[HIMC] More on Venezuela
ogarrioluz at yahoo.com
Sun, 8 Dec 2002 11:35:58 -0800 (PST)
THE FIRE DOWN BELOW
Editorial by Raffique Shah
December 08, 2002
For the discerning eye in those among us who lived through the tense
years of the Cold War, the events in Venezuela are playing themselves
out in classical State Department styling. With international eyes
focused on the showdown in Iraq where the Americans are clearly setting
the stage for yet another invasion, this time to unseat Saddam Hussein
and replace him with a White House-friendly regime, not many people
outside of South America and some Caribbean countries are bothered
about the seemingly permanent state of unrest that has gripped Caracas.
And even here many believe that Hugo Chavez looked for his troubles, so
let him fend for himself.
Few people recall that here was a young rebel who defied the odds of a
coup-maker and won some 80 per cent of the popular vote in two
successive elections. Or that in the process, he all but annihilated
the traditionalparties that had controlled Venezuela's politics for
decades, sharing between them the spoils of an oil-rich nation in which
the bulk of its citizens live in squalor. He was seen as the strongman
who would deliver the downtrodden from a state of persistent poverty.
He would stop runaway corruption that has bedevilled resource-rich
countries like his own, Nigeria, Angola and Brazil, to name a handful,
in which the leaders looted the treasuries in a most vulgar manner.
Yet, in a short time we saw this immensely popular president being
faced with protests against his rule. Firstly, there were the
middle-class housewives, usually representative of the old order trying
resuscitate the parties that protected their interests at the expense
of the mass of the population. Then there were the "colonels", meaning
mainly high-ranking officers in the armed forces, who started their
assault by speaking out publicly against Chavez, and later actually
pulling off a short-lived palace coup.
Later, powerful trade union leaders threw their weight behind the
protestors. They summoned their members to march against Chavez. Over
the past few days they have conducted a general strike. Independent BBC
reports coming out of Caracas spoke of limited support for the strike.
Thus far, Chavez has managed to hold on to office by using a clever
blend of tactical moves and draconian measures against his opponents.
He used the National Guard to seize control of the Caracas metropolitan
police, a tool in the hands of one his most bitter opponents, the
city's Mayor Alfredo Pena.
Last Thursday, he ordered armed personnel to take over one of over
forty oil tankers in Maracaibo on which the captain and crew had joined
the strike. And he has declared the national oil company a strategic
asset, using that to put it under some measure of military control.
In the midst of it all, the OAS has intervened. The organisation's
head, Cesar Gaviria, has been in Caracas for some time now trying to
work out an accommodation between the president and his opponents. The
latter are calling for a referendum on Chavez's presidency, which the
OAS seems to be inclined towards. But the seemingly indefatigable
president has met all the challenges with the courage and wiles of a
professional military officer,again, cleverly blended with populist
support from the barrios where the poor stand to benefit most from his
radical approach to the re-distribution of that country's immense
wealth. Many see him as a dictator-in-the-making.
For many more, he is a saviour.
Realistically, Chavez's chances of survival, of remaining President,
are not good. I started this column pointing fingers at the State
Department, an arm of the US government that supervises the subversion
of governments that are deemed as dangerous to US interests. The CIA is
usually over-active in such countries, often equipped with generous
budgets that allow for opponents of the regime to acquire both the
tools of resistance and considerable sums of money in their bank
accounts. There are those who believe that the CIA no longer exists, or
if it does, it has gone "clean". Perish that thought. Especially when
you are looking at a country whose oil supplies are critical to the US
economy, Venezuela and Mexico being the two "biggies" in the business
that lie close to America.
In the past, these agencies have used an almost textbook approach to
destabilizing a "hostile" government. The business sector and
conservative politicians are their "weapons of choice" these days: they
But time was when the military, through its senior officers who were
"recruited" while they studied in the US, were the first line of
offence. Note that whenever a strike is called in Venezuela, central
Caracas promptly shuts down. I won't be surprised if the striking
"colonels" have been generously compensated for their brazen defiance
of military norms. And many trade unionists, like the military, have
been properly groomed by the CIA to do
the dirty work of sabotaging the economy by politically motivated
For those who believe that the picture I'm painting is a flight of
fancy of an "old leftist", they should read what happened in Guyana
when Cheddi Jagan's PPP first came to power in that country in the
1950s. One of the first CIA officers to expose the Agency's modus
operandi was Phillip Agee,who wrote the book "Inside The Company". In
that "diary" of events when he was posted in South America, he noted
the Agency's "victory" in Guyana when Jagan was removed from office the
second time around. During the Cold War, both Russia and America moved
aggressively to subvert governments they did not approve of, or those
of strategic interests that appeared to be going astray.
