2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt
|2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Hugo Chávez||Pedro Carmona|
|Casualties and losses|
|19 dead and 60 - 150+ injured.|
Part of a series on the
|History of Venezuela|
The Venezuelan coup d'état attempt of 2002 was a failed coup d'état on 11 April 2002, that saw President Hugo Chávez, who had been elected in 2000, ousted from office for 47 hours, before being restored by a combination of military loyalists and support from Venezuela's poor.
On April 9, a general strike was called for by the national federation of trade unions, Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), in response to Chavez's appointments of political allies to prominent posts in Venezuela's national oil company PDVSA. Two days later, up to one million Venezuelans marched in opposition to Chavez in Caracas. When opposition leaders redirected the protestors to the presidential palace, Miraflores, where government supporters were holding their own rally, the two sides confronted each other. Gunshots rang out, and by that evening 19 people were dead, both opponents and supporters of the government. Military high command then convened at Miraflores and demanded Chavez to resign. He refused, was arrested by the military, and denied asylum in Cuba in order to be tried in court.
Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecámaras) president Pedro Carmona was declared interim president. During his brief rule, the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Supreme Court were both dissolved and the country's 1999 Constitution was declared void. By the 13th, the coup was on the verge of collapse, as Carmona's attempts to entirely undo Chavez's reforms angered much of the public and key sectors of the military, while parts of the anti-Chávez movement also refused to back Carmona. When word began to spread that Chavez had not resigned, as was publicly claimed, an uprising of "the poor from the peripheral barrios" surrounded the presidential palace. In Caracas, Chavez supporters seized television stations and demanded Chavez's return. That night, Carmona resigned and went into exile. The pro-Chávez Presidential Guard retook Miraflores without firing a shot, leading to the removal of the Carmona government and the re-installation of Chávez as president.
The coup was allegedly planned for some time, as those who opposed Chávez felt that his government was becoming undemocratic and favored a portion of the population, with members of certain social groups beginning to feel "alienated" by Chavez. At the time, Chávez saw his approval rating of 80% drop to about 30%. The growing dissatisfaction of Chávez among those in the military due to his aggressive manner and his problematic alliances with Cuba and paramilitaries also led to multiple officers of branches to call on Chavez to resign. The private media was later credited as the "unofficial leaders" of the uprising, using footage to allegedly incite support for the coup, which resulted in subsequent suppression of the media. Chavez and his supporters accused the United States government of involvement since declassified documents suggest the Bush administration had foreknowledge of a potential coup. Those responsible for the protestor deaths remains controversial.
- 1 Background
- 2 Events leading to the coup
- 3 Coup
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Documentary films
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 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. Following the 1999 constitutional referendum, Chávez was reelected in 2000 under the terms of the new constitution.
Chávez's clashes with multiple social groups he supposedly alienated and his close ties with controversial presidents Mohammad Khatami, Sadaam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi hurt his approval rating. Nelson then says what hurt Chávez's popularity the most was his relationship with Fidel Castro and Cuba, with Chávez attempting to make Venezuela in Cuba's image. Venezuela became Cuba's largest trade partner while Chávez, following Castro's example, consolidated the country's bicameral legislature into a single National Assembly and created community groups of loyal supporters allegedly trained as paramilitaries. Such actions created great fear among Venezuelans who felt like they were tricked and that Chávez had dictatorial goals. This feeling of being tricked especially affected the media since they originally supported Chávez and his promises.
Opposition to the Chávez government was then particularly strong, with some of those who were previously in the government before the election of Chávez and those in the private media. The opposition was worried with Chávez because they believed his rewriting Venezuela's constitution were signs that Chávez was trying to maintain power through authoritarianism. In early 2002, there were also 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 United States, 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.
Events leading to the coup
Social and business tension
Chávez's opposition originated from the response to the "cubanization" of Venezuela when mothers realized that the new textbooks in Venezuela were really Cuban books filled with revolutionary propaganda and with different covers causing them to protest. By the summer months of 2001, the opposition groups grew quickly from concerned mothers to labor unions, business interests, church groups, and right and leftwing political parties, who felt that they were being isolated. At the same time, groups supporting Chávez became organized, especially among the poor, with their passion for Chávez bordering idolatry since he gave them hope and feeling of being valuable.
On 13 November 2001, Chávez passed a package of 49 laws, using an enabling act which was about to expire, changing major laws in the government, oil businesses and land usage without approval of the National Assembly. The 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. McCaughan describes the 49 laws as the "plus ultra non," the "point of no return for Chávez's troubled relations with business, church and media leaders." For the opposition, such dramatic changes to the government proved to them that Chávez was a "dictator-in-training" and held a nationwide strike that largely affected the country's economy. 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. By January 2002, protests involving hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans opposing Chávez became common in Venezuela.
