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April 12, 2002

Narco News '02

Coup d'etat

in Venezuela

By Pablo Rodriguez

From the daily Pagina 12 of Buenos Aires

Translated by The Narco News Bulletin

Publisher's Note: It is 5 a.m. in our América and the newsroom has not slept, as we have sifted through the reports and propaganda by all sides on the events in Venezuela. Our correspondents have been in direct contact with key sources in Venezuela throughout the day and night. We will continue to monitor the situation and report it to our readers. We begin with a translation of the press account we think is most accurate, from Pablo Rodriguez of the daily newspaper Pagina 12 of Buenos Aires, Argentina, reporting from Caracas, Venezuela.

At 5:23 a.m. the English language email newsletter of reports from Caracas:

"With a South American tropical dawn just hours away, Venezuela has announced a new Military High Command for the transition to a new Presidency of the Republic... at 4:30 a.m. VET they were named as Army C-i-C General Efrain Vasquez Velasco, General Ramirez Poveda, General Alfonso Martinez and General Jesus Pereira."

A subsequent update from Vheadline editor Roy Carson informs that the same business magnate who led the coup has now been installed as unelected "president" of Venezuela:

"Federation of Chambers of Commerce & Industry (Fedecamaras) president Pedro Carmona Estanga has been appointed the interim President of Venezuela."

President Hugo Chavez, elected in 1998 and 2000 by landslide margins, was placed under arrest and his held in a military prison.

He is 47, the same age as Simón Bolívar was at the end of his road.

From a democratically elected government to an unelected military junta and its imposed "president".

These are your U.S. tax dollars at work.

Yesterday was a bloody day in Venezuela. After a march by 50,000 people that resulted in between 10 and 30 deaths and 95 wounded, the military commanders asked President Hugo Chavez to resign, marking the end of the "Bolivarian Revolution."

"The Armed Forces are not for attacking the people. I order all my commanders, who are my strength and the nation to comply with their duty. This is not a Coup D'Etat. It is not insubordination. It is an act of solidarity with the Venezuelan people. Chavez, I was faithful to you until the end. I served you until this afternoon. But the deaths of today cannot be tolerated. I am obligated to make this decision. Generals, comply with your duty. This is an accompaniment to all the Venezuelan people after an excess." While the general comandante of the Army, General Efraín Vásquez, said these words, officials of the Armed Forces and National Guard appeared at dawn on the screen of Radio Caracas Television asking the forces loyal to Chavez not to resist them.

The Interior Minister, Rafael Vargas, said from the presidential palace of Miraflores, where a group of tanks had been placed in a defensive position, that "Chavez is still and always will be in the presidential palace. The conspiracy has failed."

A Coup d'etat, one more for Latin America, was in march and marks the end of the "Bolivarian Revolution" and of its leader, Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez Frias. And later came a day which reminded of the Caracazo of 1989 that left nearly 1,000 deaths (according to extra-official sources): the anti-Chavez demonstration convened by businessmen and union leaders and its subsequent repression left between 10 and 30 dead and 90 wounded.

According to the versions of Chavez supporters, at around 9 p.m. there were still 15,000 to 20,000 people around the Miraflores Palace, the majority of them poor. An hour later, the magnitude of the matter was clear. Congressman Jorge Barreto, of the pro-Chavez Fifth Republic movement, was making declarations on the only TV channel that stayed on the air: Channel 8, the State TV station, that during the entire afternoon had broadcast from the palace. Suddenly, the image disappeared from the airwaves, and it was known that a group from the Army had ordered the total evacuation of the studios. At this hour, various commanders of the National Guard (the fourth branch of the military) resigned their posts and pleaded publicly with Chavez, through private channels, to resign to avoid a "bloodbath."

A Violent Day

Latin America well knows what began to happen last night. And Venezuela, in particular, knows what happened in the afternoon: The Caracazo, that revolt that ended in 1,000 deaths (unofficial sources), happened almost 13 years ago, and Vasquez's words alluded to that. Yesterday, the country, above all the capitol, lived a repetition of history. If in 1989 the poor came down from the hills and filled the streets to reject an economic adjustment package by then president Carlos Andres Perez, yesterday was a curious alliance between the business class and unions that filled the center of Caracas asking for the resignation of the principle emergent leader of Venezuela post-Caracazo, President Hugo Chavez Frias, leader of the "Bolivarian Revolution," in the middle of a strike that had lasted three days. According to unofficial sources, there were between 10 and 30 deaths in the confrontations between demonstrators, security forces and the "Boliviarian Defense Committees" near the Miraflores Palace.

In the morning, emboldened by the notable success of the call for a strike that began in the principal business of the country, Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA), the president of the national Chamber of Commerce, Pedro Carmona Estanga, and the leader of the powerful Venezuela Workers Federation (CTV), Carlos Ortega, called for marches in the streets to demand the resignation of Chavez. "I ask for Chavez's resignation and I don't rule out that this human river will head to Miraflores," Carmona declared before the march reached the Presidential Palace. The "human river" numbered some 50,000 persons, who came from the comfortable neighborhoods of the city, to which hundreds more joined. It was at this moment that rumors of every kind circulated: That Chavez was already under arrests in Tiuna Fortress, the principal military prison in Caracas; that a group of military officers already forced him to resign; that he had sent his defense minister, Jose Vicente Rangel, to speak with the media because he was already no longer in control.