That scenario is precisely what is being currently played out in
Venezuela. Chavez may be popular, and he does seem to still control
support of the masses. But he has come up against "Predator V" whose
appetite for oil is insatiable. So Venezuela's vast reserves are
critical to the US, just as three-million-barrels-a-day of Iraqi oil
would dampen prices of crude.
In the end, it's the interests of America and Americans that count.
Forget the starving masses of South America or elsewhere, and forget
countries that don't have oil.
Chavez, poor fella, faces a most uncertain future. And while the
assault appears to come from the mass of Venezuelans, a closer
examination will reveal the bloody hand of the CIA, always ready to
wreak havoc and shed blood-in America's interest, of course. The saving
factor for Chavez is that in both Brazil and Equador, populist
politicians have come to power via elections. America now faces a wild
fire "down below". Maybe that will work in Chavez's favour.
Daily News (New York) April 18, 2002, Thursday
FAMILIAR U.S. FINGERS IN VENEZUELA MESS
BY JUAN GONZALEZ
Was the Bush administration behind the failed military coup against
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?
Not at all, says the White House.
But some disturbing revelations during the past few days suggest the
administration knew a lot more about the plot than anyone initially
During the past few months, senior members of the Bush administration
met with Venezuelan leaders of the coup, in which businessman Pedro
Carmona served as Chavez's replacement for fewer than 48 hours. At the
center of the revelations are two Bush officials, Otto Reich, the State
Department's assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, and
Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, Reich's counterpart at the Defense Department.
Pardo-Maurer met Dec. 18 in Washington with Gen. Lucas Romero Rincon,
chief of the Venezuelan Army. This is the same Romero who announced
Thursday night that Chavez was resigning and the army had chosen
Carmona to replace him.
A Defense Department spokesman confirmed that a coup was discussed at
the meeting but said Pardo-Maurer told the general "very clearly" that
"we in no way would support any coups or unconstitutional activity."
Yet in the hours after the military seized Chavez, and before anyone
had heard a word from him, the White House rushed to welcome his
Reich's spokesman, Chip Barclay, confirmed yesterday that Reich met
several times since January with Venezuelan groups that "expressed
their frustrations with Chavez" but said Reich urged them to go about
seeking change peacefully. Barclay denied a report in yesterday's New
York Times that Reich personally called Carmona on Friday.
"We did through our ambassador tell Carmona he should respect the
institutions there," Barclay said.
Reich and U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela Charles Shapiro were concerned
that by dissolving the National Assembly, firing the Supreme Court and
abolishing the constitution, Carmona would be sending the wrong message
to the Venezuelan people.
Some have suggested that Reich was thus stage-managing the coup, a
charge that Barclay rejected.
But this isn't the first time Reich, a hard-line anti-Castro Cuban
immigrant, has been involved in controversial activities.
Back in the mid-1980s, he was a key player in the Iran-Contra scandal
as part of the illegal operation set up by former CIA director William
Casey and Lt. Col. Oliver North to circumvent Congress and funnel arms
and money to the Nicaraguan Contras.
Reich then ran the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for
Latin America and the Caribbean.
This is how a 1988 staff report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the
House of Representatives described Reich's operation:
"Through irregular sole-source, no-bid contracts, [Reich's office]
established and sustained a private network of individuals and
organizations whose activities were coordinated with, and sometimes
directed by, Col. Oliver North as well as officials of the National
"These private individuals and organizations raised and spent funds for
the purpose of influencing congressional votes and U.S. domestic news
media. This network raised and funneled money to offshore bank accounts
in the Cayman Islands or to the secret Lake Resources bank account in
Switzerland for disbursement at the direction of Oliver North."
Reich, in short, was part of the leadership of a propaganda and
black-box operation inside the government.
Investigations by the State Department's inspector general and the
General Accounting Office also blasted his activities, but Reich
escaped the criminal charges that eventually were lodged against North
and other Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-Contra
Later appointed U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, he was stationed there in
1989 when the army of President Carlos Andres Perez killed more than
300 people in protests against rising prices.
