There are signs in Venezuela that the crisis is far from over. The immediate confrontation will take place both in Congress -- where Chavez's foes will try to overturn his progressive economic reforms -- and in the streets during a May 1st demonstration called by the anti-Chavez opposition led by big business and their crony corrupt unions. It seems certain that the same oligarchic powers will try to complete what they failed to do two weeks ago.
The main participants in the drama of 11-A are already in denial, preparing for the future. An AP despatch says
: "Army officers brought to court for their role in the coup against President Hugo Chavez called the decision a humanitarian act to prevent the slaughter of civilians by soldiers acting on Chavez's orders." Gen. Efrain Vasquez Velasco, the army's former second-in-command, "acted out of respect for human rights, respect for the law,'' said Vasquez's lawyer, Rene Buroz. Army Gen. Nestor Gonzalez has defended the coup as "a humanitarian act meant to avoid having the army attack the people and produce a massacre.''
Pedro Carmona, the interim "President" now under house arrest, like his American masters denies there even was a coup
. He prefers to call it a "vacuum of power." He and his people "will continue the struggle,'' he says. In another interview with the Miami Herald
at the end of last week, given while serving house arrest in his apartment in the wealthy gated complex of La Arbolada suburb, Carmona denied ever plotting to oust Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, saying he never suggested the idea to U.S. officials in Washington or Caracas. ''I was not involved in any conspiracy,'' Carmona said. "I cannot accept any conjecture or soap operas. I categorically deny it.'' He accepts that he was at two U.S. Embassy meetings where the coup was discussed, but claims he never mentioned the coup. "There was no premeditation, no conspiracy," he tells the Guardian
Carmona's assertions make no sense when tracked with his known meetings with U.S. officials where, it has already been admitted, details of the coup were discussed. Organization of American States officials, for example, have told British media
that legendary Latin American coupmaster and Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich had "a number of meetings with Carmona and other leaders of the coup" over several months. "The coup was discussed in some detail," the paper claims. "right down to its timing and chances of success, which were deemed to be excellent." Reich readily concedes that the U.S. encouraged the demonstrations that led to the coup,
"There's no secret that President Chavez has had a rule that has been controversial and was not met with widespread popular support within Venezuela or among his neighbors and certainly in the United States with President Bush," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. He denied, once again though, that the United States had any active dealings with the coup. However, the known involvement of U.S. personnel in the coup is growing daily. Already by last Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas was obliged to admit
that the Military Attache met with the coup plotters just hours before they overthrew the legally instituted government. The claim at that time was that the attaches had heard of unusual troop movements at Fort Tiuna and went to the fort to find out what was going on but "they never left the car and there was no contact whatsoever," the Embassy spokesman said.
However, a military source in Venezuela said earlier that US army Lt-Col James Rodgers, an aide to the US military attache, was present at Fort Tiuna in Caracas from before Chavez was taken there after the coup until the self-proclaimed provisional government fell apart. Some Venezuelan military officers saw his presence as a green light from Washington to unseat Chavez. "They were assured that the movement had the full support of the US and that was why they participated."
Venezuelan charge d'affaires in Washington, Luis Herrera Marcano
, wrote in the Ultimas Noticias
newspaper on Sunday that "on the morning of April 12 after Chavez's fall but before Carmona was sworn in the embassy had a call from Phillip Chicola, the state department's point man on Venezuela, saying that Washington 'understands and sympathises' with changes in the country." Marcano wrote that Chicola told him that Washington believed it was necessary for the national assembly to ratify Chavez's resignation and for the Venezuelan supreme court to give "its stamp of approval". This was hand-holding of a very intimate nature, and the fact that the plotters decided not to take advice does not take away from the fact that coup advice was given in the first place.
Larry Birns, director of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs opined that "there isn't a single political person in Latin America who does not believe that the CIA was involved in some form, and in the same way, as it was in Chile. Those responsible for Latin America in the state department are the most extremist, off-the-wall team - seven out of the top 12 officials in the Latin-American department are Cuban-Americans." Otto Reich, for instance
In January this year, in a recess appointment that saved the appointee from Congressional scrutiny, and against the advice of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bush appointed Reich to the State Department. Reich is a man with "a shabby record of covert meddling in Latin American politics." Previously US ambassador to Venezuela, he is now the Assistant Secretary at the State Department for the Western Hemisphere and as such "calls the shots for the US - almost literally - in Latin America." Of similar background is the Pentagon's point man with responsibility for Latin America, Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, now deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, who was Washington aide to the head of the Contra terrorists when they were waging their US-backed war against the elected government in Nicaragua. And rumours have it that, even more so than Otto Reich, the crucial figure in the coup was convicted Iran-Contragate felon Eliot Abrams, who, having been pardoned by Bush senior, works in the Bush junior White House as senior director of the National Security Council for 'democracy, human rights and international operations'.
