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In April 11 2002, there was a military coup in Venezuela, whereby president Hugo Chavez was deposed by a military dictatorship. This lasted just three days, as forces friendly to Chavez regained power and reinstated him.
Politically, for some time now, Chavez has been seen unfavorably in the U.S. For example,
- He has been an influential member in the OPEC oil cartel of oil producing nations;
- He has criticized the U.S.’s bombing of Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks;
- He has stopped the Venezuelan military taking part in naval exercises in the Caribbean;
- The U.S. military has been denied access to Venezuelan airspace, hampering Washington’s war in Colombia;
- He has been friendly to Cuba’s Fidel Castro;
- He has sold oil to Cuba;
- He has tried to implement economic policies that are not always in line with the Washington Consensus/Neoliberalism ideology;
- And, Venezuela is also home to the largest currently known oil reserves in the world outside the Middle East.
In supporting opposition groups, raising concerns about human rights issues from Chavez only and reporting only on anti-Chavez demonstrations, the U.S. has invited criticisms yet again of interference in a democratically elected government (Chavez won with overwhelming support) by another country (the United States). These issues are introduced below.
This web page has the following sub-sections:
- U.S. Involvement in Venezuelan Coup
- Media Reporting
- Venezuela’s Economy and Poverty
- Venezuela as alternative to IMF/Washington-based Influence in the Region
- Pro/Anti Chavez Demonstrations
- Chavez Recall Referrendum Fails
- Pat Robertson Calls for Assassination of Chavez
- Claims That Chavez Supports Terrorists
- More Information
U.S. Involvement in Venezuelan Coup
U.S. officials and media were quick to praise the coup as a victory for democracy, as Chavez had for months been increasingly portrayed as a human rights violator, turning to dictatorial policies etc. Yet, for example, journalist John Pilger pointed out that instead, his policies were actually helping reduce poverty and improving rights for the 80 or so percent of people that are poor in Venezuela.
The speed at which the U.S. supported the overthrow has made many suggest that the U.S. were involved in the coup in some way. In that respect, and the human rights concerns have been criticized as a cover for other agendas. The previous link, an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian notes that “In the past year , the United States has channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to US and Venezuelan groups opposed to Mr Chavez, including the labour group whose protests sparked off the coup. The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency created and financed by the US Congress.” The United States denies this.
In September 2003, VHeadline.com, an independent pro-democracy Venezuelan e-publication reported that the CIA backed a plan to bring down Hugo Chavez’s plane en route to the United Nations head-quarters in New York to deliver a speech. Sources in Venezuela’s Military Intelligence Directorate, VHeadline.com reports say “they have ‘overwhelming evidence’ of a CIA-backed plan to ‘bring down’ the Chavez Frias' airplane during the scheduled flight to the United States from Caracas.”
But it would be hard to get this information from the mainstream media. At some media outlets the reporting has been partial to say the least. Even New York Times editorials for example, portrayed the coup as a resignation by Chavez, rather than as a military coup, as criticized by media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR).
Pro/Anti Chavez Demonstrations
Travels of a Gringo, a documentary by Britain’s Channel 4 aired on the night of July 6, 2003. This second of a three-part documentary followed journalist Sean Langan in Venezuela, who also added the globalization dimension to this issue, pointing out that globalization was having a negative impact on many parts of Latin America, and the majority of Venezuelans were not benefitting. The protests against Chavez were largely by the elite who would benefit from the current form of neoliberal globalization, while the majority poor were supportive of Chavez for trying to introduce reforms and other policies that might help the poor.
Opposition groups have organized various protests against Chavez, some of which have been violent, and resulted in violent opposition. The human rights concerns raised by the U.S. have typically been only on the latter, and furthermore, mainstream media in countries such as the U.S. have only focused on demonstrations from the opposition groups, even if they are not as popular as pro-Chavez demonstrations.
