Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002

Venezuelan Coup attempt of 2002
On April 9, 2002, CTV leader Carlos Ortega called for a two-day general strike. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets on April 11, 2002 and marched towards the headquarters of Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), in defense of its recently-fired management. The organisers decided to redirect the march to Miraflores, the presidential palace, where a pro-Chávez demonstration was taking place. Gunfire and violence erupted between two groups of demonstrators, Caracas' Metropolitan Police (under the control of the oppositionist mayor), and the Venezuelan national guard (under Chávez's command), and snipers were reported from the areas where both opposition and Chávez supporters were concentrated. Various civilians were shot and died in the incident.

Then, unexpectedly, Lucas Rincón Romero, commander-in-chief of the Venezuelan armed forces, announced in a broadcast to a nationwide audience that Chávez had tendered his resignation from the presidency. While Chávez was brought to a military base and held there, military leaders appointed the president of the Fedecámaras, Pedro Carmona, as Venezuela's interim president. Carmona's first decree reversed the major social and economic policies that comprised Chávez's "Bolivarian Revolution", and dissolved both the National Assembly and the Venezuelan judiciary, while reverting the nation's name back to República de Venezuela.

Hugo Chávez under arrest in Turiamo

Carmona's decrees were followed by pro-Chávez uprisings and looting across Caracas. Responding to these disturbances, Venezuelan soldiers loyal to Chávez called for massive popular support for a counter-coup. These soldiers later stormed and retook the presidential palace, and retrieved Chávez from captivity. The shortest-lived government in Venezuelan history was thus toppled, and Chávez resumed his presidency on the night of Saturday, April 13, 2002. Following this episode, Rincón was reappointed by Chávez as Commander of the Army, and later as Interior Minister in 2003.

Chávez waves to supporters after disembarking at Salgado Filho Airport on January 26, 2003 while on route to the World Social Forum convened in Porto Alegre, Brazil (Agência Brasil).After Chávez resumed his presidency in April 2002, he claimed that a plane with U.S. registration numbers had visited and been berthed at Venezuela's Orchila Island airbase, where Chávez had been held captive. On May 14, 2002, Chávez alleged that he had definitive proof of U.S. military involvement in April's coup. He claimed that during the coup Venezuelan radar images had indicated the presence of U.S. naval vessels and aircraft in Venezuelan waters and airspace. The Guardian published a claim by former US intelligence officer Wayne Madsen alleging U.S. Navy involvement. U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, D-CT, requested an investigation of concerns that Washington appeared to condone the removal of Mr Chávez, which subsequently found that "U.S. officials acted appropriately and did nothing to encourage an April coup against Venezuela's president," nor did they provide any naval logistical support. According to Democracy Now!, CIA documents indicate that the Bush administration knew about a plot weeks before the April 2002 military coup. They cite a document dated April 6, 2002, which says: "dissident military factions... are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month." According to William Brownfield, ambassador to Venezuela, the U.S. embassy in Venezuela warned Chávez about a coup plot in April 2002. The United States Department of State and the investigation by the Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that "U.S. assistance programs in Venezuela, including those funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), were inconsistent with U.S. law or policy" or "… directly contributed, or was intended to contribute, to [the coup d'état]." Payments by the NED had been stepped up in the weeks preceding the coup. According to The Observer, the coup was approved and supported by the government of the United States, acting through senior officials, including Otto Reich and Elliott Abrams, who had long histories in the U.S.-backed "dirty wars" in Central America in the 1980s, and top coup plotters, including Pedro Carmona himself, began visits to the White House months before the coup and by the man President George Bush tasked to be his key policy-maker for Latin America, Otto Reich.

Chávez also claimed, during the coup's immediate aftermath, that the U.S. was still seeking his overthrow. On October 6, 2002, he stated that he had foiled a new coup plot, and on October 20, 2002, he stated that he had barely escaped an assassination attempt while returning from a trip to Europe. During that period, the US Ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, warned the Chávez administration of two potential assassination plots.

Only a few months would pass after the April 2002 coup before the Chávez presidency would enter another crisis. For two months following December 2, 2002, Chávez faced a strike organized by the resistant PDVSA management who sought to force Chávez out of office by completely removing his access to the all-important government oil revenue. The strike/lockout, led by a coalition of labor unions, industrial magnates, and oil workers, sought to halt the activities of the PDVSA. As a result, Venezuela ceased exporting its former daily average of 2,800,000 barrels (450,000 m³) of oil and oil derivatives. Hydrocarbon shortages soon erupted throughout Venezuela, with long lines forming at petrol-filling stations. Gasoline imports were soon required. Chávez responded by firing PDVSA's anti-Chávez upper-echelon management and dismissing 18,000 PDVSA employees. Chávez justified this by alleging their complicity in gross mismanagement and corruption in their handling of oil revenues, while opposition supporters of the fired workers stated that his actions were politically motivated.