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Venezuela: Is the CIA preparing another coup?
By Bill Vann
11 December 2002
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With a “strike” organized by Venezuela’s employers
now entering its second week, there is every indication that the
South American country is being subjected to a classic destabilization
campaign organized in collaboration with US intelligence.
Having failed to topple Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in
a US-backed coup last April, Venezuela’s ruling circles,
working in conjunction with Washington, are attempting to force
him to resign or provoke a new military seizure of power.
The threat that Washington will intervene directly in Venezuela—a
strategic source of imported petroleum for the American market—cannot
be ruled out.
The “strike”—in reality an employers’ lockout—began
on December 2. It is the joint creation of FEDECAMARAS—Venezuela’s
big business association—and the CTV, or Confederation of
Venezuelan Workers, a corrupt labor bureaucracy that is closely
tied to the AFL-CIO in the US. The CTV is also a recipient of
substantial funding from the National Endowment for Democracy,
a US agency created to funnel funds to foreign organizations that
had previously been financed directly by the Central Intelligence
The joint big business-CTV action has had its most visible
effect on the wealthier neighborhoods and downtown shopping districts
of Caracas, where well-heeled demonstrators—backed by thugs
on motorcycles—have forced stores to close. In the working
class areas and the impoverished shantytowns in the hills surrounding
the capital, there has been little impact on daily activity.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators poured into the capital
from these neighborhoods on Saturday in a demonstration “for
democracy and in defense of the constitution” called by supporters
of the government, a mobilization far larger than anything the
organizers of the FEDECAMARAS-CTV action have been able to mount.
In a county in which 80 percent of the 26 million inhabitants
live in poverty, it is hardly surprising that a “strike”
organized by and for a wealthy oligarchy has failed to mobilize
the masses. To make up for what it lacks in popular support, those
leading the attempt to bring down Chavez have turned to terrorist
violence, economic sabotage and a barrage of media propaganda
that amounts to a psychological warfare campaign against the population.
Last Friday night, as the leaders of the protest were debating
whether they could continue their action, shots rang out in a
plaza in the wealthy Altamira section of Caracas. The square has
been the scene since October of a farcical demonstration by a
group of military officers against Chavez. Most were implicated
in last April’s aborted coup and have since been relieved
of their commands. Working out of a luxury hotel nearby, the generals,
admirals and colonels had designated the plaza as “liberated
A number of supporters of the anti-Chavez demonstrations were
in the plaza when the shooting began, and at least three lay dead
and over a score wounded when it was over.
No sooner had the smoke cleared, than General Enrique Medina
Gomez, one of the dissident officers, took to the airwaves to
blame Chavez for the bloodshed and call for the military to overthrow
him “like it did on April 11,” when the Venezuelan president
was held incommunicado for two days and a civilian-military junta
was formed. That coup quickly collapsed in the face of mass protests
and dissension within the military.
Meanwhile, the country’s main television channels—whose
owners are all aligned with the anti-Chavez forces—began
broadcasting scenes of the carnage in the plaza over and over
In the aftermath of the shootings, however, it was revealed
that the principal suspect, captured at the scene, was Portuguese
national Joao Gouveia. Appearing to be mentally unbalanced, he
said he had arrived from Lisbon the day before and had carried
out the attack with the aim of retaliating at one of the television
networks for persecuting him.
A Congressman and journalist who supports the Chavez government
claimed, however, that Gouveia was feigning his mental problems
and had confessed to carrying out the attack after being contracted
for money by General Medina Gomez. Meanwhile, there were press
reports in Venezuela that another suspected gunman filmed at the
scene had been seen earlier the same day with the mayor of Caracas,
a leading figure in the anti-Chavez movement.
This strange assault follows the pattern set last April, in
which 18 people were killed and 30 wounded when unknown gunmen
fired on an anti-government demonstration. The bloodshed provided
the pretext for military coup leaders to lead an assault on the
government palace, arrest Chavez and announce the formation of
a provisional junta. On that occasion, the rebel generals taped
a recording—hours before the shooting—declaring themselves
against the government and blaming the government for a number
of deaths at the demonstration. Several of those arrested for
the shootings were released almost immediately by the short-lived
Meanwhile, the strike’s effect has been greatly amplified
by the actions of management of the state-owned oil corporation,
PDVSA. It was Chavez’s attempt to reorganize this institution—long
used as a cash cow by the wealthy supporters of Venezuela’s
old ruling parties, Copei and Accin Democrtica—that
provoked last year’s coup attempt. He subsequently reached
an accommodation with these managers, even agreeing to provide
them with hefty salary increases.
Ships’ officers on oil tankers and private companies that
operate oil trucks have been recruited to the anti-Chavez plot
in a bid to paralyze the country’s oil industry and thereby
shut down its entire economy. Venezuela, the fifth-largest petroleum
exporter, is dependent on oil exports for 80 percent of its foreign
earnings. It supplies 13 percent of the crude oil imported by
the US. The US consumes 70 percent of the 2.5 million barrels
of oil Venezuela produces daily.
