Monthly Archives: November 2013

Three events that shook Venezuelan pacted democracy: Conclusion

Part IV: Perez’s Impeachment and where is CAP now?

After these two coups, CAP lost the support of his party members, AD. His opponents began their campaign to discredit CAP by specifically focusing on mismanagement of ‘partida secreta’ funds (presidential discretionary funds). La Causa R and Jose Vicente Rangel (future VP under Chavez)-journalist- joined this campaign by denouncing on CAP, minister of secretariat to the president and minister of interior relations on the funds issue. Soon, private sectors, COPEI, mass media and even members of AD joined this campaign. Perez and his supporters claimed the money ($17 million) were utilized to support Nicaraguan electoral process in 1990. At the end of 1992, a request of trial was submitted to Supreme Court. Ramon Escobar Salom (public prosecutor) presented the mismanagement of funds to the Supreme Court on 20th March 1993. By May, Supreme Court ordered a trial against CAP and partners. On 21st May 1993, CAP was suspended from office (as Venezuelan Congress voted for suspension). Supreme Court proceeded to prosecute him. Octavio Lepage took over the presidency till 5th June. He was later succeeded by Ramon Jose Velasquez (historian). On 31st August 1993, CAP was barred from returning to office as the Congress voted on it even if he is not guilty (after failure of Perez of refusing to step down.) It is the first time in Venezuelan history that the president got impeached from power. He was not found guilty for the embezzlement charges but convicted for misuse of public funds by the Supreme Court in May 1996. He was placed house arrest (28 months –first 10 weeks in Caracas jail) but this did not deter him coming back to politics. CAP created his own party Apertura and ran for Senate seat in native Táchira state (though under house arrest). In April 1998, CAP and his mistress were charged of placing deposits in US bank more than exceed public salary wage. He won the Senate elections in November 1998 and he received immunity. Supreme Court ended his house arrest and clear the charges on him (He got Senator’s immunity). However, time was short for him (From exile in Florida, Perez claimed Chavez would not last a year in the office of presidency).

Once Chavez was elected in 1998, a new constitution was drawn up to replace the 1961 constitution. This Constitution dissolved the Senate and replaced with National Assembly (unicameral legislature). In 1999, he decided to run again from his native Táchira but lost the seat. This cost his immunity. He first moved to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and later rotated between his homes in Miami, New York and Dominican Republic. In 2001, Venezuelan prosecutors charged CAP of breaking Venezuelan law whereby legislators need to declare their assets upon entry and exiting their public service career (he failed to disclose the bank accounts).  CAP claimed this amounted to political persecution and later became fervent opponent of Chavez. In 2002, Venezuela requested his formal extradition back to Venezuela. In 2003, Venezuelan suspended ties with Dominican Republic till latter investigates CAP conspiracy to overthrow Chavez (CAP made such comments when he was exile there). Later, he was forced to exile to U.S. On 21st October 2003, he suffered stroke which partially disabling him. In May 2004, his former house (held by his previous wife) was searched by Venezuela authorities during anti-paramilitary raid. His reaction (from Miami) was “We were expecting this because we know that there rule of law does not prevail in Venezuela,”. He claimed violence was necessary to oust Chavez and stated the raid was form of Chavez’s plan of distracting Venezuelans. In July 2004 (prior to recall referendum on Chavez), during interview with Venezuelan daily, CAP acknowledged that he is “working to remove Chavez”. He added, “Violence will allow us to remove him” and “he (Chavez) must die like a dog, because he deserves it”. Chavez accused CAP of plotting to assassinate him (CAP denies). In February 2005, State Prosecutor Indira Josefina Mora issued arrest warrant on CAP for his responsibility of the Caracazo crackdown (Plan Avila). In 2008, his former party (AD) announced that CAP will return to Venezuela. On 25th December 2010, Perez DIED at age 88 due to heart attack in Miami. Soon after his death, there was a row between his relatives of the place of him to be buried. His partner, Matos said she wants Perez to be buried in Miami while his estranged wife wants his body to be buried in Caracas (No updates so far whether this issue is resolved or not). On 26th December 2010, Chavez gave his mixed farewell to his deceased adversary, “May he rest in peace,” and “But with him may the form of politics that he personified rest in peace and leave here forever.

