Chavez Dupes U.S.-backed
Coup -- Democratically Elected Leader Unfriendly to U.S.
Foreign Policy Regains Power After Two Days Under Military
by Joe Taglieri, FTW staff
6, 2002, (FTW) -- President Hugo Chavez is once
again at the helm of the Venezuelan government. He returned
to power just two days
after he was arrested April 12 in the wake of a coup d’etat
organized and perpetrated by political and military opponents.
The apparent coup leader, Pedro Carmona, held the office
for less than 48 hours. It has been widely reported the
military provided support to anti-Chavez factions during
the coup, and State Department and other U.S.
officials met with coup organizers in the months and weeks
leading to Chavez’s ouster.
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," wrote
the Guardian newspaper on April 29. Quoting Wayne Madsen,
a former Naval and National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence
officer who is now an investigative journalist,
the paper reported U.S. Navy ships provided signals intelligence
and communications jamming
support to the Venezuelan military as the coup against Chavez
"The NSA supported the coup using
personnel attached to the U.S. Southern Command's Joint
Interagency Task Force East (JIATF-E) in Key
wrote Madsen and Richard M. Bennett on the Intel Briefing
website. "NSA's Spanish-language linguists and signals
interception operators in Key West; Sabana Seca on Puerto
Rico and the Regional Security Operating Center (RSOC) in
Medina, Texas also assisted in providing communications
intelligence to U.S. military and national command authorities
on the progress of the coup d'etat.
"From eastern Colombia, CIA and U.S. contract military
personnel, ostensibly used for counter-narcotics operations,
stood by to provide logistics support for the leading members
of the coup. Their activities were centered at the Marandua
airfield and along the border with Venezuela.
Patrol aircraft operating from the U.S. Forward Operating
Location (FOL) in Manta,
also provided intelligence support for the military move
against Chavez. Additional USN vessels on a training
exercise in the Outer Range of the U.S. Navy's Southern
Puerto Rican Operating Area also stood by in the event the
coup against Chavez faltered, thus requiring a military
evacuation of U.S. citizens in Venezuela. The ships included
the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and the destroyers USS
Barry, Laboon, Mahan, and Arthur W. Radford. Some of the latter
vessels reportedly had NSA Direct Support Units aboard
to provide additional signals intelligence support to U.S.
Special Operations and intelligence personnel deployed on
the ground in close co-operation with the Venezuelan Army and
along the Colombian side of the border."
On how he learned of these U.S. coup connections,
the intelligence analyst told FTW via e-mail, "It happened
by circumstance that I was in attendance at a military banquet
in Tysons Corner, near CIA HQ the night the coup took place,
and I merely blended in with some of the active and retired
contractor officers who were talking freely about what was
occurring." Madsen also has a number of other sources,
Chavez has been a thorn in the side of
the Bush Administration since he was first elected. Inspired
by Latin American populist hero, Simon Bolivar, Chavez won
landslide elections in 1998 and 2000 on a platform of social
and economic reform. And in addition to his tenacious anti-poverty
stance, Chavez has time and again thumbed his nose at U.S.
foreign policy. In his drive to maintain independence, he
has established friendly relations with a number of countries
who have opposed U.S.
interests, including Cuba,
Contrary to rhetoric out of Washington,
Chavez has never been linked to any terrorist operations
Rather, observers say his alliances are
driven by the need for allies in his determined attempts
to prevent American corporate interests from determining
Venezuelan policies. Chavez’s steadfast goal has been to
walk a truly independent path and make Venezuelan independence
a reality, along with higher standards of living for his
people. If successful, say Chavez advocates, he would threaten
economic control all throughout South America
and might prompt other nations to follow suit. It is for
this reason primarily that U.S.
economic interests wish to see him fail.
It is also important to factor into the
political equation leading to April’s coup attempt Chavez’s
stubborn defiance of U.S.
objectives in neighboring
against the leftist guerillas known as the FARC (Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia). Chavez has consistently refused
to allow U.S.
military flights destined from Colombia
to fly through Venezuelan airspace. This has been problematic
since the closest U.S.
bases are in Puerto Rico, and Venezuela
is in between the two.
