|2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Hugo Chávez||Pedro Carmona|
The Venezuelan coup d'état attempt of 2002 was a failed coup d'état on 11 April 2002, that saw the late President Hugo Chávez ousted from office for 47 hours, before being restored by a combination of military loyalists and massive public support for his government. Chávez was initially detained by members of the military and of pro-business elites represented by Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecámaras) president Pedro Carmona, who was declared as the interim president. Carmona's brief rule saw the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Supreme Court both dissolved and the country's 1999 Constitution declared void. In Caracas, the coup led to a popular pro-Chávez uprising that the Metropolitan Police unsuccessfully tried to suppress. Key sectors of the military and parts of the anti-Chávez movement also refused to back Carmona. 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 leaders of Latin American nations (the Rio Group then gathered in San José, Costa Rica at the time) who issued a joint communiqué to that effect. On the other hand, the United States and Spain both rushed to acknowledge the (pro-US) Carmona forces as the de facto government but ended up choosing to condemn the coup once it became clear the plotters had been unsuccessful.
The coup had apparently been planned for some six to nine months. The decision to try to overthrow Chávez came on the heels of what they hoped were a number of controversial laws Chávez passed that November attempting to strengthen government control over Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA. A general strike was called for in December 2001. Whereas early 2002 saw calls for Chávez's resignation coming from a number of leading military figures. By early April the ensuing power struggle saw an escalation of the strike at PDVSA, which became a general strike with support coming from the national federation of trade unions Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) and the pro-capitalist business group Fedecámaras.
On 11 April, marchers were rerouted to the presidential palace where pro-Chávez supporters were holding their own rally. Efforts by civil authorities to keep the opposition marchers away from the palace were thwarted by media reports encouraging a clash. As the opposing sides neared each other, shots rang out. By that evening, some nineteen people were dead, with more wounded. The opposition media aired footage of Chávez supporters firing handguns from a bridge and alleged that it showed them firing on unarmed protesters. However, additional footage shows that the Chávez supporters were both being fired upon themselves and were also firing at a largely empty street, rather than a march. Chávez supporters claimed that unidentified snipers were responsible for the deaths.
The opposition media immediately blamed these deaths on "Chavistas", whom they claimed to have actually filmed firing on unarmed marchers from a bridge. This narrative was largely accepted without question by the international news media. Meanwhile Chávez supporters claimed that unknown snipers were responsible for most, if not all, of the deaths.
The mainstream of Venezuelan media outlets are privately owned, and which side they were on was made abundantly clear in the way events were covered. The privately owned yet "public" media played a key role in the coup, providing continuous coverage of the general strike leading up to it, as well as having supported the dangerous rerouting of coup supporters to Miraflores Palace where pro-Chávez supporters were assembled that same day. Venevisión, owned by Gustavo Cisneros, played a key role, with pro-coup leaders meeting there after the 11 April march and appealing to the military to intervene on their behalf. It was also Venevisión that claimed to have filmed "Chavistas" firing from the bridge. This footage was edited by Venevisión in a way that suggested a planned ambush of opposition marchers by pro-Chávez gunmen.
The private media refused to interview pro-government officials after the march, and once protests broke out following news of Chávez's detention, declined to give any coverage to that. Attempts by Chávez supporters to disclose that Chávez had not resigned, and was being held prisoner, were ignored or cut off. A key military division's attempt to publicize its rejection of the coup was ignored and reported only by CNN. After Chávez supporters retook Miraflores, the major networks stopped providing news reports altogether, with two of the three major newspapers cancelling the Sunday edition, claiming "safety concerns" for the lack of will.
After the coup, the Organization of American States (OAS) established a "mesa" dialogue process, as it had in Peru following the May 2000 elections. At Chávez's request, the Carter Center and UNDP were also involved. In order to facilitate participation in this process, the anti-Chávez opposition created the Coordinadora Democrática (CD); however, the CD continued to pursue non-electoral means to overthrow what is undoubtedly a democratically elected Chávez government. CD became involved in organizing the Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003. After the collapse of that effort, the CD began organizing the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004.