Reich's history of covert activity is what prompted the Senate to
refuse to confirm his nomination as Bush's assistant secretary of state
for Western Hemisphere affairs. He is currently serving as a recess
appointee. His history also now has some wondering just how involved
our government was in last weekend's events.
Venezuela coup linked to Bush team
Specialists in the 'dirty wars' of the Eighties encouraged the plotters
who tried to topple President Chavez
Ed Vulliamy in New York
Sunday April 21, 2002
The failed coup in Venezuela was closely tied to senior officials in
the US government, The Observer has established. They have long
histories in the 'dirty wars' of the 1980s, and links to death squads
working in Central America at that time.
Washington's involvement in the turbulent events that briefly removed
left-wing leader Hugo Chavez from power last weekend resurrects fears
about US ambitions in the hemisphere.
It also also deepens doubts about policy in the region being made by
appointees to the Bush administration, all of whom owe their careers to
serving in the dirty wars under President Reagan.
One of them, Elliot Abrams, who gave a nod to the attempted Venezuelan
coup, has a conviction for misleading Congress over the infamous
The Bush administration has tried to distance itself from the coup. It
immediately endorsed the new government under businessman Pedro
Carmona. But the coup was sent dramatically into reverse after 48
Now officials at the Organisation of American States and other
diplomatic sources, talking to The Observer, assert that the US
administration was not only aware the coup was about to take place, but
had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success.
The visits by Venezuelans plotting a coup, including Carmona himself,
began, say sources, 'several months ago', and continued until weeks
before the putsch last weekend. The visitors were received at the White
House by the man President George Bush tasked to be his key
policy-maker for Latin America, Otto Reich.
Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American who, under Reagan, ran the Office
for Public Diplomacy. It reported in theory to the State Department,
but Reich was shown by congressional investigations to report directly
to Reagan's National Security Aide, Colonel Oliver North, in the White
North was convicted and shamed for his role in Iran-Contra, whereby
arms bought by busting US sanctions on Iran were sold to the Contra
guerrillas and death squads, in revolt against the Marxist government
Reich also has close ties to Venezuela, having been made ambassador to
Caracas in 1986. His appointment was contested both by Democrats in
Washington and political leaders in the Latin American country. The
objections were overridden as Venezuela sought access to the US oil
Reich is said by OAS sources to have had 'a number of meetings with
Carmona and other leaders of the coup' over several months. The coup
was discussed in some detail, right down to its timing and chances of
success, which were deemed to be excellent.
On the day Carmona claimed power, Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin
America and the Caribbean to his office. He said the removal of Chavez
was not a rupture of democra tic rule, as he had resigned and was
'responsible for his fate'. He said the US would support the Carmona
But the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams, who operates in the
White House as senior director of the National Security Council for
'democracy, human rights and international opera tions'. He was a
leading theoretician of the school known as 'Hemispherism', which put a
priority on combating Marxism in the Americas.
It led to the coup in Chile in 1973, and the sponsorship of regimes and
death squads that followed it in Argentina, El Salvador, Honduras,
Guatemala and elsewhere. During the Contras' rampage in Nicaragua, he
worked directly to North.
Congressional investigations found Abrams had harvested illegal funding
for the rebellion. Convicted for withholding information from the
inquiry, he was pardoned by George Bush senior.
A third member of the Latin American triangle in US policy-making is
John Negroponte, now ambassador to the United Nations. He was Reagan's
ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 when a US-trained death squad,
Battalion 3-16, tortured and murdered scores of activists. A diplomatic
source said Negroponte had been 'informed that there might be some
movement in Venezuela on Chavez' at the beginning of the year.
More than 100 people died in events before and after the coup. In
Caracas on Friday a military judge confined five high-ranking officers
to indefinite house arrest pending formal charges of rebellion.
Chavez's chief ideologue - Guillermo Garcia Ponce, director of the
Revolutionary Political Command - said dissident generals, local media
and anti-Chavez groups in the US had plotted the president's removal.
'The most reactionary sectors in the United States were also implicated
in the conspiracy,' he said.
Originally published 19th April, 2002
As one of several moves designed to show conciliation after the
restoration of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the erstwhile
figurehead of last week's coup, Pedro Carmona Estanga, head of the
employee’s group FEDECAMARAS, has been released from prison into house
arrest while he awaits trial. General Efrain Vasquez, who appeared on
television last week to announce that Chavez had resigned, was replaced
as head of the army command by General Julio Garcia Montoya.
