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Chavez Dupes U.S.-backed Coup -- Democratically Elected Leader Unfriendly to U.S. Foreign Policy Regains Power After Two Days Under Military Arrest

by Joe Taglieri, FTW staff

May 6, 2002, 12:00 PM PDT (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 U.S. 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 Britain’s 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 unfolded.

"The NSA supported the coup using personnel attached to the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Interagency Task Force East (JIATF-E) in Key West, Fla.," 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, Ecuador 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, he said.

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, Iraq and Libya. Contrary to rhetoric out of Washington, Chavez has never been linked to any terrorist operations anywhere.

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 U.S. 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 Colombia 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, Venezuela 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 Massachusetts 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 rebels."

"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 other U.S. 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 as "routine."


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 is evident.’"


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 was involved.

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.


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 bloodshed.'"

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 cities.

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 reached Caracas that the paratroopers were angry. The brigade retrieved Chavez from captivity and returned him to Caracas April 14."

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 protest march.

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."


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.

Venezuela’s 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, 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 Venezuela, 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 Miraflores.

"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 above."   

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 Washington’s policy of simulation against democracy its first major defeat, and the dominoes have only begun to fall," Giordano wrote.

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 journalists particularly. 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.


The Andean Initiative, formerly called Plan Colombia 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.

Venezuela 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 Cambodia for sanctuary during the Vietnam War.

Colombia 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 of Colombia 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.


Venezuela is quite oil-rich, and 14 percent of U.S. consumption is of Venezuelan crude. Leading up to Chavez’s ouster, Venezuela’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 at Venezuela’s refineries and other oil facilities, which ballooned into a national strike, culminating in the fateful protest march on Miraflores.

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 guerilla factions.

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.

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