- 1 Background
- 2 Events leading up to the coup
- 3 Coup
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Documentary films
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Chávez was first elected president in 1998. One of his campaign promises was to convene a new constitutional convention, and on 15 December 1999 he put the new Constitution of Venezuela to the voters in a referendum, which passed with 71.78% of the popular vote. However opposition to the Chávez government was particularly strong in the country's privately owned media outlets, which had long represented the European-descended landowners and business community against the majority indigenous and darker-skinned populations. These upper and upper-middle classes now feared losing long-held economic and political power as a result of Chávez's many reforms. The new policies of subsidizing basic foodstuffs, redistributing oil revenue and breaking-up large estates was particularly contentious. Following the 1999 constitutional referendum, Chávez was reelected in 2000 under the terms of the new constitution.
On 13 November 2001, Chávez passed a package of 49 laws, using an enabling act which was about to expire. Two decrees in particular sparked protest: a law aimed at strengthening government control over the oil company PDVSA, which Chávez argued had become a "state within a state", and a land reform law, which included provisions for the expropriation of idle lands on large estates, even while providing the previous owners with compensation at the going market rates. Opposition to these programmes included an attempt by Democratic Action to have the Supreme Court assess Chávez for potential mental incapacity, which would permit his removal from office under Article 233 of the new constitution; Newsweek picked this up and ran an article headlined "Is Hugo Chávez Insane?". On 10 December, the opposition organised a one-day general strike, which was substantially effective, although shops in poorer neighbourhoods remained open. With newspapers, workplaces, schools and the stock exchange closed, "the opposition was ecstatic...[and]...convinced themselves that Chávez's support had all but vanished."
In early 2002, there were increasing signs of discontent in the military; in February four military officials, including a general and a rear admiral, publicly called on Chávez to resign. On 7 February 2002 Venezuela Air Force Colonel Pedro Vicente Soto and National Reserve Captain Pedro Flores Rivero led a rally protesting the Chávez government's allegedly undemocratic and authoritarian practices. Rear Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo said on television that if Chávez did not resign, he should be impeached. Besides the opposition accusations that Chávez was undermining democracy and free speech, the military's complaints included Plan Bolívar 2000's use of the armed forces for poverty reduction activities instead of national defense. They also said Chávez was alienating the United States through a foreign policy involving negotiations with Colombian rebels and strengthening links with OPEC countries considered enemies of the US, including Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Chávez and his allies suggested other motives, including Soto's being passed over for promotion, and pointed to a report in the Washington Post alleging that Soto and Tamayo had received $100,000 each from Miami bank accounts in return for denouncing Chávez.
In early 2002, Chávez's attempts to end the functional independence of the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), to bring its oil revenues under state control were met with strong resistance from PDVSA officials and managers. Many supported the old Rafael Caldera-era policy of apertura, that is, opening the Venezuelan oil sector to much greater foreign participation, to raise production; Chávez argued instead for cutting production, with coordination via OPEC, to raise prices and increase oil revenues. Chávez suspected apertura supporters of ultimately wanting to privatize the company, and the government attacked PDVSA management as diverting too much of its revenues into its own pockets. (PDVSA royalties paid to the state had fallen from 71% of gross earnings in 1981 to 39% in 2000.) In February Chávez fired the President of PDVSA, Brigadier-General Guaicaipuro Lameda, along with 5 of the 7 members of the PDVSA board of directors. The case of the PDVSA management naturally received a great deal of attention from the private media, with a series of walkouts and work slowdowns following.
Tensions continued to escalate through March and early April. The mayor of Caracas, Alfredo Peña, a former Chávez ally, said that Chávez was possessed by evil spirits, and called on the Catholic Church to perform an exorcism. On 5 March the US Embassy cabled Washington to report that Fedecámaras, the CTV, and the Catholic Church had reached an agreement named "Bases for a Democratic Accord", which the cable described as "ten principles on which to guide a transitional government". An Embassy official, commenting in the cable, said of the accord "another piece falls into place... This accord... may well form the frame of reference and code of conduct for a transitional government." By March the CIA was briefing US officials that a coup might be planned, and on 6 April it issued another brief saying efforts to mount a coup were being stepped up. The 6 April brief noted that "To provoke military action, the plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month or ongoing strikes at the state-owned oil company PDVSA."