“Petroleum export activity has been paralyzed; the activity
of the ports has been paralyzed; the activity of the refineries
is beginning to be paralyzed and of course the activity of production
as well,” said Ali Rodriguez, president of the PDVSA, on
“We are threatened with a national disaster; no worker
who loves his company or his country will permit this to continue,”
he said. He warned that unless PDVSA could resume the normal distribution
of oil, it would be unable to meet payrolls and payments to suppliers
and would be liable to massive fines for failing to meet delivery
contracts. Rodriguez is the only one of the eight PDVSA directors
who did not resign in protest against Chavez.
While refineries are reportedly full to capacity, they are
unable to distribute the oil because of the transportation stoppage.
As a result, gas stations have begun closing down and at least
one major airline canceled scores of flights because of concerns
over a lack of fuel. Some foreign carriers were also reportedly
stopping flights to Caracas, supposedly out of concern that their
aircraft could be stranded there.
In response, Chavez ordered the military to take control of
refineries, oil distribution centers and those oil tankers that
had halted operations.
In a further attempt to undermine Venezuela’s already
depressed economy, banks announced a one-day shutdown Monday and
indicated that they would maintain reduced hours and services
The atmosphere of provocations and employer-organized economic
sabotage recalls the CIA campaign to destabilize the Popular Unity
government of Chile’s President Salvador Allende in 1973.
It was subsequently revealed that US intelligence, working through
both business associations and corrupt right-wing unions, funded
a truckers’ strike that paralyzed the country. The economic
dislocation set the stage for the September 11, 1973 military
coup led by General Augusto Pinochet that led to a bloodbath of
the Chilean working class and 15 years of dictatorship.
There can be little doubt that Washington is deeply involved
in instigating the disruptions in Venezuela. Before it launches
a war against Iraq, the Bush administration will most certainly
assure itself a secure supply of Venezuelan oil. In the long term,
the US ruling elite, together with the Venezuelan oligarchs, look
to a substantial profit windfall through the privatization of
the state-owned oil company.
Since last April, Chavez has sought to accommodate himself
to Washington, toning down his nationalist rhetoric and even making
a public declaration that Venezuela would remain a “reliable”
oil supplier to the US market in the event that an invasion of
Iraq disrupted supplies from elsewhere.
Even though the Venezuelan government has largely abided by
the economic prescriptions of the International Monetary Fund,
the Bush administration is determined to oust Chavez, whose condemnations
of US bombings in Afghanistan and friendly ties to Castro’s
Cuba provoked Washington’s ire. Like the Venezuelan ruling
class, the US administration sees Chavez’s limited reforms
and populist appeals to the country’s impoverished masses
as an intolerable threat to wealth and privilege.
Following the ouster of Chavez last April, US officials welcomed
the coup. It was revealed at the time that senior Bush administration
aides, including Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich and White
House advisor Elliott Abrams—both key players in the Reagan
administration’s covert network for supporting the contra
terrorist war on Nicaragua in the 1980s—had met repeatedly
in Washington with the coup’s organizers.
Loyally echoing the position of the administration in Washington,
the mass media in the US has deliberately distorted the nature
of the events in Venezuela. The New York Times refers to
it, for example, as a “national walkout,” when in reality
relatively few Venezuelan workers have joined the anti-government
actions, while most have been locked out by their employers. In
some instances, workers have occupied shutdown plants in protest.
Similarly, the confrontation is presented as one between a
democratic opposition demanding that Chavez submit to a national
referendum on his presidency, and an authoritarian regime that
is determined to prevent such a vote.
Thus, the Times writes that the opposition’s aim
is “to avoid having to wait until the next presidential election
in 2006” to resolve the crisis.
In reality, Venezuela’s constitution, approved by popular
vote in 1999, provides for just such a referendum midway through
the presidential term, which will be in August 2003. The political
representatives of the Venezuelan oligarchy, however, are demanding
that Chavez submit to an extra-constitutional vote on February
Their unwillingness to wait seven months is bound up with concerns
over pending legislation on land reform and the reorganization
of the PDVSA, as well as fears within the Venezuelan “democratic”
opposition that it cannot achieve the number of votes needed to
oust Chavez in any case. (The constitution requires that a referendum
get the support of a greater percentage of the electorate than
what was won by the president in the previous election, in Chavez’s
case, 57 percent.)
In Venezuela, outrage over the local media’s role as a
propaganda arm for those seeking to topple the Chavez government
led to mass demonstrations outside of television stations Monday
night, with thousands of protesters chanting “Coup-mongers,
tell the truth!” The five privately owned television networks
have openly promoted anti-government actions, while broadcasting
false stories to undermine the government. In Maracay, demonstrators
occupied the station.
The protests were met with an angry condemnation from Organization
of American States Secretary General Csar Gaviria, who
condemned them as “intimidating actions” and demanded
that the government “take action” to defend “freedom
of the press and of expression.”
The comments exposed the bias of Gaviria, a former Colombian
president, who is supposed to be mediating a settlement between
Chavez and his opponents. Like the US State Department, he has
increasingly indicated his support for the early elections demanded
by the country’s oligarchy.
Chavez has himself indicated a willingness to negotiate on
this demand. The opposition, however, is now seeking to use the
economic disruption to press for his immediate resignation, while
insisting that it will not accept his vice president, Jos
Vicente Rangel, even as a temporary successor.
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