References

1) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2006, United States of America (pp.119-121)

2) Hugo Chavez :Oil, Politics and the Challenge to U.S., Nikolas Kozloff, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, New York (pp.47,56)

3) The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver & Julia C. Frederick, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, New York (pp.145-146)

4) The battle of Venezuela, Michael McCaughan, Open Media & Seven Stories Press, September 2005, UK.

5) Carlos Andres Perez, Former President of Venezuela, Dies at 88, Simon Romero, New York Times (Americas), 26th December 2010,http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/27/world/americas/27perez.html?_r=1

6) Venezuela issues arrest warrant for former president  Carlos Andres Perez, Jonah Gindin, Venezuela Analysis,25th February 2005, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/964

7)   More Anti-Government Paramilitaries Captured in Venezuela, Martin Sanchez, Venezuela Analysis, 11th May 2004,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/499

8)  Venezuela Suspends Oil Shipments and Withdraws Ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela Analysis, 19th Septemeber 2003,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/112

9) Row over Venezuelan ex-leader Perez burial rekindled, BBC News, 4th January 2011,http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12116729.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:100% CREDIT FOR THE REFERENCES ABOVE. NO INFORMATION OWNED BY AUTHOR.

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Three Events that shook Venezuela pacted democracy: Second Coup

Part III: Gruber Coup Attempt-Second Coup against Perez

Background

The principal organiser of the coup was Admiral Hernan Gruber Odreman with the aid of air force General Francisco Visconti Osorio (he was one of key members of Chavez’s coup in which his planes was not allowed to take-off due to risks). His other main members in this group was Admiral Cabrera, contacts from La Causa R and other civilians and got the support of remaining members of MBR. The group named themselves as July 5 Movement (after Venezuelan Independence Day).

Planning

The group spent more time on thinking what to do next after the successful coup rather ensuring the success the coup in the first place. The original plan was to create Council of State in which the members will form civilian and military backgrounds (the president will be civilian). This council will last year or so and plan to reorganise Venezuela. Unfortunately, the coup plan was hit by delays and in process, losing key members. The timing became high priority as the gubernatorial elections will be held on December 1992. The coup must be done before the elections to prevent the coup aims being misinterpreted. The month chosen was November 1992.

Implementation

On November 25th 1992, Admiral Gruber made a video of his recorded broadcast that supposed to be air on the day coup. The technicians were satisfied with Gruber’s broadcast after couple of rehearsals. The coup occurred on November 27th (launched early morning) but the coup plot was damaged with failure of participation of key members (breaking the promise). Admiral Gruber arrived at his office and expected this will be well organized coup. Gruber faced the similar problem with Chavez; communication equipment failure and he could not contact with fellow national conspirators. Like Chavez, he was isolated in the coup plot. At 3.30a.m., General Visconti forces seized El Libertador Air Force Base (Palo Negro, Aragua) with little opposition. However, some of the personnel defected to Barquisimeto (a base loyal to government). Mariscal Sucre Air force Base (Boca del Rio,Maracay) was later seized by rebels. For this round, rebels manage to seize VTV (State TV Channel) (in a bloody battle) in Los Mecedores and Gruber expected his recorded message will be broadcasted-hoping civilian uprising to occur. Early morning on that day, VTV broadcasted Colonel Chavez’s announcement that CAP has overthrown by coup. However, the images shown on television were flickered and confusing videos were broadcast (including Chavez’s rhetoric). Instead of causing popular rebellion, it confused Venezuelans what to do next and damaged the coup plotters reputation. According to Gott, the videos could be switched or operator might place the wrong videos on the machine. The rebels were successful as the many airbases were seized and the skies were largely under them. The coup was bloodier as there were serious fighting in Caracas and Maracay, killing more than 170.