Events leading up to the coup
On 5 April 2002, the PDVSA opposition to Chávez moved to shut down the company. Thousands of mainly white-collar workers stayed at home, and two of the five main export terminals were paralyzed. On 6 April the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) trade union federation announced a 24-hour general strike for 9 April, to support the PDVSA protestors. It was joined the following day by Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce, headed by Pedro Carmona. As in the December general strike, the country's most powerful business group and largest trade union federation acted together. On 7 April, Chávez fired seven PDVSA executives who had been leading the protests, and forced another 12 into retirement.
On 9 April, the general strike was moderately successful, with oil production slowed, and newspapers not published. Television stations cancelled regular programming and commercials to run continuous coverage of the strike, including the stations' own anti-Chávez ads. The strike organizers declared it a success, which the government disputed, and in an effort to show its version of events, ordered a series of "cadenas" (mandatory government broadcasts), showing daily life continuing (over 30 cadenas on 8 and 9 April). On the evening of 9 April, the strike was extended for another 24 hours. On 10 April, the strike was less effective, with many schools and businesses re-opening. As with the previous day, television provided continuous coverage, and the government intervened with cadenas – but this time the networks split the screen, showing the cadena on one side and their coverage of the strike on the other. On the evening of 10 April, Fedecámaras and CTV announced the strike would be extended indefinitely, and called for a march to the PDVSA headquarters the following day.
The coup had been planned for at least six to nine months. On the evening of 11 April, with the coup in full swing, one coup plotter told television viewers that the coup had been long planned: "Nine months ago a movement started to organise itself more firmly, a serious movement, and fortunately it has come to fruition today." Chávez ally Jorge García Carneiro, taken prisoner at Fuerte Tiuna, was told by a number of rebels – including General Enrique Medina Gómez, Venezuela's military attaché in Washington, D.C., who had flown to Caracas earlier in the day – that the plot had been planned for months. They also told him that the plan to kill a few people with snipers dated back years, as a way to ensure fewer deaths in the event of a coup. Lucas Rincón Romero, who came to Fuerte Tiuna around this time, later testified to the National Assembly that he had heard similar things, and that Vice Admiral Héctor Ramírez had told him he had been involved in the plot for six months. CNN correspondent Otto Neustald has said that on the morning of 11 April he recorded a video message from a number of high-ranking military officers, led by Vice Admiral Héctor Ramírez, which was broadcast later in the day. The message, recorded at least two hours before the killings started, accused Chávez of massacring innocent people using snipers, referring to at least six dead and dozens wounded.
On 10 April, Brigadier General Néstor González González appeared on television to demand Chávez's resignation and to issue an ultimatum. The statement had the desired effect of ensuring that Chávez cancelled his planned trip to a Rio Group summit in Costa Rica: the coup plans required Chávez to be in Venezuela. The message was recorded in the house of Napoleón Bravo, host of Venevisión's 24 Horas, as Bravo admitted on air on 12 April, in a discussion with Rear Admiral Molina Tamayo. Also on 10 April, a draft of what would become the Carmona Decree was shown to the leading intellectual Jorge Olavarría for comments. Olavarría warned that it violated democratic norms and would provoke an international reaction.
Shortly before 11 April, Alí Rodríguez Araque, a former guerilla and Chávez ally then serving in Vienna as the General Secretary of OPEC, heard of a potential oil embargo against the United States by Iraq and Libya, over US support for Israel. More importantly, he heard that "the United States was planning to prod a coup into action in Venezuela to head off any threat of embargo." Rodríguez Araque's warning led Chávez to declare that he would not join such an embargo, and to secretly hide several hundred troops in Miraflores' underground corridors, commanded by José Baduel.
11 April march
On 11 April over two hundred thousand people marched to the PDVSA headquarters in defense of its recently dismissed management board. Secretly, the organizers had planned to announce a "spontaneous" decision to reroute the march and "descend on Miraflores Palace to force the president to resign". By late morning, speakers at the rally at PDVSA headquarters called for a march to Miraflores, and the crowd approved and began the six-mile march. The march was re-routed without consultation with the Police, who legally had to approve the changed route. The government, upon seeing how events were unfolding on television, called for a halt in the progress of demonstrators so that the very real possibility of a violent confrontation taking place between the marchers and thousands of Chavistas already gathered there at the palace might be avoided.