In March 2002, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state oil company that acted somewhat autonomously and accounted for 70% of Venezuela's foreign revenue, was targeted by Chávez out of fear of the oppositions ability to call national strikes and was to receive strict control from the government. Chávez's attempts to end the functional independence of PDVSA and 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.) On April 7, Chávez fired the President of PDVSA, Brigadier-General Guaicaipuro Lameda, along with 5 of the 7 members of the PDVSA board of directors on his Aló Presidente program, mocking each worker by name and used a whistle "as if to eject them from a soccer match". Following the firings, a series of walkouts and work slowdowns followed.
Anti-Chávez developments, according to The Los Angeles Times, were further “accelerated by a dispute” at PDVSA, with Chávez firing the firm's president, Gen. Guaicaipuro Lameda Montero (Ret.), and installing in his place “a former Communist Party militant,” in addition to firing 5 of the 7 board members of PDVSA. The Washington Times noted that Chávez had “choked off foreign investment by doubling the royalty payments oil companies must pay to the government and by restricting corporate ownership on some oil projects to 49 percent,” and had “alienated workers at his country's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, by replacing long-serving professionals with his supporters.” By early 2002, Chávez's approval rating dropped to around 30%. This action, according to The Los Angeles Times, “united all the anti-Chávez forces,” bringing together labor leader Carlos Ortega with Pedro Carmona Estanga, head of Venezuela's largest business federation, Fedecámaras, in a call for an “indefinite general strike” in support of oil workers.
The “long-simmering resentment in the military” was articulated publicly by four high-level officers, including Air Force Gen. Roman Gomez Ruiz, who called on Chávez to “resign peacefully and take responsibility for your failure.” Chávez responded by declaring these officers traitors, ordering their arrest, and forcing their resignations. The Chicago Tribune later reported that although the Venezuelan general public was unaware of it, the country's oil industry was approaching the end of a six-week work slowdown and Chávez's government and oil executives had agreed that members of an oil board picked by Chávez would resign. “But labor and business leaders, who had joined in secret with dissident military officers in an effort to oust Chávez, decided that the moment had come to press on,” the newspaper maintained. “The middle-class intellectuals and professionals who had at first delighted in Chávez's talk of restoring 'national honor',” Sandra Hernandez later observed in The Los Angeles Times, “watched in dismay as Chávez's supporters formed 'Bolivarian circles,' muscle groups that intimidated government opponents with threats of physical harm.” During the year or so preceding the coup, Chávez “essentially thumbed his nose” at his opponents, claimed a political consultant. Many opponents of Chávez felt that his behavior was self-destructive and that he would end up “los[ing] power through constitutional means via the Supreme Court or the parliament.” Nonetheless, according to The New York Times, “discontented military officers had been meeting among themselves and with business leaders for almost a year to discuss ways to oust Mr. Chávez.” These military officers “said they would pick the leader,” one officer said, because “They did not want to be called a military junta, but they wanted to make sure that at least one military person was on the transitional board.”
“The rumors of a coup to oust Chávez,” noted The Miami Herald, “were being whispered, if not shouted, for months before the revolt.” Writing about the run-up to the coup, Letta Tayler of Newsweek observed that “[o]ne of the few certainties” about it was “that military, business, union and civic leaders had been plotting Chávez's downfall for nearly two years." 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.[dubious ] The Guardian reported that as early as March 18, 2002, “Chávez was saying that he was aware of a plot” to overthrow him, and that in the days before April 11, “the political temperature was approaching boiling point,” with oil workers striking “in protest at Chávez's appointments to their board” and the media accelerating its criticisms of the regime. The Chicago Tribune reported that there had been rumors in Caracas “for weeks” about a coup, with military figures like Navy Vice Adm. Carlos Molina and Air Force Col. Pedro Soto “building support...in the armed forces” for a coup.
Hernandez claimed that in early April, “the coming coup...was an open secret.” On April 9, retired Gen. Manuel Andara Clavier, one of many retired military officials who opposed Chávez, reportedly told her, “The table is set....Everything is set for the military to let the president know he can't push this country to spill blood.” 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. Shortly before the coup attempt, 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.
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." On 5 April 2002, the PDVSA opposition to Chávez moved to shut down the company. Thousands of anti-Chávez PDVSA employees, 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 and Fedepetrol, the country's "largest blue-collar petroleum union". 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. 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.
Days after the firing of PDVSA heads, on 9 April, the general strike was moderately successful and oil production slowed. Newspapers were not published and 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 held televised news conference announcing that the strike would be extended indefinitely, unanimously voted for a "coordinating committee for democracy and liberty" in order to "rescue" Venezuela's freedom. The opposition then called for a march to the PDVSA headquarters the following day. In the National Assembly, those close to Chávez stated that Chávez wanted "moderation" though if an unlimited general strike were to occur from the opposition, an "unspecified 'violence will occur'". Brigadier General Néstor González then 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.
