2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt

2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt

The Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002 was a failed coup d'état on April 11, 2002 that lasted only 47 hours, whereby the head of state President Hugo Chávez was illegally detained, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court dissolved, and the country's Constitution declared void. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1927322.stm Interim Venezuelan president sworn in.] BBC News. (13 April 2002). URL last accessed on 30 May 2007]

Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce ("Fedecámaras") president Pedro Carmona was installed as interim president. In Caracas, the coup led to a pro-Chávez uprising that the Metropolitan Police attempted to suppressCite web|url=http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/ediciones/2002/04/13/p16n2.htm|title=Círculos bolivarianos protestaron|accessdate=2008-04-11|publisher=Últimas Noticias|year=2002-04-13es icon] . Key sectors of the militaryCite web|url=http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2002/04/14/019n1mun.php?origen=index.html|title=Insurrección civil y militar termina con el golpe; Chávez, en Miraflores |accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher=La Jornada|date=2002-04-14es icon] and parts of the anti-Chávez movement refused to back Carmona.Cite web|url=http://www.asambleanacional.gov.ve/ns2/noticia.asp?numn=1837|title=Capriles: "Nunca apoyé el gobierno de Carmona" |accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher="Asamblea Nacional de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela"|date=2002-05-07|first=Enrique last=Hernándezes icon] Cite web|url=http://www.unionradio.com.ve/Noticias/Noticia.aspx?noticiaid=149501|title=Cecilia Sosa no ha sido notificada formalmente medida privativa de libertad |accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher=Unión Radio|year=2005-10-21es icon] The pro-Chávez Presidential Guard eventually retook the Miraflores presidential palace without firing a shot, leading to the collapse of the Carmona government and the re-installation of Chávez as president.

The coup was publicly condemned by Latin American nations (the Rio Group presidents were gathered together in San José, Costa Rica, at the time, and were able to issue a joint communiqué) and international organizations. The United States and Chile quickly acknowledged the "de facto" pro-US Carmona government, but ended up condemning the coup after it had been defeated. [http://embajadausa.org.ve/wwwh211.html Official U.S. Government Statements — Venezuela] . Retrieved 10 April 2006.]


Chávez was first elected president in 1998 by popular mandate. One of his campaign promises was to convene a new constitutional convention,Cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/270790.stm|title=Venezuela is promised 'political revolution' |accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher=BBC|date=1999-02-02] and on December 15, 1999 he put the new Constitution of Venezuela to the voters in a referendum, which passed with 71.78% of the popular vote. Opposition to the Chávez government was particularly strong in the private media,Cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/latin_america/venezuela/media.html|title=Venezuela's Media Wrestles with Stigmas, New Rules|accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher=PBS|date=2006-12-28|first=Oliver|last= Read] the business community and among the upper and middle classes who feared losing economic and political power as a result of Chávez's reforms.Cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3559668.stm|title=Analysis: Chavez at eye of storm|accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher=BBC|date=2004-08-13|first=Becky|last= Branford ] The new policies of subsidizing basic food stuffs, redistributing oil revenue and breaking-up large land estates were particularly contentious. Following the 1999 constitutional referendum, Chávez was reelected in 2000 under the terms of the new constitution. His attempts to end the functional independence of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), to bring its oil revenues under state control, led to massive resistance from many PDVSA officials, managers, and employees.

Geopolitically, Venezuela under Chávez has shifted its alignment away from the United States in favor of more sovereignty and cooperation with other Latin American countries through, amongst other organisations, Mercosur. It forged links with Cuba, providing the island with convert|160000|oilbbl|m3 of oil a day and assisting the nation's fledgling oil industry. In return, Venezuela received 10,000 doctors and other health care workers, to jump-start Chávez's effort ("Barrio Adentro") to reduce infant mortality and the occurrence of treatable diseases. Private media companies and newspapers continued without censorship or state interference, despite their often virulent hostility to the government.

In early 2002, Chávez's attempts to reform the state oil company, PDVSA, by increasing the degree of government control over the company were met with massive resistance from PDVSA officials and managers. The case of the PDVSA management received a great deal of attention from the private media. Tensions between the Chávez government and PDVSA management continued to escalate through March and early April, culminating on April 8, 2002, when Chávez fired seven top PDVSA executives (and several other managers of lesser status) during a televised address. The fired PDVSA managers received immediate support from the private media and the upper and middle classes.