Bush made all these appointments under heavy pressure from the powerful Cuban lobby in Florida, where his brother, Jeb, is seeking re-election. However, it is reasonable to assume that Bush's own proclivities allowed him to welcome and encourage these assignments. It is also reasonable to assume given their backgrounds that these parties will be only too happy to further the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld imperial oil-based strategy that will involve maintaining control over Venezuela's vital oil exports to the U.S.
Did the U.S. supply physical assets for the coup? I have no idea, but stories abound. According to NarcoNews
: "the CIA headquarters for organizing, distributing said cash, and engineering the attempted coup d'etat, was the office known as the MIL GROUP. That's the name by which the US Military Liason staff in Embassies - "usually a repository for fixers and grafters pitching Department of Defense sponsored weapons sales to third world satrapies," as one source colorfully explained to Narco News - had, according to another well-placed source, greatly increased its staff size in the weeks prior to the attempted coup. We presume the increase in personnel - or individuals posing as personnel at the MIL GROUP - was not due to a sudden desire by Washington to sell more arms to the Chavez government." More, if one is to believe the information supplied by Richard Bennett and Wayne Madsen
, the full panoply of United States' power in Colombia and the Caribbean was brought to bear in support of the Chamber of Commerce's coup d'etat.
I have no way of knowing whether the details given are correct, but the evidence is building for a U.S. involvement that was a lot more than nods and winks. "This was a coup d'etat that had been planned for quite a long time," says Edgardo Lander, a professor of sociology at the Central University of Venezuela. "Each of the main participants had visited the US state department very publicly in the preceding months to get approval." Yesterday, the Pentagon seemed to indicate that the public evidence for U.S. participation was so strong that they were obliged to acknowledge it
at least. "We are informally gathering details of what occurred in Venezuela," said a Pentagon official. "The facts are clear, but events on the ground occurred very rapidly so we want to make sure we have all the details. All the information we have at this time confirms that [Department of Defense] personnel engaged with Venezuela issues acted in a highly professional and proper manner," the official said. "There is no indication or suggestion that DOD personnel aided or encouraged improper extra-constitutional or unlawful actions in Venezuela."
The internal inquiry is being headed by Pardo-Maurer, one of the key revanchists
. It seems unlikely, therefore, that this "inquiry" will bring out any truths that are uncomfortable for the Administration. The Bush Administration could be trying to set up a defence that will blame certain "rogue" U.S. military personnel for minimal involvement. They'll claim they knew nothing of this. Regardless, says Julia Sweig, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., "This has hurt the U.S., which is now perceived as supporting democracy only when we like the person in power."
The American case is not strengthened by the appearance in Miami of several coup leaders
. They include Isaac Pérez Recao, 32, a reputed arms-dealer and heir to a Venezuelan oil fortune. With his private armed militia, Pérez Recao played a highly visible role in the coup, according to reports in Caracas. He and his brother and business partner, Vicente Pérez Recao, were seen later in Miami, where they own properties. It seems doubtful the Bush Administration would extradite them back to Venezuela to face charges.
In Venezuela itself, the stories of American involvement are of interest, but less so than trying to get to the bottom of the events that shaped the coup. There are widespread calls for a Truth Commission or at least an inquiry into the shootings at the Miraflores that are claimed to have precipitated the military intervention.
Time Magazine, much of the rest of American mass media, and the American Administration continue to peddle the "Chávez-funded militiamen opened fire on 300,000 protesters" line without any evidence other than that of the coup-tainted generals themselves, and there is no concerted call to investigate the 90-odd deaths that occured after Chavez was overthrown. Eye-witnesses to the events of April 11th have reported right-wing snipers on high buildings and amateur videos show gunmen not bothering to hide their appearance and casually firing from roof-tops. Chavez's chief ideologue — Guillermo Garcia Ponce, whose official title is director of the Revolutionary Political Command — claims the opposition hired sharpshooters to fire on the anti-Chavez demonstrators. "The people planning it placed sharpshooters at strategic points to open fire on pro-Chavez and anti-Chavez marches,'' Garcia Ponce said. "It was a provocation, part of the coup, to create this massacre to justify the coup.''