11 April march
The crisis that triggered the coup came when “workers and business leaders,” infuriated by Chávez's “meddling in the state oil company,” as the Chicago Tribune put it, joined in “calling for a general strike that cut exports” in support of striking oil workers. The strike began, according to The Washington Post, “as a managerial protest at the state-run oil company, but evolved into a broad effort supported by the country's largest business and labor groups to force Chávez from power.” After days of general strikes and protests involving thousands of Venezuelans, on 10 April, a speech was held at the CTV headquarters, where CTV and Fedecamaras held speeches that involved a Brigadier General denouncing Chávez's alleged involvement with FARC, and the announcement of a march the next day with the possibility of an indefinite strike. The march on 11 April was to begin at 9:00am, starting at Parque del Este and ending at the PDVSA headquarters.
On 11 April over hundreds of thousands to millions of Venezuelans 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".[better source needed] 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.[better source needed] 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.
“I don't think there was any intention of a coup,” Carlos Ortega, president of the Venezuelan Workers Confederation, later told The Los Angeles Times. Newsday indicated that it was Ortega and other protest leaders who called for participants to march to Miraflores. “Many marchers said they thought the call to proceed to Miraflores was spontaneous,” reported Newsday, but some planners “said the idea had always been to bring crowds to Miraflores to demand Chávez's resignation once they had sufficient turnout and a pledge from the military that it would second their call for his ouster.” At the palace the protesters shouted “Chávez Out!” The New York Times quoted Ortega as shouting: “Chávez get out!...We do not want you! We reject you!" Shortly after the protesters arrived at Miraflores, Chávez issued a call for calm on national TV. According to an opinion piece by Sandra Hernandez, opposition TV aired images of anti-Chávez protesters outside the palace being beaten by troops.
Hernandez wrote that on April 11, she was interviewing General Guaicaipuro Lameda, who had resigned in February as president of Venezuela's state-run oil firm “to protest Chávez's autocratic management style,” when an aide interrupted to say that he had to take a call from a family member. When Lameda hung up, he told Hernandez that the call “was from an officer who was present when an order was issued to send the military intelligence police after him.” Lameda assumed the police were coming “to prevent him from appearing on television later in the day, when he planned to appeal to the military to choose sides in the growing tensions between Chávez's supporters and his opponents.” Lameda was not calling for a coup, he said, although he and other opponents of Chávez hoped that anti-Chávez demonstrations would grow so large that Chávez would have to crack down, whereupon the military would be faced with the decision of whether to enforce his orders or not.
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, a revised plan of what was first used by Carlos Andrés Pérez during the Caracazo. 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 led by Metropolitan Police on motorcycles. As they turned a corner and began to approach the Miraflores at about 2:00 pm, the National Guard fired about 12 tear gas canisters from behind the palace walls and the protesters fled back down the road. However as more marchers pressed toward Miraflores, the leaders of the protest, Guaicaipuro Lameda and Rear Admiral Molina Tamayo, "kept calling on them to surge forward for a direct assault on the palace about two hundred yards away" and urged the crowd to advance through the tear gas about 20 minutes after the initial confrontation. The protesters made it closer to Miraflores and the Presidential Guard responded with more tear gas, about 20 gas canisters causing panic and a dispersion of the demonstrators to areas surrounding the palace.
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. From about 3:00pm to 5:00pm until a truck arrived with opposition speakers that drew enthusiasm from the demonstrators. 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.
At approximately 5:00pm, the United States consulate's Economics Office began observing violent incidents; especially on Baralt Avenue where Chavistas threw rocks and bottles and the National Guard fired tear gas at a small group of protesters. Police motorcycles pushed the opposition towards the Chavistas, and as a police tank turned onto the main street, the first sounds of gunfire were heard at about 5:30pm. By that time, Lameda, Molina Tamayo, Carmona, and CTV leader Carlos Ortega had already left the area. Following the violence, between 17 and 19 were left dead and around 60 injured, most killed between 3:20 pm and 3:55 pm.
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.
"The killings at the anti-Chávez demonstration rocked the country," the New York Times reported on April 20, "reviving memories of the violent events in 1989, known as the Caracazo, in which hundreds were killed by government forces. Venezuelans across the political spectrum swore that such violence would never take place again."
By 7 p.m. on April 11, "Navy Chief of Staff Vice Adm. Hector Ramirez Perez and nine other generals and admirals who had been talking since July about pressuring Chávez into changing his ways decided to rebel and go public," according to The Miami Herald. "Even many military officers who were neutral in their feelings about Chávez were persuaded to turn against the president after Thursday's massacre," The Chicago Tribune later reported. "Soon press conferences flooded the airwaves as dozens of officers, more than 50 in all, denounced the president."
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. Shortly after, the head of the army, Efraín Vásquez Velasco, together with other ranking army officers, declared that Chávez had lost his support.
