January 23, 2000
Chavez investigates human rights abuses, names vice president

                  CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- President Hugo Chavez promised on
                  Sunday to investigate allegations of human rights abuses during last month's
                  deadly floods.

                  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,
                  Chavez said.

                  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,"
                  he said.

                  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.