CAP later emerged on television, announcing everything is fine (as the rebels fail to takeover another television station-Channel 10). Rebels Air Force strafed the Army barracks. Another section of Rebel air Force bombed the Miraflores palace, Presidential Guards Barracks & Building of foreign ministry. Government responded this time sending two F-16s chasing the rebel Air Force and subsequently attacking rebel Air Force Bases in Libertador and Sucre. From Sucre Air Base, rebels attacked Barquisimeto and damaging couple of planes. Government responded by shooting down some of rebel planes. In Caracas prison, inmates staged uprising. DISIP Caracas HQ was attacked by rebels. By midday, Gruber surrendered. Suddenly, air force plane flew over Caracas and gave supersonic bang (Gruber’s video, had it broadcasted, would mention this event as a signal for uprising). Another rebel air force plane was shot down over Caracas.   Elite sections of the Army, paratroops with support of two tank columns seized Libertador and Sucre bases with much fight. An attempt to rescue Chavez and his allies out of jail has failed. By 2.00 p.m. General Visconti ordered evacuation of the bases. He took his fellow air force plotters (92 of them) on Hercules cargo plane and fled to Peru around 3 pm. Other rebel air force personnel fled to Aruba and Curacao. On other hand, plotters (Around 1000 of them) were sent to the jails, joining imprisoned Colonel Chavez.

Consequences & Long Term Implications

Meantime, CAP lost his support from his Accion Democratica (AD) old guard members. His party members accused him and two other ministers for corruption. He was forced to resign and Gott dubbed it ‘congressional coup’ (Please refer to Part 4). Gubernatorial elections of the following week witnessed a decrease in participation for voters. Established two parties, AD and COPEI saw their presence reduced. Other minor parties like La Causa R and MAS (Movement towards Socialism) had their presence increased. Prior to 1989, all state governors were appointed by the president. Colonel Chavez asked his fellow supporters to abstain the coming presidential elections in December 1993 (which many of them did). The absentation rate was higher (40%) compared to presidential election of 1988-where Perez got elected: 25%. The main candidates almost received equal amount of votes, probably the first time in Venezuelan history. The winner was Rafael Caldera, the former president of Venezuela. Though he founded COPEI, he abandoned the party and created an independent group called Convergencia (allying to Moviemento al Socialismo (MAS)). Though Caldera was the clear winner, he had no majority in Congress (he got 30% of election votes) and he was forced to make alliance with AD. LA Causa R, radical party became third largest force in the country after AD and COPEI. Caldera recognized that he owed to Colonel Chavez’s coup for his successful bid of presidency. On 27th March 1994 (Palm Sunday), Chavez was released from the prison. In 1997, Colonel Chavez created Moviemento Quinta Republica(MVR)- 5th Republic Movement as a ‘campaigning organisation). During the presidential elections, both AD and COPEI struggled to field a candidate that could win. These parties shuffled their candidates as these candidates had very weak approval ratings. Finally, AD and COPEI decided to stand behind Salas Romer (Proyecto Venezuela-conservative group) as the presidential candidate. Chavez won the presidential election by 56.2%. His party (MVR) received 40.17% which overwhelmed all other Chavez’s allied parties. ON 2nd February 1999, President Chavez received his presidential sash and assuming his duty as the President of Venezuela. It marks beginning of 5th republic of Venezuela and the Bolivarian revolution.

References

1) Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2005, Great Britain (pp.71-75,119-121)-Core of the article is based on this book

2) The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver & Julia C. Frederick, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, United States of America

3) Foiled Again, TIME MAGAZINE, 7th December 1992,http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,977163,00.html

4) Air Power of Venezuela’s 1992 Coup attempt,http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/military/venezuela.htm

5) Wikipedia

AUTHOR’S NOTE:100% CREDIT TO THE REFERENCES ABOVE. NO INFORMATION OWNED BY AUTHOR

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Three Events that shook Venezuelan pacted democracy: Chavez’s Coup

Part II: Chavez’s Coup Attempt-First coup against Perez

Background

 Carlos Andres Perez (CAP) still remain unpopular. On March 1991, two students were killed during protests against high living costs. 8 months later, three died during protest in Caracas. During December 1991, death of 10 young demonstators at the hands of police sparked the suspension of univerities and high school classes. By January 1992, demonstrations were held to demand resignation of CAP.

