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Venezuela Coup - 2004

On 26 February 2004 Venezuelan Chancellor, Jesus Arnaldo Perez said "The United States must resort to the corresponding institutions to prove its innocence," referring to accusations made several organizations and by Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, regarding US involvement and financing in destabilizing events which were encouraged by opposition sectors against the Venezuelan government, such as the attempted coup that occurred on April 11, 2002. Perez pointed out that "not only Venezuela but the whole world is waiting for an explanation concerning these actions" and he highlighted that it is indispensable for the US government to deliver a speech regarding this issue, "the US must come out of that ambiguity and clarify that it gives support to democracy and not to opposition sectors that are trying to disregard the democratic system".

Venezuelan government representatives, Eustoquio Contreras, Calixto Ortega, Nicolas Maduro and Cilia Flores requested the US Congress to set up a commission to investigate the usage of funds granted to opposition groups by the National Fund for Democracy (NFD) to promote destabilization in the Venezuelan democratic system. The Venezuelan delegation explained that "NFD funds have been used in a biased way, they have been exclusively granted to ultra-radical opposition organizations that have not been in accordance with Venezuelan constitutional channels". They also made reference to the Education Civil Association Assembly which had received 100,000 dollars for an alleged educational reform program, and they added that the founding member and Association president was appointed Minister of Education during Pedro Carmona's attempted coup in April 2002.

On 29 February 2004 President Bush ordered US Marines into Haiti as part of an international stabilization force following the departure of President Aristide. Aristide's departure rattled President Hugo Chavez. In a Caracas speech punctuated by expletives, Chavez insulted President Bush and railed against alleged US intervention in Venezuelan politics. Chavez accused the US of involvement in a 2002 failed coup against him and said it is funding groups seeking a presidential recall vote.

On 01 March 2004 President Chavez said "If Mr. Bush is possessed with the madness of trying to blockade Venezuela, or worse for them, to invade Venezuela in response to the desperate song of his lackeys ... sadly not a drop of petroleum will come tothem from Venezuela."

Information Minister Jesse Chacon told reporters in May 2004 that "Plan Fumigation" had two core elements: first, a group of "paramilitaries" were to attack an army base while wearing camouflage military uniforms to give the impression of an uprising taking place within the armed forces. The media were meant to play a role, according to Chacon, by broadcasting the images of the "uprising" and thereby encouraging other military bases to rebel. Second, a group of irregulars was to have been dispatched to Miraflores Palace to kill President Chavez. According to Chacon, the joint operation was meant to have encouraged an international intervention to restore order.

Venezuelan authorities detained between 50 and 90 alleged Colombian irregulars in the dawn hours of May 9 in the southern outskirts of Caracas. Calling the men "paramilitaries" in his "Alo, Presidente" program, President Chavez claimed the opposition was training them for another coup attempt with the help of the US, Colombians, and Cuban exiles. Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel called on all "friends of Venezuela" to denounce the detainees as terrorists and drug traffickers. Human Rights group COFAVIC expressed consternation with the GOV's lack of proof or legal basis for the detentions, and opposition leaders denounced it as an attempt to smear them and derail the upcoming reparos. The GOV followed the detentions with raids on properties in Caracas, including the US embassy warehouse. Observers couldn't dismiss the GOV's allegations that the Colombians were part of an anti-GOV plot -- but the absence of weapons, and more information, raises questions about what occurred.

President Chavez announced the May 9 early morning capture of at least 53 alleged Colombian irregulars in the southern outskirts of Caracas during his "Alo, Presidente" program. Chavez said that 50 others escaped. Minister of Interior Lucas Rincon later informed the audience that an additional 24-30 had been captured. Calling the men "paramilitaries," Chavez claimed his political opponents had imported terrorists and were training them to overthrow and/or assassinate him with the help of the USG, wealthy Colombians, and Cuban exiles.

He also charged that the US was hoping the "paramilitaries" would create a pretext for a US invasion of Venezuela. Chavez said political police (DISIP), scientific and investigative police (CICPC), and the National Guard captured the group during a raid on a ranch owned by Cuban exile Robert Alonso, who is linked to the president's domestic opponents and anti-Castro groups in Miami.

On 13 May 2004, military tribunal judge Ruben Garcia upheld the detention of three Venezuelan military officers allegedly linked to the Colombians on the charge of military rebellion. Col. Pedro Pico (Air Force), Col. Jesus Castro (National Guard), and Capt. Francisco Nieto (National Guard) were ordered held for the duration of the investigation. Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco denied that Colombia was involved in the alleged activities. Defense Minister Gen. Jorge Luis Garcia Carneiro said 115 alleged paramilitaries had been detained and asserted that up to 500 were still at large.

The GOV stepped up its efforts to blame the U.S. for the alleged paramilitary "invasion" of Venezuela with a massive march in Caracas May 16, during which Chavez announced the "anti-imperialist" phase of the Bolivarian Revolution.

The timing of this incident, the lack of basic information about it other than GOV assertions, and most importantly, the rush to consign the case to military court with little justification all inspire suspicion.

On 03 June 2004 Venezuelan election officials decided to allow a recall referendum on the rule of President Hugo Chavez to go forward. The council announced that opponents of Mr. Chavez had gained the petition signatures of the 20 percent of the electorate necessary to force a recall. The council had initially rejected the recall move on grounds that a sizable portion of signatures collected were invalid. But after allowing voters to reconfirm signatures late last month, it ruled that recall supporters had gotten the required total of nearly two and a half million. After the election petition verdict, Mr. Chavez reiterated a claim the United States is behind the recall move. Under the Venezuelan constitution, there would be elections for a new president if Mr. Chavez loses a recall before 19 August 2004. But if he is defeated in a recall vote is held after that, Mr. Chavez's vice president would take over and run the country for the remainder of the his term which runs until the end of 2006, effectively extending his government's rule.

On 15 August 2004 Venezuelans voted in a referendum on whether to recall President Hugo Chavez or allow him to complete his term in office. His opponents say he is emulating the failed policies of Cuba's Communist dictatorship. They also say Mr. Chavez is a threat to Venezuelan democracy. Venezuelan authorities have launched politically motivated investigations against recall supporters, including Sumate, a Venezuelan civic organization that is promoting voter education and mobilization. The August 15th recall vote will determine President Hugo Chavez's political future and will send an important message about the future of democracy in Venezuela.

On 16 August 2004 the Venezuelan Electoral Council announced that President Hugo Chavez had won the special recall election through which opponents hoped to unseat him. With 94 percent of the vote counted, more than 58 percent of voters opposed the recall.





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