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Asunto:[LEA-Venezuela] venezuela (fwd)
Fecha:Sabado, 13 de Abril, 2002  10:19:50 (-0600)
Autor:karl h schwerin <schwerin @...edu>

 
 
Karl Schwerin			SnailMail:  Dept. of Anthropology 
Univ. of New Mexico			    Albuquerque, NM 87131 
e-mail: schwerin@... 
 
Cultural anthropology...is valuable because it is constantly rediscovering 
the normal.  Edward Sapir (1949:151) 
 
---------- Forwarded message ---------- 
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2002 12:23:40 -0700 
From: Beth Baker-Cristales <bcristales@...> 
Subject: venezuela 
 
Coup in Venezuela: An Eyewitness Account 
By Gregory Wilpert 
 
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. 
 
 
---- 
 
 
An Imminent Coup in Venezuela? 
 
by Gregory Wilpert 
April 10, 2002 
 
It appears that the strategy of President Chavez' opposition is to 
create as much chaos and disorder in Venezuela as possible, so that 
Chavez is left with no other choice than to call a state of emergency. 
This, in turn could either lead to a military coup or U.S. military 
intervention. 
 
Given that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the western 
hemisphere; it is distinctly possible that the U.S. government is going 
to intervene overtly, if it is not already doing so covertly. This means 
that the current crisis in Venezuela is probably a planned conspiracy to 
topple the Chavez government with the support of the U.S. 
 
As I write this, on April 9, Venezuela's largest union federation, the 
Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV) has called for a 
two-day general strike. Venezuela's chamber of commerce, FEDECAMERAS, 
has joined the strike and called on all of its affiliated businesses to 
close for 48 hours. 
 
This was the second time in four months that the two federations, of 
labor unions and of business owners, decided to join forces and strike 
against the leftist government of President Hugo Chavez. What is 
happening in Venezuela? Why are these and many other forces uniting 
against Chavez? 
 
Chavez took power in late 1998 in a landslide electoral victory, calling 
for a "Bolivarian Revolution," in reference to Latin America's hero of 
independence and Venezuela's favorite son, Simon Bolivar. Since then, 
Chavez has tried to root out the entrenched powers of Venezuelan 
society, represented by a political and economic elite, which had 
governed Venezuela for over 40 years in a pseudo-democratic form by 
alternating power between two entrenched political parties. 
 
Chavez first reformed Venezuela's constitution, through a constitutional 
assembly and a referendum, making it one of the most progressive 
constitutions in the world. The old elite were nearly completely driven 
from political power in the course of seven elections, which took place 
between 1998 and 2000. However, the old elite of the labor unions, the 
business sector, the church, and the media are still in power and have 
recently begun making life as difficult as possible for Chavez. 
 
Although Chavez originally had popularity a rating of around 80%, his 
popularity has steadily declined in the past year, supposedly reaching 
the low 30's now. Whether the reason for this decline was the slow pace 
of his promised reforms, the lack of significant progress in reducing 
corruption and poverty, or if it was because of the incessant media 
assault on his government, is not clear - most likely it is because of a 
combination of these factors. 
 
The conflict between Chavez and the old elite has recently come to a 
head. First, when Chavez passed a slew of 49 laws, which, among many 
other measures, were supposed to increase the government's oil income 
and redistribute land. The chamber of commerce vehemently opposed these 
laws and decided to call for a general business strike on December 10. 
 
Venezuela's labor union federation, the CTV, decided to join the strike, 
supposedly out of concern for the harm the laws did to the business 
sector and thus to employment in Venezuela. 
 
More likely, though, the CTV's support of a general strike was in 
retaliation for Chavez having forced the unions to carry out new 
elections of the CTV's leadership and for not recognizing its 
leadership, due to charges of fraud, when the old guard union leadership 
declared itself the winner of the election and refused to submit the 
official results and ballots to the government. 
 
The second major issue, which has resulted in a serious challenge to 
Chavez, occurred when Chavez appointed five new members loyal to him to 
the board of directors of the state-owned oil company, PDVSA, the 
largest oil company in the world and the third largest supplier of oil 
to the U.S. 
 
Also, he appointed a prominent leftist economist and long-time critic of 
PDVSA as its president. The management of PDVSA cried out in protest, 
arguing that the appointments were purely political and not based on 
merit and thus threatened to undermine the company's independence and 
its meritocracy. 
 
Chavez has since countered that board members and president have always 
been political appointments and that the state needed to regain control 
over PDVSA because it has become increasingly inefficient, a state 
within a state, whose top management is living a life of extreme luxury. 
 
 
Furthermore, and less explicitly, Chavez wants to assure that PDVSA 
adheres to OPEC's production quotas, so that the oil price remains at a 
stable and profitable level. PDVSA, however, has a history of 
undermining OPEC quotas because its management places a higher premium 
on market share than on a good oil price. 
 
Following a two weeks of protest and of labor slowdowns within PDVSA, 
mostly on the part of management, the labor federation leadership of the 
CTV, who all belong to the discredited old elite, decided to join the 
conflict in support of PDVSA's management, arguing that it was acting in 
solidarity with PDVSA workers in its call for a day-long general strike. 
 
 
The chamber of commerce rapidly followed suit, seeing this as another 
opportunity to humiliate and perhaps topple Chavez, and supported the 
strike as well. Considering the first day a complete success, the CTV 
and the chamber of commerce have decided to extend the general strike 
another 24 hours. However, as PROVEA, Venezuela's human rights agency 
has noted, even though Venezuela's constitution guarantees the right to 
strike, the strike is completely illegal because it bypassed the legal 
requirements for democratic legitimation of such a strike. 
 