Colonel Hugo Chavez was promoted as commander of parachute regiment of Maracay in August 1991. Some of his close friends in the military received their regiments around the same month (i.e. Jesus Irdaneta, Joel Acosta Chirinios, Francisco Arias Cardenas). Colonel Chavez and others were questioned for attempted coup of 1989 though he ‘escaped unscathed’. In Novemebr 1991, Chavez and fellow conspirators advised their allies, La Causa R (left wing organization split from Communist Party) of the incoming coup and need of street action to back up the coup. However, La Causa R directorate decided not to back the plan except Pablo Medina. Colonel Chavez planned an attempted coup in December 1991 but cancelled due to civilian collaborators betrayal. He and his principal partners of Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement (MBR) hoped 1992 would be good year to perform the coup. In January 1992, Pablo Medina met Chavez for post-coup cabinet arrangements- 5 civilians and 4 retired military officers (La Causa R eventually split into two faction-of which one of them is Medina in mid 90s. Later he created Homeland for All (PPT) which allied with Chavez till 2002. He supported the coup against Chavez in 2002 and as of 2004, he is in opposition. PPT remained as an ally to Chavez till 2010 before broke off to be indepedent).

Planning

Chavez, in an interview, said ‘The idea was to detain Perez at the airport and to take him, via motorway, to the Historical Museum; our boys had organised a commando at the airport that would have captured him, but they were unable to enter, for it had been put under guard since midday’. The plan was including capture senior generals too. The plan needs to quickly capture CAP before CAP use his military to smash Chavez’s coup easily. On February 4th, CAP was to arrive at Caracas after World Economic Forum (Davos, Switzerland) trip. The coup plotters were in state of alert since 30th January 1992 (Thursday). Recounting the events on 2nd February (Sunday), elements of air force said around midnight, fellow conspirators rang from Miraflores (the presidential palace) stating timing & location Perez’s return. During evening of Monday, the coup plotters had already seized control of barracks in number of cities (e.g. Maracay, Maracaibo)-crucial for the advance to Caracas. For example, Francisco Arias Cardenas seized government offices, local airport and oil camps in Zulia state (the only truly successful). Unfortunately, trouble was brewing as betrayal occurred. Around midday of Monday, a captain from military academy informed the high command of the armed force about impending coup attempt (the captain was told by Chavez to capture senior generals). The government have limited time to act and does not know the coup origins are. The defence minister, General Ochoa Antich realised an unfolding coup and decided to meet CAP at Maquietia (Caracas International Airport in north). CAP had fallen asleep when the defense minister told him about military uprising in Maracay. There is some debate on the role of defence minister during the coup due to his slow approach.

Implementation

Around 8pm on 3rd February, Chavez soldiers (460 of them) moved from Maracay to Caracas with hired buses (buses were supposed to go for training exercise but it was diverted to Caracas). At 1am, Chavez arrived at his designated place, Historical Museum in La Planicie. To his surprise, his forces came under fire and Chavez realised there was a betrayal. Later, his forces manage to enter the museum through persuasion (Chavez convinced the colonel in charge and the men that he came to strengthen their position). Another blow, Chavez (his cell phone also died) realised that his communication equipment in museum was not there. Chavez was isolated and unable to coordinate his military units in the country. Another group of his soldiers attacked Miraflores but no breakthrough. Air Force elements involved in the coup decided to not let the planes take-off (based on risks).  A group of civilians involvedc in the coup failed to take over television and radio stations.Conspirators with reinforcements were blocked at Caracas’ outskirts. In Valencia, the city populace responded to the coup by receiving weapons from the conspirators and seized the city. Unfortunately, it did not happen in Caracas and Maracaibo (second largest city in country). Chavez commented that he was ready with weapons to be distributed to the populace. He said however, those civilians who knew the operation failed to turn up. First CAP left for his presidential house at La Casona-before got surrounded- (it was attacked but DISIP fought back) and then slipped through the tunnel for Miraflores. CAP actually entered Miraflores, slipping by ‘rebel armoured unit unrecognized’.According to TIME Magazine correspondent, at one point, rebel soldier got a clean shot on CAP but he failed to pull the trigger (lack of nerve). Realising that, Chavez ordered palace to be surrounded (tanks were lined up) and CAP quickly escaped with his aide through the tunnel (tanks latter attack). Both of them drove to private television station (Venevision TV) and Perez recorded his broadcast on tapes. By the morning of 4th February, CAP took to the air on television announcing there was military rebellion in Maracay and it was being crushed. It was clear to Colonel Chavez the coup has failed and made a decision that turned to him a hero in the disaster.