Infuriated by the slaughter but "reluctant to stage an outright coup," according to The New York Times, a group of military officers who called themselves the "Movement for the Integrity and Dignity of the National Armed Forces" demanded on Thursday evening that Chávez resign. In a statement, they declared that they had "withdrawn our recognition" of Chávez, whom they accused of "betraying the trust of the people" and held responsible for the deaths of peaceful protesters. The statement was read at a press conference by Vice Adm. Hector Ramirez Perez, chief of staff of the Venezuelan Navy and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and signed by a number of other officers, including 10 senior officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard, later described by The New York Times as occupying "largely administrative posts." Other signatories included the heads of the paramilitary National Guard and "several midlevel commanders based in the capital". Perhaps the most prominent member of this group was Gen. Efrain Vásquez, Commander in Chief of the Army, who said, "Mr. President, I was loyal to the end, but today's deaths cannot be tolerated." He also told reporters that no coup had been planned before April 11 but that the massacre had been "too much and we had to move." Navy Vice Adm. Hector Rafael Ramirez agreed, saying, "We cannot allow a tyrant to run the Republic of Venezuela."
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, he and his family could go to Cuba and that he would be able to address the nation live on television. But Vásquez and others would not agree to these conditions and dispatched two generals to arrest Chávez. At 3 am, with the coup plotters threatening to bomb the Miraflores palace if Chávez did not resign, Chávez phoned the head of the armed forces, General-in-Chief Lucas Rincón saying that he would do so; he in turn told him that the military leadership was divided on whether to oust him or not. 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". Chávez later said that he told Rincón during their telephone call that he would “abandon” the presidency, after which he “left the palace to negotiate the terms under which he would do so”, saying “I am ready to go, but I demand respect for the constitution.”
At Miraflores, according to The Los Angeles Times, Chávez dispatched Rincón, his military chief of staff, to meet with the military officers at Fuerte Tiuna who were calling for him to step down. Rincón called Chávez from Fuerte Tiuna to say that the officers were “fighting among themselves” and insisting on his resignation. As The Chicago Tribune put it, “top military commanders,” unable to countenance “the spectacle of a president making war on his own people,” demanded that Chávez step down. Faced with this demand, Chávez “started working the phones” and also summoned a clergyman, Monsignor Maltazar Porras, to discuss “prayer and forgiveness,” his purpose being “maybe as much to search his soul as to search for a way out of the crisis.” Porras, whom Chávez had once reviled as one of the church's “devils in skirts,” sand that Chávez had “personally asked me for forgiveness for everything he had said about me.”
Gen. Vásquez ordered several generals to go to Miraflores and arrest Chávez. Meanwhile, according to Newsday, “cabinet members and honor guards sat glumly in the hallway outside...Chávez's suite,” awaiting news. Shortly after midnight, Environment Minister Maria Elisa Osorio said, “The president is being forced to leave. There's a coup.” Faced with his officers' demand, Chávez refused to resign but agreed to “abandon his functions,” a procedure that is provided for by Venezuelan law but that would need to be ratified by the National Assembly. There followed “hours of negotiations” in which the “key figure” was Armed Forces Commander Gen. Lucas Rincón Romero, who did not make clear at any point during the crisis where his loyalties lay. Early Friday morning, Rincón told the public, incorrectly, that Chávez had resigned. An hour and a half later, Carmona was named president of what was meant to be a transitional government.
On Friday morning a “heavily guarded caravan” took Chávez, who was “wearing his trademark fatigues and red beret,” from Miraflores to the army base at Fort Tiuna. At the base, Chávez was forced to take off the uniform and beret and dress in civilian garb. (The Miami Herald noted that armed-forces officers had long been irked by his by his habit of wearing a military uniform during his presidency.). Here he met with representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. “By midmorning on Friday,” reported the Times, Chávez “looked to be finished.” The military later maintained, according to The Guardian, “that the civil unrest forced them to ask Chávez for his resignation, which he gave verbally, asking to be flown to Cuba.” The Cuban government was trying to arrange for him to go into exile in Cuba. Chávez's request to be allowed to go into exile in Cuba was soon rejected, however. Army General Roman Fuemayor said: “He has to be held accountable to his country.” Meanwhile, according to the Miami Herald, “Bernal, Vice President Diosdado Cabello and several other Chávez cabinet members were reported to be trying to win political asylum in foreign embassies, including those of Chile, Cuba, Iraq and Libya.” Police, alert to reports that Chávez supporters in the Caracas slums were distributing weapons, began searching for guns in homes.
Meanwhile Rincón, "in full uniform," had announced on national television at about 2 a.m. that the president had resigned. Rincón denied that a coup was underway. After two young female military prosecutors interviewed Chávez at Fort Tiuna on Friday morning about the April 11 massacre, and were told by him that he had not resigned, they made note of this in their report, as a result of which word began to be spread through the military rank and file that no resignation had taken place. Chávez later described the young women as "valiant." From Fort Tiuna he was taken to Orchila Island. Cabello later noted that although the coup had been engineered by some 80 generals, they were not generals who commanded troops. Those who did command troops would end up leading the counter-coup.
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.
Early on Friday, Carmona, was sworn in as interim president.
Carmona's interim presidency
Businessman Pedro Carmona Estanga, president of Fedecámaras, was installed as interim President after Chávez's detention. Carmona, described by The Miami Herald as “president for a day,” told that newspaper that his acceptance of that position was, in the Herald's paraphrase, “as a spontaneous act of bravery, not the result of a monthslong conspiracy.” “I was not involved in any conspiracy,” Carmona said. “I cannot accept any conjecture or soap operas. I categorically deny it.”
