White House Denies Part in Venezuela Coup; Told Opposition an Overthrow of Chavez Would Not Be Supported by U.S

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Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Bush administration said yesterday that it had made clear in meetings in recent months with foes of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that it would not support a coup, rejecting accusations that it had done nothing to discourage his overthrow.

The State Department, meanwhile, issued a travel warning for Venezuela and authorized the voluntary departure from the country of non-emergency personnel and their family members.

It warned in a statement that "violent clashes, looting and demonstrations may take place at any time" and cited "reports of American citizens being singled out for threats and harassment."

A State Department official also said a plane with U.S. markings, which Mr. Chavez said he saw on the Caribbean island where he spent his brief internment, belongs to a Venezuelan businessman and is registered in the United States.

The White House acknowledged that U.S. officials had met recently with some of the participants in Mr. Chavez's two-day ouster last week, but it insisted that the Americans did nothing to encourage the Venezuelan visitors to use unconstitutional means against their democratically elected leader.

"Our message has been consistent," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters. "The political situation in Venezuela is one for the Venezuelans to resolve peacefully, democratically and constitutionally, and we explicitly told opposition leaders that the United States would not support a coup."

Speaking later, he said, "The tradition, the history within the last 20 years in Central America and South America has been a tradition of democracy, thanks in great part to the United States' efforts, and that's a message the United States proudly repeats with all our allies in the region, that all those problems have to be solved through democratic solutions."

Mr. Fleischer said administration officials met with a "broad spectrum" of Venezuelan representatives, including Pedro Carmona, who was installed as the Latin American nation's interim president after several military officials announced that Mr. Chavez had resigned.

But the visitors also included pro-Chavez legislators, labor leaders and officials from the Catholic Church, the White House spokesman said.

The Pentagon said Roger Pardo Maurer, assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, delivered the same anti-coup message to Gen. …