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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One response to “Three Events that shook Venezuelan pacted democracy: Chavez’s Coup

  1. Pingback: Venezuela – Otra Malasia & Quick History | leftpolitico

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