Describing Carmona as “a bookish economist” who had worked with the Foreign Ministry and “run a variety of trade associations,” The Washington Post said that one reason he was chosen as interim president “was that he was one of the few people who didn't want the job.” One condition imposed by the coup-makers was that the interim president would not be able to run for president in elections several months later, and those who really wanted the long-term position therefore took themselves out of the running for the interim post.
The Herald reported that even Chávez had described Carmona as “straightforward and low-key -- until schemers manipulated him.” According to Venezuelan political analysts, Carmona was always a “moderate” and “conciliatory” figure, but in the years before the 2002 coup he “became more aggressive as Chávez did.” Margarita Lopez Maya of the University of Central Venezuela said that as Carmona rose through the ranks of Fedecamaras, “he became more aggravated, a situation which got worse because the government was provoking everyone.”
Invited to be president by those who had deposed Chávez, Carmona had become nationally prominent as the leading figure in the previous December's general strike. The Chicago Tribune described Carmona as “a buttoned-down businessman and economist who has degrees from Caracas' Andres Bello Catholic University and the University of Brussels” and who “has an international reputation, having represented Venezuelan commercial and diplomatic missions abroad.” Upon Carmona's taking office, Juan Calvo, a Venezuelan businessman, said, “He always surrounds himself with capable people, and I'm sure that's what he will do now."
Upon being sworn in, Carmona told supporters that “We must go about returning to the rule of law....Strongman rule will be left behind. I will act in the most open manner, working with all sectors of the country.” He also said that he required plenty of support “to obtain the conditions required to rebuild confidence in the country and improve its international image.” In addition, he vowed that “justice would be done” for the survivors of those who had been massacred.
One of the immediate changes Carmona made after his inauguration was to change his country's official name back to the Republic of Venezuela from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the name established by the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution, which Carmona ordered to be dissolved. News of this change was greeted with loud cheers from coup supporters at Miraflores. The police confiscated scores of weapons from several Bolivarian Circles, including a group at the Ministries of Health and Environment. Edgar Paredes, interim head of Petroleos de Venezuela, announced that Venezuela would no longer be selling oil to Cuba. It was also announced that the oil company was no longer on strike. Moreover, Carmona's government repealed the 49 laws passed the previous November that business leaders considered damaging to the economy. In addition, he named retired Brig. Gen. Guaicaipuro Lameda to run Petroleos de Venezuela, the government-owned oil company. Meanwhile pro-Chávez officers in the military were being removed from their positions or assigned to remote locations.
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.
Carmona drew harsh and widespread criticism for many of the decisions he made during his brief presidency. Most controversially, he dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and dismissed every mayor and governor in the country. “In hindsight, it was the most idiotic thing that could have been done,” said one member of the anti-Chávez coalition. “But we had just come out of an ambush and we were venting our distaste for the people who occupied those positions, so everyone applauded the dissolution.” He also suspended the power of other branches of government and dismissed Chávez appointees while forming a new council, most of whose 25 members were Chávez opponents.
“Carmona was really placed in a trap,” Anibal Romero, a Venezuelan political science professor, told The Los Angeles Times. “He couldn't leave the National Assembly in power and govern the country, because it was full of Chávez supporters. But if he dissolved it, he would be declared anti-democratic.” Another mistake was that, although he had spent months working closely with Ortega, he appointed no labor leaders to his cabinet. Perhaps even worse, he named two naval officers, but no army officers, to the cabinet, bypassing Vásquez and instead naming Adm. Hector Ramirez Perez as Minister of Defense. “The army would never accept a navy officer in that job," Ret. Vice Adm. Mario Ivan Carratu later said. “It has always been that way.”
Carmona's appointment to cabinet positions of members of Opus Dei, the Catholic organization, and of members of what the New York Times called “a discredited conservative party,” concerned many democratic members of the anti-Chávez coalition, and made many of them feel “they were being aced out of power by Carmona,” reported the Times. The military members of the coalition were also displeased that Carmona did not consult them on military appointments. When he named Gen. Rafael Damina Bustillo to be head of the National Guard, Gen. Vásquez insisted angrily: “The officers who are with me . . . will remain here.” By midday Saturday, as the Washington Post later reported, “key military leaders were growing concerned” about many of Carmona's actions, unconstitutional and otherwise. “[I]n style and substance,” the Post noted, “the new government quickly alienated civil groups and key elements of the armed forces, which are proud of a history of support for Venezuelan democracy.” “The way the provisional government abandoned the constitution produced a very strong reaction – it was a big mistake,” said Congressman Felipe Mujica, member of a socialist party that had broken with Chávez but been excluded from the new government. “That, and the way they were pursuing his political allies, arresting them, created the impression that this was not the right way.”