To add insult to injury,
under Chavez is also a stringent member of OPEC. Chavez
even came out against the U.S.
military action in Afghanistan,
chiding the U.S.
not to "fight terrorism with terrorism."
Another curious Washington
player involved in the goings-on in Venezuela
is Otto Reich, who President Bush appointed U.S.
assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere
affairs last year. Reich, a former ambassador to Venezuela
under President Reagan, has an interesting, spooky past
-- especially in Latin America. He
was a big part of the Reagan-Bush era drugs for weapons,
etc. operations. Reich was implicated as a disinformation
hack in the Iran-contra scandal and was removed from Reagan’s
White House staff.
Reich’s appointment was criticized by Democratic
Senators John Kerry of
and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut,
members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The
senators’ "concerns over Reich focus on his leadership
of the State Department’s one-time Office of Public Diplomacy
for Latin America and the Caribbean,"
reported the Associated Press March
9, 2001. "The office -- which Reich led
from its inception in June 1983 until January 1986 -- was
accused of running an illegal, covert domestic propaganda
effort against Nicaragua’s
leftist Sandinista government and in favor of the Contra
"The issue is not his conservative
politics," Kerry told the AP. "It was his central
part in ‘deeply divisive’ policies and the domestic propaganda
his office allegedly generated to support the Reagan administration’s
Central American policies in the 1980s."
Reich has denied wrongdoing related to
his Iran-contra activities.
Now leading the State Department’s present
Latin America crew, Reich is reported
to have been in contact by telephone with Venezuela’s
president-for-a-day, Carmona, while the coup was happening
on April 11 and 12. It has also been widely reported Carmona
and other coup conspirators met repeatedly with Reich and
officials in Caracas, Venezuela’s
capital, in the months and weeks prior to Chavez’s arrest.
Salon magazine reported in a meeting with
senior Latin American diplomats in Washington
on April 12, Reich "was in possession of suspiciously
precise details about the circumstances of Chavez's removal.
Some attendees believed Reich must have been in contact
with conspirators because his ‘tortured’ justifications
for the overthrow ‘could only have been rationalized by
the coup plotters themselves.’"
White House spokesman Ari Fleisher acknowledged
the meetings between U.S.
officials and coup conspirators, but firmly dismissed any
notion that the U.S.
would support a coup. Fleisher characterized the conversations
that took place between coup conspirators and "State
Department and National Security Council" officials
SHAPIRO "ALL SMILES"
The Guardian reported April 29, "In
Caracas, a congressman has accused the U.S. ambassador to
Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, and two U.S. embassy military
attaches of involvement in the coup. Roger Rondon claimed
that the military officers, whom he
named as (James) Rogers and (Ronald) MacCammon, had been
at the Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters with the coup
leaders during the night of April 11-12.
"And referring to Shapiro, Rondon
said he and others saw the ambassador leaving Miraflores
palace, ‘all smiles and embraces, with the dictator Pedro
Carmona…[His] satisfaction was obvious. Shapiro's participation
in the coup d'état in Venezuela
INTEL ORGANIZED COUP FOR MONTHS
But despite no crystal clear, undeniably
declassified "smoking gun" linking American political
players to the coup, still, there are many questions as
to just how deeply Washington
In November after Chavez’s "fighting
terrorism with terrorism" comment, the NSA, Pentagon,
and State Department held meetings to discuss various U.S.
gripes with Chavez in the foreign policy arena. Secretary
of State Colin Powell subsequently spoke out against Chavez,
as did CIA director George Tenet in congressional testimony.
Madsen and Bennett report the CIA actively
organized a coup against Chavez. "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. They had been in the country since the summer
of 2001 and consisting of U.S. Special Operations Intelligence
Support Activity (ISA) personnel. The group reportedly made
contact with senior, pro-U.S. military officers, including
armed forces chief Gen. Lucas Rincon, Deputy Security Minister
Gen. Luis Camacho Kairuz, and business and union leaders,
especially those with the state-owned oil company, PDVSA,
and the Venezuelan Workers' Confederation (CTV). Last summer,
the CIA lieutenant colonel began meeting with corporate
and labor leaders at the PDVSA refinery in Maracaibo
to lay plans for the coup against Chavez. One of those recruited
early on by the CIA was the new interim Venezuelan president,
Pedro Carmona, the head of the Fedecamaras business syndicate.
