I left for Boston early in the morning on April 12, 2002 with my son, who was going to visit a couple of colleges he is considering attending next year. Since it was so early, there wasn’t a lot of conversation between the two of us. Indeed, we mostly listened to some CDs he had brought along. When we got within range, he turned the car radio to WEEI, the local all-talk station that carried the Red Sox games live. Since the Yankees were in town that night, we thought there might be some good-natured talk about the evil Yankee empire and the Red Sox’ chance of defeating them this year. Instead there was a quiz show about the news. Most of the questions had to do with the tragedy in Palestine and Israel. Then, the guy asking the questions said something about a Latin American leader who had apparently just resigned. One of the contestants answered Hugo Chavez and the buzzer went off. I was very surprised.
I knew Chavez was not well-liked by the powerful of the world. Indeed, as a member of a group actively involved in ending US involvement in Colombia, I knew his government stood a very likely chance of meeting the same fate Salvador Allende’s did back in 1973 in Chile. However, I didn’t think it would happen so soon, despite IMF warnings in fall 2001 to the contrary. I was almost certain that the groundwork for such an action had not yet been laid and that the CIA and its protégés in Venezuela would take their time to ensure that any coup would be a success. Sure, some of the ingredients already existed: a coalition of members of the comprador class, union bureaucrats, corporate media and businesspeople had organized a series of employers’ “strikes” or lockouts that had shut down the country, primarily because workers were prevented from going to work, and the Catholic hierarchy was using its weight to convince its parishioners that Chavez was evil. Still, it didn’t seem like the momentum for a coup was quite there.
Once we got to Boston and parked, my son went off to his campus tour and I found a coffee shop and a newspaper. There it was on the front page-a completely different version of events than what really happened. That and the note that the United States had recognized the government, calling it good for democracy. How a coup could be good for democracy was beyond me, but I just read the news, I don’t make it up. As reports coming from Washington now assert, Bush administration officials had met with some of the leaders of the coup on the weekend before. (NY Times 4/16/2002) Since I couldn’t access any alternative sources for the time being, I surmised that, despite what the New York Times said, Chavez had not resigned, that his supporters had not fired into the crowds, that the protest against him was considerably smaller than the couple hundred thousand that the Times reported, and that the new “government” was not a done deal.
The next day I checked in on some independent media websites and discovered that my surmisals were correct and that resistance to the new regime was already building in the cities of Venezuela and amongst other governments in the region. By nightfall, Chavez was once again the president and the head of the Venezuelan Chamber of Commerce who had taken over the position was nowhere to be found. The people had restored the democracy they had elected.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the end. Chavez is still disliked by Washington for, among other things, his support of Cuba, his opposition to the US war in Colombia, and his government’s positive relations with some members of GW’s “axis of evil.” If one looks to the history books (s)he will discover that there was an unsuccessful coup attempt against Salvador Allende’s government in June 1973-three months before the September coup that took down his popular government and killed him. In fact, the leader of that coup was the general that Allende had appointed as a concession to the armed forces after the failed coup in June-Augusto Pinochet. Let’s hope that Mr. Chavez does not make a similar mistake.
Mr. Ron Jacobs is the author of “The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground” (Verso, 1997).