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News ::
CIA / World Bankster Coup Has Failed
14 Apr 2002
As predicted long ago by the CEA, the CIA and their bosses in the World Bank Group have failed at suppressing the resurgence of democracy in Venezuela and elsewhere....
Acting Leader Of Venezuela Steps Down
Term Ends After One Day As Pro-Chavez Protests Grow

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 14, 2002; Page A01

CARACAS, Venezuela, April 13 -- Venezuela's interim president resigned late tonight after one day in office as political unrest driven by supporters of the ousted leader, Hugo Chavez, left at least nine people dead and dozens injured in this capital.

Pedro Carmona, the economist installed Friday as president by Venezuela's military, said that he was stepping down "with full responsibility before the nation and the Venezuelan people." Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello, assumed the presidency after a day of massive protests and scattered looting throughout Caracas.

The surprise resignation came amid signs of deep splits in the military's support for Carmona, who was forced to reverse his decision of a day earlier to dissolve the national legislature, the Supreme Court and the 1999 constitution. At least one military base openly rebelled against the new administration, and an army general said late tonight that at least three other bases were now under forces loyal to Chavez.

The unrest highlighted an increasingly fluid situation in Venezuela, the third-largest oil supplier to the United States, and signaled the first organized response from Chavez forces since he resigned under pressure from the military early Friday following a national strike in which 14 people were killed by gunfire.

By midnight, Chavez supporters were suggesting that he was on his way back to the capital from Orchila, a Caribbean island where he has been under military arrest since Friday. A letter circulated at rallies purportedly from Chavez stated that he had not resigned, and his allies appeared on television stations seized tonight by mobs of Chavez supporters to claim that his government had been restored.

For hours this afternoon and again this evening, it was unclear who was running the country. Most of the new cabinet members, who had gathered for their swearing-in ceremony, fled the downtown Caracas presidential palace after receiving military intelligence reports that troops loyal to Chavez were planning an airstrike to restore him to power. Palace security said pro-Chavez sharpshooters had taken up positions on surrounding rooftops.

Chavez supporters massed outside the presidential compound, known as Miraflores, calling for his release from military custody and immediate return to office. They set off small explosives, banged pots and chanted. Carmona said late in the day that Chavez would be allowed to leave the country as early as tonight for an undisclosed location, most likely Cuba.

"This was a fascist coup," said Rafael Rojas Rincon, a 38-year-old doctor and one of more than 50,000 pro-Chavez protesters outside Miraflores. "This government is a farce, representing nobody."

Government ministers said one of the restive military barracks was in Maracay, about 50 miles from the capital, where a squadron of F-16 fighters is based. They identified the head of the F-16 command, air force Gen. Raul Baduel, as one of several senior officers demanding Chavez's return.

Gen. Efrain Vasquez Velasco, head of the army, warned earlier in the day that he would withdraw his backing of the government unless it reinstated the national legislature. Carmona agreed to do so a few hours later.

Chavez, a former army colonel who failed in his own attempt to overthrow the government a decade ago, was elected in 1998 on a broad populist pledge to help Venezuela's poor majority. But his leftist domestic agenda and foreign policy that emphasized alliances with such countries as Iraq, Iran and Libya over good relations with the United States quickly made him powerful enemies at home and abroad.

A national strike called by Venezuela's largest business and labor groups in support of a protest by managers at the state oil company brought several hundred thousand Chavez opponents into the streets of Caracas.

According to active and retired members of the military and members of the new government, the decision to force Chavez from power was made six months ago by a group of dissident officers in the Venezuelan navy and air force. But what Venezuela's new government has characterized as a spontaneous popular uprising to depose an autocratic president was a far more organized effort, joining dissident members of the military with strikers at the state oil company and the leading business and labor groups.

The unrest began in those branches because they are the smallest, according to officers involved, and so consensus to oppose the president was easiest to reach. The movement quickly spread to the larger army and national guard, fueled by opposition within the ranks to Chavez programs that put troops to work on public works projects and to his presumed sympathy for Colombia's Marxist guerrillas.

The new government includes many of the dissident officers, who understood the U.S. State Department's repeated statements of concern over the Chavez administration as a tacit endorsement of their plans remove him from office if the opportunity arose. That chance presented itself last week, and the dissident officers began to coordinate with the strike leaders. They used a group of retired military officers who have opposed Chavez since his election as a conduit.

"There had to be a justification for the armed forces to step in," said Fernando Ochoa, Venezuela's defense minister at the time of Chavez's coup attempt and a member of the retired officers group called the Institutional Military Front. "The officers shared this idea with civil society."

The events surrounding Chavez's removal are being studied by a divided international community, now deciding whether what happened in Venezuela is a military coup or an expression of popular will. The United States has tacitly endorsed the new government by pointedly blaming Chavez for provoking the violence that brought about his removal. But Latin American leaders have condemned "the constitutional interruption" in Venezuela, and many have refused to recognize the interim government.