In the afternoon, when the march headed toward Miraflores, Chavez made his show of force. First, the high military command met in front of the cameras in the Defense Ministry offices to signal that they supported the government. Minutes later, Chavez, who had disappeared mysteriously in the past three days, gave a speech to the nation, with a painting of Simon Bolivar behind him, the Venezuelan flag to his right and in his hand the Bolivarian constitution that he got approved two years go, when he was indisputably a popular leader. The Venezuelan president turned all his fury toward the media: "They are instigating a conspiracy. They want to create the impression that Venezuela is ungovernable." With respect to (union leader) Ortega and (business leader) Carmona he said that, together with the media, "they are involved in an insurrectional plan that is risky because it is not going to succeed," and ordered the immediate suspension of the frequencies of almost all the private television chains, citing the broadcasting laws, from the times of the Caracazo, that prohibit the transmission of violent acts. One of the TV channels had printed, over the images of the streets, the slogan "NOT ONE STEP BACK." It was a war that the government and the media had fought for days, on the occasion of the strike in the petroleum company over the decision by Chavez to replace its board of directors.

At that point, the streets near Miraflores were in chaos. While Chavez spoke inside the palace, outside the demonstration marched closer. The president had deployed some 1,000 soldiers to guard the palace. In addition to the National Guard and the police, the "Bolivarian Committees" had placed themselves outside the palace. The demonstration could not get more than a couple blocks from Miraflores. "I call upon the people to not fall into provocations," the president said. But the gunshots, rock throwing and tear gas began to dominate the stage.

At this moment, almost all the television media stopped broadcasting in Venezuela, and their images were only seen outside of the country. Sources close to Chavez say that a number of the deaths were among sympathizers of the president and explained that the metropolitan police had shot against the multitute that surrounded the Miraflores Palace. Among the dead, the driver for Vice President Diosdado Cabello, shot in the face.

The day before yesterday, while the general strike was continued for an undetermined length of time, a general, active and with his own gun, Nestor Gonzales, accused Chavez of being a "traitor" by permitting the FARC to operate in Venezuela. A large sector of the leadership of the National Guard criticized the government for the "partisan manner" in which it repressed the demonstrators with respect to Chavez supporters, and General Alberto Camacho resigned his post as vice minister of Citizen Security and called for "a provisional junta." This accumulation of "desertions" was finalized at night with the declaration by General Vasquez.


"Chavez is a legitimate president. If they want Chavez to go, there are many constitutional mechanisms, among them referendum and electoral recall. Let them try that. Democracy is measured by votes and not by people in the streets," Eliado Hernandez, director of the Political Studies Institute at the Central University of Venezuela, told Pagina 12. "We are witnessing self-coup by Chavez. He has blood on his hands and he wants to buy time with a self-coup," the political scientist Anibal Romero said to this newspaper. The self-coup, however, did not arrive. It seems more like a dry coup after a day with echoes of the Caracazo. It was precisely Chavez who in 1992 tried to bring about a coup d'etat against the political cupola that maintained itself against the winds and the tides. It was precisely Chavez who won popularity with his intended coup. And it was precisely Chavez who, in early February, confronted a crisis when for retired military officers criticized him publicly for his "authoritarianism."

According to political analyst Juan Vicente Gomez Gomez, "the fate of the government depends on what the Army does, since the National Guard has already joined the counter-revolution and the Air Force is remaining for the night at the Carlota air base, near Caracas. The Navy doesn't have much influence in this context. About the motives that provoked the fall of Chavez, Gomez Gomez said that "the great problem for this government was a lack of political communication. The entire media is against the President." In addition, the analyst said that there is a plot similar to that which defeated Salvador Allende in Chile and it was activated when, a few days ago, the new US Ambassador to Venezuela, by the name of Shapiro, took office. According to Gomez Gomez, he was "involved in the dirty war of Central America."

Luis Miquilena, ex Interior Minister of Venezuela and ex mentor of Chavez, yesterday called to "find institutional paths" to lead Venezuela "to a new age of transition" in the face of the grave crisis it confronts. Miguilena, who once was the most clear and convincing supporter of Chavez, declared that "the chief of state is the person most responsible for what has happened and nobody can save him from this responsibility."

"The fall of Chavez, disgracefully, will be violent. Today the firearms spoke. There are dead and wounded. The mask of the dictatorship was removed, but Chavez is going to jail," declared the ex president - the same one against whom the Caracazo was led - Carlos Andres Perez. Perez said that the solution to the Venezuelan crisis will not happen "in a day," because Chavez "destroyed the institutions and divided the country between rich and poor."

"The international community already knew who Chavez was, but the closing of the TV stations and the attacks against the demonstrators helped them to know him better," said the ex president.

Hugo Chavez Frias was once a hurricane. He had massive support: He won 60 percent of the vote. But now, for the first time, the mass was against him; a demonstration that began in the most luxurious zones of Caracas but, in the end, extended to a large part of the city: a Coup d'etat.

"Once before, the poor came down from the hills," Chavez said in reference to the Caracazo of 1989. "Now they will come down again, and because they come to dream, to pray, this will not be stopped." It seems that is the only option left for Chavez: to pray and hope that they come down from the hills.

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