Venezuelans Accept Chavez's Conciliatory Tone — for Now

After surviving a botched coup attempt, President Hugo Chavez won a precarious second honeymoon Monday from Venezuela's business elite and upper classes that rose up to overthrow him last week.

But opposition leaders expressed reservations about Chavez's willingness to bring about reform, despite fresh assurances from his government.

"The entire government is ready to make changes," Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel said at the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

Addressing fears the government would embark on a witchhunt for its opponents, he said the Cabinet named by Pedro Carmona had been freed.

Carmona, who took over the presidency during Chavez's two-day ouster, remained in the custody of secret police, along with more than 100 military personnel also arrested in the revolt.

Rangel did not indicate whether the government plans to try them for conspiracy, saying only that Carmona's family, friends and attorneys were allowed to visit him.

Chavez was deposed and arrested early Friday by his military high command after gunmen opened fire on at least 150,000 people marching on the palace, demanding his resignation.

He returned to power just two days later after other members of the military brass refused to go along with the revolt and tens of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets demanding his return.

Carmona's decision to dissolve all branches of government received immediate condemnation abroad and upset many Venezuelans, even those who had wanted Chavez out.

Most seemed to accept his return. There were few public calls for him to resign and those who had rushed to support coup leaders, including media that blacked out coverage of pro-Chavez protests, were unusually muted in their criticism.

El Universal newspaper, a staunch Chavez critic, ran one word on its banner headline Monday: "Conciliation." On its front page, it emphasized Chavez's announcement that the state-owned oil monopoly's board of directors, appointed by Chavez but opposed by the group's executives, had resigned.

An internal power struggle at Petroleos de Venezuela erupted into a popular rebellion by the opposition last week, provoking a national general strike and the bloodshed that led to Chavez's overthrow. Chavez's intransigence and imposition by decree of economic laws widely opposed by business leaders had infuriated the upper classes.

Many opposition leaders who had avoided the spotlight Sunday came forward Monday, urging Chavez to make good on his promises to change.

A planning minister in the administration prior to Chavez, Teodoro Petkoff, criticized Chavez's speech before soldiers on Sunday afternoon when he called his enemies "oligarchs" and said they had their lesson.

The tone was aggressive compared with his remarks a day earlier, when he said he had had time to reflect on his mistakes and promised change.

"Half the country rose up against him," Petkoff said. "If he thinks that half the country and the armed forces are a handful of oligarchs, we're in trouble because he hasn't learned anything."

The Bush administration, which showed no remorse over Chavez's ouster, advised him to make good use of his second chance "by correcting its course and governing in a fully democratic manner."

The leftist Chavez had irritated Washington by cozying up to Cuba as well as Iraq, Iran and Libya.

After three days of protests and looting, stores reopened and a crush of traffic returned to Caracas streets. Venezuelans were carrying on with normal life, as they did after surviving two coup attempts in 1992 -- one led by Chavez himself, a former paratrooper -- and 1989 riots that killed hundreds.

In all, about 40 people are known to have been slain in the violence following Chavez's ouster.