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Tape Captures Chavez Calling for Troops

April 25, 2002|From Associated Press

MARACAY, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez ordered troops and tanks into Caracas' streets April 11 to confront a massive opposition demonstration that ended in bloodshed, according to an audiotape released Wednesday.

The violence in the Venezuelan capital led disgusted generals to oust Chavez on April 12. Loyalist troops and thousands of Chavez militants rebelled April 13, and Chavez was restored to power on April 14.

In the tape, released by the Venezuelan media, Chavez is heard ordering the activation of "Plan Avila," a state security emergency plan, to contain about 200,000 civilians who marched on the presidential palace to demand that he resign.

"I order you to start Plan Avila. The first move we must make is to send the Ayala Battalion," Chavez tells an unidentified officer via radio.

Venezuelan generals have said they refused to obey the order requiring them to use force against unarmed civilians. Nevertheless, 15 people died that day, and several investigations are underway to determine who is to blame.

A broadcast journalist, Marianela Salazar, initially released the tape but declined to say how she obtained it. The tape was widely reported by news media Wednesday.

Carlos Rojas, a presidential spokesman, refused to comment on the tape but said it was "a communication between the Defense Ministry and the president."

Venezuelan generals didn't deny the tape's authenticity at a ceremony Wednesday in the central city of Maracay, where most of Venezuela's armed forces are concentrated.

Gen. Lucas Romero Rincon, Venezuela's top officer, defended Chavez's order, saying Plan Avila "isn't to mistreat and repress the population. No, it's to guarantee security."

Gen. Luis Camacho, former vice security minister and one of the officers who rebelled against Chavez, said Wednesday that he had refused to obey the president's order.

"The pure presence of the police and National Guard would have resolved" security problems posed by the demonstration, Camacho said.

There was no immediate comment from Chavez's office.

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