The Organization of American States, whose members agreed last year to punish countries determined to be undemocratic through trade embargoes and other sanctions, is sending a delegation to Venezuela on Sunday.

"Even as we speak, a case is being prepared to be filed at the transnational level to show how he repeatedly violated the constitution," said Andrews Mata, owner of the El Universal newspaper, a Caracas daily, who along with other media leaders met with the new government today. "In the meantime, there is a willingness to hold legislative elections within 90 days and hold presidential elections on December 8. For those who criticize this government for being improvisational, it isn't acting that way."

Last fall, Vice Adm. Carlos Molina and Air Force Col. Pedro Soto began organizing like-minded officers in a group that participants said would be ready to help push Chavez from office if the public demanded it, according to active and retired military officers. In February, the two officers called publicly for Chavez to resign and were forced out of the service a few weeks later.

The two men found support in Vice Adm. Hector Ramirez, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and army Gen. Rafael Damiani Bustillos, a division commander. Ramirez is now defense minister in the provisional government, and Damiani Bustillos is the interior and justice minister. Molina has been reinstated to manage the military command at the presidential palace.

In the weeks before Chavez's removal, Molina and other dissident officers visited the U.S. Embassy here, according to military sources close to the new government. An embassy spokesman said he could not confirm Molina's visit, which would have been one in a series of recent visits by opposition leaders seeking U.S. support to topple the president.

"The State Department had always expressed its preoccupation with Chavez," Ochoa said. "We interpreted that as" an endorsement of his removal.

At about 3 p.m. Thursday, according to military sources and officials in the new government, Chavez called the army's 3rd division commander in Caracas and ordered 30 tanks to Miraflores. He avoided the regular chain of command, fearing resistance among his top officers. When armed forces chief Lucas Rincon heard about the order he reversed it, according to military officers involved in the events. Only seven tanks arrived, and Chavez realized the military command had turned against him, those officers said.

At about that time, shots rang out on the smoke-filled streets around the presidential palace where protesters were in a skirmish with police and national guard troops. Along with the dead, more than 100 people were wounded in gunfire that some witnesses have said appeared to be an exchange, rather than one-way firing on the crowd by security forces and Chavez supporters.

Within an hour, Ramirez, the new defense minister, appeared on television backed by several dozen officers to condemn Chavez as "undemocratic." Chavez's transportation secretary, Ismael Hurtado Soucre, and his commander of the unified armed forces command, Gen. Irwin Rosendo, asked him to resign, a member of the new government said.

Members of the new government said the president, faced with rising military unrest, agreed on two conditions: that he and his family be allowed to leave for Cuba and that he be allowed to deliver his resignation in a national address.

The requests were denied by Vasquez Velasco, the army's commanding general, who was managing the effort to remove Chavez. Vasquez sent two generals to Miraflores to arrest Chavez. One of them was Nestor Gonzalez, who the day before had called on Chavez to resign. Chavez submitted his resignation to three generals the following morning.

Since then, the new government has sought international recognition, even as resistance it appeared to be falling apart today. "We need everyone to see that we are on a democratic process," Daniel Romero, the new attorney general, said in an interview. "This is a happy country, and we are trying our best to avoid vengeance."

Romero was one of three cabinet ministers who, along with several journalists and visitors, remained under armed guard at Miraflores this afternoon, waiting for an aerial attack that did not materialize. As they wove through halls and underground tunnels to a secure location, members of the group were told to keep their hands raised in a gesture of surrender as they made their way to a basement bunker.

In a sign of how difficult it will be for the new government to distinguish friends from enemies, the guards at each military post identified themselves as friends, assuring the ministers they were not under arrest. Along the perimeter, several members of the army security team waved their arms at the deafening crowd in encouragement.

"These are difficult times right now in Venezuela," said Vice Admiral Jesus Enrique Briceno, the new government chief of staff, standing in a dim basement. "But we have to go on."

Caracas Mayor Alfredo Peña said that at least nine people had died today in violence related to the political turmoil. Most of the deaths were the result of gun shots, and the violence occurred at the huge downtown rally and in smaller scattered clashes throughout the city between pro-Chavez demonstrators, police and rival groups.

As army troops crouched in hedges around the presidential compound, tropical merengue music and pot-banging served as background to chants of "Liberty" and the occasional rendition of the national anthem.

After round-the-clock coverage of the strike, Venezuela's private television stations did not broadcast any pictures of the unrest, airing only government statements that the country was calm. Chavez's decision to cut private television signals on Thursday prompted the first military statements of opposition to his government, and mobs of Chavez supporters seized two stations tonight to begin showing the protests.

"Where are the television stations now?" said Alexi Martinez, a 40-year-old accountant, who joined in the march. "They are no where. This is a dictatorship."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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