Former President Carter to Mediate Venezuela's Post-Coup Talks

Venezuela's president said Sunday he hoped that former President Carter's visit next week will help revive talks between the government and its opposition, which have been locked in a power struggle since a failed coup.

"We receive him with faith and joy," Hugo Chavez said Sunday during his weekly radio show, adding that Carter's visit should "open the way and strengthen peace."

After meeting with Chavez and opposition politicians last week, the Atlanta-based Carter Center announced Saturday that Carter would arrive July 6 for a four-day visit to help break the political deadlock.

"The delegation has been impressed by the deep commitment to democracy and strong support among Venezuelans for a peaceful resolution to the divisions within the country," said Jennifer McCoy, the mission leader.

Carter's visit comes at the invitation of Chavez, who is hoping the ex-president can help persuade opposition politicians, business and labor leaders to join government-sponsored reconciliation talks.

Chavez, an ally of Cuban President Fidel Castro, praised Carter for becoming the first American president -- former or sitting -- to visit Cuba since the U.S. embargo on the communist island began. Carter visited Cuba last month and pressed for democratic reforms.

Reconciliation talks here began after Chavez survived an April coup in which military generals toppled him following an opposition march in which 18 people died and hundreds were wounded.

The left-leaning former paratrooper regained power in less than 48 hours after the coup sparked more deadly demonstrations, military protests and international condemnation.

Chavez promised a more conciliatory government, firing some unpopular Cabinet ministers and vowing changes to some new economic laws staunchly opposed by the business community.

Prominent opposition parties, however, distrust Chavez and are campaigning for an early referendum on Chavez's rule. Many Venezuelans fear a repeat of April's violence.

Despite a deepening economic recession, Chavez still enjoys widespread support and admiration from millions of poor Venezuelans. Many believe he liberated the country from the grasp of two corrupt political parties and admire his efforts to bring social equality to Venezuela.