WASHINGTON -- The United States on Monday withheld support for reinstated Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying his return to power over the weekend did not amount to a full restoration of Venezuelan democracy.
The Bush administration was clearly pleased when the military forced President Chavez out of office early on Friday of last week and appeared caught by surprise when the tide turned again in Chavez's favor on Sunday.
A senior U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said the political future of Chavez and Venezuela remained uncertain.
"It's not totally clear exactly where certain players are and what the status of things is... There is no absolute in terms of where the situation stands," he said.
Another senior official cast doubt on Chavez's legitimacy.
[N.B.] "He was democratically elected. He won a majority of votes. Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of votes, however," he said.
The United States has a long history of intervening to overthrow leftist and populist leaders in Latin America. Venezuela is especially important to U.S. interests because it exports 1.5 million barrels of oil a day to the U.S. market.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a liberal think-tank on Latin American affairs, said the Bush White House was the big loser from events in Venezuela.
"Whether there is evidence or not, there is not a political person in Latin America who doesn't believe that the CIA played some kind of role in the short-lived ouster of Venezuela's President Chavez," it said.