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In a rare sequence of events, democratically elected leader President Hugo Chavez was overthrown in a military coup led by the business elite, only to be reinstated as president days later due to the support of the Venezuelan people. The democratic leader, winning office in 1998 with 60 percent of the national vote, was disliked […]

The Media, The CIA and the Coup

by Christopher Reilly

In a rare sequence of events, democratically elected leader President Hugo Chavez was overthrown in a military coup led by the business elite, only to be reinstated as president days later due to the support of the Venezuelan people.

The democratic leader, winning office in 1998 with 60 percent of the national vote, was disliked by the business class due to his socialist stance on many political issues, such as redistribution of land.

Then on April 12th, business leaders angered at Chavez’s handling of the oil industry, organized a large strike. The strike turned into an open street protest marching toward the presidential palace. The local media, operated by the business elite, apparently continued to lambaste the president on television, causing Chavez to temporarily halt all private broadcasting in Venezuela in fears of it causing panic and violent revolt.

The protestors continued to the outside of the palace where they confronted pro-Chavez supporters. Both sides began to clash, resulting in 16 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The media quickly reported that Chavez supporters fired into the crowds of demonstrators. The Western media was quick to follow; one newspaper after another publishing only the version of events reported by the same business community that was attempting to overthrow the Venezuelan democracy.

The version of events made official by Ari Fleischer, spokesman for the Bush Administration, claimed that Chavez shut down the media to stifle opposition and then ordered those loyal to him to fire into the crowd of protestors. Or, in Fleischer’s exact words, "Chavez supporters, on orders, fired on unarmed, peaceful demonstrators. Venezuelan military and police refused to fire … and refused to support the government’s role in human rights violations."

The State Department was next to come out in support of the violent military coup, expressing their regret that Chavez did not "act with restraint and show full respect for the peaceful expression of political opinion."

However, the State Department failed to mention the number of dead Venezuelans was also made up of Chavez supporters. According to one South American newspaper, sympathizers of the president were killed, along with the Vice President Diosdado Cabello’s personal driver, shot in the face.

Not only that, but it has not even been confirmed that Chavez ordered his forces to shoot into the crowd of people. The military men that reported this fact were the same military figures who supported the coup. They could have easily fabricated the story in order to give justification for junta. For example, news broadcasts stated, as printed in London’s The Independent, that "half a dozen men – one wearing a Chavez party T-shirt – firing automatic pistols into a crowd from an overpass, while police launched tear gas canisters into the crowd. Shortly after, 10 officers from the National Guard and armed forces accused Mr. Chavez of ‘betraying the trust of the people.’ "

This statement was simply taken as fact in media circles, largely ignoring how convenient it was for news cameras to pin the blame on Chavez while those firing on demonstrators wore "Chavez party T-shirt[s]," proving to viewers that Chavez was responsible for the deaths.

Either way, the campaign worked temporarily.

Military figures removed Chavez from the palace, telling the corporate media in both Venezuela and the world that Chavez had resigned. Without investigating the statement, newspapers across the world began to announce that Chavez resigned after the will of his people turned against him, often citing that Chavez’s approval rating fell to 30 percent before the coup, never explaining where that number came from. Now after Chavez has been reinstated as president, the figure seems to have disappeared from news reports.

The Bush Administration continued to show their support for the coup, with the State Department announcing, "We wish to express our solidarity the Venezuelan people and look forward to working with all democratic forces in Venezuela to ensure the full exercise of democratic rights."

Yet if the Bush Administration truly cared about "democratic forces in Venezuela," they would have sharply condemned the coup as many neighboring South American countries did. After all, the business leader who took power after the coup, Pedro Carmona, became a dictator and completely dissolved the constitution, National Assembly, Supreme Court and other institutions on a vague promise that elections would be held again in December.

Despite all these forces working against Chavez, protestors hit the streets again, but this time to demand Chavez be brought back to power. They succeeded and the military brought Chavez in on a helicopter, saving democracy from the dangerous forces of a greedy business elite.

Why was the Bush Administration so quick to voice tentative approval with the military coup? Judging by history, the CIA may have been involved once again in another South American coup. After all, it was the CIA that mounted a coup in Guatemala that overthrew the democratically elected government in 1954, supporting subsequent right-wing regimes, resulting in some 200,000 dead civilians, according to the a recent column in the New York Times. That same column, written by Tim Weiner, cites the CIA’s involvement in the Panama coup in 1989, along with the CIA support for opposition to Nicaragua’s leftists in the 1980s, ending in a disaster called the Iran-Contra Affair.

And the CIA was also involved in overthrowing democratically elected leader Salvador Allende in Chile, only to replace him with a ruthless right-wing dictator – General August Pinochet, whose abysmal human rights record is well-known.

Therefore, it would not be a surprise should the CIA be involved in yet another overthrow of democracy, showing the hypocrisy of American government administrations who use the words "freedom" and "democracy" as a justification to take military actions on some countries, but then frequently destroy "freedom" and "democracy" in other countries.

William Blum, author of "Killing Hope," summed this up in a recent column. Blum believes that the CIA was involved in this overthrow. He states his reasoning in the following few sentences: "Same way we know that the sun will rise tomorrow morning. That’s what it’s [the CIA] always done and there’s no reason to think that tomorrow morning will be any different."

Blum cites a Washington Post report from Venezuela on April 13 that states: "Members of the country’s diverse opposition had been visiting the U.S. Embassy here in recent weeks, hoping to enlist U.S. help in toppling Chavez. The visitors included active and retired members of the military, media leaders and opposition politicians."

Judging by reasons of previous CIA orchestrated coups in South America, Chavez may have broken nearly every rule the CIA demands South American leaders follow unless they want to seek the wrath of their northern neighbor. These rules, all broken by Chavez, include supplying oil to Cuba at discount rates; meeting with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, along with Saddam Hussein; not allowing the U.S. to use Venezuelan airspace for its "War on Drugs"; accusing the Bush Administration of "fighting terrorism with terrorism" by its assault on Afghanistan, saying that deaths due to U.S. bombardment had "no justification, just as the attacks in New York did not, either."

All of these reasons would have been enough for the CIA to approve of Chavez’s removal, despite the fact that he was democratically elected. To add to it all, as Forbes magazine writes, "Venezuela is the only OPEC member in the western hemisphere, exporting nearly 1.3 million barrels per day of crude oil and 250,000 barrels per day of refined products to the U.S., accounting for 13% of imports to the world’s largest oil consumer."

The desire to have a puppet in Venezuela must have been high in the CIA and the Bush Administration. Unfortunately the world will have to wait many years until the truth finally comes out in declassified internal U.S. government documents.

Christopher Reilly is a columnist for YellowTimes. He encourages your comments: creilly@YellowTimes.org