Hugo Chavez Is Crazy!, by investigative journalist, Greg Palast, June 25, 2003, also raises this issue. In addition, Palast takes note of the color of the pro and anti Chavez marchers, and notes a racial line too. In a very brief overview, he states, “For five centuries, Venezuela has been run by a minority of very white people, pure-blood descendants of the Spanish conquistadors. To most of the 80 percent of Venezuelans who are brown, Hugo Chavez is their Nelson Mandela, the man who will smash the economic and social apartheid that has kept the dark-skinned millions stacked in cardboard houses in the hills above Caracas while the whites live in high-rise splendor in the city center. Chavez, as one white Caracas reporter told me with a sneer, gives them bricks and milk, and so they vote for him.”
As noted further above, Chavez’s policies have been to aid the poor, and some of those policies are actually working. The elite however, are finding that some of their wealth is indirectly being redistributed to the poor, or that their potential wealth is going to be redirected. Where there is already some inequality, any threat to that inequality for those who are in advantage is not always going to be warmly welcomed. In Venezuela, the elite have therefore tried various ways to discredit Chavez.
In a global sense, since the end of the Second World War, the powers such as the U.S. and Europe have long feared successful independent development by former colonies, and in effect have thwarted such efforts, be it by destabilizing countries, through war, or through international economic rules that maintain the historic unequal trade. (See this site’s sections on poverty and geopolitics for more on these angles.)
In that context, the U.S.’s open hostility towards Chavez would appear to predictably follow these historic trends. Things like the international oil politics mentioned above, and Chavez’s policies that have been in an effort to benefit the 80% poor Venezuelans have been met with opposition. One recent example of redistribution that has also perhaps angered the U.S. has been increasing the taxes of oil companies. Greg Palast, mentioned further above, notes in another article how major oil companies working in Venezuela would keep 84% of the proceeds of the sale of Venezuela oil, while the nation gets only 16%. Chavez wanted to increase his Treasury’s take to 30%. “And for good reason,” Palast said. “Landless, hungry peasants have, over decades, drifted into Caracas and other cities, building million-person ghettos of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez promised to do something about that.” One of the many ways the elite tried to discredit him was to encourage a recall, even though Chavez was clearly popular.
Chavez Recall Referrendum Fails
This is quite a deep topic, one which can’t be easily covered here in a short amount of space, so the following links may be of interest:
- Venezuela Has Proof Washington Was Behind Failed Coup, Associated Press, April 18, 2003
- Hugo Chavez has won two elections, and he has made a start on relieving poverty. So now the US wants to get rid of Venezuela’s president, John Pilger, March 7, 2002. (Note this was written over a month before the coup, but gives some additional context, which is not typically discussed in the mainstream.)
- The response of Britain's media to the conspiracy in Venezuela provided an object lesson in how censorship works in free societies by John Pilger, April 26, 2002.
- U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting Media Advisory, April 18, 2002
- Don’t believe everything you read in the papers about Venezuela by Gregory Palast, The Guardian, April 17, 2002
- American navy “helped Venezuelan coup” by Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, April 29, 2002
- Venezuela Watch from ZMagazine provides a many articles, links and context.
- Venezuela: Not a Banana-Oil Republic after All by Gregory Wilpert, April 15, 2002 includes a look at the media in Venezuela.
- Venezuela’s press power by Maurice Lemoine, Le Monde Diplomatique, August 2002, looks at “how hate media incited the coup against the president”. This report points out that, “Venezuela’s ‘hate media’ controls 95% of the airwaves and has a near-monopoly over newsprint, and it played a major part in the failed attempt to overthrow the president, Hugo Chavez, in April. Although tensions in the country could easily spill into civil war, the media is still directly encouraging dissident elements to overthrow the democratically elected president—if necessary by force.”
- Truthout.org posts a collection of articles from mainstream newspapers, etc. There are some interesting ones on Venezuela, but you will need to search for them.
- April 2002 Democracy Now! radio show archives has some coverage and analaysis of the coup.
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