Events leading up to the coup

The first hints of disturbance emerged when Venezuela Air Force Colonel Pedro Vicente Soto and National Reserve Captain Pedro Flores Rivero led a small rally protesting the Chávez government's allegedly undemocratic and authoritarian practices. They were sent home in uniform and placed under investigation by a joint civilian and military board.

On April 9, 2002, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) — the country's largest trade-union federation, traditionally affiliated with the opposition Democratic Action ("Acción Democrática") party, led by Carlos Ortega — called for a two-day strike. Fedecámaras joined the strike/lockout and called on all of its affiliated member businesses to shut down for 48 hours.Two days later, amid rapidly escalating tensions, an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people marched to the PDVSA headquarters in defense of its recently-dismissed management board. Unexpectedly, the organizers decided to re-route the march to Miraflores, the presidential palace, where a pro-Chávez demonstration was taking place. The march was re-routed without consultation with the Police, who legally had to approve the changed route,Cite web|url=http://www.unionradio.net/Especiales/especial.aspx?especialid=162|title=Sucesos de Abril de 2002: Tres días que marcaron la historia del país|accessdate=2007-07-12|publisher=Unión Radio|year=2005|first=Ocarina|last=Espinozaes icon] and in spite of protests from organisers from the pro-Chávez march who feared a confrontationFact|date=July 2007. Twenty people were killed and more than 100 wounded, with victims on both sides.

There is no consensus as to who was responsible for the deaths on April 11, 2002, and this remains one of the most controversial issues in Venezuelan politics today. Several private television channels in Venezuela showed footage of people shooting from the pro-Chávez counter-march being held on Puente Llaguno, an overpass that crosses one of central Caracas's busiest avenues. These shooters were four pro-Chávez political activists identified as Rafael Cabrices, Richard Peñalver, Henry Atencio, and Nicolás Rivera. They were captured by the police and jailed for one year as they awaited trial, but charges were dropped before the trial began. Rafael Cabrices died from a heart attack three years later, August 30 2005Cite web|url=http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&f=28&t=22680|title=Falleció de un infarto Rafael Cabrices|accessdate=2007-03-04|publisher="Radio Nacional de Venezuela"|date=2005-08-30es icon] , his innocence or guilt still to be determined.

The anti-Chávez commercial stations repeatedly showed only a small part of the scene (see still shot), of pro-Chávez supporters firing, claiming they were firing at unarmed demonstrators. However, an amateur cameraman captured footage that revealed the gunmen were not firing at any demonstrators, since the street below was empty except for an armoured police vehicle which had previously been firing at the bridge. This footage was included in the documentary "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised". Cabrices, Peñalver, Atencio and Rivera argue that they were, in fact, returning fire at unknown snipers firing towards them. A very thorough reconstruction of the events is the basis for the film [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9wU0OIIEmY Llaguno Bridge: Keys to a Massacre] which vindicates this version of events.

Several times in the early afternoon, Chávez took to the airwaves in what is termed a "cadena" (from the Spanish verbal phrase, "estar en cadena"), or a commandeering of the collective public and private media airwaves to broadcast public announcements and addresses. Some of the broadcasts asked protesters to return to their homes, while others featured lengthy pre-recorded discourses led by the president. The last of these "cadenas" began just minutes after shots were fired at the crowds of protesters and continued throughout the massacre. The private television stations defied the "cadena" by splitting the screen between the president's address and scenes of bloodshed. Chávez then ordered private outlets to be taken off the air in a forced blackout. The measure managed to block coverage of the crisis in Caracas only, as the private television stations continued to broadcast in the rest of the country and via satellite.U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. March 31, 2003 [http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2002/18348.htm Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002] Accessed 4 August 2006.]


Chávez's alleged resignation

President Chávez and several ministers were in the presidential palace, which was surrounded by tanks. The evening of April 11, members of the military high command entered the palace, demanding Chávez' resignation. In the early hours of April 12, General-in-Chief Lucas Rincón announced that Chávez had been asked for his resignation, and had accepted.