"The coup was also supported by Special Operations
psychological warfare (PSYOPs) personnel deployed from Fort
Bragg, North Carolina.
They put together Spanish-language television announcements,
purportedly from Venezuelan political and business leaders
and aired by Venezuelan television and radio stations, saying
Chavez ‘provoked’ the crisis by ordering his supporters
to fire on peaceful protestors in Caracas. U.S.
electronic warfare technicians also helped to jam
cell phone and radio frequencies in Caracas
and other major cities
in co-operation with the intelligence battalion…of the Venezuelan
Army High Command."
Some point to more circumstantial events,
which nonetheless suggest U.S.
complicity in the coup. For example, the White House and
State Department’s 180-degree flip-flop on the attempted
coup indicated for many a tacit endorsement of Carmona’s
camp. The Bush Administration first seemed to embrace the
Carmona government and didn’t condemn the coup until after
it was apparent Chavez would return to power. At that point
on the night of April 13, the U.S.
officially jumped on the
anti-Chavez Organization of American States (OAS) bandwagon,
condemning the coup. The OAS’s condemnation was preceded
by denouncements from the presidents of 19 Latin American
nations, as well as other governments around the world.
HOW IT HAPPENED, WHAT’S TO COME
Early Sunday morning, April 14, President
Hugo Chavez stepped off a helicopter that had just
landed at Venezuela’s
presidential palace, Miraflores. The Associated Press reported
he was greeted by hundreds of well-wishers, in addition
to a crowd of thousands cheering and singing the country’s
national anthem upon catching sight of their returning president.
"I do not come with hate or rancor
in my heart, but we must make decisions and adjust
things," Chavez said moments after stepping off the
helicopter, flown by members of his former Venezuelan military
division, the 42nd Army Paratrooper Brigade.
The paratroopers reportedly turned the
tide in favor of the deposed Chavez. Gen. Raul Baduel received
a call at the division’s base in Maracay
from Chavez, who was then in the custody of the rebellious
generals who arrested him and took him to an island off
the coast of Venezuela,
called La Orchila. "The president never suggested he
had resigned," Baduel told the AP. "He told me,
‘Brother, I'm not just
ordering you, I'm begging you, don't get involved in the
But Baduel and his fellow paratroopers
felt it was their duty to restore constitutional order to
the country, so they moved to reinstate their deposed president.
And they had even stronger grounds to do so thanks to Carmona’s
first act as interim president -- to dissolve Venezuela’s
constitution, national legislature, supreme court, attorney
general’s office, and comptroller’s office, ceding all functions
of those government bodies to his cabinet advisors.
Baduel learned on April 13 an aircraft
registered in the U.S.
to a Venezuelan media executive was at the La Orchila airstrip,
and was likely poised to fly Chavez out of the country.
But by the time the paratroopers’ three choppers reached
the island, Carmona’s transitional government had collapsed,
largely thanks to nationwide uprisings in several Venezuelan
The AP reported thousands of Venezuelans
converged on the paratroopers’ base in Maracay,
located 80 miles west of Caracas,
in support of their attempt to rescue Chavez. "The
42nd was the first unit to oppose Chavez's April 12 ouster
by dissident generals," wrote the wire service. "An
hours-old interim government quickly crumbled when word
that the paratroopers were angry. The brigade retrieved
Chavez from captivity and returned him to Caracas
A massive, heavily promoted anti-Chavez
demonstration took place on April 12 in Caracas,
which resulted in the deaths of 17 people and injuries
to hundreds. Most of the dead, totaling more than 40 at
the end of the three-day coup, were Chavez supporters killed
in several Venezuelan cities, and many also were the victims
of rooftop snipers. The identities and allegiances of these
gunmen are now the subject
of several investigations by the Venezuelan government and
human rights groups.
