Venezuela: Rumored U.S. Involvement Could Hurt Bush Administratio n

Chella Rajan crajan at tellus.org
Mon Apr 15 10:53:44 MDT 2002


Venezuela: Rumored U.S. Involvement Could Hurt Bush Administration
http://www.stratfor.com/fib/topStory_view.php?ID=204058

14 April 2002

Summary

Human intelligence sources in Venezuela and Washington told STRATFOR April
14 that the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. State Department may
have been involved separately in the events that took place in Caracas
between April 5 and April 13. If the information is correct, the
reinstatement of President Hugo Chavez less than 48 hours after he was
toppled by a civilian-military coup could have disastrous implications for
the Bush administration's policy in Latin America.

Analysis

Several human sources told STRATFOR on April 14 that the U.S. State
Department and the Central Intelligence Agency may have had a hand in the
tumultuous events that occurred between April 5 and April 13 in Caracas,
culminating in President Hugo Chavez's brief ouster and his return to power.

Although these sources may have had their own motivations for making the
allegation, it is possible -- if the Chavez regime produces convincing
evidence of U.S. government involvement in the failed coup -- that it could
poison Washington's relations with governments throughout Latin America.
Efforts to win regional support for increased U.S. military support to
Colombia, and to other Andean ridge countries battling the twin threats of
international drug trafficking and nominally Marxist insurgencies, would be
set back significantly in Latin America and Washington. The Bush
administration's efforts to pursue more free trade agreements in the region
also would be undermined.

Chavez could strengthen his own political base in Venezuela if he can
quickly prove U.S. involvement in attempts to topple his 3-year-old regime.
This also would give a tremendous boost to Chavez's leadership status and
credibility with populist and nationalist groups across Latin America that
view the United States as a threat and that oppose U.S.-style capitalist
democracy.

The U.S. government has a long history of interfering with Latin American
regimes viewed as unfriendly or dangerous to U.S. national security
interests in the region. Although the Bush administration tried very hard in
the past week to distance itself from the chaos in Venezuela, many
governments in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia viewed
Washington's cautious silence on Venezuela with considerable skepticism.

However, if STRATFOR's sources are correct, the skepticism may have been
justified.

Our sources in Venezuela and the United States report that the CIA had
knowledge of, and possibly even supported, the ultra-conservative civilians
and military officials who tried unsuccessfully to hijack interim President
Pedro Carmona Estanga's administration. Sources in Venezuela identified this
group as including members of the extremely conservative Catholic Opus Dei
society and military officers loyal to retired Gen. Ruben Rojas, who also is
a son-in-law of former President Rafael Caldera. Caldera, who governed from
1969 to 1973 and from 1994 to 1998, founded the Christian Democratic Copei
party.

STRATFOR's sources say this ultra-conservative group planned to launch a
coup against the Chavez regime on Feb. 27, but the action was aborted at the
last minute as a result of strong pressure from the Bush administration,
which warned publicly that it would not support or recognize any
undemocratic efforts to oust Chavez.

Separately, STRATFOR's sources report, the State Department was quietly
supporting the moderate center-right civilian-military coalition that sought
Chavez's resignation by confronting his increasingly authoritarian regime
with unarmed, peaceful people power. The April 11 protest by nearly 350,000
Venezuelans was the largest march against any government in Venezuela's
history, and even without violence the momentum likely would have continued
building in subsequent days. U.S. policymakers who supported the civic
groups seeking Chavez's departure believed their numbers eventually would
reach a sufficiently large critical mass to force a change in Chavez's
policies or even trigger a regime change.

However, the violence that killed 15 people and injured 350 -- including 157
who suffered gunshot wounds inflicted by pro-Chavez government security
forces and civilian militia members -- united the previously leaderless and
disarticulated center-right opposition and gave moderates in the armed
forces what they perceived as a legitimate reason to oust Chavez
immediately. Sources in this center-right group tell STRATFOR that the
videotapes of pro-Chavez gunmen firing indiscriminately into the front ranks
of marching protesters were "more than enough" to legally justify a regime
change.

The conservative civilian-military group timed its coup-within-a -coup
perfectly, using Carmona's swearing-in ceremony as the platform from which
to hijack what was supposed to be a moderate center-right transition
government -- a government that would reach out to the moderate left that is
led by former Interior and Justice Minister Luis Miquilena. STRATFOR's
sources inside this group report that 23 members of the president's Fifth
Republic Movement block in the National Assembly had committed late April
11, after the violence, to vote for Chavez's removal from power.

Additionally, given that Vice President Diosdado Cabello was responsible for
organizing and coordinating the Bolivarian Circles from Miraflores
presidential palace, it was felt that he and other senior Chavez regime
officials could have been removed legally from the government with the help
of Miquilena's votes in the National Assembly and his strong influence over
the Supreme Court.

However, Carmona Estanga destroyed that possibility and irreparably
fractured the center-right coalition that named him to the presidency when
he announced the dissolution of the National Assembly, fired the entire
Supreme Court and sacked the attorney general, comptroller general and the
public defender, who were appointed by Chavez.

The dissolution of the National Assembly was repudiated unanimously by every
political and civic organization in the country. The powerful Venezuelan
Workers Confederation promptly withdrew its support from Carmona without
making any announcements in that regard, STRATFOR sources said, and the
tenuous anti-Chavez coalition within the armed forces collapsed almost
immediately.

Moreover, tensions between the moderate and mainly army faction led by Gen.
Efrain Vasquez Velasco and the ultra-conservatives flared rapidly as the
right-wingers, through the new interim defense minister, sought to break up
Vasquez Velasco's base of support within the army by transferring some his
key associates to other commands.

The picture painted by STRATFOR's sources in Venezuela and the United States
is of two parallel U.S. operations that were executed separately by the
State Department and CIA. While the State Department sought discreetly and
quasi-officially to support the anti-Chavez moderates in an effort to build
a viable political center, the CIA was at least aware of the
ultra-conservative plot to hijack Carmona's short-lived presidency.

If the sources are correct, the Bush administration's carefully laid plans
soon may backfire.

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