General Manuel Rosendo, chief of the National Unified Army Command (CUFAN) at the time, reported that he and others chose to disobey the president when he ordered them to apply Plan Ávila, a contingency plan designed to deal with major disturbances.

General Rosendo says he presented the newly-deposed Chávez two options: choose to remain in Venezuela on the condition that he stand trial for the April 11 killings, or be exiled. Chávez reportedly responded that he and his family wished to be exiled to Cuba, on the conditions that Rosendo personally guarantee the safety of Chávez's relatives and that Chávez would depart via Maiquetía's Simón Bolívar International Airport.Fact|date=March 2007

On the other hand, Chávez himself has stated that he negotiated an agreement to resign only after he realized that many top military leaders opposed his policies.Harnecker, Marta. ("Z Communications", 09 January 2003). [http://www.zmag.org/content/Venezuela/harneckerchavez2.cfm "Lessons of the April Coup: Harnecker interviews Chávez"] . Retrieved 18 October 2005.] Chávez also agreed to resign only on the condition that his resignation would follow constitutional order: it needed to be tendered before the National Assembly, and Chávez's own vice-president would succeed him. Chávez stated that he was assured by the rebel generals that they would comply with these conditions. There is, however, no recorded or written proof of his actual resignation and many doubt that he ever did at all. He has also stated that shortly after Rincón's announcement, the assurances were abruptly rescinded and he was formally taken into custody.

After his "resignation" had been announced, Chávez was escorted under military guard to Fort Tiuna, where he met with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. Chávez was also met by army officers, who by then had determined that he was indeed not to be sent to Cuba. Instead, Chávez would be taken to La Orchila, a military base off the coast of Venezuela, until rebel leaders could decide Chávez's fate. On April 13, Chávez wrote a note from his captivity in Turiamo stating specifically that he had not resigned.

Carmona's "interim presidency"

Businessman Pedro Carmona, president of Fedecámaras, was installed as "interim President" after Chávez's alleged resignation. While briefly in power, Carmona announced a decree dissolving the National Assembly, the Supreme Court and other institutions. These measures cost Carmona much of his support within the military that had rebelled against Chávez.

Carmona's installation as President generated a widespread uprising in support of Chávez that was suppressed by the Metropolitan Police. It also led to a demonstration outside the Presidential Palace by hundreds of thousands of people. The Presidential Guard, loyal to Chávez and cheered on by the demonstrators, retook the palace and the rebellion collapsed. Since Chávez was being held in a secret location, the presidency was assumed for several hours by Vice President Diosdado Cabello until Chávez was reinstated.

However, it took some time to make this known. At the beginning of the coup, the dissident military had occupied Venezolana de Televisión, the state television channel, and the private media also refused to broadcast the news instead maintaining the fiction that the coup-plotters has succeeded. Despite the fact that tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets around the palace, Carmona declared that there had been some disturbances, but things were now under control. Chavez loyalists however were able to contact international news organisations who re-broadcast the actual situation back to Venezuela via satellite. Only by 8 o'clock that evening the reinstalled government managed to inform the people through domestic (state) television channels. Because there were difficulties getting Chávez back, to restore order, two hours later the vice-president was sworn in as interim president on television. Chávez returned the next day.


Allegations of U.S. involvement

Chavez has asserted numerous times that U.S government officials knew about plans for a coup, approved of them and assumed they would be successful. [Observer International, 2002, http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,688071,00.html 'Venezuela coup linked to Bush team' Accessed 22 September, 2007] Chávez also further alleged that "two military officers from the United States" were present in the headquarters of coup plotters. [BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/1985670.stm 'Warning to Venezuelan leader', Accessed 22 September, 2007]