However, with only a handful of Venezuelan National Guard and loyalist police around Miraflores (the opposition-controlled police were largely helping the opposition march move towards Miraflores), Chávez ordered the activation of a military plan to occupy key locations in the city, Plan Ávila. When the General responsible was nowhere to be found, another general, Jorge García Carneiro, the head of the largest military unit in Caracas, offered to step in. However, this effort was thwarted by soldiers who blocked a highway by diverting civilian traffic into the base at Fuerte Tiuna and preventing troops from leaving. On contacting the base, the general was also told that a group of generals had plans to arrest the President.
Close to Miraflores, a line of police and National Guard held the marchers for a time, before the marchers pressed on. The protesters were led by Guaicaipuro Lameda and Rear Admiral Molina Tamayo, "who kept calling on them to surge forward for a direct assault on the palace about two hundred yards away." The National Guard fired tear gas to keep the opposition marchers away; Molina Tamayo urged the crowd to advance through it. At about 2:30 pm opposition protesters began to throw objects at the National Guard and the Chavistas a block away; some were thrown back, and the opposition and the Chavistas exchanged insults. Police motorcycles pushed the opposition towards the Chavistas, and as a police tank turned onto the main street, the first shot was heard. Lameda, Molina Tamayo, Carmona, and CTV leader Carlos Ortega had left the area on motorcycles a few minutes earlier. By the end of the afternoon, nineteen were dead and around 60 injured, most killed between 3:20 pm and 3:55 pm.
There is no consensus as to who was responsible for the deaths on 11 April 2002, and this remains one of the most controversial issues in Venezuelan politics today. The opposition version of events puts the blame on Chávez, or at least on his supporters. A Venevisión camera positioned on a rooftop that afternoon captured images of people using handguns to shoot from the pro-Chávez counter-march being held on Puente Llaguno, an overpass that crosses one of central Caracas's busiest avenues; it is unclear who they are shooting at, but the opposition narrative is that they were shooting at the opposition march and responsible for the deaths. The gunmen argue that they were, in fact, returning fire at unknown snipers and Metropolitan Police firing towards them. The documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised shows footage captured from another angle by an amateur cameraman of the gunmen firing while the street below is empty; another documentary, X-Ray of a Lie argues the former's footage obscures Metropolitan Police trucks on the street below. The 2004 documentary Puente Llaguno: Claves de una Masacre showed that the Chavistas on the bridge did not begin shooting until 4:38 pm, by which time most of the opposition deaths had already occurred. In addition, most of the opposition deaths were at least 300 yards away from the bridge, too far to be killed by the Chavistas' pistols with the precise head shots witnessed.
An eyewitness with military experience, who was shot himself, reported most victims being killed with precise head shots and alerted the crowds to the danger of snipers. Some of the victims (which included both opposition and Chavistas) were shot in locations not reachable from the bridge, being around corners from the main street. El Nacional reported that the presidential honour guard arrested three snipers, while other reports claim seven arrests at the Hotel Ausonia of men later freed in the chaos of the coup and empty shells found at the Hotel Edén. Video evidence and audio recordings later provided at the trial of Metropolitan Police leaders suggested plainclothes police had infiltrated the La Nacional building and were sniping on the opposition marchers and police below.
At 3:45 pm Chávez called another cadena. Broadcasting from an underground location in the palace grounds, he appeared unaware of the violence outside and spoke for ninety minutes on the successes of his administration and calling for peace. Half an hour into the cadena, the networks split the screen again, showing the violence outside the palace, and disrupted the audio from the cadena. In response Chávez ordered the networks taken off the air, saying that networks are licensed by the state, but "they can't use that right to attack the state itself, to instigate violence, or, knowing there is an insurrectional plan, support it..." The networks continued to broadcast via satellite. Only when Chávez emerged from the broadcast did he learn the extent of the violence.
