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VENEZUELA
The great escape
IPS
6/19/2002
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Venezuelan authorities are still trying to figure out how Pedro Carmona, who ruled the country for the two days President Hugo Chávez was deposed during an attempted coup, escaped house arrest.

Carmona, the former head of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production, was named president by the coup leaders who forced Chávez out of power. He ruled April 12-13, until Chávez managed to regain the presidency (LP, April 22, 2002).

Carmona was placed under house arrest after Chávez returned, charged with rebellion and usurpation of power. He managed to escape on May 23, heading immediately to the Colombian Embassy, where he asked for and received asylum. Colombian Ambassador Germán Bula was in Colombia at the time, taking part in his country’s elections (LP, June 3, 2002).

Analysts say Carmona escaped by taking advantage of a massive anti-Chávez protest march that drew away the security detail assigned to guard his home. The march was organized to protest against Attorney Isaías Rodríguez, who opposition factions say is a Chávez puppet.

The non-governmental Venezuelan Education Action Program in Human Rights (PROVEA) said Carmona’s escape was due to "a lack of security or complicity," with either scenario opening the door to impunity.

Carmona’s lawyer, Juan Martín Echeverría, said his client was forced to escape, because he was "politically persecuted and had to seek refuge given the lack of legal guarantees."

Interior Minister Diosdado Cabello said, "Carmona’s escape demonstrates his guilt and is a clear sign to the country of the irresponsible attitude of the people behind the coup."

The Venezuelan government granted Carmona a safe-conduct pass several days after the escape, allowing him to travel to Bogotá on May 29.

Colombian Foreign Minister Guillermo Fernández de Soto said his Colombia was not recognizing the coup leaders by granting asylum to Carmona. He said that President Andrés Pastrana "rejected the rupture of constitutional order in our sister nation."

Fernández de Soto added that it was up to the country granting asylum to decide on the petition and "everything else is speculation. Asylum is an institution in Latin American law and it cannot affect the relationship between two nations."

Other coup leaders have followed Carmona’s lead. On May 27, Vice Adm. Carlos Molina Tamayo took refuge in the home of Ana Leonor Palomo, commercial attaché at the Salvadoran Embassy in Caracas. The Salvadoran government granted Molina asylum on June 4.


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