12. Bush Administration Behind Failed Military Coup in Venezuela

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:


April 22, 2002
Title: “The Coup”
Author: Duncan Campbell
May 13, 2002
Title: “OPEC Chief Warned Chavez about Coup”
Author: Greg Palast

Title: “Venezuela: Bush Administration Behind Failed Coup”
Author: Joe Taglieri

Title: “Coup-making in Venezuela: the Bush and Oil factors”
Author: Karen Talbot

Title: “Venezuela: The Revolution will not be Televised”
Author: Jon Beasley-Murray

Evaluators: Carol Tremmel M.A., Robert Manning, Andrew Botterell Ph.D.,
Tamara Falicov M.A., Sally Hurtado Ph.D., Elizabeth Martinez Ph.D.
Student Researchers: David Immel, Licia Marshall, Scott Frazier, Effren Trejo, Sherry Grant, Josh Sisco

The April 11, 2002 military coup in Venezuela was supported by the United States government. As early as last June, American military attaches had been in touch with members of the Venezuelan military to examine the possibility of a coup. During the coup, U.S military were stationed at the Colombia-Venezuela border to provide support, and to evacuate U.S. citizens if there were problems. According to intelligence analyst, Wayne Madsen, the CIA actively organized the coup. “The CIA provided Special Operations Group personnel, headed by a lieutenant colonel on loan from the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to help organize the coup against Chavez,” he said.

Since his 1998 election, President Hugo Chavez has increasingly socialized the Venezuelan government. One of his most controversial moves was to nationalize Venezuela’s oil company PDVSA. Venezuela is the fourth largest oil-producing nation, and the third largest oil provider to the U.S. As the leader of OPEC, Chavez has encouraged lowering oil production to raise prices. He also changed a 60 year-old agreement with oil companies that raised royalties for Venezuela.

Chavez has irritated the U.S. in many ways. He changed the Venezuelan Constitution in 1999, granting more land rights to the poor, who make up over half of the 24 million people in Venezuela. Chavez refused to allow U.S. planes to fly over Venezuela during their military activities in Colombia. President Chavez was also the first head of state to visit Saddam Hussein in Iraq since the embargoes in 1990.

Because of the close relationship that many of Venezuela’s wealthy have with the United States, the coup took place with little opposition from Venezuela’s long-established business and political community. The Bush administration was quick to endorse the change in government, which put Pedro Carmona, a wealthy businessman and former business associate of George Bush Sr., into office. Carmona’s first move as president was to “dissolve the Constitution, national legislature, Supreme Court, attorney general’s office, and comptroller’s office.”

In the United States, corporate press covered the coup from a sympathetic anti- Chavez perspective. The April 11th killing of 17 anti-Chavez protesters by snipers was pointed to as justification for Chavez’s removal. Yet the two following days, which resulted in the killing of as many as 40 pro-Chavez protesters, the deaths were hardly mentioned.

Television stations in Venezuela refused to cover the anti-coup protests, choosing instead to run their regular program schedule. Five out of the six major networks are owned by a single owner, who supported U.S. involvement in Venezuela. CIA Special Operations psychological warfare (PSYOPs) produced television announcements, purportedly by Venezuelan political and business leaders, saying Chavez ‘provoked’ the crisis by ordering his supporters to fire on peaceful protestors in Caracas.”

Despite the distorted media coverage in Venezuela, a huge anti-coup civil protest involving hundreds of thousands of people began. Several branches of the Venezuelan military join the anti-coup forces. The streets of Caracas were flooded with protestors and soldiers vehemently chanting anti-Carmona slogans. Within two days Carmona stepped down and Chavez returned to power.

UPDATE BY DUNCAN CAMPBELL: The conflict in Venezuela is still unresolved, but there are currently tentative agreements to move towards a referendum on the rule of Hugo Chavez. November 2003 has been suggested as a date, but this is not confirmed and much may happen in between. Chavez has introduced new plans to punish the press and media for stirring up the opposition and encouraging what he sees as treason. The opposition see this as state censorship. Chavez supporters say that this is the fault of the media for inflaming the people with inaccurate information. But journalists and human rights groups have condemned these moves. Pedro Carmona left the country and went into exile. Other ex-military figures who led the opposition have also gone into exile. The U.S. has distanced itself from tacitly supporting the coup although the ambassador Charles Shapiro got into trouble in May, when a guest at a U.S. embassy party gave an anti-Chavez puppet show. The predicted bloodbath has not at this moment happened, thankfully. There is weariness on both sides with the future uncertain.

Chavez weathered the storm and proved more resilient than his opponents anticipated and the oil industry, although damaged, started to function again. The lesson seems to be that the country was not prepared to accept a coup and that the plotters miscalculated the national and international mood. There was strong opposition to the coup from the Organization of American States, which the U.S. followed after its early diplomatic mis-step. Otto Reich has been demoted and given another minor post after it became clear that the senate would never authorize his appointment. He has been the one big loser in the affair so far. (See Chapter 2 Story # 11)

UPDATE BY JOE TAGLIERI: From what I’ve seen of the mainstream American press’ political coverage of South and Central America over the years, way too often it’s hook-line-and-sinker, Washington’s official line style reporting.

As Narco News’ Al Giordano quips, the mainstream’s “horsemen of simulation” journalism present a skewed, Swiss cheese-like, sometimes flat out dishonest portrait of the shenanigans the U.S. government has perpetrated south of the border throughout the last century. From Teddy Roosevelt’s “gunboat diplomacy,” to Guatemala in 1954, to Chile’s Allende in ‘73, to ‘80s Contra cocaine, and on through to today’s “Plan Colombia/Andean Initiative,” Uncle Sam has had lots to say about what goes down in “his hemisphere.”

The botched coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias in April 2002 and an attempted general strike organized late last year by the same coup plotters seemingly come straight out of State Department lifer Otto Reich’s ‘Latin American Chaos’ playbook.

It was unfortunate, though not surprising given its track record, to see much of the U.S. press dutifully relaying Otto and his ilks’ anti-Chavez propaganda all over the globe. So as far as a mainstream response to my little story, I haven’t heard a peep from anyone.

Fortunately for Chavez and his poor majority, good press from America doesn’t seem all that necessary. The former paratrooper seems to have some kind of guardian angel keeping him up there in Miraflores Palace. Time and time again he has emerged victorious despite the half-baked efforts at opposition by Venezuela’s industrial and media oligarchs and their “consultants” from U.S. intelligence.

The bottom line fact is Chavez is still the president because the 80 percent poor majority wants it that way, period. The nation’s vastly outnumbered rich kids and tired American spooks like Otto Reich don’t seem to have the juice to displace someone with Chavez’s kind of energy and overwhelming popular support.

Bear in mind, however, that at the rate the U.S. war machine is moving, “intervention” in a future Venezuelan “crisis,” like maybe another coup against Chavez, is definitely not a far-fetched notion.

Another important bottom line to always keep in mind when discussing Venezuela is that black lifeblood of the modern world – oil. Chavez is at the helm of a nation that is one of America’s top suppliers. So, similar to relations with the Middle East, the U.S. government and its Big Oil sponsors have a serious economic stake in Venezuelan politics.

The “sp-oil-s” of President Dubya’s conquest of Iraq, which along with Iran and Saudi Arabia holds the bulk of Earth’s remaining usable oil reserves, may take some of the heat off Chavez for now, but only time will reveal the answer to that kind of speculation game.

Right now, those interested in keeping up with what’s happening in Venezuela should check these websites:

The Narco News Bulletin