*-Explaining to Augustin Blanco Munoz, Chavez said “The idea was detain Perez at the airport..and to take him, via the motorway,to the Historical Museum; our boys had organised a commando at the airport that oud have captured him, but they were unable to enter, for it had been put under guard since midday.” Chavez continued, “The second attempt was to have been in the motorway tunnel, blocking the road with a burnt-out car;but there were too many guards and our forces were insufficient. Afterwards our plans included taking him at his house at La Casona, where there was a serious attack, but the forcesz of the Disip fought back. Perez arrived there, but a few minutes before it was surrounded, he made off to the Miraflores palace.  When he go there, our tanks attacked, but he escaped through an urguarded entrance.’Augustin Blanco Munoz is the author of Habla el Commandate: testimonios violentos, UCV  1998.

Reaction

After watching CAP broadcast, Chavez decided to surrender at 9.00 am on 4th and he want to go on television to ask his fellow men to surrender. Since the objectives in Caracas were not achieved, Chavez talked on air for over a minute to prevent further bloodshed (his fellow men that have seized cities and barracks to peacefully surrender). Parachute regiment in Aragua and tank brigade of Valencia do not want to surrender as they successful capturing the cities. Below here is Chavez’s statement on air:

 ‘First I want to say good morning to all people of Venezuela, but this Bolivarian message is directed specifically to the courageous soldiers of the parachute regiment of Aragua and the tank regiment of Valencia.

  Comrades: unfortunately, FOR THE MOMENT (por ahora), the objectives that we had set ourselves have not been achieved in capital. That’s to say that those of us here in Caracas have not been able to seize power. Where you are, you have performed well, but now is the time for a rethink; new possibilities will arise again and the country will able to move definitively towards a better future.

   So listen to what I have to say, listen to commandante Chavez who is sending you this message, and please, think deeply. Lay down your arms, for in truth the objectives that we set ourselves at a national level are not within our grasp.

  Comrade, listen to this message of solidarity. I am grateful for your loyalty, for your courage and for your selfless generosity; before the country and before you, I alone shoulder the responsibility for this Bolivarian military uprising. Thank you.’

Consequences

According to Gott’s analysis, there were two crucial parts in the broadcast. One was Chavez taking full responsibility of the disaster and errors occurred. This is so unlike all the other Venezuelan politicians who do not apologise despite a lot of crisis. For Venezuelans this was very new off. The second part was the ‘por ahora’ or ‘for the moment’ words. It had long term effect showing that the coup has failed; people may believe Chavez will return. It has ever since a trademark words of Chavez (that he will return). The coup was cheered on by residents of 23 Enero barro and during Carnaval (few weeks later), McCaughan said Hugo Chavez’s signature red beret and military uniform became the most popular outfit for children.

Those involved in the coup plot (more than thousand)including Colonel Chavez was put to jail (Chavez was given long prison sentence-first jailed in San Carlos, later to Yare prison). After the coup, there was emergency session of Congress in which former president Rafael Caldera gave an important speech. Basically he said that he denounced CAP’s government economic policy and at the same time, coup ‘must be censured’. He actually gave tacit message of supporting the coup. Two years later, Rafael Caldera was elected as the president of Venezuela (According to Gott, he was viewed by Venezuelans as the only major figure to understand the situation). The coup cost 14 troops’ lives, 50 soldiers wounded and around 80 civilians wounded in cross-fire.

A declassified State Department (U.S.) document claimed the coup did not get public support. The US government also secretly admitted in a document that CAP’s neo-liberal policy was not in favour of majority of Venezuelans. On 10th March 1992 document, Washington was concerned threat of popular uprisings in Venezuela as this would be serious blow to American interests in hemisphere.

Long Term Effect

The next morning of the coup attempt, the ‘por ahora’ slogan in graffiti appeared in Venezuelan streets. On 10th March 1992, massive number people staged pot banging protest demanding resignation of CAP and supposing the coup. After the coup, presidential consulting commission was set up with involvment of diverse social and political groups. The aim is to broaden government base through the input of suggestions. However, these suggestion were not implemented.