Meanwhile investigations into the coup get underway. A brigade of
police under the control of the anti-Chavez mayor of Caracas Alfredo
Pena -- accused of shooting at unarmed demonstraters -- has been raided
by a squad from the national police commando, and more than 80 soldiers
remain under detention for their role in the uprising. A number of
Venezuelan citizens sought political asylum in the Bolivian embassy.
Chavez himself has said that “a lot of Machiavellian people planned
this operation … It was not just a military coup. The intellectual
authors were not military personnel.”
Chavez was talking about domestic politics, but the U.S. connection is
clear. It may not have been as direct as many other CIA-inspired coups,
but their fingerprints are all over it. For a start, from the American
perspective, they had every reason to want a change in Venezuela.
Chavez has irritated Washington by his actions to improve the
Venezuelan benefits from its own oil industry, by refusing to cooperate
with the U.S.'s "anti-drug" campaigns, and by his sympathy for both
Cuba and Colombian guerillas. The New York Times editorial for 13th
April must have come close to reflecting official policy, calling
Chavez "a would-be dictator" and "a ruinous demagogue", while coup
front man Carmona was described as "respected."
The U.S. has admitted to meeting with coup plotters during the months,
weeks and days before the event. There is no doubt the U.S. allowed the
plotters to believe that their move would be supported. Some officials
are peddling the line that “[o]ur message was very clear: there are
constitutional processes. We did not even wink at anyone.” Pentagon
spokesperson Victoria Clarke said that this message had been delivered
by Roger Pardo-Maurer, assistant defense secretary for the hemisphere,
during one or more meetings with Venezuelan Gen. Lucas Rincon. Others
in the Pentagon admit that “[w]e were not discouraging people. We were
sending subtle informal signals that we don‘t like this guy. We didn’t
say ‘No, don’t you dare’.”
Very early on in the coup, Administration officials were already
calling members of Congress to tell them that Chavez had resigned. They
now have to admit they had no evidence to back up those assertions. At
the same time, Otto J. Reich, assistant secretary of state for western
hemispheric affairs, called ambassadors to make sure they knew the U.S.
line that Chavez had been the first to "disrupt Venezuela's
Both Otto Reich and Roger Pardo-Maurer have long and disreputable
histories in the region. Pardo-Maurer was chief of staff to the
Washington representative of the Nicaraguan terrorist group called the
Contras between 1986 and 1989. Reich, appointed by Bush to his present
position in a recess appointment this winter against the spirit of the
constitution because Congress would never approve him, has bloody hands
from all sorts of misadventures. When it became known in the 1980s that
he was peddling pro-Contra propaganda while head of public diplomacy at
State, it was one of the rare occasions when his dirty work had been
caught in the headlights.
On Friday, Reich was deeply involved in this coup. He telephoned the
usurper Carmona, not to tell him to turn power back to the
democratically elected officeholders, but rather to tell him that
dissolving the National Assembly would be "a stupid thing to do," and
would provoke an outcry. U.S. Ambassador Charles Shapiro is said to
have made the same case in person. Is this evidence that Washington was
stage-managing the coup? Not by itself, but it fits a pattern,
especially when Reich and his brood are involved. Meanwhile, at a
closed-door briefing for Congressional aides, Reich was spewing his
venom, this time to the affect that "foreign paramilitary forces" --
suspected to be Cubans -- had been involved in the shootings that
precipitated the military demarche. Reich could offer absolutely no
evidence for this assertion.
Hugo Chavez himself raised an interesting U.S. connection when he told
reporters that an airplane with U.S. markings had been at Orchila, his
Caribbean island prison. Asked if the U.S. military gave logistical or
intelligence support for the failed coup, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria
Clarke said she was "not aware of that.'' Ari Fleischer at the White
House said he didn't know if the U.S. had supplied a plane. He thought
"the transportation was arranged after his resignation through the
Venezuelan military". Neither of these non-replies were particularly
The Guardian reported that
"Mr Chavez yesterday hinted at the possibility of US involvement in the
coup attempt, noting that only days before he was ousted, dozens of
Venezuelan military personnel working in the country's Washington,
Bogota and Brasilia embassies returned to Caracas with no explanation.