Nor did it help that there was considerable competition within the coalition. “There were many more people with aspirations than space to accommodate them, and they all seemed ready to jump ship when they felt they were being excluded,” said Janet Kelly, a Veneuelan political commentator. Columnist Patricia Poleo of the Caracas newspaper El Nuevo Pais joined several government officials when she later suggested that during Carmona's tenure, Isaac Perez Recao, a member of a family that owned a controlling stake in a firm called Venoco, a subsidiary of which Carmona ran, had been a key financier of the coup and had been pulling strings behind the scenes. “He immediately surrounded himself with people who invoked fear in Venezuela,” complained one official about Cormona. “Obviously, this coup was very poorly coordinated. It caught the democratic opposition by surprise.” The Miami Herald reported that “moderate politicians complained that Carmona, a centrist businessman, had been 'hijacked' by rightists.”
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.
Speaking afterward about his one-day presidency, Carmona told the Herald that he had been “misunderstood because...the opposition wasted too much time forming a cabinet and naming the high military command,” whereas if the coup had “been hatched in advance, those key decisions would have already been made.” He regretted not stressing his plan to appoint “a 35-member representative council to help him run the nation” and to hold assembly elections in 90 days and a presidential election (in which he would not run) in December. He said he had suspended the assembly “because the new government would never have accomplished its goals with a congress so stacked to favor one party.” He also denied any link to Perez. “There is no connection between me and him,” Carmona said. “I did not receive one cent from him. I am not manipulated.”
“There was no rebellion or coup,” Carmona told the New York Times after the counter-coup. “There was simply a vacuum of power that came about after the military announced the resignation of the president.” Carmona said he had accepted the interim presidency because he was told by military officers that Chávez had resigned. “I was called by them to fill that role,” he said. “I was called by officers and others to take over. And I had the courage to take that step.” He told the Guardian after his ouster that he took “full responsibility for my actions,” emphasizing that “there was no premeditation, no conspiracy” behind the coup and his elevation to the presidency. He said that after the April 11 march on Miraflores, he had been phoned by someone (whom he would not name) who said that Chávez had quit and offered him the presidency. “Everything happened so fast that mistakes were made,” Carmona said. “If I could go back in time, I would have had a triumvirate, the power would have been shared - but everything was so quick.” Asked if he had been “used by the military,” he replied: “There might have been people who used me, you never know what is going on underground,” but insisted that “I acted purely in the higher interests of the country.”
One Western diplomat told the Miami Herald that during Carmona's brief presidency “everybody was saying what a great guy he was, professional, straight, ethical,” but that after his ouster “everyone is pointing fingers at him for being a dope.” Carmona himself told the Herald that he would remain a “civic activist” but would leave politics: “I have never been a politician; that is not my world,” Carmona said. “As for Venezuela, we will continue the struggle.”
In addition to Carmona's errors, his coalition partners made several missteps. The first was to refuse to let Chávez leave the country, as he asked, and in return for which he promised, on Thursday, to officially resign. This request was not honored because hard-line members of the coalition wanted to prosecute Chávez for the killings outside Miraflores. It was Chávez's refusal to resign – he described himself as “a prisoner president” – that ultimately split the anti-Chávez coalition. Also, the coup-makers were criticized for raiding the homes of some Chávez supporters, including Tarek William Saab, chairman of the congressional Foreign Relations Committee, and Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, minister of the interior and justice.
Fidel Castro later confirmed that after the coup his government had “contacted the ambassadors of 21 countries in an attempt to get a plane to Venezuela to rescue Chávez.”
Pro-Chávez uprising and restoration
Prompted by the spreading news that Chávez had not resigned, Carmona's installation as President generated an uprising by Bolivarian Circles 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. 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 (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.
Following the coup attempt, the Venezuelan media was blamed as being a major contributor to the unrest in Venezuela. A Foreign Policy editorial, stated that, "Never in the history of Latin America had the media played quite so prominent a role in facilitating the overthrow of a democratically elected government," noting that "the majority of private outlets in Venezuela were owned by wealthy families with an interest in ousting Chávez." According to Venezuelan media officials, the majority of the media supported Chávez and the change he promised when first elected in 1998, but after they reported the "negative realities" occurring in Venezuela, the Venezuelan government began to portray the media as an enemy. Nelson also explains how with the increasing disapproval of Chávez in 2001, the Venezuelan media, which initially approved and supported Chávez, turned against him, which then accelerated his loss of popularity.
According to Le Monde diplomatique, mainstream Venezuelan media outlets such as El Universal, El Nacional, El Nuevo País, Globovisión, Televen, CMT and RCTV allegedly supported the coup and anti-government demonstrations, while only the anti-Chávez point of view was reflected in the news reports of international media agencies and organizations. Senior Research Fellow for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs Nikolas Kozloff wrote that Venevisión owner Gustavo Cisneros was "widely reported" to have bankrolled the coup and hosted the coup plotters, including Carmona, at both his mansion and network offices, leading Newsweek to place Cisneros "at the vortex of the whole mess." Opposition legislator Pedro Pablo Alcántara later said of Carmona's regime, "This government was put together at Gustavo Cisneros' office."
