Usually, a military coup spells disaster for a nation, but in Venezuela the courage exhibited by the army there in forcing the resignation of President Hugo Chavez may well have been the step to save democracy in the Latin American country. In the nearly three years since Chavez was first elected, he has led Venezuela to economic and political ruin. In an editorial of Aug. 12, 2000, we warned that "Chavez would do well to remember that what voters give, they can also take away -- even in the face of political repression and government might. Power taken from the people does not last forever." Fortunately for the people of Venezuela, he has proved us right.
Unlike the leaders of other Latin American nations, Chavez has been no friend of the United States or of democracy. In fact, he has traveled to Iraq to bolster Venezuela's relationship with Saddam Hussein and has been a supporter of Cuba's Fidel Castro and the guerrillas in Colombia.
During his presidency, the Venezuelan economy has declined precipitously -- despite its status as one of the world's largest oil producers.
Deadly action: The crisis which precipitated Chavez' ouster was a strike by oil executives and workers over billions owed in back pay. In anger over the strike and what had been a peaceful demonstration by hundreds of thousands in Caracas protesting Chavez's increasingly authoritarian regime, Chavez' civilian supporters fired on the crowd, killing 14 and wounding 250. In response to the deadly repression, top military commanders confronted the president in his palace and demanded that he yield power.
In his stead, businessman Pedro Carmona, the president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry, was named leader of an interim government and promised to call legislative and presidential elections within the year.
Carmona and the military must keep that promise. One would-be dictator should not be replaced by another.
Given its oil revenue, there is no reason that Venezuela cannot be a prosperous and progressive nation. But it will take considerable effort to recover from the damage done by Chavez and stem any resurgence by his supporters. However, after last week's violence, they have shown themselves as the enemies of Venezuela's people.