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Venezuela & Chávez

US Fingerprints on Venezuelan Coup

By Calvin Tucker
April 22, 2002

On Friday 12th of April, only hours after Venezuelan army generals had seized elected President Hugo Chavez and closed down parliament, the White House's official spokesman Ari Fleicher, declared triumphantly; "Now the situation will be one of tranquillity and democracy". But unknown to Fleicher, by the time the Bush regime's official seal of approval was to make it into print, the coup was already being defeated on the streets.

The US has now been forced to admit that a steady stream of business, military, and media leaders had been visiting their embassy in Caracas to discuss a possible coup. However, there is compelling evidence that US complicity went much further than giving a "nod and a wink" to the plotters.

For several months, the coup plotters had been making secret trips to the White House to meet with Elliot Abrams, the head of the National Security Council, and Otto Reich, the key policy maker for Latin America. Both men are veterans of Reagan's "dirty wars" of the Eighties and were linked to the death squads in Central America. Sources from the Organisation of American States confirmed to the Observer (21 April 2002) that, "the coup was discussed in some detail, right down to its timing and chances of success, which were deemed to be excellent."

White House visitors included coup leader Pedro Carmona, who was installed as head of the junta, and General Lucas Romero Rincon, head of the Venezuelan military, who met with Pentagon official Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, a former close associate of the US sponsored Contra forces in Nicaragua. Opposition legislators were also brought to Washington in recent months, including at least one delegation sponsored by the International Republican Institute, an integral part of the National Endowment for Democracy, long used by the CIA for covert operations abroad.

Registered in the USA

At a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on 4th February, right wing Senator Jessie Helms had asked Colin Powell what the US was going to do about the problem of Venezuela. The problem of course being that this South American country, the world's fourth biggest oil producer, was making a bid for independence from the USA. Powell avoided answering Helms' direct question about what the US was going to do and instead accused Venezuela of being an unreliable ally in the war against terrorism. "Chavez turns up in some of the strangest countries; Iraq, Iran, Libya, Cuba," he replied.

Powell omitted to mention that Hugo Chavez, who was elected president in 1998 on a programme of anti-corruption and social justice, was also trying to re-negotiate the 60 year agreement with US and British oil companies which charges them as little as one percent in royalties, and hands out huge tax breaks.

But no wonder Powell was being reticent about US intentions. By the time of the Senate hearing in February, the decision to sponsor the coup had almost certainly already been taken. In early November 2001, the US National Security Agency, the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department held a two-day meeting on U.S. policy toward Venezuela. Similar such meetings took place in 1953, 1963, and 1973, as well as before coups in Guatemala, Brazil and Argentina.

On his release from captivity, Hugo Chavez said a plane with US registration numbers was at an army airstrip on Venezuela's Orchila Island, one of five places he was held during the coup. When asked about this, Ari Fleicher's bizarre response was that he "did not know" whether Washington had provided a plane to fly the Venezuelan President into exile.

After the failure of the coup, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice issued a thinly veiled warning to Chavez on behalf of the "whole world."

"We do hope that Chavez recognises that the whole world is watching and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."

The coup plot clan

Though not directly implicated the coup plot, the British government was quick to shore up support for the short lived military regime. Instead of demanding the release of Chavez and his return to power, the Minister for Latin America, Dennis McShane, engaged in character assassination against the imprisoned leader.

McShane, writing in The Times (Saturday 14 April 2002) when it looked as if the coup had succeeded, described Chavez as "a ranting populist demagogue." McShane had had a meeting with Chavez a few days before the coup.

"He was dressed in a red paratrooper's beret and rugby shirt and waved his arms up and down like Mussolini - an odd, disturbing spectacle", the New Labour Minister said of the elected president and victim of the military coup.

In the crucial 48 hours following the coup, the BBC and the entire mainstream British media helped mobilise world opinion in favour of the junta, by repeating the three big lies of the coup leaders. They reported as fact that Chavez had "resigned," that he was seeking "asylum in Cuba" and that Chavez supporters "had fired on an unarmed crowd." Even the most basic journalistic enquiry would have put a serious question mark over the veracity of these claims.

Calvin Tucker writes on British and international issues for the British magazine "Straight Left" and is a frequent contributor to Internet discussion forums on Jamaica and Cuba.  In November and December 2001 Tucker correctly predicted a coup attempt after becoming  convinced that the United States of America was preparing for a coup against Venezuela's legitimate and democratically-elected President Hugo Chavez Frias

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