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Cuba has accused a high-ranking U.S. State Department official of masterminding the coup that briefly toppled Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Otto J. Reich is “an expert in sabotage and assassination plots,” official Cuban sources said, without giving specific evidence for the allegations.

Reich has extensive experience in Latin American affairs, including the posts of assistant administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, ambassador to Venezuela and special adviser to the Secretary of State.

Cuba tied Reich with “right wing forces” who sought to overthrow Chavez, and “destroy the revolutionary process in Venezuela.” It also condemned international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and “Wall Street,” for having “hurried to celebrate the coup in Venezuela.”

The statements were reported by Radio Havana, the official broadcasting service of the Cuban government.

Upon Chavez’s return to power, “each and every one” of the international organizations “suffered the joy and happiness of regional peoples,” according to Radio Havana.

Cuba and Venezuela under Chavez have built strong ties with each other, while Chavez has long admired the Marxist revolution of Cuban President Fidel Castro. In turn, Castro has praised the new Venezuelan constitution inaugurated by Chavez as the “most progressive in the world.”

The close relationship between Cuba and Venezuela angered many Chavez opponents and led to demonstrations of violent hostility against the Cuban embassy in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.

Shortly after Chavez’s return to power, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque flew to Caracas to congratulate Chavez and to award each member of the Cuban embassy staff with the “Medal of Courage” for heroism in resisting attacks [against the Cuban embassy] … at the risk of their lives.”

During the coup, cars belonging to embassy officials were burned, and gasoline bombs were thrown at the embassy building, though no substantial damage or injuries have been noted.

Following the short-lived coup, Chavez issued a statement of reconciliation declaring that he was “disposed to make corrections where I have to make corrections,” and promised that “there will be no witch hunts, no persecution, no disrespect for free expression or thought,” according to a British Broadcasting Corporation report.

The Chavez government has sought to emphasize Venezuela’s return to calm and stability following the abortive coup.

“Venezuela is completely back to normal,” stated Venezuelan Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel, in remarks carried by Radio Havana. He insisted that those responsible for the coup were routed, and Chavez’s victory was complete.

Rangel proclaimed that “the people have regained their confidence, the government of Hugo Chavez is well consolidated, and his opponents have been defeated,” according to the Radio Havana report.

Rangel’s understanding of “normal” was not given, but international press reports indicate that political violence continues in Venezuela, with anti-Chavez groups on the receiving end of most of the violence.

The French news daily Le Figaro commented that the present political situation in Venezuela is difficult for those opposed to Chavez with “several [hostile] actions directed against members of the opposition.”

“Nothing has changed, and the conditions which have led to recent events continue unchanged,” stated Chavez’s opponent Julio Borges in an interview with Le Figaro.

The assessment of Borges was supported by the mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Pena, in whose city much of the past weeks’ riots and bloodshed have occurred.

Pena, who is also one of the principal opposition leaders to Chavez, denounced “the fascist violence of Chavez sympathizers.” While pointing to bullet holes in the city building housing the mayor’s office, Pena stated that following Chavez’s return a group of 40 pro-Chavez gunmen attacked his offices, and threatened to assassinate him.

Not long after Chavez returned to power, unidentified gunmen riddled a car belonging to Carlos Tablante, a member of the Venezuelan parliament as well as the Opposition Movement to Socialism, according to a report in the Italian news daily La Stampa. Tablante’s chauffeur was killed in the attack.

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