CARACAS, Venezuela – Triumphant yet chastened, President Hugo Chavez returned to office on the wings of a popular uprising two days after he was ousted and arrested by Venezuela's military, saying he has reflected on his mistakes and was prepared to "make corrections."
"I do not come with hate or rancor in my heart, but we must make decisions and adjust things," Chavez said at dawn, moments after pushing past tens of thousands of supporters to reclaim the presidential palace in Venezuela, the third-biggest supplier of oil to the United States.
Opposition leaders stayed clear of public light on Sunday. Venezuelans struggled to make sense of the dizzying, bloody sequence of events that led to Chavez's brief ouster and stunning return.
Chavez was ousted by his military high command, which claimed he had resigned under pressure after gunmen opened fire on opposition protesters. At least 16 people were killed.
Economist Pedro Carmona was sworn in Friday, only to resign a day later amid widespread street protests, looting and rebellions by several military officers who refused to go along with the plan. Chavez's vice president said Saturday that Carmona and his supporters would be tried.
"I'm sorry, but the pain I feel doesn't let me talk," said one old man, his eyes welling as he stared at his scorched shoestore in a western Caracas slum.
Chavez appealed for calm, and the looting that went on through the night died down. By sunrise Sunday, streets in the capital were empty.
A caravan of Chavez supporters interrupted the silence, speeding through the city in motorcycles and cars, honking horns and chanting, "He's back! He's back!"
The Bush administration, which showed no remorse when the Venezuelan military ousted the country's elected president last week, advised Chavez on Sunday to make good use of his second chance.
"We do hope that Chavez recognizes that the whole world is watching and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time," said Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser.
In his strongest conciliatory gesture, Chavez announced that a board of directors opposed by executives at state-owned oil monopoly had resigned. The internal power struggle at PDVSA swelled last week into a popular rebellion by the opposition, triggering a general national strike, a huge demonstration that ended in bloodshed and Chavez's short-lived ouster.
Chavez had repeatedly refused to negotiate the appointments even as PDVSA managers staged a five-week work slowdown that crippled oil exports and production. His intransigence infuriated the upper classes, which long resented a regime they considered autocratic.
"I also have to reflect on many things," Chavez said. "I bring back lessons that I'll never forget after so much thinking and anxiety. I come disposed to make corrections where I have to make corrections."
Chavez, who appeared healthy and said he had not been mistreated, was characteristically informal in his address, even cracking jokes about his arrest.
"Something inside me told me, 'Be calm, Hugo, because neither the people nor soldiers will stand for this abuse,"' he said. "I was completely sure we would be back. I began writing some poems and I didn't even have time to finish the first one."
For a few hours after Carmona's resignation, Venezuela seemed to plunge into anarchy. Carmona disappeared from public sight moments after claiming that Chavez was on his way to exile abroad and that the national assembly had taken control.
But Chavez administration officials — who had entrenched themselves in the abandoned presidential palace — insisted Chavez was being rescued from the island of Orchilla and would soon return to power.
Several military commanders refused to accept Carmona's appointment and the commander of an air base in the central city of Maracay rebelled. For several tense hours it appeared factions in the divided armed forces would fight each other, but the split did not escalate into violence.
National Guard Commander Belisario Landis, whose exact role in the upheaval is unclear, acknowledged that the military's deep division over Chavez had surfaced and warned that healing it would be difficult.
At least 25 people were killed and hundreds wounded in the unrest that followed Chavez's ouster. He accused police of using brutal force against demonstrators who called for his reinstatement. Police had reportedly opened fire on some demonstrators in Caracas' slums.
Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena said at least nine people were killed and 40 wounded Saturday, but an Associated Press reporter saw dozens of bodies at city hospitals.
Never before in modern times has an elected president been overthrown by military commanders, his successor inaugurated, and then the ousted leader returned to power on the wings of a popular uprising.
Carmona had angered many by immediately trying to sweep away all vestiges of Chavez's rule by dissolving Congress and canceling the Constitution that was approved under his administration.
Before Carmona resigned, Chavez's vice president claimed the presidency during his boss' absence, denying Chavez had resigned. Vice President Diosdado Cabello handed power back over to Chavez after he was freed, and Chavez confirmed he never resigned.
Cabello said Carmona, his designated Cabinet and more than 100 military officers involved in Chavez's ouster would be tried for conspiracy of military rebellion. Many were under arrest.
Jesse Chacon, president of Venezuela's telecommunications agency, said TV stations' conduct last week will be investigated. Chacon condemned stations that failed to cover protests against Chavez's ouster and said they falsely depicted a calm Venezuela to help the new regime.
After Carmona resigned, Chavez administration officials — many of whom had evaded police raids — and loyalist military officers gathered in the marble-floored courtyard of the presidential palace and hugged each other with relief and joy.
"In these past two days they have persecuted us," said Rafael Ramirez, president of the state-run gas consortium and a Chavez ally.
Unshaven and with red-rimmed eyes, Ramirez said he had hidden in friends' homes after Chavez's arrest. Asked about the turnaround, Ramirez said: "It's marvelous, because the Venezuelan people responded to this illegal coup attempt."
In sharp contrast to several Latin American countries that denounced Friday's irregular transition of power, the United States had said Chavez was responsible for his own ouster.
Venezuela is the third-biggest supplier of oil to the United States, but despite the tight trade relations — the United States is also Venezuela's biggest trading partner — the leftist Chavez has irritated Washington by cozying up to Cuba as well as Iraq, Iran and Libya.
The Organization of American States was sending a delegation to Venezuela to assess the political situation.
The United States said it supports an OAS resolution adopted Saturday condemning the alteration of constitutional order and deplorable acts of violence in Venezuela, and calling for normalization of democratic rule.
Chavez was elected in 1998 on an anti-poverty platform, and his term ends in 2006.