CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez promised on
Sunday to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during last month's
Also Sunday, Chavez appointed a soft-spoken lawyer named Isaias
Rodriguez as vice president. That position was created in a new constitution
approved by voters on December 15, the same day avalanches of mud and
water buried much of Venezuela's coastline north of Caracas.
Rodriguez had served as vice president of the assembly that rewrote the
country's 1961 constitution, and has a been a key Chavez ally since the
president took office a year ago.
Chavez addressed the human rights abuse allegations during his weekly radio
program "Alo Presidente." He said he was willing to "give my life" to protect
Venezuelans against the kinds of abuses alleged to have taken place in
Several rights groups have accused security forces of killing and beating
people during apparent efforts to control widespread looting after massive
flooding and landslides that officials estimate killed between 5,000 and
30,000 Venezuelans. An Associated Press reporter witnessed National
Guardsmen beating people with the sides of swords during attempts to
control crowds after the flooding.
The president traveled to the disaster zone on Venezuela's northern coast
late Saturday to personally hear from residents who said their rights were
violated. One man took the president and his entourage to the site of an
alleged mass grave where he said soldiers lined people up and shot them,
The site will be exhumed by the proper authorities, Chavez said. He insisted
his government is the first to take human rights seriously but said the situation
will take some time to improve.
"We have a terrible culture here and that is not going to change overnight,"
Chavez pointed to his government's quick action in evacuating tens of
thousands of people after the floods. During the radio program, he read
aloud letters from citizens thanking the armed forces for their kind treatment
during the disaster.
Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.