to recognize those who carried it out.″

Brazil, which quickly condemned the ouster of Chavez, said the restoration of his government ``marks a significant achievement for the reaffirmation of democratic principles and values in South America.″

Vicente Fox, whose presidential election ended 71 years of one-party rule of Mexico, also refused to accept Chavez’ downfall.

Argentina’s President Eduardo Duhalde was equally adamant in denouncing what he saw as a ``coup d’etat.″

Elected presidents failing to serve out their terms has been a staple of politics in Latin America _ with chiefs of state ousted in Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina since 1999.

Paraguayan street protesters forced Raul Cubas to abandon office in March 1999. Ecuador’s ethnic Indians, backed by junior offices, ousted Jamil Mahuad in January 2000.

Peru’s Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian rule collapsed in November 2000 after street protests and corruption scandals. Argentine President Fernando de la Rua left office last December, halfway through a four-year term after disturbances against his austerity plans.

Former Army Col. Lucio Gutierrez, who led the officers in Ecuador’s uprising, said Chavez’ own troubles came from not listening to society’s demands such as alleviating endemic poverty.

``This is an overwhelming lesson, when a president, civilian or military, governs behind his peoples’ backs and doesn’t listen to the clamor of society,″ said Gutierrez.