According to a report in "The New York Times", US Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich warned Congressional aides that there was more at stake in Venezuela than the success or failure of Chávez. He accused Chávez of meddling with the historically government-owned state oil company, providing a haven for Colombian guerrillas, and bailing out the Cuban dictatorship with preferential rates on oil. Reich, a Cuban American and anti-Fidel Castro activist with a background in covert political and propaganda operations against left-wing groups in Latin America, [ [http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB40/ Public Diplomacy and covert propaganda] National Security Archive. The declassified record of Otto Reich. Retrieved March 5 2007.] also announced that the administration had received reports that "foreign paramilitary forces", who they claimed were Cuban, were involved in the bloody suppression of anti-Chávez demonstrators.Marquis, Christopher. (April 17, 2002). [http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20F14F934580C748DDDAD0894DA404482&n=Top%2fReference%2fTimes%20Topics%2fPeople%2fC%2fChavez%2c%20Hugo "U.S. Cautioned Leader of Plot Against Chávez"] . "The New York Times". Retrieved 5 March, 2007.] No proof was offered. Eva Gollinger published an article and several official documents claiming that a number of US agencies, including the CIA, had previous knowledge of the coup. She maintains that the USAID was being used by the CIA in the coup. [ [http://www.venezuelafoia.info/english.html THE PROOF IS IN THE DOCUMENTS: THE CIA WAS INVOLVED IN THE COUP AGAINST VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT CHAVEZ] , Eva Golinger, Venezuelafoia.info ]

Upon news of Chávez's return, Condoleezza Rice, then National Security Advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush, said: "We do hope that Chávez recognizes 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." [Bellos, Alex (April 15, 2002). [http://www.guardian.co.uk/venezuela/story/0,,858114,00.html "Chávez rises from very peculiar coup"] . "The Guardian". Retrieved 20 July 2006.] Rice gave no opinion on the plotters.

Bush Administration officials acknowledged meeting with some of the planners of the coup in the several weeks prior to April 11, but have strongly denied encouraging the coup itself, saying that they insisted on constitutional means. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1933526.stm] Because of allegations, an investigation conducted by the U.S. Inspector General, at the request of U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, requested a review of U.S. activities leading up to and during the coup attempt. The OIG report found no "wrongdoing" by U.S. officials either in the State Department or in the U.S. Embassy. [ U.S. Embassy, Caracas, Venezuela. [http://embajadausa.org.ve/wwwh1927.html State Dept. Issues Report on U.S. Actions During Venezuelan Coup: (Inspector General finds U.S. officials acted properly during coup).] Accessed May 26, 2006.] [U.S. Department of State and Office of Inspector General. [http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/13682.pdf A Review of U.S. Policy toward Venezuela, November 2001 - April 2002.] Accessed 26 May 2006.]

Criminal penalties for coup participants

Under the 1999 Constitution, military officers are entitled to a pre-trial hearing before the Plenary of the Supreme Court of Justice to rule on whether they should be charged with a crime. In such a hearing on August 14, 2002, the Tribunal ruled by an 11-9 margin (with two justices recused) that four high-ranking military officers charged with rebellion should not stand trial, arguing that what took place was not a "coup" but a "vacuum of power" that had been generated by the announcement of Chávez's resignation made by Gen. Lucas Rincón Romero. [http://www.tsj.gov.ve/decisiones/tplen/agosto/sentencia%20de%20los%20militares.htm Sentencia de los Militares] . es_icon Retrieved 17 November 2005.] On March 12, 2004, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the recusals were unconstitutional, the hearing was invalid, and the military officers (by then retired) may stand trial.Harvard reference
Author = TSJ
Year = 2005
Title = T1 ST04 N5
Journal = Tribunal Supremo de Justicia
URL = http://infovenezuela.org/attachments-spanish/T1%20ST04%20N5%20Decisi%F3n%20del%20TSJ%20que%20anula%20la%20sentencia%20de%20agosto%202002.pdf
Access-date = June 9, 2006

On November 18, 2004, leading state prosecutor Danilo Anderson was assassinated, shortly before he was scheduled to bring charges against 400 people who allegedly participated in the coup. Meanwhile Carmona and several other participants in the events of 11 April went into exile.

Irish documentary

A television crew from Ireland representing the Irish state broadcaster RTE, which happened to be recording an unrelated documentary about Chávez at the time, was caught at the heart of the coup as it unfolded in the presidential palace. The crew's footage clearly contradicts explanations given by anti-Chávez plotters, the Venezuelan private media, the United States Department of State, and the communiques issued by the then White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The documentary features footage shot after the short coup that was based largely in the presidential palace with members of both rival governments and their supporters.

