(Copyright 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)

Portside (the left side in nautical parlance) is a
news, discussion and debate service of the Committees
of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It
says it aims to provide varied material of interest to people
on the Left. Heretofore , we were  under the impression that Portside  is the Internet's voice of the Left.  But it turns out to be the Internet's voice of the fundamentalist Far-Left, which, like all fundamentalist organizations, adheres to an orthodoxy and consequently refuses to post dissident or differing opinions from within the Left---such as HATE YOUR GOVERNMENT BUT LOVE YOUR COUNTRY, available to be read in SECTION ONE of COLUMN SEVENTY.  Fundamentalists, like fascists, will not tolerate any disagreements or variations from the fundamentalist orthodoxy.

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It looks like Venezuela is not just another banana-oil republic after all. Many here feared that with the April 11 coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela was being degraded to being just another country that is forced to bend to the powerful will of the United States. The successful counter-coup of April 14, though, which reinstated Chavez, proved that Venezuela is a tougher cookie than the coup planners thought.

The coup leaders against President Chavez made two fundamental miscalculations. First, they started having delusions of grandeur, believing that the support for their coup was so complete that they could simply ignore the other members of their coup coalition and place only their own in the new government. The labor union federation CTV, which saw itself as one of the main actors of the opposition movement to President Chavez, and nearly all moderate opposition parties were excluded from the new "democratic unity" cabinet. The new transition cabinet ended up including only the most conservative elements of Venezuelan society. They then proceeded to dissolve the legislature, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office, the national electoral commission, and the state governorships, among others. Next, they decreed that the 1999 constitution, which had been written by a constitutional assembly and ratified by vote, following the procedures outlined in the pervious constitution, was to be suspended. The new transition president would thus rule by decree until next year, when new elections would be called. Generally, this type of regime fits the textbook definition of dictatorship.

This first miscalculation led to several generals' protest against the new regime, perhaps under pressure from the excluded sectors of the opposition, or perhaps out of a genuine sense of remorse, and resulted in their call for changes to the sweeping "democratic transition" decree, lest they withdraw their support from the new government. Transition President Pedro Carmona, the chair of Venezuela's largest chamber of commerce, immediately agreed to reinstate the Assembly and to the rest of the generals' demands.

The second miscalculation was the belief that Chavez was hopelessly unpopular in the population and among the military and that no one except Cuba and Colombia's guerilla, the FARC, would regret Chavez' departure. Following the initial shock and demoralization which the coup caused among Chavez-supporters, this second miscalculation led to major upheavals and riots in Caracas' sprawling slums, which make up nearly half of the city. In practically all of the "barrios" of Caracas spontaneous demonstrations and "cacerolazos" (pot-banging) broke out on April 13 and 14. The police immediately rushed-in to suppress these expressions of discontent and somewhere between 10 and 40 people were killed in these clashes with the police. Then, in the early afternoon, purely by word-of-mouth and the use of cell phones (Venezuela has one of the highest per capita rates of cell phone use in the world), a demonstration in support of Chavez was called at the Miraflores presidential palace. By 6 PM about 100,000 people had gathered in the streets surrounding the presidential palace. At approximately the same time, the paratrooper battalion, to which Chavez used to belong, decided to remain loyal to Chavez and took over the presidential palace. Next, as the awareness of the extent of Chavez' support spread, major battalions in the interior of Venezuela began siding with Chavez.

Eventually the support for the transition regime evaporated among the military, so that transition president Carmona resigned in the name of preventing bloodshed. As the boldness of Chavez-supporters grew, they began taking over several television stations, which had not reported a single word about the uprisings and the demonstrations. Finally, late at night, around midnight of April 14, it was announced that Chavez was set free and that he would take over as president again. The crowds outside of Miraflores were ecstatic. No one believed that the coup could or would be reversed so rapidly. When Chavez appeared on national TV around 4 AM, he too joked that he knew he would be back, but he never imagined it would happen so fast. He did not even have time to rest and write some poetry, as he had hoped to do.

So how could this be? How could such an impeccably planned and smoothly executed coup fall apart in almost exactly 48 hours? Aside from the two miscalculations mentioned above, it appears that the military's hearts were not fully into the coup project. Once it became obvious that the coup was being hijacked by the extreme right and that Chavez enjoyed much more support than was imagined, large parts of the military decided to reject the coup, which then had a snowball-effect of changing military allegiances. Also, by announcing that one of the main reasons for the coup was to avoid bloodshed and by stating that the Venezuelan military would never turn its weapons against its own people, Chavez supporters became more courageous to go out and to protest against the coup without fear of reprisals.  