Five minutes after Chávez's broadcast finished, Lameda and Molina Tamayo went on the air at Venevisión, where many opposition leaders had gathered, and, blaming Chávez for the violence, urged the armed forces to intervene. An hour later Carmona and others, including former Chávez minister Luis Miquilena, similarly denounced the president, and the tape of ten ranking military officials which Otto Neustald had recorded earlier was broadcast.
At around 7.30 pm, Venevisión began broadcasting its version of events that afternoon, showing the Chavistas firing from Puente Llaguno, juxtaposed with footage of dead or wounded protestors, and accusing the Chavistas of shooting unarmed opposition protestors and of having planned an ambush. (In the following days the international media largely followed this line without question.) Shortly after, the head of the army, Efraín Vásquez Velasco, together with other ranking army officers, declared that Chávez had lost his support.
Chávez sought to get out the government's version of events, but struggled to do so. Venezuelan television refused to interview any government officials, and the government was left with broadcasts from Miraflores via the state-run Channel 8 (Venezolana de Televisión, VTV). By 10 pm this too was gone, as police loyal to Miranda governor Enrique Mendoza took it over, its employees putting on an old nature documentary before leaving. Shortly before the takeover, Mendoza had said "this channel 8 crap needs to stop".
At 10.20 pm National Guard general Alberto Camacho Kairuz declared on television that Chávez had "abandoned" his office. This was not the case; Chávez was in Miraflores, contacting ambassadors from a range of countries to keep them informed and seek their help as mediators. Around midnight, Fidel Castro called, and urged him not to quit or to follow the example of Salvador Allende in the 1973 Chilean coup d'état (who committed suicide in the presidential palace, under military assault). José Vicente Rangel later said that "the call from Fidel was decisive so that there was no self-immolation. It was the determinant factor. His advice allowed us to see better in the darkness."
In the early hours of 12 April, the coup plotters demanded Chávez's resignation. With the loss of "almost all ... military force on hand in order to resist or move to another place", Chávez said that he would consider it to avoid a potential bloodbath if there were disturbances involving the crowds outside Miraflores. However, he declared that four conditions would have to be met, including that he be allowed to resign before the National Assembly, with power passing constitutionally to the Vice President prior to new elections; and that he would be able to address the nation live on television. At 3 am, with the coup plotters threatening to bomb the Miraflores palace if Chávez did not resign, Chávez told General-in-Chief Lucas Rincón that he would do so. Within twenty minutes Rincon had announced on television that Chávez had been asked for his resignation, and had accepted. A few minutes later, Chávez was told that the four conditions he had declared would no longer be accepted, and Chávez declared that he would surrender himself to the coup plotters as "president prisoner".
After the 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 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. Whilst being held at Fort Tiuna, Chávez had access to television and saw the rolling television claims of his resignation, and became concerned that he would be killed (and the death made to look like suicide) in order to keep the narrative clear. He was able to get word out that he had not in fact resigned, via a telephone call to his daughter, who, via switchboard operators at Miraflores still loyal to Chávez, was able to speak first to Fidel Castro and then to Cuban television. In an interview with two women from the military's legal department, Chávez reiterated that he had not resigned, and they faxed a copy of his statement to the Attorney General, Isaias Rodriguez. To make the news public on Venezuelan media, Rodriguez called a press conference, supposedly to announce his own resignation. Instead, on 12 April at 2 pm, he announced live on television that Chávez had never quit, and was being held illegally. Most of his statement was cut off, with Venezuelan networks returning to the studios. In the evening, Chávez was flown to the remote naval base of Turiamo, near Puerto Cabello, where he considered the risk of his own murder/assassination. According to Chávez, at one point an officer declared to another, "If you kill the president here we'll all kill one another." On 13 April, with the critical support of top military officer Raúl Baduel, and with Chávez supporters having retaken Miraflores and the soldiers holding him now calling him "President", 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 detention. Carmona issued a decree, which came to be known as the Carmona Decree, dissolving the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and voiding the 1999 Constitution. The decree declared that new elections for a "National Legislative Power" would take place no later than December 2002, and that this would draft a general reform of the 1999 constitution; new "general national elections" would take place within a year of the decree's declaration. The decree also suspended the Attorney General, Controller General, state governors and all mayors elected during Chávez's administration. As one academic later put it, "all institutions were abolished leaving the country effectively without the rule of law." A Rio Group meeting of Latin American governments taking place that day in Costa Rica adopted a resolution condemning the "interruption of constitutional order in Venezuela", and requesting a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS); only Francisco Flores of El Salvador said that he would recognise the Carmona government. Carmona also reinstalled Guaicaipuro Lameda as head of PDVSA. PDVSA management swiftly announced the end of oil exports to Cuba, and declared that it would step up production, implying an end to cooperation with OPEC.