The film has won awards at many film festival screenings where it was shown. It has been widely debated among both supporters and critics of the Venezuelan government.fact|date=June 2008 The film-makers stated that threats had been issued against them at the Amnesty International Film Festival warning them not to screen the documentary. Director Wolfgang Schalk had attempted to stop screenings of the film. cite web
title =Statement by the Makers Of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
work =www.chavezthefilm.com
url =http://www.chavezthefilm.com/html/statement.html
] cite web
title =Wolfgang Schalk
work =imdb.com
url =http://mymovies.imdb.com/name/nm2036791/
] Several organizations argue the events are correctly portrayed in the documentary. cite web
title =Statement in Support of the Documentary Film “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”
work =www.venezuelanalysis.com
url =http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/docs.php?dno=1008
] Others consider that the film omits and misrepresents important events.fact|date=June 2008 Members of the Venezuelan opposition claim that it has been widely used by the Venezuelan government for propaganda purposes and have created a documentary of their own in response. cite web
title =Radiografía de una Mentira (2004)
work =imdb.com
url =http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0479810/

Oliver Stone film rumors

On Sunday May 21, 2006, during his weekly "Aló Presidente" television show, Hugo Chávez stated that Oscar-winning director Oliver Stone and British producer John Daly were planning to make a movie about the April 2002 coup. He said that the Venezuelan government had given them permission to make the announcement at the Cannes Film Festival.Harvard reference
Author = Reuters
Year = 2006
Title = Oliver Stone to make Venezuela coup film: Chávez
Journal = Washington Post
URL = http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/21/AR2006052100817.html
Access-date = 26 May 2006
.] Chávez said that Daly had flown to Caracas several months earlier and that he had met with Daly for half an hour at the presidential residence.es icon Harvard reference
Author = Ministerio de Comunicación e Información
Year = 2006
Title = Oliver Stone y John Daily rodarán película sobre Golpe de Estado del 2002
Journal = Radio Nacional de Venezuela
URL = http://www.rnv.gov.ve/noticias/index.php?act=ST&t=33580
Access-date = 26 May 2006
.] He also said that both Stone and Daly had called Venezuela on Sunday to discuss the plans and the announcement.Harvard reference
Author = Associated Press
Year = 2006
Title = Oliver Stone Denies Plans for Chávez Film
Journal = Washington Post
URL = http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052300899.html
Access-date = 26 May 2006

On Tuesday May 23, 2006, both Stone and Daly denied that they had plans to make a film about Chávez and said that they had never engaged in such discussions. Stone said, "Rumors that I am directing a film about the 2002 coup in Venezuela are untrue and unfounded" in an e-mail statement sent to the Associated Press from his publicist.

ee also

External links

*cite web
title =El Universal
work =eluniversal.com
url =http://english.eluniversal.com/
El Universal in English: Venezuela's daily newspaper.
*U.S. Department of State and Office of Inspector General. [http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/13682.pdf A Review of U.S. Policy toward Venezuela, November 2001 - April 2002.] Accessed 26 May 2006. A full-text PDF report of the U.S. Inspector General report of U.S. involvement.
*U.S. Embassy, Caracas, Venezuela. [http://embajadausa.org.ve/wwwh1927.html State Dept. Issues Report on U.S. Actions During Venezuelan Coup: (Inspector General finds U.S. officials acted properly during coup).] Accessed 26 May 2006. A summary from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela of the report on U.S. actions during the events of April, 2002.
*cite web
title =The US and the Coup in Venezuela
work =www.thirdworldtraveler.com
url =http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/South_America/US_Coup_Venezuela.html
Includes six articles arguing that the US assisted in the coup.
*cite web
title =The Proof Is In The Documents: The CIA Was Involved In The Coup Against Venezuelan President Chavez
work =venezuelafoia.info
url =http://venezuelafoia.info/english.html#cia
CIA briefings from before, during, and after the coup, released under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The 6 April brief states: "Dissident military factions... are stepping up efforts to organize a coup, possibly as early as this month."


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