How Democracy Survived In Venezuela
Chavez won the Venezuelan presidency in 1998 with a landslide popular vote. In the following years, he enacted reforms that made Venezuela the most progressive country in Latin America.
Venezuela is the #4 exporter of oil in the world and is the third-largest oil supplier to the United States. But Chavez is no friend of the Bush administration because he has established close ties with Iraq and Cuba. Chavez' progressive populism is particularly opposed by Otto Reich, who directs Bush policy in Latin America. A notorious right-winger, Reich ran a covert propaganda campaign for the Nicaraguan contras during the Reagan years (MORE on Reich's background).
Business interests in Venezuela had long complained that Chavez was trying to "Cubanize" the nation, but the country's private sector escalated their opposition
in November 2001 when he enacted a far-reaching legislative package.
Business interests seeking to oust Chavez gathered force, culminating in a national strike launched on April 9. These were
the notable events leading to the coup:
- November 13, 2001: Chavez enacts 49 laws utilizing the special powers parliament granted him for one year. Business associations call for the revision of some of the laws, such as the Land Act, but the government refuses.
- December 10, 2001: Venezuela's leading business association, Fedecamaras, successfully organizes a one-day general strike to demand that the Chavez administration rectify the laws enacted in November.
- January 23, 2002: Sectors of civil society, political parties of the opposition, labor unions and business association jointly organize a massive street march, the first major manifestation of anti-Chavez sentiment, to commemorate the 44 years since democracy was established in Venezuela.
The Chavez government organizes a rally in response, also with massive turnout.
- January 24: Chavez criticizes the top hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela, which he characterizes as a "tumor" during a ceremony of protocol attended by the papal nuncio (ambassador from the Vatican), Andre Dupuy. About 96 of the population is Catholic.
- February 7: Air force colonel Pedro Soto becomes the first active military official to publicly call for the resignation of Chavez from the presidency. In the next two months, five other military officers, including a general and a vice-admiral, make similar declarations.
- February 4-8: Top officials in the United States, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA director George Tenet, express concern about the unfolding of events in Venezuela and urge respect for that country's constitution.
- February 8: The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an independent body of the Organization of American States (OAS), concludes a one-week visit in Venezuela by urging the government to promote "greater tolerance" with the aim being to "guarantee freedoms of expression."
- February 13: The government implements a strict fiscal adjustment plan, which entails public expenditure cuts of around 22 percent and leads to a depreciation of the national currency, the bolivar, by 20 percent.
- February 27: The government and opposition hold simultaneous rallies on the anniversary of the bloody 1989 riots, known as the Caracazo, in which hundreds of people were killed in the police crackdown.
- March 5: Fedecamaras and the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), the country's leading labor union, present a "Governability Pact" that excludes the Chavez administration.
- March 23: President George W. Bush addresses the Andean Community of Nations meeting in Peru. Chavez was not invited despite Venezuela's membership in the bloc.
- April 4: Executives of the state oil monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) begin a strike to demand that Chavez revise the make-up of the new board of directors, which they claim is "politicized" with a bias in favor of the government.
- April 6: The CTV decides to move up the national strike it had planned for April 18 to April 9 as a show of support for the employees involved in the PDVSA conflict.
- April 9: A partial general strike begins, originally planned for one day but is then extended indefinitely. The organizers acknowledge that the objective is to push Chavez from power.
- April 11: Chavez plays down the importance of the national strike, speaking on radio and television, and states that the country's main problem is a "media-led conspiracy" against the government. He orders all private television broadcasters off the air.
A rally against Chavez draws 50,000 people. Street protests turn into clashes between opposition groups and police, the military and Chavez supporters, leaving at least 10 people dead and more than 100 injured.
- April 12: The military's top commanders resign in the early hours in order to press Chavez to step down. It is unclear whether Chavez actually resigns, as coup leaders claim.
Fedecamaras leader Pedro Carmona becomes Venezuela's transitional president. His first acts included suspending the 1999 constitution and disbanding the elected National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office, the national election commission and the state governorships. Carmona's new "democratic unity" cabinet is made up of only the far right.
The Bush Administration and major U.S. media rush to embrace Carmona. The lead editorial for tomorrow's New York Times is written in praise of the coup."Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator," the editorial says, because "the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader."
- April 13:
Pro-Chavez elements in the military break ranks with Carmona, and 100,000 people gather in front of the presidential palace to protest the coup. Carmona resigns and is taken into custody.
- April 14: Chavez returns to the presidential palace during early morning hours, wading triumphantly through a crowd of 400,000 waiting outside. Chavez addresses the nation and promises no reprisals against coup leaders.
Contributors to this timeline included Andres Canizalez, Jim Lobe (IPS) and
Randolph T. Holhut (AR) as well as other sources
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April 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com)
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