Although Carmona promised new elections within a year, with a return to the pre-1999 bicameral parliamentary system, and also repealed a controversial set of 49 laws on the economy which had been passed six months earlier, the dissolution of the institutional framework fragmented the broad anti-Chávez coalition which had supported the coup, with many viewing it as "the triumph of a small oligarchic elite." Additional strategic errors (the failure to include labour leaders such as Carlos Ortega in the government, and the appointment of Vice Admiral Héctor Ramírez as minister of defence, ahead of army General Efraín Vásquez) contributed to the inability of the interim government to withstand the backlash against it.
Pro-Chávez uprising and restoration
Prompted by the spreading news that Chávez had not resigned, 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. In contrast to the opposition marchers, "it was the poor from the peripheral barrios who returned Chávez to power." With the palace surrounded by protestors, and with several hundred paratroopers still ensconced beneath the palace, their commander, José Baduel, telephoned Carmona to tell him that he too was as much a hostage as Chávez was, and gave him an ultimatum that he return Chávez alive within 24 hours. Meanwhile General Raúl Baduel, who headed Chávez's old paratrooper division in Maracay, had been trying unsuccessfully to make public his opposition to Carmona; however Venezuelan media refused to interview him. Raúl Baduel contacted the head of the Presidential Guard, which remained loyal to Chávez, and told him "it's now or never". Late in the morning of 13 April the Presidential Guard entered the palace from their barracks via underground tunnels, and retook the palace; many of the coup plotters escaped. 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.
After the retaking of Miraflores, the military coup plotters held a meeting in Fort Tiuna, and drafted a statement recognizing Carmona as President, but demanding the restoration of the country's democratic institutions. In the confusion of the meeting, Chávez ally Jorge García Carneiro crossed out the section recognising Carmona; and it was in this form that the statement was read to CNN studios (since no Venezuelan media would broadcast it). After the coup Carmona was placed under house arrest, but was able to gain asylum in the Colombian embassy after an anti-Chávez protest drew away his security detail.
Whilst Chávez was temporarily removed from office, the Caracas Stock Exchange saw liquid stocks reach record levels, with the index growing nearly 1000 points in a single trading session. When it became clear the coup had failed, the index fell again.
Mainstream Venezuelan media outlets such as El Universal, El Nacional, El Nuevo País, Globovisión, Televen, CMT and RCTV supported the coup. At the same time, only the anti-Chávez point of view was reflected in the news reports of international media agencies and organizations.
In the run up to the coup, the private media had supported the anti-government demonstrations. The 11 April edition of El Nacional was headlined "The Final Battle Will Be in Miraflores". In March RCTV had given blanket coverage to anti-government demonstrations whilst not covering pro-Chávez ones altogether. On 11 April, the anti-government march, the message "remove Chávez", and the call to redirect the march to the presidential palace in Miraflores, were "widely announced, promoted, and covered by privately owned television channels, and whose explicit support for the opposition became evident." A steady stream of unpaid ads asked Venezuelans to participate in the insurrection. Andrés Izarra, then the managing producer of RCTV's El Observador, later told the National Assembly that he had received clear instructions from owner Marcel Granier that on 11 April and following days he should air "[n]o information on Chávez, his followers, his ministers, and all others that could in any way be related to him." The coup plotters, including Carmona, met at the offices of TV network Venevisión. After Chávez was detained, protests by Chávez supporters, including riots and looting which led to 19 deaths, broke out in parts of Caracas. RCTV sent its reporters to quiet parts of town for "live shots of tranquility" and ignored the events.
