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Venezuela Coup Attempts

Venezuela is oil. Venezuela provides the United States with about 15 percent of its oil, the third largest supplier behind Saudi Arabia and Canada. The Government of Venezuela had opened up much of the hydrocarbon sector to foreign investment, promoting multi-billion dollar investment in heavy oil production, reactivation of old fields, and investment in several petrochemical joint ventures. Almost 60 foreign companies representing 14 different countries participated in one or more aspects of Venezuela's oil sector. The Venezuelan national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and foreign oil companies had signed 33 operating contracts.

Hugo Chavez Frias, an avid admirer of Cuba's Fidel Castro, once remarked, on one of his many visits to the Cuban capital, Havana, that the two countries were sailing towards what he called "the same sea of happiness". Ever since then, the accusation that Venezuela's leftist president wanted to copy Fidel Castro's communist system had been a constant of opposition speeches and rallies. Fidel Castro was a very good friend of Hugo Chavez, who he visited frequently. To Venezuela's entrenched elite, Chavez was a palurdo, a lower-class wannabe upsetting the old order.

The US initially adopted a "wait and see" posture in the aftermath of Hugo Chavez's landslide victory in Venezuela's presidential elections. But by 2002 George Friedman, chair of the intelligence organization, Stratfor, suggested that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was next on Bush's military agenda. "You've got a team in the White House that is unafraid of world public opinion because they know it is unreliable, self-serving and hypocritical.'' he said. Neil Clark wrote in 2017: "This is a movie we've seen many times before. Think of the "pro-democracy" US-backed anti-government protests in Yugoslavia in 2000, which toppled the Socialist-led administration there, and the "pro-democracy" US-backed-ones in Ukraine in 2014. On both occasions, the "target" governments — and their leadership — were placed in a very difficult position. If they responded to what were clear attempts to usurp power by force — by using force themselves — they knew they would be condemned by the War Party and its media stenographers as "dictators, human rights abusers, war criminals, Nazis, Stalinists" — take your pick. If they did nothing and allowed the protesters to act with total impunity, they'd lose power."

Background

Since the overthrow of Gen. Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958 and the military's withdrawal from direct involvement in national politics, Venezuela had enjoyed an unbroken tradition of civilian democratic rule.

In 1989, the prevailing political calm was shattered when Venezuela experienced rioting in which more than 200 people were killed -- the so-called Caracazo, in response to an economic austerity program launched by then-President Carlos Andres Perez. Subsequently in February 1992, a group of army lieutenant colonels led by future President Hugo Chavez mounted an unsuccessful coup attempt, claiming that the events of 1989 showed that the political system no longer served the interests of the people.

A second, equally unsuccessful, coup attempt by other officers followed in November in 1992. Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chavez led the unsuccessful military coup in 1992 against the democratic government in Caracas. That effort earned him two years in prison.

Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías was born in the town of Sabaneta, State of Barinas, Venezuela, on 28 July 1954. The son of provincial schoolteachers, he is what Venezuelans call a bachaco, a man of mixed race. Accepted into the Venezuelan Military Academy in 1971, he obtained a College-level degree in Military Sciences and Arts, Engineerign Branch, Ground Specialty. Graduating as a Second Lieutenant on 05 July 1975, he began a quick ascent through the ranks of the army. In 1982, he joined other young officers in forming the "Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement," named for Simon Bolivar, the 19th century father of Venezuelan independence. The young officers were nationalists angered by the corrupt, two-party system that had dominated their country for generations.

In 1993 Congress impeached Perez on corruption charges. Deep popular dissatisfaction with the traditional political parties, income disparities, and economic difficulties were some of the major frustrations expressed by Venezuelans following Perez's impeachment.

When Chavez got out of prison in 1994, he began campaigning with his Movimiento V Republica [MVR], and Castro gave Chavez a hero's welcome when he visited Havana that year. In 1998 the Movimiento al Socialismo party announced its support for Chavez's presidential bid, and a group of leftist parties allied around his MVR won 34 percent of the seats in Congress.

Hugo Chavez won the presidency in December 1998, after campaigning for far-reaching reform, constitutional change, and a crackdown on corruption. Chavez won by a landslide margin that left the two-party system that had previously dominated national politics in ruins. Until the 1998 elections, the Democratic Action (AD) and the Christian Democratic (COPEI) parties dominated the political environment at both the state and federal level. His programs alienated much of the upper and upper-middle class while retaining the enthusiastic support of poorer Venezuelans. His platform called for the creation of a National Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution for Venezuela. Chavez's argument that the existing political system had become isolated from the people won broad acceptance, particularly among Venezuela's poorest classes, who had seen a significant real decline in their living standards over the previous decade and a half. The National Constituent Assembly (ANC), consisting of 131 elected individuals, convened in August 1999 to begin rewriting the Constitution. In free elections, voters gave all but six seats to persons associated with Chavez's movement. Venezuelans approved the ANC's draft in a referendum on 15 December 1999.

With a new Venezuelan constitution adopted in 1999, the country renamed "the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela." There was a new presidential election that Chavez won, and allowed him to stay in power for six more years. On 30 July 2000 Hugo Chavez won reelection with 60% of the popular vote. The national election, the fifth in 18 months, pit Chavez against his 1992 military coup d'etat comrade, Francisco Arias Cardenas. Mr. Chavez' Patriotic Pole party also won a controlling majority in the country's new unicameral legislature. Chavez' six-year term runs through 2006, but Venezuela's constitution allows for a referendum at the mid-point of his term in August 2003.

Chavez opponents said the nation's economic problems began when he took office and started implementing a leftist strategy that they say is modeled after the Cuban communist system. Mr. Chavez had openly praised Cuban President Fidel Castro and had sold oil to Cuba at preferential prices. President Chavez constantly speaks of his government as "revolutionary," though he was elected democratically.

Chavez continued to deride his opponents in public. He called them coup-plotters, and accuses them of trying to re-establish a system of government that favors the wealthy classes. He rejected what he called the "neo-liberal" policies of past governments, and also condemned the "capitalists" and "oligarchs" who privatized some industries. There are vast gaps between rich and poor in Venezuela. Too many in the elite are enmeshed in political corruption.

On 10 August 2000 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made the first visit by a foreign head-of-state to Iraq since the Gulf war 10 years ago. The visit was part of a tour by the Venezuelan president of major oil exporting countries prior to an OPEC summit in Caracas on 27 September 2002. The Venezuelan president met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, during which they criticized Western pressure on the Venezuelan leader to cancel his visit. The Iraqi news media hailed the visit as a breakthrough and a weakening of the international isolation of Iraq. The visit was part of a tour by the Venezuelan

In October 2001, the US State Department recalled Ambassador Donna Hrinak for "consultations" after Chavez criticized the US war in Afghanistan as "fighting terror with terror" and met in Tripoli with Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. By November 2001, communications between US officials and dissident officers had become so frequent that Ambassador Hrinak took the unusual step of asking the American military attache to cease contacts with the dissidents.

In December 2001 the first national strike against Chavez, lasting just one day. This successful strike united workers with businessmen and allowed the opposition to discover its strength as a political presence. However, Chávez did not recognize the strike and reinforced his original style, repeatedly calling the year 2002 as "the year of his revolution's consolidation".

After a period of modest economic growth in 2000 and 2001, the Venezuelan economy entered into recession in 2002. A loss of business confidence and the devaluation of the Venezuelan Bolívar started the country's economic downturn. Political conflict, particularly the nationwide strikes last December and January, further compounded the dire situation of the country's economy. As a result, Venezuela's real gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002 fell by an estimated 8.9%.



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