Given that a large majority of private businesses are members of the 
chamber of commerce and oppose Chavez, the strike has appeared to be 
quite successful. Whether workers actually believe in the strike and 
intentionally stay away from work in protest to the government, is 
almost impossible to tell, since most businesses were closed by 
management. 
 
Many businesses were open and most of the informal sector was actively 
selling its wares on the streets as usual. Of course, all government 
offices and all banks, whose hours are regulated by the government, were 
open. Together, these sectors account for about 40% of Venezuela's 
workforce. 
 
The conflict in Venezuela has come to take on epic proportions, if one 
listens to the rhetoric of the two sides of the conflict. Both sides 
make extensive use of hyperbole, alternately calling the strike either a 
complete and total failure or a complete and total success. 
 
Other examples of how passionate and heated the debates have become are 
reflected in the opposition's repeated references to Chavez as a 
"totalitarian fascist dictator" who wants to "cubanize" Venezuela. 
Chavez and his supporters, for their part, refer to the opposition as a 
squalid ("escualido") corrupt oligarchy. 
 
Both sets of labels are caricatures of the truth. Certainly, Venezuela's 
oligarchical elite opposes Chavez, but the opposition to Chavez has 
become quite strong and has grown far beyond the oligarchy, to include 
many of his former friends and supporters. On the other hand, even 
though Chavez uses a lot of inflammatory rhetoric, the opposition has 
yet to find a single instance in which he has violated Venezuela's very 
democratic constitution in any way. 
 
Chavez' greatest failure, from a progressive point of view, probably 
lies in his relatively autocratic style, which is why many of his former 
supporters have become alienated from his government. Whenever someone 
opposed his policies he has tended to reject them and cast them out of 
his government circle. 
 
The result has been a consistent loss of a relatively broad political 
spectrum of government leadership and a significant turn-over in his 
cabinet, making stable and consistent policy implementation quite 
difficult. 
 
This loss of broad-based support has made itself felt particularly 
strongly during the recent crises, making Chavez look more isolated than 
he might otherwise be. Other than his party supporters, who are quite 
significant in number and come mostly from the poor "barrios," the 
progressive sectors of civil society have been neglected by Chavez and 
have thus not been active. Instead, the conservative sectors of civil 
society, such as the chamber of commerce and the old guard union 
leadership are among the main mobilizers of civil society. 
 
Still, Chavez' policies have been almost without exception progressive 
in that they have supported land redistribution for poor farmers, title 
to the self-built homes of the barrios, steady increases in the minimum 
wage and of public sector salaries, and the enrollment of over 1 million 
students in school who were previously excluded, to name just a few 
accomplishments. 
 
In terms of international issues, Chavez has been on the forefront in 
working for greater intra-Third World solidarity, in opposing 
neo-liberalism, and in supporting Cuba. 
 
Figuring out what this epic conflict is about has been somewhat 
difficult for an outsider. Passions are so inflamed that it is 
practically impossible to find calm and reasoned analyses about what is 
going on. Are the chamber of commerce, the labor federation leadership, 
the upper class, and significant sectors of the middle class really 
primarily concerned about the "politicization" of PDVSA and the 
appointment of a pro-government board of directors? 
 
Perhaps. But does opposition to these appointments justify a general 
strike? Definitely not. More likely these sectors are concerned that 
politicization of PDVSA means a loss of access to Venezuela's cash-cow: 
oil. Not only that, the most common complaints one hears about Chavez 
have more to do with his style than with any concrete policies he has 
implemented. There often is a racist undertone to such complaints, 
implying that Chavez, because of his folksy and populist style and his 
Indio appearance, is sub-human, a "negro." 
 
It does not help that almost all of the media, except the one 
government-run TV network, out of about five major TV networks, and one 
out of approximately ten major newspapers is completely opposed to 
Chavez. 
 
The media regularly cover nearly every single opposition pronouncement 
and rarely cover government declarations. Chavez, out of frustration 
with the media has relentlessly attacked the media for belonging to the 
old guard oligarchy and for printing nothing but lies, occasionally 
threatening them with legal action for slander. 
 
The media has, of course, responded in kind, by accusing Chavez of 
intimidating journalists with his pronouncements and of sending gangs to 
threaten journalists with physical violence. The media has tried to 
embarrass Chavez internationally by taking its case to the Organization 
of American States and to the U.S., which have responded favorably to 
their complaints and have criticized Chavez for his supposed lack of 
respect for human rights. 
 
The other thing Chavez has done to combat the media is to exploit a law 
which permits the government to take over all of the airwaves for 
important government announcements. All TV and radio stations are 
required to broadcast these announcements. 
 
During the general strike Chavez decided to go all-out and interrupted 
all TV and radio broadcasts numerous times during the strike. The 
government's use of the airwaves has now provided additional ammunition 
to the opposition and constituted an important factor in their deciding 
to extend the strike from one day to two. 
 
Chavez' greatest error has been his truly fundamental neglect for 
cultivating a culture which would support his "Bolivarian Revolution," 
one which progressive sectors of civil society would support and promote 
amongst the population and internationally, even against a strongly 
oppositional media. 
 
Despite this grave fault of his presidency, Chavez continues to deserve 
the support of progressives because the only alternative that has 
presented itself until now is a return to the status quo ante, where the 
upper class, together with selected sectors of the labor movement and 
the government bureaucracy share Venezuela's oil pie amongst themselves, 
leaving the poor, who constitute three quarters of Venezuela's 
population, to fend for themselves. 
 
Currently, however, the most immediate and most likely alternative to 
Chavez is either a military coup or U.S. intervention, since Chavez 
definitely won't resign and since he is legally in office at least until 
the 2004, when a recall vote can be called. This means that progressives 
around the world should act in solidarity with Chavez' government and 
support him, if another Chile-style coup is to be avoided. 
 
 
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. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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