The generals who would eventually carry
out the coup arrested Chavez when they began receiving unsubstantiated
reports circulated by Venezuelan anti-Chavez media that
the president had ordered snipers to fire on the crowd,
made up of an estimated 150,000 protestors. Management recently
terminated by Chavez of the state-owned oil company, Petroleos
de Venezuela (PDVSA), and union officials organized the
According to Gregory Wilpert, an American
sociologist living in Caracas, "Supposedly at the spur
of the moment, the [anti-Chavez] organizers decided to re-route
the march to Miraflores, the president’s office building,
so as to confront the pro-government demonstration, which
was called in the last minute. About 5,000 Chavez supporters
had gathered there by the time the anti-government demonstrators
got there. In-between the two demonstrations were the city
police, under the control of the oppositional mayor of Caracas,
and the National Guard, under control of the president."
Now that relative calm
has again returned to this nation of 24
million, some, including Wilpert, see a rather ambiguous
immediate future. "There is an overall atmosphere of
uncertainty here, which definitely makes Chavez appear weaker,
since people seem to think that Chavez could still fall,
either through another coup attempt or through some other,
more constitutional means, though I don’t really see any,"
Wilpert told FTW via e-mail. "There is a strong push
from the opposition to have a referendum on Chavez's tenure,
and given his razor-thin majority
in the national assembly, it could pass. If it does and
he loses, which is possible, there would certainly be another
crisis, because I doubt Chavez would resign, and the referendum
itself cannot force him out of office."
And as June Thomas of Slate online magazine
pointed out, the first U.S.-backed coup against the Chilean
regime of President Salvador Allende failed in June 1973.
"Three months later, the plotters tried again,"
Thomas wrote. "That time they brought down the government
and killed Allende."
MEDIA’S ROLE IN COUP QUESTIONED BY
It is no secret most of the Venezuelan
news media, primarily the country’s privately owned television
networks, was at odds with Chavez and his "Bolivarian
Revolution," which focused the state’s energy and resources
towards alleviating the harsh impoverished conditions under
which 80 percent of Venezuelans live.
This, however, angered Venezuela’s
entrenched financial oligarchy, which controls the media,
thus prompting a smear campaign against Chavez, culminating
with the April coup attempt.
news media -- as well as mainstream U.S.
press outlets -- have been criticized for biased, anti-Chavez
coverage during the coup. Many online journalists,
however, such as Madsen, Roy S. Carson and Patrick O’Donoghue
of VHeadline.com, and Al Giordano of the Narco News website
tirelessly reported what appeared to be significant U.S.
complicity in Chavez’s ouster.
Throughout this tumultuous past month in
the disinformation flew steadily via the nation’s TV, which
most foreign press agencies took as gospel reporting. A
true disinfo highlight: The notion repeatedly echoed by
mainstream American journalists
was Chavez had resigned, though it would later be revealed
this was not, in fact, the case. Coup plotters came up with
that one while Chavez was in custody, promptly circulating
the lie around the planet through the mainstream media.
The anti-Chavez mainstream mantra also
contained other non-facts reported as the truth. Another
key misnomer was Chavez ordered National Guard troops to
fire on the crowd of protestors outside Miraflores. While
he did enact Plan Avila, which is the government’s state
of emergency security plan for Caracas
and calls for tanks and National Guard troops to defend
government compounds, Chavez did not order anyone to shoot
civilian demonstrators -- most of the dead were pro-Chavez.
And while Chavez did order a media blackout
just prior to his arrest
by rebellious generals, it was in response to the TV news’
constant airing of footage that was edited to suggest Chavez
supporters were the only ones firing on the crowd outside
"Chavez’s biggest and perhaps only
mistake of the day, which provided the last remaining proof
his opposition needed for his anti-democratic credentials,
was to order the black-out of the private television stations,"
wrote Wilpert. "They had been broadcasting the confrontations
all afternoon, and Chavez argued that these broadcasts were
exacerbating the situation and should, in the name of public
safety, be temporarily shut-down. "
Wilpert, who was on the ground at Miraflores
when anti-Chavez and pro-Chavez factions clashed there,
claimed most of the violent exchanges primarily involved
rock throwing and tear gas. But, Wilpert wrote, "I
got there just when the
opposition demonstration and the National Guard began fighting
each other. Who started the fight…is, as is so often the
case in such situations, nearly impossible to tell. A little
later, shots were fired into the crowds and I clearly saw
that there were three parties involved in the shooting,
the city police, Chavez supporters, and snipers from buildings
Giordano of Narco News refers to the strongest
disinfo offenders of the American mainstream media as "the
Four Horsemen of Simulation" -- Associated Press, Reuters,
the New York Times, and CNN. He went on to write April 15,
"The fledgling movement of Authentic Journalism --
above all online journalism
-- broke the information blockade and refused to allow the
simulation to continue.