Around March 1992, General Ochoa Antich called upon Admiral Gruber and senior naval officer, Admiral Cabrera for private discussion. The issue was increasing disgruntlement in the military. Admiral Cabrera said to General Ochoa that lower-grade and junior officers are being promoted to higher ranks due to connections with politicians is one of the military issues. Admiral Gruber firmly proposed to Ochoa that the entire high command should resign and be replaced those with proper military experience. However, Ochoa did not heed Gruber’s words. Ochoa decided to gauge the opinion of senior politician and generals (be it retire or still in active duty), and 5000 servicemen (Aragua, Caracas, Monagas, Táchira, Zulia). Admiral Cabrera was given the task to head this survey and report was complete by July 1992. The survey highlighted 5 key issues in the military:

1)      Insufficient health services

2)      Problems with social security system

3)      Low perception on promotion system and problems with compensation of loss of seniority

4)      Corruption culture that is entrenched in military and political institutions

5)      Leadership issues

General Ivan Jimenez Sanchez, the chief of general staff, reading the report and promised setting up a commission to tackle these issues. Unfortunately, due to political situation, nothing was done and provided the grounds for the next, bloodier coup.

References:

1)      Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2005, Great Britain (the core of this article is based on selected chapters of this book)

2)      Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to U.S., Nikolas Kozloff, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, United States of America

3)      The battle of Venezuela, Michael McCaughan, Open Media & Seven Stories Press, Septemeber 2005, UK (pp. 66-68,83)

3)     The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver and Julia C. Frederick, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan, United States of America

4)      Venezuela: From “Backyard” to Multipolar World, Venezuela Analysis, Eva Golinger, 29th October 2010, http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5748

5)      Venezuela’s Chavez and Supporters Celebrated Anniversary of the Feb 4th Rebellion, Venezuela Analysis, Martin Sanchez, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/345

6)      More than 100 000 Supporters March in Support of Chavez in Venezuela, Venezuela Analysis, Kiraz Janicke, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/5120

7)      Hugo Chavez and the 1992 Military Coup in  Venezuela,www.InDepthInfo.com, W.J. Rayment, Viewed on 6-8th March 2011, http://www.indepthinfo.com/hugo-chavez/military-coup.htm

8)      1992 Coup Attempts in Venezuela: Causes and failure, Baburkin,Sergei; Danopoulos; Andrew C; Giancalone,Rita; Moreno,Erika, Journal of Political and Military Sociology, Summer 1999, BNET, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3719/is_199907/ai_n8842605/

9)     No Time for Colonels,TIME MAGAZINE (17th February 1992), By Bruce W. Nelan;Laura Lopez(Caracas) and J.F.O. McAllister(Washington),http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,974914,00.html

AUTHOR’S NOTE: 100% CREDIT TO REFERENCES ABOVE. NO INFORMATION OWNED BY AUTHOR

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Three Events that shook Venezuelan pacted democracy: El Caracazo

Part I

(Recommended to watch El Caracazo)

In 1958, Caracas (Venezuelan capital) witnessed a popular revolt (influenced by a revolt in Maracay) unseated military ruler Marcos Perez Jimenez. Outcome was the Punto Fijo pact (1958) which was signed by Accion Democratica and COPEI (social Christian) to ensure the power will be alternating between these two parties. As time went, corruption became pervasive in the Venezuelan state (especially party leaders, banking/commercial community etc.). 1970s was boom period as the oil prices shot up (Venezuela was and is today an oil dependent economy). The president at that time was Carlos Andre Perez (known as CAP) and he ruled from 1974 till 1979. The period was known as Venezuela Saudita (Saudi Venezuela) where Venezuela could have been rich as in West. Foreign oil companies were nationalized and new oil revenues flowed to development of industries. Ciudad Guayana (industrial city) is a testament of 70s industrialisation. It was said that $300 billion dollars Venezuela has earned from oil during Punto Fijo pact of 1958-1998 (20 Marshall Plans).  As time went, the state sector began to degrade, industrial sectors began to slow down and projects being abandonment. In 1983, due to oil glut, the national debt began to rise up as the oil revenues could not support government subsidies and state institutions.  Federal budgets began to show deficits (though there was brief economic recovery in mid 80s). Fomr 1984 to 1995, poverty went up from 36% to 66% and extreme poverty: 11% to 33% (worst was in 1989).

