Marta Harnecker on Hugo Chavez

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Thu Sep 26 08:20:00 MDT 2002

(This came to my attention on CubaNews
and should shed some additional light on
the situation in Venezuela.

(The interview done by Marta Harnecker
with Chavez seems to be the longest and
most detailed since he spoke to Richard
Gott's for his IN THE SHADOW OF THE
LIBERATOR, written in 1999.)

ZNet | Venezuela
Rebick Interviews Marta Harnecker
by Judy Rebick and Marta Harnecker; September 10, 2002

Last April, a failed military coup took place in Venezuela.
The news coverage was confusing. First there was a coup,
and, then, Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chávez, was
back in power. To find out what really happened rabble's
publisher, Judy Rebick, interviewed Chilean writer Marta
Harnecker in Montreal at the end of August. Harnecker had
just returned from interviewing Chavez for a book.

Judy Rebick: Why did you go to Venezuela?

Harnecker: I wanted to do an interview with Hugo Chávez to
speak to the doubts the left has about him. I interviewed
him for fifteen hours, the longest interview he has given
since 1997, before he was elected president.

Rebick: So what happened during the coup, according to

Harnecker: It is important to understand that this coup was
overturned by a popular uprising. First we need a little
context. The traditional rightwing parties had been
marginalized in the political process during Chávez's
presidency. So the interests of these parties were
represented directly by big business, and it was the
interests of these corporations that were represented by the
generals who lead the coup.

Also, it's important to understand that there is a popular
army in Venezuela. You can go from being a peasant to being
a general. This is not the case in many other Latin American
countries. Chávez himself rose from a poor background. Of
course, unlike Chávez, a great number of generals who come
poor backgrounds get co-opted by the ruling class.

Although the grassroots of the army and the junior officers
are Chávez supporters, many generals are against him. When
the leaders of the coup went to the U.S. to discuss the
situation and told the U.S. government that they wanted
Chávez out, they were very well received. This encouraged
them. We could see from the U.S. reaction after the coup
that they supported it.

Chávez had a plan in place in case of a coup, which they
were expecting. The problem was that the plan involved one
of the generals who Chávez mistakenly thought was loyal. So
when Chávez decided to activate the plan, he couldn't. The
original plan was to defend the Miraflores Palace [the
government] against attack. If they couldn't defend it,
Chávez and his government would move to a region where they
had the support of the troops. The generals knew of these
plans so they cut off all communication - no radio, no
television, no telephone, no cellular.

One interesting story is that the couriers who ride
motorcycles got organized after the coup to run messages
between the palace and the poor neighbourhoods.
They became quite politicized and are still active. If they
hear a rumour that the right is mobilizing, they organize
en masse on their bikes and loudly ride to the palace.
They are a fearsome sight.

Anyway, the generals threatened Chávez that if he refused to
resign there would be a lot of bloodshed. Chávez is very
sensitive about loss of life.

Rebick: But what we were told in our media was that troops
loyal to Chávez were shooting people.

Harnecker: That is not true. The Mayor of the Metropolitana,
the area around the Palace, is against Chávez. This mayor
controls the police in that area so when the right organized
a demonstration against Chávez, these police were protecting
the demonstrators. Chávez forces were protecting the Palace
and these anti-Chávez police attacked people that were
surrounding the Palace to protect it. Some of them reacted
and shot back. There were also snipers, which you may have
heard about. Chávez says these snipers were infiltrators and
were shooting rightwing demonstrators to turn the people
against Chávez.

The courts have now investigated all this and found that
most of the bullets came from the anti-Chávez forces.

Rebick: So did Chávez resign or not?

Harnecker: Well, the generals told Chávez to resign or there
would be a civil war. Chávez discussed this with his staff
and decided to resign with the idea of returning to power as
soon as possible. However, he would only resign under
certain conditions: that he be able to communicate with the
people and protect the life of all people, and that he and
his staff be able to go wherever they chose.

At first the generals accepted his conditions, so he told
his minister of defense, General Ricón, that he could
announce his resignation. Ricón appeared on TV saying that
Chávez had resigned. However, the generals changed their
minds and did not accept the conditions so Chávez did not
resign, but all the media reported that he had.

It was a terrible moment for the people. There was a climate
of depression. It was a terrible night. Chávez himself was
sent to prison. He told me he was not killed because some of
the soldiers in the prisons he was taken to protected him.

Rebick: So how did the people know he had not resigned?

Harnecker: During his imprisonment, army lawyers came to see
him to make sure he was being treated fairly. When he was
answering the questions he explained that he had not
resigned. This was in the report handed over to the Chief
Justice. During a TV interview, the Chief Justice revealed
that Chávez had not resigned after all. This was one day
after the coup.

