A month after an attempted coup by pro-American right-wingers in Venezuela failed to overthrow the popularly-elected government of Hugo Chavez in the world’s fourth largest oil-producing country, more and more details are becoming known of the US’s role it.
Immediately the coup took place on April 12, it was presented in the west as a popular uprising against an egocentric leader whose erstwhile followers had turned against him. US officials did not explicitly back the coup, paying lip-service to the importance of proper political process, but they endorsed the new government under businessman Pedro Carmona. They also supported the new regime’s claim that Chavez had resigned voluntarily, saying that he was “responsible for his own fate”.
Two days later, however, the ‘coup’ was dramatically reversed when Venezuela’s poorest people, who had been reported to have turned against Chavez, came into the streets to demand his reinstatement.
Details that have emerged since show that US officials were directly involved in planning the overthrow of a democratic regime, in a direct echo of the US’s role in Latin American affairs during the 1980s, under the Republican presidency of Ronald Reagan.
The BBC Newsnight program in London revealed on May 13 that Chavez survived the coup only because he was warned in advance by OPEC secretary general Ali Rodriguez that the US was planning to replace him in order to secure control of Venezuela’s oil production at a time when there is widespread anti-American feeling in the Middle East.
Chavez himself claimed on the program that he had tried to avert the coup by promising the US that he would refuse to join any proposed oil boycott (this was immediately after Ayatullah Khamenei’s proposal that Muslim states should stop oil production in protest against Israeli policies in Palestine), and that his life was saved because he had time to arrange for loyal troops to protect him when the coup began.
Newsnight also revealed the details of three previous attempts on Chavez’s life that had been financed by the US.
US connections with the coup had already been revealed by earlier press investigations. The Observer newspaper, London, reported on April 21 that diplomatic sources had revealed that the coup had been planned in Washington, and that senior Venezuelans involved, including Carmona, had visited Washington repeatedly until a few weeks before the coup to discuss the details.
The meetings took place at the White House and were convened by Otto Reich, president George W. Bush’s key policy-maker for Latin America. Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American who ran Reagan’s ‘Office for Public Diplomacy’, reporting directly to Colonel Oliver North, Reagan’s national security aide. He was also an ambassador to Venezuela during the 1980s.
Reich was reportedly one of three senior US officials responsible for the coup attempt. He was working alongside Elliot Abrams, another former senior Reagan official who is now a director of the National Security Council for “democracy, human rights and international operations”. He was convicted of misleading Congress over the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan era.
The third official was John Negroponte, the US ambassador to the UN, who was ambassador in Honduras from 1981-1985, when an infamous US-trained death-squad, known as Battalion 3-16, tortured and murdered scores of left-wing activists.
On the day that the coup took place in Caracas, in a meeting clearly planned in advance, Reich summoned regional ambassadors to the White House for a briefing, telling them that the removal of Chavez was not a reversal of democracy because Chavez had resigned voluntarily, and that the US recognised the Carmona government as legitimate.
More than 100 people died in the events before, during and after the coup. By any of the standards that the US claims to uphold in international affairs, Washington officials and their seniors are guilty of numerous crimes and ought to be held accountable. There is no prospect of that happening, nor indeed even of most Americans ever learning what actually happened. Such is the nature of American democracy.