At the beginning of the coup, opposition-controlled police shut down Venezolana de Televisión, the state television channel, whilst police efforts were made to shut down community radio and television stations. As a result, the news that Chávez had not in fact resigned was largely kept out of the Venezuelan media, and spread by word of mouth; only one Catholic radio network continued to broadcast the developing news. Chávez was able to get word out that he had not in fact resigned, via a telephone call to his daughter, who, via switchboard operators at Miraflores still loyal to Chávez, was able to speak first to Fidel Castro and then to Cuban television. The Attorney-General attempted to make public Chávez's non-resignation via a live press conference supposedly to announce his own resignation; most of his statement was cut off, with Venezuelan networks returning to the studios.
Venezuelan television media failed to broadcast news of Chávez supporters retaking of the Miraflores palace; the four major television networks stopped providing news reports altogether. The St. Petersburg Times reported that "RCTV was showing Walt Disney cartoons. Venevisión ran a daylong marathon of Hollywood movies: Lorenzo's Oil, Nell and Pretty Woman. Another station, Televen, told its viewers 'to stay indoors,' treating them to baseball and soap operas. Globovisión, the country's top 24-hour news station and CNN affiliate, spent much of the day rebroadcasting upbeat footage of Chávez's ouster. An announcer repeatedly cautioned viewers, 'We are living in times of political change.'" The heads of Venevision, RCTV and Globovision, as well as the publisher of El Nacional, met with Carmona at Miraflores. The head of Globovision reportedly called to CNN in Atlanta "to request the U.S. network join the blackout." Two of the three major newspapers (El Universal and El Nacional) cancelled their Sunday editions, allegedly for safety reasons. (The third major newspaper, Últimas Noticias, printed a limited Sunday edition accurately reflecting events; some tabloids and regional television stations also covered the news.) When CNN announced the rebellion against the coup of a key military division in Maracay (commanded by General Raúl Baduel), "CNN expressed amazement that the press were saying nothing." After Chávez loyalist forces had re-taken Miraflores, the military coup plotters drafted a statement demanding the restoration of democracy; it had to be read to CNN studios since no Venezuelan media would broadcast it. Only by 8 o'clock on 13 April was the reinstalled government able to inform the people of the situation, via domestic (state) television channels.
By the time the Organization of American States' (OAS) Permanent Council met on 13 April, the coup was effectively over, and on 14 April the United States ("albeit with little enthusiasm") joined with other OAS members in condemning the coup and sending the OAS General Secretary on a fact-finding and diplomatic mission. The OAS subsequently established a "mesa" dialogue process, as it had in Peru following the May 2000 elections. At Chávez's request, the Carter Center and UNDP were also involved. In order to facilitate participation in this process, the anti-Chávez opposition created the Coordinadora Democrática (CD). However, the Coordinadora Democrática continued to pursue non-electoral means to overthrow the government, and was involved in organising the Venezuelan general strike of 2002–2003. After the February 2003 collapse of that strike, the CD was much more willing to engage with the mesa process, and pushed for a binding recall referendum under Article 72 of the Constitution of Venezuela, which was ultimately agreed on 23 May 2003. Ultimately the CD rejected the outcome of the Venezuelan recall referendum, 2004, which saw 59% of the vote for Chávez, despite the OAS and Carter Center's authentication of the result.
Allegations of US involvement
Chávez has asserted numerous times that US government officials knew about plans for a coup, approved of them, and assumed they would be successful. Chávez also further alleged that "two military officers from the United States" were present in the headquarters of coup plotters. Rear Admiral Carlos Molina, a central leader of the coup, later said that "We felt we were acting with US support... we agree that we can’t permit a communist government here. The US has not let us down yet."
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 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. No proof was offered. Eva Golinger published an article and her interpretation of 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. According to The New York Times, "The documents do not show that the United States backed the coup, as Mr. Chávez has charged. Instead, the documents show that American officials issued 'repeated warnings that the United States will not support any extraconstitutional moves to oust Chávez.'" The documents showed that American officials knew of the coup attempt beforehand, something which they had strenuously denied in the days after the event. A review of Golinger's first book carried out by Veneconomy, a political and economic research publication in Venezuela, says that, "In none of the cases where she makes a specific citation of an official [U.S. government] document is there a quote affirming what she states."