A poll published last Friday in the El Universel
newspaper suggested Caracas residents believe they'll never know who was responsible even though seven teams from the attorney general's office and a metropolitan police homicide squad are investigating the violence.
that "Chavez's supporters and many opponents have agreed on talk shows that such a panel should uncover who and what sparked shootings during the massive opposition rally April 11 and the violence that accompanied Chavez's restoration." Rafael Simon Jimenez, a pro-Chávez member of the small Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, told reporters
the National Assembly was also ready to set up a so-called "Truth Commission". However, as Jose Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, points out: "It's important that [such a Commission] be perceived from the beginning as an extra-judicial effort, that its people are independent of politics, and it have enough political and financial support for its mission." The question will be, can both sides agree to these terms?
The Truth Commission, if it can be established, will form part of the reconciliation process that most believe to be necessary for the future stability of the country. "Let us hope that all the events that happened lead to the reconciliation and reunification of Venezuelans," Chavez told the nation after his restoration. As an earnest of future intentions, Chavez new appointee, Ali Rodriguez, the former secretary-general of OPEC and now head of Venezuela's state-owned oil monopoly, appointed a new company board
on Monday that he hopes will placate dissident executives. Rodriguez stressed there should be no retaliation against those who rebelled against Chavez's original board appointments.
But there are serious signs that the opposition will not be satisfied. "We still consider this to be an illegitimate government,'' said Rear Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo as he was whisked away by military police from the court where he faces charges of rebellion for his part in the coup. "The armed forces are very beaten down and divided.'' On a New York Times online forum
, one oponent of Chavez wrote, after the coup failed: "'We would like to appeal to the international community in this darkest of moments for the people of this country. Hugo Chávez, the cold-blooded assassin and thief who is today dictator of this country, cannot be internationally recognized as President of this country." Again, from her bougainvillea-covered terrace in the plush Bello Monte neighbourhood, far away from the world of real people in Caracas and the countryside -- in a country with one of the widest income disparities in the world, a gap that Chavez threatens to close -- there is precious little social mixing between the 80% of the population that live in poverty and the wealthy elite, a lawyer tells the BBC:
"I watched [Chavez' restoration] with horror ... He is a communist and he's a disaster for Venezuela."
"We are looking ... (at) an abyss between two Venezuelas, where it will always be difficult, if not impossible, for there to exist a spirit of reconciliation and understanding," said Catholic Archbishop Baltazar Porras.
Carlos Ortega, the corrupt pro-business head of Venezuela's largest labour federation, warned
that there would be civil war if Chavez does not make better efforts to accommodate the views of the opposition. Another anti-Chavez union leader, the equally corrupt Manuel Cova
, demanded a complete change of Cabinet. "One of the things President Chávez has to sort out for the nation to really believe he is sincere in his call for dialogue and national unity is that he must dismantle most, if not all, of his Cabinet." Cova, secretary-general of Venezuela's largest union group, CTV, said the president's current Cabinet consisted of hardline pro-Chávez ministers who had a confrontational attitude toward the domestic opposition. "If he's talking of dialogue then it's a different picture. This cabinet is no good to him," Cova told local Union Radio. "Another diehard foe of Chávez, Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena, called on him to form a new "national salvation" Cabinet
No doubt Ortega, Cova and their oligarchic compadres would like a return to the "good old days" during which Venezuela was dominated by two political parties, Democratic Action and COPA, widely acknowledged as "cesspools of corruption favouring the elite". This does not bode well for a peaceful future. As Chavez has said of Carmona
: "Everything they have accused me of ... not that I would ever do it ... he decreed within four, five hours!" Chavez said of Carmona. "Imagine what he would have had coming! Tyranny!"
They couldn't beat Chavez in the election of 1998. They couldn't beat Chavez in the election 2000. They couldn't beat Chavez in the U.S.-supported coup of April 11th. Now, the oligarchs and the corrupt "union" bosses, the Venezuelan elite, are telling Chavez he should change all of his Cabinet and all of his policies in order to be "conciliatory." In other words, "we haven't been able to beat you constitutionally OR extra-constitutionally, so please just give in anyway."
Shouldn't it be these three-time losers
who should change their policies to better reflect the reality of what the Venezuelans want -- as shown by two crushing elections defeats and a business-led military intervention that the people of Venezuela rejected wholeheartedly?