As soon as people heard this, they poured out of the barrios
[slums]. More than 100,000 people marched from the poor
neighbourhoods over to the military barracks to call on the
soldiers to join them. The poor people and the soldiers,
more than 200,000 strong, marched to the Miraflores Palace
demanding Chávez return to the government. Not a shot was
fired. Finally, Chávez forces inside the army recovered some
strategic areas and began to control the situation. They
sent a helicopter to get Chávez and bring him back to the
Palace and the coup was over.

Rebick: This seems a little too simple. Why didn't the right
fight back against the demonstrators?

Harnecker: Because the army was then with Chávez, the
generals that participated in the coup were isolated, and a
clear majority of the people were chavistes. Also the
opposition began to split when they saw what Pedro Carmona,
the self-proclaimed new president, was proposing to do. In
fact, the right was and is divided. The opposition is now
divided into three groups: the fascists who want a new coup
d'etat; the conservatives who want to remove Chávez by
constitutional measures without bloodshed; and people who
were in the opposition but have now decided that Chávez is
better than his opponents.

Rebick: So were the leaders of the coup prosecuted?

Harnecker: No. Chávez told me that when he was in prison, he
thought only about how to re-unify the country. For the
generals to be judged, the High Court has to agree to allow
it according to the constitution. The High Court is
anti-Chávez and didn't allow the generals to be prosecuted.
The court said that there was no coup d'etat and that the
military only acted because there was a vacuum of power.
So those involved in the coup are still in the army, but
have no responsibility.

But the parliament denounced this attitude of the High Court
internationally and are discussing what happened with the
people of Venezuela. They conducted a public inquiry into
the events and all the generals have had to testify and
explain themselves.

The people and some of the army are more radical and want
the generals prosecuted no matter what the constitution
says. But Chávez understands the balance of forces and says
they can't have a civil war or the United States would step
in. Everybody must know that Chávez is the only one that can
avoid a civil war.

The situation is still precarious. Both Chávez and the
people are prepared this time for another coup. Most
important is that it was the people who returned Chávez to
power, so they feel very strong and powerful. The people
feel like they are actors in the political situation and as
you know this is a very revolutionary situation.

Rebick: So what is happening now?

Harnecker: Chávez is telling the people to organize in every
way possible - Bolivarian circles, co-ops, women's groups,
popular radio, etc. The generals returned to the army, but
everyone knows who was involved. Chávez is organizing a
referendum to reform the constitution so that they can
prosecute the generals and appoint new judges.

Rebick: And what is the right doing now?

Harnecker: The most important of the opposition generals
realize they can't go for another coup d'etat, so they are
trying to use the Tribunals [courts], who are against
Chávez. They are accusing Chávez of being responsible for
instability in the country. They are accusing Chávez of
giving oil at a discounted rate to Cuba without
parliamentary permission.

Chávez is trying to persuade the U.S. not to intervene
against him. He says, "With me, in power the oil supply to
the U.S. is assured. If you support efforts to push me out
of power there will be a civil war and oil will be

Rebick: One of the most interesting things about Chávez is
that he is trying to implement participatory democracy. Did
you discuss this with him?

Harnecker: Chávez says that representative democracy is a
system that does not permit the people to make decisions.
This liberal democracy, he says, permits corruption. He
wants to build a participatory democracy. In my opinion the
new constitution is the most advanced in the world in
integrating participatory democracy into government. He has
been influenced by the participatory budget in Porte Allegre
[Brazil] and other experiments like that.

Rebick: And what about the doubts of the left?

Harnecker: The left didn't see Chávez's election as a
revolutionary process. People were suspect of him because he
was involved in an earlier coup and has lots of military in
his government. Chávez explained to me that when he came to
power by election in 1998, the opposition controlled
parliament. He needed efficient cadres in many places as a
counter force and the military were more efficient as cadres
and ministers than any civilians he could find.

Rebick: And do you think Chávez is a revolutionary?

Harnecker: Yes I do. He told me is neither a Marxist nor an
anti-Marxist; neither a Communist nor an anti-Communist. "I
am a Bolivarian," he explained. Bolivar wanted to create a
regional force in Latin America to deal with the United
States. Chávez wants to create a new ideology specific to
Latin America and its reality. He thinks Marxism is too
European. For example, he says, a working class, as Marx
described it, does not exist in Venezuela.

I asked him if capitalism could be humanized. He answered
that capitalism is inherently exploitative and cannot be
humanized. But he recognizes that they are in a capitalist
regime. Chávez wants a revolution, but he realizes that to
achieve that he needs a different relationship of forces. He
wants to build that new relationship of forces in alliance
with others in the third world. With such a strong alliance
in the future, he believes it will be possible to negotiate
with the United States.

Chávez told me: "Our process is a transition from a
neo-liberal model to a humanist, self-government - a more
democratic model that would resolve the basic needs of the

Marta Harnecker is the director of MEPLA (Memoria Popular
Latinoamericana). She is Chilean but currently lives in
Cuba.  Judy Rebick is the publisher of where
this piece first appeared.

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