Venezuelan Coup Figure Finds Asylum in Colombia

Venezuelan businessman Pedro Carmona, president during a coup that briefly ousted President Hugo Chavez, arrived in Colombia Wednesday after being granted asylum.

A small Colombian air force plane brought Carmona from Caracas, Venezuela, to Bogota after Venezuela granted him safe conduct out of the country. The 60-year-old businessman faces rebellion charges in Venezuela but was given asylum by Colombia over the weekend after he took refuge in the Colombian Embassy.

Chavez announced Monday that he would abide by the decision — though he labeled Carmona a fugitive of Venezuelan law.

Carmona stepped off a white turboprop plane and onto the tarmac of Bogota's military airport after 2-hour flight from Caracas. TV news crews, kept at a distance, showed him being greeted and led away by unidentified civilian and military officials.

Carmona did not make any public statements, and there was no official word on where he was heading.

His stay in Colombia, which has rocky relations with Venezuela, may be brief. Carmona's lawyer, Juan Martin Echeverria, said his client likely will move to a third country.

Carmona slipped away from house arrest last Thursday after a court ordered him jailed pending trial, taking refuge in the Colombian ambassador's residence. The rebellion charges carry a possible 20-year prison sentence.

In Caracas early Wednesday, Carmona was driven under police guard to the city's airport in a blue Mercedes-Benz. Colombian Ambassador German Bula accompanied him on the drive and flight.

Carmona denies conspiring to overthrow the government. He insists he accepted the presidency on April 12 because he believed rebel generals' claims that Chavez had resigned.

As president of Fedecamaras, Venezuela's largest business association, Carmona led two general strikes to protest economic policies he claimed gave the government too large a role in the economy.

The second strike snowballed into the April 12 coup. Military generals arrested Chavez and said he had resigned after 17 people were killed and hundreds were injured during a massive opposition march.

The generals installed Carmona as interim president. Carmona promptly dissolved Congress and other democratic institutions, tossed out the constitution and called for general elections within a year.

His actions provoked civilian and military protests that swept Chavez back to power April 14. Dozens died during rioting and protests. The Organization of American States condemned the brief ouster of Chavez.

Colombia, however, seemed pleased by Chavez's brief ouster, calling Carmona a "good friend" and expressing hope for improved relations under his rule. Venezuela and Colombia had sparred over allegations that the left-leaning Chavez supports Colombian rebels — charges Chavez denies.

Chavez supporters want the government to press the rebellion charges against Carmona and, if necessary, seek his extradition. They worry Carmona's case will trigger an exodus of alleged coup leaders.

A top rebel officer, Rear Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo, has applied for political asylum in El Salvador, the only Latin American country to formally recognize Carmona's government.

Peru could be another possible destination for Carmona, who lived there between 1979 and 1985. Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo was in Washington at the time of the Venezuelan coup, and told a news conference there that Chavez would not be missed and was to blame for his predicament.