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[OPIRG-EVENTS] Coup in Venezuela - eyewitness account (posted from WSN)

Please spread the word far and wide and call your foreign ministry or the
U.S. State Department and tell them not to recognize the new government of
Venezuela. Chavez has not resigned! According to people I spoke to this
morning, who work close to Chavez, he is being held against his will by the
military, who are claiming he has resigned, when he has not. Isolate the new
government of Venezuela, so as to support democracy everywhere!

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

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.

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. He can be reached at: Wilpert@cantv.net

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