However, media outlets denied allegations of any political bias or involvement, stating that coverage was impeded by the confusion of the coup, including the violent targeting of media personnel that left six cameramen shot, with one of those mortally wounded. Media outlets that both opposed and supported Chávez reported difficulties in reporting due to the potential danger their reporters faced, stating that journalists were afraid to cover pro-Chávez demonstrations since the media was allegedly targeted. Venevison reported that only 5 of 18 reporters went out to cover events during the coup while a newspaper considered pro-Chávez stated that they had to remove their logo from cars so they would not be attacked by Chávez supporters. It was also reported that the Chávez supporting Bolivarian Circles surrounded media buildings which prevented their reporters from leaving the area.
At a 10 April meeting involving media representatives, Vice President Diosdado Cabello and Minister of Defense Rangel, the Venezuelan government blamed the media for the anti-government demonstrations, with Cabello allegedly stating the media would be "responsible for the blood that will be shed"; Globovision's president rejected this, saying the Venezuelan government had called on Chávez supporters to confront opposition marches near Miraflores. 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." The 11 April edition of El Nacional was headlined "The Final Battle Will Be in Miraflores".[better source needed] In March RCTV had given blanket coverage to anti-government demonstrations whilst not covering pro-Chávez ones altogether. At the palace, Chávez supporters had gathered and the two sides clashed, leading to 19 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Controversially, private television stations aired footage "that purported to show pro-government chavistas firing on opposition demonstrators." Although who was responsible for the deaths remains unclear (see below), and that video evidence later emerged indicated that the gunmen were firing back at police in self defense, the media aired the footage "non-stop" as part of an anti-Chávez campaign; the footage served as a "bombshell" that triggered greater military participation in the coup. A steady stream of ads asked Venezuelans to participate in the insurrection. RCTV sent its reporters to quiet parts of town for "live shots of tranquility" and supposedly 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. On 13 April, the media met with Carmona at Miraflores and denounced his decision to dissolve the National Assembly and arrest supporters of Chávez. Such opposition to Carmona's moves resulted in his Minster of Defense, Admiral Hector Ramirez Perez, stating that the media was "opposed" to Carmona's interim government. Carmona's Minister of Defense also called on the media to stop reporting the violence so it would not provoke more violent actions. The head of Globovision reportedly called to CNN in Atlanta "to request the U.S. network join the blackout."
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.'" 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 state television channels.
According to a declassified document from the United States State Department, then-Congressmen Cass Ballenger and William Delahunt met with five media outlet owners and presidents following the coup attempt to encourage the media "to contribute to a climate that would make possible the dialogue and reconciliation that President Chavez has called for." The media owners and presidents, who admitted there may have been mistakes during the coup attempt, said "the media is democratic" and was opposed to any coup. The media officials also stated that they were attempting to give Chávez a second chance but remained skeptical, noting his 14 April speeches after returning to power where he admitted errors and asked for forgiveness, but later gave a "fiery speech" where said to his supporters that those responsible for the coup attempt, including the media, "must pay".
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.
Early on the morning after the coup, opponents of Chávez filled the streets of Caracas, “honking horns and waving the gold, blue and red of the Venezuelan flag,” according to the New York Times. A celebratory headline in El Universal read “It's over!” Oscar Garcia Mendoza, president of the major bank Venezolano de Creditor, ran a “gigantic newspaper ad” celebrating Chávez's ouster, which, he wrote, would “substantially improve Venezuelan society.” “This is the day that Venezuelans have been waiting for,” said Luis Vicente Leon, head of a Caracas polling firm. “The situation in Venezuela has changed overnight, not only politically but also economically.” About 500 protesters gathered outside the Cuban embassy in Caracas demanding an end to diplomatic relations and the expulsion of 1,000 Cuban teachers, doctors and sports trainers. Protesters cut the mission's utility cables, slashed tires, and smashed the windshields of three cars with diplomatic plates. Although the Cuban ambassador told a Venezuelan official that he was not sheltering any Venezuelans, he would not allow the building to be searched.
The United States government blamed Chavez' governments actions to have caused the events, and said Chavez had resigned from 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.
In Chile, newspapers circulated information soon after the coup attempt showing the Chilean government's "discomfort" with Chavez returning to power with President Ricardo Lagos holding Chavez accountable for the political crisis in Venezuela. President Lagos later clarified that his statements were to tell Venezuela to avoid polarization and the Chile opposes the "interruption of institutional order".
Don MacKay of the Canadian Foundation of the Americas was troubled by the coup, saying: “This is the first time in a decade the military has stepped into power in Latin America. It is very troubling....This will be a test case to see whether the OAS's democracy clause has any teeth.” Cuban Foreign Relations Minister Felipe Perez Roque said that in the eyes of his country Chávez was still president, and Cuba's Communist Party daily, Granma, wrote that Chávez had been “overthrown in a conspiracy by the country's wealthy classes, corrupt politicians and the news media.”