Caracazo

Background

Venezuela became the target of Washington Consensus implementation as it was accumulated huge debt at high interest rates. Twenty years leading to his presidency (CAP), wasteful spending and staggering corruption dried up the foreign reserves. In January 1989, then president Lusinchi suspended debt payments. CAP once denounced World Bank economists as ‘genocide workers in the pay of economic totalitarianism’. IMF was denounced CAP as “a neutron bomb that killed people, but left buildings standing” (in Spanish, la-bomba-sola-mata-gente). This rhetoric manage to lure in some left-wing parties to his side. Venezuelans voted CAP back to power on the belief CAP might fix up the problems (52.89% of the vote). CAP became the first president to be elected twice in Venezuela. He was inagurated on 2nd February 1989 in Terese Carreno Theatre instead of usual National Congress. His maiden speech stated that sacrifices were required from the population and involves harsh measures.  Venezuelan oil prices this time round was half of during CAP’s first term. The accumulated debt was around $35billion.

To suprise of his supporters, he appointed figures from IESA (Insitute of Upper Admnistration Studies- business school in Caracas & bastion to the Caracas elite and powerful business interests) to head up his economic team.CAP was surrounded with US-trained economists (under discipline of Chicago school) and announcing neoliberal package within two weeks of inauguration. Among these economists, they were two key figures behind this programme: Moises Naim (development minister) and Miguel Rodriguez (planning minister)-‘principal author’- who were educated in famous universities of MIT and Yale. Both were well-versed with neo-liberalism but lacked understanding of Venezuelan politics. For some weeks, CAP, as president elect, he visited OPEC countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Algeria. According to Gott, once CAP returned, he made up his mind of implementing this package, to many surprise. His Economic Adjustment Plan was simply known as Economic Package.  The package would have meant privatising the state enterprise (state was principal participant of economic/politics for half century). Government will rely more on dramatic private sector growth. Prices & interest rates will be liberalised and variable exchange rate will be abolished. Price of electricity,water,telephone and sanitation. Industrial efficiency wwas to be increased by industrial reconversion. The package was implemented to refinance the debt (in exchange of IMF loan US$ 4.5 billion).

Implementation

On February 16th 1989, CAP announced neo-liberal economic ‘packet’ (‘Great Turnaround’) which includes the dramatic rise of petrol price & basic necessities. Originally, the petrol price should shoot up by 100% on February 26th (Sunday). To prevent trouble, the government decided instead to increase the price of bus fare (possible face-saving measure). The first 30% hike by the bus owners (National Transport Federation) was to be implemented on 27th February 1989 (Monday). The next 30% hike will be scheduled three months later. The DISIP (Venezuelan Intelligence body) failed to expect this future outburst while DIM (Military Intelligence) warned the government that February 27th will be difficult day (only to fell on deaf ears or failed to be transmitted).

Reaction

On that day, the bus commuters realised in morning that their fares have doubled dramatically (30%) and refused to pay. For poor commuters, their money is short by month’s end. The student’s half price concession was also withdrawn, burdening the students. Protests emerged quickly, buses were overturned and burnt before 6 a.m. and within hours, rebellion (Caracazo) has emerged. Through television, protests flared up in Valencia, Maracay, Merida, and Barquismeto & Ciudad Guayana by mid morning. Other cities like Maracaibo, Puerto La Cruz, Barcelona, La Guaira, Caricuao and San Cristobal experienced similar protests. Looting shop/supermarket destruction later occurred.Students occcupied the bus terminal to protest the new fares and later blockaded the entrance. Students occupied a train station in Caracas, publicly denouncing the drivers. From the train station, more workers and other people joined the protests and barricading streets in Caracas. The initial anger towards the drivers changed to general anger at the Presidential neo-liberal package.People carried slogans- ‘The people are hungry’,’The people are angry’ &’Enough of the deceit’. Young people formed gangs (from suburbs) also proceed to loot wealthy housing area of slopes of Mount Avila. Looting was assisted by the police too and in one day, 1000 shops in Caracas were burnt. On 27th, a section of Metropolitan police went on strike (for pay rise) thus no prompt intervention to disturbance were performed. Stealing and rioting persisted the whole day and on Tuesday. Looters were reportedly distributing basic necessities to the disadvantaged barrio (slums) people. Accoding to Kozloff, one account stated that the looting was done in organized manner as people lined up for goods. Briefly, barrio people manage to taste some form of luxury in the process.

