Ricardo Bello on Wed, 17 Apr 2002 21:43:03 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Venezuela: STRATFOR Evaluation

Venezuela: Rumored U.S. Involvement Could Hurt Bush Administration
14 April 2002

Human intelligence sources in Venezuela and Washington told STRATFOR April 
14 that the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State
Department may have been involved separately in the events that took place 
in Caracas between April 5 and April 13. If the information is correct,
the reinstatement of President Hugo Chavez less than 48 hours after he was 
toppled by a civilian-military coup could have disastrous implications
for the Bush administration's policy in Latin America.

Several human sources told STRATFOR on April 14 that the U.S. State 
Department and the Central Intelligence Agency may have had a hand in
the tumultuous events that occurred between April 5 and April 13 in 
Caracas, culminating in President Hugo Chavez's brief ouster and his return
to power.

Although these sources may have had their own motivations for making the 
allegation, it is possible -- if the Chavez regime produces convincing
evidence of U.S. government involvement in the failed coup -- that it could 
poison Washington's relations with governments throughout Latin
America. Efforts to win regional support for increased U.S. military 
support to Colombia, and to other Andean ridge countries battling the twin
threats of international drug trafficking and nominally Marxist 
insurgencies, would be set back significantly in Latin America and Washington.
The Bush administration's efforts to pursue more free trade agreements in 
the region also would be undermined.

Chavez could strengthen his own political base in Venezuela if he can 
quickly prove U.S. involvement in attempts to topple his 3-year-old regime.
This also would give a tremendous boost to Chavez's leadership status and 
credibility with populist and nationalist groups across Latin America
that view the United States as a threat and that oppose U.S.-style 
capitalist democracy.

The U.S. government has a long history of interfering with Latin American 
regimes viewed as unfriendly or dangerous to U.S. national security
interests in the region. Although the Bush administration tried very hard 
in the past week to distance itself from the chaos in Venezuela, many
governments in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia viewed 
Washington's cautious silence on Venezuela with considerable

However, if STRATFOR's sources are correct, the skepticism may have been 

Our sources in Venezuela and the United States report that the CIA had 
knowledge of, and possibly even supported, the ultra-conservative
civilians and military officials who tried unsuccessfully to hijack interim 
President Pedro Carmona Estanga's administration. Sources in
Venezuela identified this group as including members of the extremely 
conservative Catholic Opus Dei society and military officers loyal to
retired Gen. Ruben Rojas, who also is a son-in-law of former President 
Rafael Caldera. Caldera, who governed from 1969 to 1973 and from
1994 to 1998, founded the Christian Democratic Copei party.

STRATFOR's sources say this ultra-conservative group planned to launch a 
coup against the Chavez regime on Feb. 27, but the action was
aborted at the last minute as a result of strong pressure from the Bush 
administration, which warned publicly that it would not support or
recognize any undemocratic efforts to oust Chavez.

Separately, STRATFOR's sources report, the State Department was quietly 
supporting the moderate center-right civilian-military coalition that
sought Chavez's resignation by confronting his increasingly authoritarian 
regime with unarmed, peaceful people power. The April 11 protest by
nearly 350,000 Venezuelans was the largest march against any government in 
Venezuela's history, and even without violence the momentum
likely would have continued building in subsequent days. U.S. policymakers 
who supported the civic groups seeking Chavez's departure believed
their numbers eventually would reach a sufficiently large critical mass to 
force a change in Chavez's policies or even trigger a regime change.

However, the violence that killed 15 people and injured 350 -- including 
157 who suffered gunshot wounds inflicted by pro-Chavez government
security forces and civilian militia members -- united the previously 
leaderless and disarticulated center-right opposition and gave moderates in
the armed forces what they perceived as a legitimate reason to oust Chavez 
immediately. Sources in this center-right group tell STRATFOR that
the videotapes of pro-Chavez gunmen firing indiscriminately into the front 
ranks of marching protesters were "more than enough" to legally
justify a regime change.

The conservative civilian-military group timed its coup-within-a -coup 
perfectly, using Carmona's swearing-in ceremony as the platform from
which to hijack what was supposed to be a moderate center-right transition 
government -- a government that would reach out to the moderate left
that is led by former Interior and Justice Minister Luis Miquilena. 
STRATFOR's sources inside this group report that 23 members of the
president's Fifth Republic Movement block in the National Assembly had 
committed late April 11, after the violence, to vote for Chavez's removal
from power.

Additionally, given that Vice President Diosdado Cabello was responsible 
for organizing and coordinating the Bolivarian Circles from Miraflores
presidential palace, it was felt that he and other senior Chavez regime 
officials could have been removed legally from the government with the help
of Miquilena's votes in the National Assembly and his strong influence over 
the Supreme Court.

However, Carmona Estanga destroyed that possibility and irreparably 
fractured the center-right coalition that named him to the presidency when
he announced the dissolution of the National Assembly, fired the entire 
Supreme Court and sacked the attorney general, comptroller general and
the public defender, who were appointed by Chavez.

The dissolution of the National Assembly was repudiated unanimously by 
every political and civic organization in the country. The powerful
Venezuelan Workers Confederation promptly withdrew its support from Carmona 
without making any announcements in that regard,
STRATFOR sources said, and the tenuous anti-Chavez coalition within the 
armed forces collapsed almost immediately.

Moreover, tensions between the moderate and mainly army faction led by Gen. 
Efrain Vasquez Velasco and the ultra-conservatives flared rapidly
as the right-wingers, through the new interim defense minister, sought to 
break up Vasquez Velasco's base of support within the army by
transferring some his key associates to other commands.

The picture painted by STRATFOR's sources in Venezuela and the United 
States is of two parallel U.S. operations that were executed separately
by the State Department and CIA. While the State Department sought 
discreetly and quasi-officially to support the anti-Chavez moderates in an
effort to build a viable political center, the CIA was at least aware of 
the ultra-conservative plot to hijack Carmona's short-lived presidency.

If the sources are correct, the Bush administration's carefully laid plans 
soon may backfire.

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