The United States government immediately declared it's support for the coup-installed regime, and blamed Chavez' governments actions to have caused the events. They also falsely stated that Chavez had resigned form presidency and dismissed his cabinet, and that security forces under his command had fired upon unarmed protesters.
Upon news of Chávez's return, Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor to US 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." Bush denied any involvement of the US government in the coup attempt and asked Chávez to "learn a lesson" from it. Asked whether the administration now recognizes Mr. Chávez as Venezuela's legitimate president, one administration official replied, "He was democratically elected," then added, "Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters, however."
Bush Administration officials acknowledged meeting with some of the planners of the coup in the several weeks prior to 11 April but have strongly denied encouraging the coup itself, saying that they insisted on constitutional means. However, a Defense Department official who was involved in the development of policy towards Venezuela said the administration was sending a different message. "We were not discouraging people," the official said. "We were sending informal, subtle signals that we don't like this guy. We didn't say, 'No, don't you dare,' and we weren't advocates saying, 'Here's some arms; we'll help you overthrow this guy.' We were not doing that."
Because of the allegations, an investigation conducted by the US Inspector General, at the request of US Senator Christopher Dodd, requested a review of American activities leading up to and during the coup attempt. The OIG report found no "wrongdoing" by US officials either in the State Department or in the Embassy, but it also concluded that "It is clear that NED [the National Endowment for Democracy], Department of Defense (DOD), and other US assistance programs provided training, institution building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chávez government."
The people filmed shooting from the Puente Llaguno bridge were initially identified as being pro-Chávez political activists 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, in August 2005.
However, in April 2009, and after a trial that had begun back in March 2006, and which had seen "265 expert testimonies, 5,700 photos, 20 videos and 198 witnesses", it was in fact ten of those same Metro police officers who were convicted of crimes leading to the deaths of three demonstrators back on 11 April 2002. Six of them, charged with homicide, were sentenced to 30 years each in prison. Only one officer was found "not guilty". A lawyer for the victims of the violence described the Caracas Metropolitan Police as "the armed wing of the opposition".
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 14 August 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. On 12 March 2004, however, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled that the recusals were unconstitutional, making the hearing invalid and that this meant the military officers (by then retired) should stand trial.
On 18 November 2004, a leading state prosecutor Danilo Anderson was assassinated shortly before he was scheduled to bring charges against 400 people for alleged participation in the coup. Meanwhile Carmona and several other participants went into exile.
In December 2007, Chávez issued a pardon covering more than 60 people who had drafted or signed the Carmona Decree.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, also known as Chávez: Inside the Coup, is a 2003 documentary focusing on events in Venezuela leading up to and during the April 2002 coup d'état attempt, which saw Chávez removed from office for several days. With particular emphasis on the role played by Venezuela's private media, the film examines several key incidents: the protest march and subsequent violence that provided the impetus for Chávez's ousting; the opposition's formation of an interim government, headed by business leader Pedro Carmona; and the Carmona administration's collapse, which paved the way for Chávez's return. Another documentary made by Venezuelans Wolfgang Schalk and Thaelman Urgelles, X-Ray of a Lie, discusses what they allege as manipulation of the Irish production of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Yet another documentary, by Calle y Media, Venezuela Bolivariana covers the events from 1989 to the 2002 coup attempt. The film is in Spanish with English subtitles.
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- In the same discussion, Bravo hosted Victor Manuel Garcia (director of polling company Ceca), who discussed his lead of a civilian command at Fort Tiuna, which he said during the coup was in constant contact with the military commands of Néstor González González and Efraín Vásquez Velasco. Garcia said that he had had close coordination with Molina Tamayo during the opposition march. – Golinger (2007:73)
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- The quote and the information on the unpaid (donated airtime) ads are from Margarita López Maya, "Venezuela 2002–2003: Polarization, Confrontation, and Violence," in Olivia Burlingame Goumbri, The Venezuela Reader, Washington D.C., U.S.A., 2005, pages 15, 16. The value of the donated time has been placed at Bs. 1.6 millardos – close to $US 3 million.
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