The failed Feb. 4 coup attempt in Caracas highlights the risks that painful economic reform programs pose--even in one of Latin America's most stable democracies. President Carlos Andres Perez has lifted most price controls, scrapped government subsidies, and spurred foreign investment and the privatization of state industries. Although he has put up some good economic numbers, including 9% growth last year, the benefits aren't reaching the people. Venezuelans believe corruption is way out of hand and that they should be getting more from their oil wealth. Opinion polls show deep concern about inflation and crime. Strikes have crippled hospitals, courts, and schools in recent months.

Feeling the pinch themselves and hoping to tap popular discontent, rebel soldiers stormed the presidential palace and residence early in the morning and attempted to assassinate Perez. But the coup attempt was quickly thwarted by loyal troops.

Some analysts now worry that this shock could prompt Perez to abandon some of his reforms, to appease labor and special interests. But most predict that the tenacious leader will press ahead--as Argentine President Carlos Menem did after a coup attempt in 1990.