Consequences

The morning of Tuesday witnessed mixed reactions from the police agencies. Some of them conducted indiscriminately while others assisted in controlled looting.Initially, CAP, during visit to other province, he ignored the ongoing situation but things changed.CAP convened his cabinet on Tuesday afternoon and imposed a state of emergency at 6pm during TV address. The army imposed curfew from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. On Tuesday, the government signed a Letter of Intention with IMF in which government spending will be restricted, relaxation of price controls, reduction of subsidies and liberalisation of foreign trade.

Subsequent military repression ensured Caracas returned normalcy at high cost. National Guard, Army and different police agencies implemented ‘Plan Avila’ to restore order and officials estimated 327 dead and 1931 wounded. Soldiers from lower class strata actually refused to fire during repression. However, other estimates, nearly 2000 died with many disappeared (no exact figure for deaths). The country was placed in order in 3 days while Caracas took 5 days.  On March 1st, twenty killed in barrio Petare due to army firing on crowd.Repression was severe in barrio areas as the organizers of the rebellion were dragged from their homes and executed /’disappeared’. Many innocent people and children were killed when their homes were fired on by the Venezuelan government. In 23 Enereo barrio, predominantly working class, Venezuelan troops position themselves on top of the buildings with snipers and residents were killed by inexperienced recruits. Sniper bullets on houses during the repression are still visible today. Unknown numbers of bodies were buried in mass graves in Caracas southern cemetery. Well-off areas increased their security, reinforcing steel fence and felt lucky for that moment. While the poorer areas, impression created on poor was deep grievance against government. Suspension of selected Constitution articles (due to emergency law) was restored on 22nd March 1989.

 

 Long Term Implications

CAP later rescinded some of the controversial parts of the package. According to Gott, thanks to Caracazo, there was no privatisation of state enterprises. Venezuelan Congress unable to pass Perez privatisation policy due to difference in definition of ‘basic and strategic enterprises’. CAP economic package did reduce inflation (though accumulated inflation of 1989-91 was 150%) and deficits. However, it came with high unemployment and poverty. Poverty soared in 1989 from 46% to 62%. Extreme poverty increased from 14% to 30%. Gulf War 1991 did gave some respite to CAP as Venezuelan oil production increased.

CAP later said that he knows the typical degeneration of state institutions and his government want to abolish all elements related to corruption. To reduce corruption, he decided to free up the exchange rate and abolishing licenses of ‘foreign trade operations’. In 1990, an interview with Gott, he admitted his decision was unpopular (People resent the harsh measures we have taken). On 18th May 1989, there was a general strike against economic policies.In June 1990, there was violent demonstrations against hike of gasoline prices. In December 1989, first gubernatorial elections in Venezuela saw Left-wing parties like Moviemento al Socialismo (MAS) having strong lead in mayoralties and challenging bipartisan parties dominion over states.

Former vice-president under Chavez, Jose Vicente Rangel commented on Caracazo, ‘Venezuelan history split into two’. Hugo Chavez stressed the importance of this rebellion as critical event for next two coup attempts against CAP.

References:

1)  Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, Richard Gott, Verso, 2005, Great Britain (the core of this article is based on selected chapters of this book)(pp.21,43-48,49-55)

2)  Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to U.S., Nikolas Kozloff, Palgrave Macmillan,2006, United States of America (pp.43-46)

3)  The battle of Venezuela, Michael McCaughan, Open Media & Seven Stories Press, UK, September 2005 (pp.63-65)

4)  The history of Venezuela, H. Michael Tarver & Julia C. Frederick, Palgrave Macmillan,2006, United States of America (pp.137,142)

5)   Los Angeles to Caracas: Examining Neo-liberal polices leading towards rebellion,Venezuela Analysis, Aashiq Thawerboy, 22nd October 2009,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/4833

6)  The Fourth World War Started in Venezuela, Venezuela Analysis, George Ciccariello-Maher,5th March 2007,

http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/2253

7)  Venezuela Issues Arrest Warrant for Former President Carlos Andres Perez, Venezuela Analysis, Jonah Gindin,25th February 2004, http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/964

8) El Caracazo Case, Judgment of November 11, 1999, Inter-Am. Ct. H.R. (Ser. C) No. 58 (1999), University of Minnesota Human Rights Library,http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/iachr/C/58-ing.html

9) Wikipedia

10) Country Studies, Library of Congress

AUTHOR’S NOTE: 100% CREDIT TO ALL THE REFERENCES ABOVE. NO OWNERSHIP OF INFORMATION BY AUTHOR

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