"The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela’s
poor majority has won back
more, so much more, than its own country. It has delivered
policy of simulation against democracy its first major
defeat, and the dominoes have only begun to fall,"
In February, a federal judge
in New York
threw out a libel suit against Giordano’s Web publication
brought by a reported Mexican drug dealer and money launderer.
This decision set a very important precedent for online
The court decision for the first time equates the Internet
publishing medium as having the same press freedoms under
the U.S. Constitution as print or broadcast news.
CHAVEZ vs. CIA,
ECONOMY’S TIES TO DRUG MONEY
The Andean Initiative, formerly called
under President Clinton, is the U.S.
military’s multi-billion-dollar aid package to the Colombian
government, which has been involved in a civil war for decades
against the FARC.
represents a major strategic
stronghold in Washington’s
campaign against the FARC. The guerillas control the southern
portion of Colombia,
which borders Venezuela.
Chavez has refused to allow U.S.
planes to fly through Venezuelan air space to attack FARC-held
territory and re-supply troops on the ground. Chavez also
won’t militarize the border with Colombia,
preventing FARC soldiers from retreating to sanctuaries
in Venezuelan territory, much like how the Viet Cong used
for sanctuary during the Vietnam War.
is one of the leading drug-producing regions on Earth, exporting
most of the 500-plus tons of cocaine and some 60 percent
of the heroin that end up on American streets each year.
The FARC, who have admittedly used drug money and "taxes"
from drug barons to finance their forces, are sitting on
billions in unlaundered drug funds. The FARC’s stake in
the drug trade was significant enough for Richard Grasso,
the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, to make a trip
in June 1999 to the jungles
to seek out the FARC. Grasso hoped to convince the rebels
to invest some of their drug capital on Wall Street.
Apparently, the infusion of drug money
into the global financial system is an important priority
for Grasso and his ilk, especially given the outlandish
figures that have been thrown around by the U.S.
government pertaining to money laundering and criminal cash
flows. The U.S. Senate estimates that $500 billion is washed
annually through the U.S.
stock market and banking system.
is quite oil-rich, and 14 percent of U.S.
consumption is of Venezuelan crude. Leading up to Chavez’s
petroleum industry was in crisis. Chavez got into a major
tiff with the management of the state-owned oil company,
PDVSA, when he appointed a board of directors friendly to
his industry reforms. Management imposed a work slow-down
refineries and other oil facilities, which ballooned into
a national strike, culminating in the fateful protest march
In the week after returning to power, Chavez
appointed a new board of directors. He "has insisted
the new board will still have to implement government oil
policy, which includes higher royalty rates for operating
state-owned oil fields and strict compliance with production
quotas imposed by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries," reported the Associated Press.
Big American oil companies are not too
pleased with Chavez’s nationalistic values, especially when
it pertains to Venezuela’s
oil industry and economy. The Guardian reported Jan. 30,
"The Chavez Government is presently trying to change
the 60-year-old agreement with foreign oil companies that
charges them as little as one percent in royalties, plus
hands out huge tax breaks. There is a lot at stake here.
"Venezuela has 77 billion barrels
of proven reserves, and is the U.S.'s third largest source
of oil. It is also a major
cash cow for the likes of Phillips Petroleum and ExxonMobil,"
wrote the Guardian. Chevron Texaco and Occidental Petroleum
are two other major oil
companies with interests in Venezuela and Colombia.
In recent years, Occidental in particular
has been heavily embroiled in Colombia’s civil war. Ever
since the firm discovered a Colombian oil field worth a
billion barrels in 1983, the company and its employees have
come under direct attack from the FARC and other anti-government
Between the FARC in Colombia and
the Chavez Administration, big oil’s interests in South
America seem to be on quite shaky ground. With the failed
coup now a painful memory, it will be interesting to see
if democracy in Venezuela can survive such a vehement, political
and economic tug-of-war.