Very important, though, was that the coup planners seem to have believed their own propaganda: that Chavez was an extremely unpopular leader. What they seem to have forgotten is that Chavez was not a fluke, a phenomenon that appeared in Venezuela as a result of political chaos, as some analysts seem to believe. Rather, Chavez' movement has its roots in a long history of Venezuelan community and leftist organizing. Also, it seems quite likely that although many people were unhappy with Chavez' lack of rapid progress in implementing the reforms he promised, he was still the most popular politician in the country.  ##  

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14 April 2002 --


Human intelligence sources in Venezuela and Washington told STRATFOR, one of the world's leading private providers of global intelligence, that the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State Department may have been involved separately in the events that took place in Caracas between April 5 and April 13. If the information is correct, the reinstatement of President Hugo Chavez less than 48 hours after he was toppled by a civilian-military coup could have disastrous implications for the Bush administration's policy in Latin America.


Several human sources told STRATFOR on April 14 that the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency may have had a hand in the tumultuous events that occurred between April 5 and April 13 in Caracas, culminating in President Hugo Chavez's brief ouster and his return to power.

Although these sources may have had their own motivations for making the allegation, it is possible -- if the Chavez regime produces convincing evidence of U.S. government involvement in the failed coup-- that it could poison Washington's relations with governments throughout Latin America. Efforts to win regional support for increased U.S. military support to Colombia, and to other Andean ridge countries battling the twin threats of international drug trafficking and nominally Marxist insurgencies, would be set back significantly in Latin America and Washington. The Bush administration's efforts to pursue more free trade agreements in the region also would be undermined.

Chavez could strengthen his own political base in Venezuela if he can quickly prove U.S. involvement in attempts to topple his 3-year-old regime. This also would give a tremendous boost to Chavez's leadership status and credibility with populist and nationalist groups across Latin America that view the United States as a threat and that oppose  U.S.-style capitalist democracy.

The U.S. government has a long history of interfering with Latin American regimes viewed as unfriendly or dangerous to U.S. national security interests in the region. Although the Bush administration tried very hard in the past week to distance itself from the chaos in Venezuela, many governments in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia viewed Washington's cautious silence on Venezuela with considerable skepticism.

However, if STRATFOR's sources are correct, the skepticism may have been justified.

Our sources in Venezuela and the United States report that the CIA had knowledge of, and possibly even supported, the ultra-conservative civilians and military officials who tried unsuccessfully to hijack interim President Pedro Carmona Estanga's administration.

Sources in Venezuela identified this group as including members of the extremely conservative Catholic Opus Dei society and military officers loyal to retired Gen. Ruben Rojas, who also is a son-in-law of former President Rafael Caldera. Caldera, who governed from 1969 to 1973 and from 1994 to 1998, founded the Christian Democratic Copei party.

STRATFOR's sources say this ultra-conservative group planned to launch a coup against the Chavez regime on Feb. 27, but the action was aborted at the last minute as a result of strong pressure from the Bush administration, which warned publicly that it would not support or recognize any undemocratic efforts to oust Chavez.

Separately, STRATFOR's sources report, the State Department was quietly supporting the moderate center-right civilian-military coalition that sought Chavez's resignation by confronting his increasingly authoritarian regime with unarmed, peaceful people power. The April 11 protest by nearly 350,000 Venezuelans was the largest march against any government in Venezuela's history, and even without violence the momentum likely would have continued building in subsequent days. U.S. policymakers who supported the civic groups seeking Chavez's departure believed their numbers eventually would reach a sufficiently large critical mass to force a change in Chavez's policies or even trigger a regime change.

However, the violence that killed 15 people and injured 350 -- including 157 who suffered gunshot wounds inflicted by pro-Chavez government security forces and civilian militia members -- united the previously leaderless and disarticulated center-right opposition and gave moderates in the armed forces (FAN) what they perceived as a legitimate reason to oust Chavez immediately. Sources in this center-right group tell STRATFOR that the videotapes of pro-Chavez gunmen firing indiscriminately into the front ranks of marching protesters were "more than enough" to legally justify a regime change.  ##

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