The implication was that these were military staff sympathetic to the
opposition whom he had sent abroad when he became president in 1999."
Of more immediate importance within Venezuela itself, is the role taken
by many of the country's most important institutions, particularly the
media. Many of the planning meetings for the coup are reported to have
taken place at Macondo, home of Miguel Otero, publisher of the El
Nacional chain of newspapers and, after the installation of Carmona,
the media barons toasted the downfall of their adversary with
18-year-old Scotch. “We can’t guarantee you the loyalty of the army,” a
presidential guard heard one of them tell Mr Carmona, “but we can
promise you the support of the media.”
When the coup began to fail on Saturday, the media barons -- Otero,
Gustavo Cisneros, reputedly the country's richest man, and head of
Venevision TV, Alberto Ravell of CNN-affiliated Globovision, and Marcel
Granier of RCTV -- were summoned to the Presidential Palace and told to
suppress coverage of the anti-coup resistance. That day and the next,
as protesters stormed the streets and the presidency changed hands
twice, Venezuelan television viewers saw cartoons, Hollywood movies,
and reruns of the Carmona inauguration. (This was in sharp contrast to
the repeated saturation coverage of Thursday's events leading up to the
coup.) On Sunday, there were no editions to report the return of Hugo
Chavez, and at no time during the coup weekend were members of Chavez'
government interviewed for their view of events. As the Economist has
it: "A regime that had seized power while waving the flag of press
freedom spent its 36 hours in office doing its best to keep the truth
from the public."
"It was a media coup, a complete blackout," said journalism professor
Antonio Almeida, who teaches at the Central University of Venezuela.
"Instead of informing the public they covered up the facts."
"The news media have enormous power, and they should not act as a
laboratory of lies," he said. He added that their actions during the
coup amounted to "psychological terrorism."
A reporter has suggested that:
"Unless there is a serious internal investigation of what went on,
professional journalism in Venezuela is finished."
Of all the media magnates, only Globovision's Ravell has had the
courage to admit his role in censorship:
"On Tuesday, in an emotional appearance on his own station, Ravell
asked for forgiveness "from any viewer who feels we failed them that
day." While also blaming the pro-Chavez demonstrations [for keeping his
reporters fromt he streets], he became the only media executive so far
to acknowledge withholding information. "Sacrificing our credibility
... and freedom of expression, we decided not to broadcast images of
violence and looting."
Now that this coup is over, OAS Secretary-General Cesar Gaviria has
made the obvious point that Venezuelans must find a way for “dissent to
be expressed constitutionally.” Chavez and his team have agreed that
changes and “corrections” need to be made in the way they govern the
country. But, as Milos Alcalay, the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN,
told a news conference at the beginning of the week; ”You have to have
two to tango. If the government makes changes and corrections, this
will not work in the search for national unity unless the other side
does the same.” The trouble is, according to Teodoro Petkoff, editor of
the anti-Chavez Tal Cual newspaper, "[r]ight now you have one half of
the country that doesn't believe in a thing that the other half says."
Much will depend on what happens at the state oil company. Chavez has
already withdrawn his nominees for the Board of Directors, a major
source of irritation. At Monday’s press conference, Chavez assured the
USA that "I can guarantee the U.S. a normal flow of oil and products."
But what will now happen to his plan to direct more of the country’s
oil profits to fighting poverty rather than to further export-oriented
That money was to be used to help solve the serious social tensions
which remain --
"A worker at a psychiatric hospital, Manzur Torre Alba, lamented that
the rich looked down on him as 'subhuman.' A doctor, Pedro Baldallo,
lamented equally indignantly that the poor called people like him
'squalid ones,' believing they were tainted by corruption."
-- and there is always the possibility of another coup or some other,
perhaps more constitutional, challenges ahead.
"When civil society sees its hopes for democracy go down in flames with
a 24-hour government that showed no respect for the rule of law, it's
hard to speak hopefully of democracy's prospects," says Elas Pino
Iturrieta, director of historical studies at Andrs Bello Catholic
University in Caracas.
"We have lost a battle," said Rony Moscovitz, a wealthy businessman
alienated by Chavez' anti-capitalst sloganism. "But we have not lost
the war." However, as a street vendor supporter of Chavez said of the
elites: "If they rise up again, then we will rise again too ... The
rich people underestimated us."