On April 13, the editors of the New York Times applauded what they incorrectly described as Chávez's resigntion, calling him a “ruinous demagogue” and cheering the fact that “Venezuelan democracy [was] no longer threatened by a would-be dictator.” The Times editors also wrote admiringly of the installation of Carmona as president, describing him as a “respected business leader.” Furthermore, the Times congratulated the U.S. government for its wisdom in “never [having] publicly demonized Mr. Chávez, denying him the role of nationalist martyr,” and in staying out of the coup, which the Times characterized as “a purely Venezuelan affair.”
Allegations of US involvement
Shortly before the coup attempt, Chávez dismissed possible hostility from the United States, since "times had changed." Afterwards, however, Chávez asserted numerous times that United States 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." However, the United States repeatedly informed the Venezuelan opposition that they would not be supported if there were a coup and President George W. Bush denied the United States' involvement.
In December 2004, The New York Times reported on the release of newly declassified intelligence documents that showed that the CIA and Bush administration officials had advance knowledge of an imminent plot to oust President Chavez, although the same documents do not indicate the United States supported the plot. In 2009, former US President Jimmy Carter also told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that he believed that Washington knew about the abortive coup.
Chavez activist and author Eva Golinger  states that 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 possibly 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." The United States embassy in Venezuela then supposedly informed Chávez of a possible coup and Chávez allegedly ignored their warnings.
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. 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 New York Times also notes that the documents used by Golinger do not show direct involvement of the U.S. government in the coup attempt; instead, they show that U.S. officials issued "repeated warnings that the United States will not support any extraconstitutional moves to oust Chávez," whilst nonetheless talking only "broadly" to Mr. Chavez about opposition plans, and "provid[ing] few hard details of the looming plot". The documents were obtained, through Freedom of Information Act requests, and released by Eva Golinger "as part of an offensive by pro-Chavez activists to show that the United States government has, at least tacitly, supported the opposition's unconstitutional efforts to remove the president". In addition to the CIA documents, The New York Times reported that Golinger also obtained "reams of documents from the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency financed by the United States government, that show that $2.2 million was spent from 2000 to 2003 to train or finance anti-Chávez parties and organizations."
On 27 April 2002, Chairman Cass Ballenger and Congressman Bill Delahunt of the United States also met with Venezuelan media heads of Venevision, Globovision, Union Radio, El Nacional, Ultimas Noticias and El Mundo, telling them that "the U.S. was opposed to any disruption of constitutional government and would condemn any coup, open or disguised, aimed at ousting Chavez".
Responsibility for violence
There is no consensus as to who was responsible for the deaths on 11 April 2002, and this remains a very controversial issues. 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 2003 documentary titled 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 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, both opposition and Chavistas, were shot in locations not reachable from the bridge, being around corners from the main street. There are reports that claim seven were arrested at the Hotel Ausonia and that they were later freed in the chaos of the coup while there was also empty shells found at the Hotel Edén. Video 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.
In 2012, American academic Brian Nelson concluded after a five-year investigation that sharpshooters were not involved in the conflict and that the day's violence began when several Chávez supporters standing at street level fired handguns into a crowd of protestors; opposition-led metropolitan police later returned fire, leading to injuries and deaths among both government opponents and supporters.
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.
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.
After Chávez allegedly took over of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice and filled it with his supporters, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, however, ruled on 12 March 2004 that the recusals were unconstitutional, making the hearing invalid and which meant that the military officers (by then retired) should stand trial.
After a trial that had begun back in March 2006 which had seen "265 expert testimonies, 5,700 photos, 20 videos and 198 witnesses", in April 2009, the ten Metropolitan Police officers 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". According to former President of the Supreme Court (TSJ), Eladio Aponte Aponte, he was personally ordered by Hugo Chavez to use the full weight of the court to condemn the officers and offered an apology to them.
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.
Chavez said after his reinstatement as president, "This coup d’etat would not have been possible without the help of the news media, especially television," and began a campaign to establish a "media hegemony" to prevent similar media conduct from happening in the future. Independent outlets were closed and state media was expanded. In 2004, the Law on Social Responsibility in Radio and Television was passed, allowing the government to censor media in order to "promote social justice and further the development of the citizenry, democracy, peace, human rights, education, culture, public health, and the nation’s social and economic development." The law, which was extended to the Internet and social media in 2011, requires media companies to "establish mechanisms to restrict, without delay, the dissemination of messages." Violators can be fined up to 3,000 USD or 10 percent of the annual year’s income, or face suspension of service, while journalists can be arrested with vague charges, including "conspiracy against the state" for criticizing the government. In 2007, Chavez revoked the license of leading anti-government broadcaster RCTV, and other stations began toning down dissent to avoid a similar fate. In 2009, 34 radio stations were closed for "technical and administrative reasons."
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, also known as Chávez: Inside the Coup, is a 2003 documentary  which focuses 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. The film focuses on Venezuela's private media and examines multiple incidents, including the opposition's formation of an interim government, headed by business leader Pedro Carmona; and the Carmona administration's collapse. 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. A 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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Otto Gebauer fue imputado por el delito de insubordinación y privación ilegítima de libertad al coronel Hugo Chávez Frías,(Spanish)
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