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Venezuela: People's 2002 Coup Victory Commemorated

Venezuela: People's Victory Commemorated

Roberto Jorquera, Caracas
Green Left Weekly

A week of festivities started in Venezuela on April 11, to celebrate the third anniversary of the events of April 11-13, 2002, when a US-backed coup that briefly overthrew the left-wing President Hugo Chavez was defeated by a popular uprising.

On April 11, the state TV channel Venezolana de Television (VTV) and the nationwide community TV channel Vive — the only two national television channels that back the government — began broadcasting interviews, documentaries and commentaries on the dramatic events of 2002.

On April 11 that year, a small number of military officers forced Chavez from power in a pre-arranged conspiracy that involved the private media, and installed as president the head of the business federation, Pedro Carmona. The justification was violence at a clash of pro- and anti-Chavez protests on that day.

The national media were quick to disseminate the unsubstantiated claim that Chavez had resigned, calling the coup a “change of government”.

However, Chavez's daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, released a fax sent by her father, and smuggled out by a soldier, that denied he had resigned. The fax was picked up by international media, and so leaked out to the Venezuelan people.

Washington immediately recognised Carmona’s cabal as the legitimate interim government.

In his 48 hours in power, Carmona dissolved the Supreme Court and the National Assembly; arrested 20 judges, 12 governors and all pro-Chavez mayors; declared the 1999 constitution, developed through popular consultation and adopted by referendum, void; cancelled 49 of the Chavez government's laws that benefited the poor, including increased royalties from oil and the land redistribution laws; demanded an end to oil export to Cuba, and demanded the development of close US-Venezuela ties. During this time, the new army head also tried to dismantle the popular Bolivarian Circles.

However, the tide quickly began turning against the new dictatorship. By the evening of April 12, thousands of Chavez supporters were blocking the highway to the airport, to stop Chavez being taken out of the country. By April 13, mass protests had exploded across the country. Chavez supporters seized the radio and television stations, which had refused to broadcast the events unfolding in the streets. Sections of the military also remained loyal to Chavez.

Police killed 40 demonstrators. Tear gas was fired into the crowds of protesters in front of the presidential palace. Such repression was in vain, however. Carmona was forced to take refuge at Tiuna Fort, south-west of Caracas, after 50,000 people surrounded the presidential palace. It was soon taken by troops loyal to Chavez.

By 6pm, on April 13, 100,000 Chavez supporters had gathered at the palace. In an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the collapse of his illegitimate regime, Carmona announced the restoration of the National Assembly. It didn’t work. The lower ranks of the armed forces joined the revolt. Carmona was forced to resign and Chavez's vice-president Diosdado Cabello was sworn in as acting president.

By around midnight, the news spread that Chavez was to be released and flown back to Caracas from Orchila Island, where he was being held prisoner. Chavez supporters massed outside the presidential palace and the crowd swelled to more than 150,000 by the time of Chavez's arrival.

Las Ultimas Noticias and Diario Vea have carried articles detailing what happened every hour between April 11-April 13, 2002, including the various telephone discussions that were held between Hugo Chavez and Cuban President Fidel Castro on April 11.

Throughout Caracas and all over Venezuela there have been mass mobilisations, mass meetings, debates and discussions, photographic exhibitions and book launches centred on what happened on April 11.

Of particular interest has been the launch and distribution of the new book, The Chavez Code: Deciphering the Intervention of the United States in Venezuela by Eva Golinger. The book details the role of the United States in the lead-up to the coup. Thousands of people gathered to buy a copy at book stalls, and many more flocked to the Caracas Municipal building where free copies were distributed. Anger and frustration even erupted when people where told that the books had run out.

The official commemoration was launched with a mass mobilisation on Puent Laguno (the bridge from which ant-Chavez forces shot at pro-Chavez demonstrators on April 11, 2002). There is now a plaque on the bridge commemorating the event. To date there are still some police and army officials responsible for ordering the crackdown on pro-Chavez forces who have not been charged.

Tens of thousands gathered to hear speeches from various community and government representatives including pastors from the United States and Venezuelan Vice-President Jose Vicente Rangel. The gathering also was entertained by various musicians and they watched VTV telecast on a large screen.

From Green Left Weekly , April 20, 2005.
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