Outside of Venezuela. much harm has been done to the United States'
relationships in Latin America. The Administration's obvious pleasure
at the overthrow of Chavez has not gone unnoticed. Nor has the fact
that the U.S. refused to support an OAS resolution condemning the
"alteration of constitutional order in Venezuela" until after it had
learned of Chavez' restoration. Moreover, Administration officials did
not hide their dismay at his restoration. While the Latin American
democracies were forcefully lining up behind constitutional order, the
U.S. was blaming Chavez for his own fall. One OAS diplomat said: "We
were in that room for 14 hours, and for most of that 14 hours, [US
ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), Roger] Noriega
was pushing the line that it was Chavez that had created the problem."
Arturo Valenzuela, Clinton's Latin American national security adviser,
accused the Bush Administration of "running roughshod over more than a
decade of treaties and agreements for the collective defense of
democracy." "I think it's a very negative development for the principle
of constitutional government in Latin America," Mr. Valenzuela said. "I
think it's going to come back and haunt all of us."
I'm not a great admirer of Tom Daschle, but even he has the sense to
recognize that "we've got to be supportive of democratic principles
even when they choose to elect people we don't like." That is not
something the Administation is willing to contemplate. The socialists
are precisely on target when they note that the
Bush Administation's "conception of 'democracy' is firmly rooted in the
social interests of the ruling elite, and therefore easily dispenses
with such traditional democratic forms as elections and the
subordination of the military to civilian rule ... Its principles are
the assurance of uninterrupted cheap oil to the US petroleum
corporations and the maintenance of a firm grip on both the government
and the economy by the country’s thin layer of wealthy businessmen,
backed by the military."
Indeed, the Administration seems determined to keep raising the
temperature. The State Department has re-issued an advisory telling
Americans not to visit Venezuela. They have also authorized the
voluntary removal of family members and all “non-emergency” personnel
at US offices. Issued on Tuesday, a significant period of time after
President Chavez’s return to power, the statement claims that "the
political situation remains fluid and there has been widespread civil
unrest, with multiple deaths and reports of gun battles between pro-
and anti-Chavez groups."
Even now the US administration refuses to admit that a coup even took
place, and they claim that Chavez’ return to power does not amount to a
“full restoration of Venezuelan democracy.” An administration official
opined that “He was democratically elected. Legitimacy is something
that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters, however.”
Given the battle of Florida and the Supreme Court’s last-minute charge
to the rescue of Mr Bush’s campaign, I wonder if the irony of that
remark escaped the official.
Throwing A Light on Venezuela
Originally published 15th April, 2002
Late last year, in a prescient article in the San Francisco Examiner,
Conn Hallinan made note of a disturbing pattern in South American
politics. In 1953 US policy makers held a focused discussion about
Guatemala’s proposed nationalization of United Fruit plantations. Soon
after that meeting, a pro-American coup overthrew the government,
installing a pro-business, pro-US regime in its place. Similar meetings
took place just before the coup in Brazil in early 1964 that overthrew
the nationalizing government of Joao Goulart, and before the coup that
killed Salvadore Allende and dismembered Chilean democracy in September
Hallinan then brings us up to date by reminding us of a two-day meeting
of the National Security Agency, the Pentagon and the State Department
in November 2001 to discuss "the problem of Venezuela."
The proximate catalyst for the meeting was Hugo Chavez's questioning of
the War on Terror. While strongly condeming the attacks of September
11th, Chavez disagreed with the retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan.
This was enough for the U.S. to withdraw its ambassador and to schedule
the national security meeting. But, just like in many other foreign
policy issues, September 11th and its aftermath has been used in the
case of Venezuela as an excuse for activities dealing with much
broader, corporate interests.
In Venezuela, Chavez has made major inroads into the resource base of
the entrenched oligarchs. He has tried to improve the 60-year old
royalty agreement that pays as little as 1% to Venezuela while creating
cash cows for Philips Petroleum and ExxonMobil, confirmed the
nationalization of the oil sector, and introduced significant land
reforms which would see a change to the current situation where two
percent of the population controls sixty percent of the land.
At the same time, the Chavez Administration has put in place a free and
progressive Constitution, reduced inflation from 40% to 12%, created
economic growth of 4%, brought unemployment down to 13% from 18%,
enrolled more than one million additional primary school students, and
significantly lowered infant mortality. The infamous 49 laws of
November 2001 not only brought forward land reform but also improved
both the fairness and efficiency of the tax system, guaranteed women's
and indigenous people's rights, and introduced free healthcare and
education up to university level.
