anastasios.kozaitis on Sat, 13 Apr 2002 03:36:08 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Venezuela: Another Viewpoint

Pardon the length on this, but it smacks in the face of what the NYT and
others are reporting about Venezuela. Is it or is it not a coup?

There's another story for those interested:

Coup in Veneuzuela: An Eyewitness Account

by Gregory Wilpert
April 12, 2002

The orchestration of the coup was impeccable and, in all likelihood,
planned a long time ago. Hugo Chavez, the fascist communist dictator of
Venezuela could not stand the truth and thus censored the media
relentlessly. For his own personal gain and that of his henchmen (and
henchwomen, since his cabinet had more women than any previous Venezuelan
government's), he drove the country to the brink of economic ruin. In the
end he proceeded to murder those who opposed him. So as to reestablish
democracy, liberty, justice, and prosperity in Venezuela and so as to
avoid more bloodshed, the chamber of commerce, the union federation, the
church, the media, and the management of Venezuela's oil company, in
short: civil society and the military decided that enough is enough-that
Chavez had his chance and that his experiment of a "peaceful democratic
Bolivarian revolution" had to come to an immediate end. This is, of
course, the version of events that the officials now in charge and thus
also of the media, would like everyone to believe. So what really
happened? Of course I don't know, but I'll try to represent the facts as I
witnessed them. First of all, the military is saying that the main reason
for the coup is what happened today, April 11. "Civil society," as the
opposition here refers to itself, organized a massive demonstration of
perhaps 100,000 to 200,000 people to march to the headquarters of
Venezuela's oil company, PDVSA, in defense of its fired management. The
day leading up to the march all private television stations broadcast
advertisements for the demonstration, approximately once every ten
minutes. It was a successful march, peaceful, and without government
interference of any kind, even though the march illegally blocked the
entire freeway, which is Caracas' main artery of transportation, for
several hours. Supposedly at the spur of the moment, the organizers
decided to re-route the march to Miraflores, the president's office
building, so as to confront the pro-government demonstration, which was
called in the last minute.  About 5,000 Chavez-supporters had gathered
there by the time the anti-government demonstrators got there. In-between
the two demonstrations were the city police, under the control of the
oppositional mayor of Caracas, and the National Guard, under control of
the president. All sides claim that they were there peacefully and did not
want to provoke anyone. I got there just when the opposition demonstration
and the National Guard began fighting each other. Who started the fight,
which involved mostly stones and tear gas, is, as is so often the case in
such situations, nearly impossible to tell. A little later, shots were
fired into the crowds and I clearly saw that there were three parties
involved in the shooting, the city police, Chavez supporters, and snipers
from buildings above. Again, who shot first has become a moot and probably
impossible to resolve question. At least ten people were killed and nearly
100 wounded in this gun battle-almost all of them demonstrators. One of
the Television stations managed to film one of the three sides in this
battle and broadcast the footage over and over again, making it look like
the only ones shooting were Chavez supporters from within the
demonstration at people beyond the view of the camera. The media over and
over again showed the footage of the Chavez supporters and implied that
they were shooting at an unarmed crowd. As it turns out, and as will
probably never be reported by the media, most of the dead are Chavez
supporters. Also, as will probably never be told, the snipers were members
of an extreme opposition party, known as Bandera Roja. These last two
facts, crucial as they are, will not be known because they do not fit with
the new mythology, which is that Chavez armed and then ordered his
supporters to shoot at the opposition demonstration. Perhaps my
information is incorrect, but what is certain is that the local media here
will never bother to investigate this information. And the international
media will probably simply ape what the local media reports (which they
are already doing). Chavez' biggest and perhaps only mistake of the day,
which provided the last remaining proof his opposition needed for his
anti-democratic credentials, was to order the black-out of the private
television stations.  They had been broadcasting the confrontations all
afternoon and Chavez argued that these broadcasts were exacerbating the
situation and should, in the name of public safety, be temporarily
shut-down. Now, all of "civil society," the media, and the military are
saying that Chavez has to go because he turned against his own people.
Aside from the lie this is, what is conveniently forgotten are all of the
achievements of the Chavez administration: a new democratic constitution
which broke the power monopoly of the two hopelessly corrupt and
discredited main parties and put Venezuela at the forefront in terms of
progressive constitutions;  introduced fundamental land reform; financed
numerous progressive ecological community development projects;
cracked-down on corruption;  promoted educational reform which schooled
over 1 million children for the first time and doubled investment in
education; regulated the informal economy so as to reduce the insecurity
of the poor; achieved a fairer price for oil through OPEC and which
significantly increased government income;  internationally campaigned
tirelessly against neo-liberalism; reduced official unemployment from 18%
to 13%; introduced a large-scale micro-credit program for the poor and for
women; reformed the tax system which dramatically reduced tax evasion and
increased government revenue;  lowered infant mortality from 21% to 17%;
tripled literacy courses;  modernized the legal system, etc., etc. Chavez'
opposition, which primarily consisted of Venezuela's old guard in the
media, the union federation, the business sector, the church, and the
traditionally conservative military, never cared about any of these
achievements. Instead, they took advantage of their media monopoly to turn
public opinion against him and managed to turn his biggest liability, his
autocratic and inflammatory style, against him. Progressive civil society
had either been silenced or demonized as violent Chavez fanatics. At this
point, it is impossible to know what will happen to Chavez' "Bolivarian
Revolution"-whether it will be completely abandoned and whether things
will return to Venezuela's 40-year tradition of patronage, corruption, and
rentierism for the rich. What one can say without a doubt, is that by
abandoning constitutional democracy, no matter how unpopular and
supposedly inept the elected president, Venezuela's ruling class and its
military show just how politically immature they are and deal a tremendous
blow to political culture throughout Latin America, just as the coup
against Salvador Allende did in 1973. This coup shows once again that
democracy in Latin America is a matter of ruling class preference, not a
matter of law. If the United States and the democratic international
community have the courage to practice what they preach, then they should
not recognize this new government. Democrats around the world should
pressure their governments to deny recognition to Venezuela's new military
junta or any president they happen to choose. According to the Charter of
the Organization of American States (OAS), this would mean expelling
Venezuela from the OAS, as a U.S. state department official recently
threatened to do. Please call the U.S. state department or your foreign
ministry and tell them to withdraw their ambassadors from Venezuela.
Gregory Wilpert lives in Caracas, is a former U.S. Fulbright scholar in
Venezuela, and is currently doing independent research on the sociology of
development. He can be reached at:

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