The new Constitution has, over seven elections between 1998 and 2000,
forced the old oligarchies from political power at most levels of
Venezuelan society. However, in the words of Gregory Wilpert, "the old
elite of the labor unions, the business sector, the church and the
media are still in power." At this institutional level, Chavez has
taken aim at the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV). The CTV,
operated by Carlos Ortega of the rightwing Democratic Action Party, is
a corrupt and reactionary employers' "union" that maintains a list of
"disruptive" workers that it shares with employers. Chavez forced the
CTV to hold new elections for its leadership. The old guard named
itself the winner of the elections but amid an uproar over fraud
refused to hand over the ballots and official results to the
government. As a consequence, the Chavez government refuses to accept
the current union leadership.
Working hand-in-hand with the employer's federation, FEDECAMERAS, the
CTV called a 'strike' to protest Chavez' plans to fight the corruption
and sweetheart-dealing at PDVSA, the national oil company. Chavez was
determined to get control of the state company, which he claimed with
good evidence was "increasingly inefficient, a state within a state,
whose top management is living a life of extreme luxury." He appointed
a new board of directors and it was this action which instigated the
'strike.' The 'strike' appeared to be successful but, as Wilpert noted
at the time, "whether workers actually believe in the strike and
intentionally stay away from work in protest to the government, is
almost impossible to tell, since most businesses were closed by
management." It is worth pointing out that, throughout the 'general
strike' organized by the right wing, smaller businesses and government
services continued to operate as normally as possible.
Towards the end of last week, tensions ratched up by the Chavez-hating
media in Caracas, and with CTV-sponsored street demonstations
disrupting the capital, a confrontation was certain. Throughout April
10th, all the private TV stations broadcast regular ads for a
demonstration the following day at the headquarters of PDVSA. The
demonstration was organized by 'civil society', a front meme for the
institutional elites. Perhaps 200,000 people joined the march next day.
As an eye witness reports,
"[it]was a successful march, peaceful, and without government
interference of any kind, even though the march illegally blocked the
entire freeway, which is Caracas' main artery of transportation, for
The march was then directed to Miraflores, the presidential offices,
where about 5,000 Chavez supporters had gathered. The city police,
under the control of the anti-Chavez mayor, and the
presidentially-controlled National Guard, found themselves between the
two groups. Who knows who shot first? But what is clear is that most of
the dead were Chavez supporters and that eye witness testimony puts
snipers of the Bandera Roja, an extreme right wing party, on the roofs
of surrounding buildings. The deaths of civilians were quickly used as
the excuse the Chamber of Commerce needed to persuade certain members
of the armed forces to overthrow Chavez and the rest is well known.
The deaths of the civilians were also made the centerpiece of the
United States' public reaction to the coup. They were cited as the
prime example of Chavez' refusal to follow democratic norms, thus
making him deserving of overthrow regardless of his democratic
credentials. However, not a single word was said about the forty-plus
deaths of unarmed civilians, killed by police in the repression of
popular outrage after the coup.
This lack of reaction, and the Orwellian language used to describe the
coup as a "return to democracy", are surely enough to show that
democratic principles were never at the heart of U.S. poilicy toward
Venezuela. As John Pilger put it in his eerily-accurate New Statesman
article of March 11th, a month before the coup,
"The crime of Hugo Chavez is that he has set out to keep his electoral
promises, redistributing the wealth of his country and subordinating
the principle of private property to that of the common good."
After the November National Security meetings, the U.S. warned that it
would put Venezuela into "diplomatic isolation," and Colin Powell
arrogantly warned Chavez to "correct his understanding" of democracy.
Even more dangerously, Peter Romero, the State Departrment's Latin
American specialist, publicly accused Venezuela of supporting terrorism
in Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. In today's climate, in the era of the
Bush Doctrine, that is a declaration of war.
All of this should have warned us that a corporate coup would be
welcomed in Washington. It was. It failed through incompetence and
because the democratic integrity of the majority of the armed forces
would not allow the violent repression of popular support for the
deposed president. Now that Chavez is back, and given the history of
recent relations between the two countries, we can be sure that U.S.
destabilization efforts will continue, and the breathing space granted
by the failure of this coup could be fleeting indeed.
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