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"We were sending informal, subtle signals that we don't like this guy"
April 16, 2002 1:23 AM   Subscribe

"We were sending informal, subtle signals that we don't like this guy" Is the American Government involved in overthrowing a South American democratically elected government? It appears that the current administration is admitting(anonymously, of course) they might have accidentally encouraged the people behind the Venezuelan coup, giving them the impression the American government would support the coup(which it did). Is this support as stupid as some analysts think? via Joshua Micah Marshall
posted by dglynn (19 comments total)

 
Well, I dunno. Yeh, it turned out the new leader sucked, but as soon as it was discovered he was ousted.

Anyway, the fact that someone is elected to a government does not give him any god given right to run the country. We are beyond the divine right monarchy here, yet some people seem to have a fixation on "democracy".

Chaves's poll numbers were around 30%, meaning that if there were an election before the coup, he wouldn't have won. Additionally, Chaves changed the constitution giving himself more power, and afaik, was not going to be up for reelection until 2k8.

Now, of course I'm not familiar with Venezuelan politics, indeed, I can't even spell the name of the country. However, if Chaves really was running the country into the ground, and could prevent a legal method of canning his ass, I don't see the coup as being that wrong.

Suppose that after Bush got into government, he tried to do something retarded like ban abortion outright, or declaring war on China or something, leading to a military coup and Gore taking power. I doubt you guys would be complaining too much.
posted by delmoi at 1:35 AM on April 16, 2002


Hmm, what you said in the post previous. That scenario is simply impossible. If Bush were impeached, say, for stealing the Florida election by intentionally defrauding enough black voters in Democratic precincts with a faulty computer program, and it could be rpoven without a shadow of a doubt--welcome to President Cheney, and then--is StromThurmond President Pro Tem of the Senate or would it be Hastert next? Even illegally, with a coup, I can't see our armed forces installing a democrat under any circumstances, given their political bias. You might as well bring in space Nazis in flying saucers--Godwin!
posted by y2karl at 1:47 AM on April 16, 2002


And of course after Gore seizes power and some of us start calling for a democratic election process we'll be told to shut up and get over it.
posted by skallas at 2:27 AM on April 16, 2002


Thing is delmoi, you don't give coups in democracies, which Venezuela still is but nearly wasn't, legitimacy based on prospective election results. This is as true for for countries you can't spell as it is for countries like Chile which, errr, OK bad example.
posted by vbfg at 3:00 AM on April 16, 2002


well, maybe chavez didn't have any god-given right to the presidency, but seeing as he was elected with 60% or so of the vote (more of a mandate than some other elections i've seen around) and his term was supposed to run six years, then a military coup is about as undemocratic a move as could have been taken here. if his popularity had slipped or he had engaged in some offenses that should have resulted in his removal i'd think that some sort of constitutional means of removing him from power would have been best. and if the US truly supports democracy in principle (and not merely when convenient or helpful to our interests) then they should be actively engaged in defending those rights around the world, which they seem to have failed to do here.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 5:50 AM on April 16, 2002


Anyway, the fact that someone is elected to a government does not give him any god given right to run the country. We are beyond the divine right monarchy here, yet some people seem to have a fixation on "democracy".

Wow, that's one of the more bizarre things I've read on MeFi lately. Who suggested that elections bestow the "god-given" right to rule?? The point of democracy is that government power is "people-given."
posted by Ty Webb at 7:35 AM on April 16, 2002


Yesterday New World Disorder linked to a STRATFOR story insinuating CIA involvement in the Venezuelan Coup. Unfortunately the story was subscription only by the time I got there.

That hasn't stopped a storm of assumptions from swirling itself into a frenzy: The CIA and the Venezuela Coup

CIA involvement doesn't seem completely far-fetched to me, especially considering the oil angle.
posted by joemaller at 7:50 AM on April 16, 2002


The American government, messing around with Central/South American elections? Perish the thought!

</sarcasm>
posted by solistrato at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2002


All kinds of detail from some intel briefing site. I can't verify anything in it. But hell, how do you verify stuff like this?
posted by mblandi at 8:06 AM on April 16, 2002


Note to Bush: what works in Florida, won't necessarilly play out in Venezuela.

Note to Rice: Strike 2

Its beginning to appear like the Bush FP team are a bunch of rank amateurs feeling their way up the learning curve. It will get harder and harder for them to blame their troubles on the Clinton Admin.
posted by BentPenguin at 8:12 AM on April 16, 2002


seems to me the Bush admin botched this one either way--if they didn't support the coup then they failed to defend democracy in the region. but if they did support it then the opposition they wanted to support couldn't hold power for more than a day or so.

nice work.
posted by zoopraxiscope at 8:14 AM on April 16, 2002


Delmoi, I like it, we just wait until Bush's approval rating drops below 50% then the coup. Damn we should have done that on election day when over 50% of the populas voted for Gore.
posted by onegoodmove at 9:14 AM on April 16, 2002


I'm all behind constitutional democracy, but the fact is that the Chavez government seems in many ways to have been leaving constitutional democracy at the curbside itself some time ago. There was a movement among opposition legislators to attempt the removal of Chavez by constitutional means. It's not clear what the status of that was by last week, but it was expected to fail because Chavez supporters control the legislature and the high court.

(In essence, that's the official White House position.)

I'm certainly not so naive as to believe we only "accidentally" encouraged the opposition, but we only gave them the most limited support. In any case, the increasingly autocratic rule of Chavez has meant that coup and civil war rumors have been rife for at least two years, but only gathered steam after he began promulgating decrees, bypassing the legislature, which led to a general strike.

Obviously, the downside is increased repression, or at worst, civil war. If it comes to that it's clear which side we'll be on. But that's clearly the outcome that made this non-support support of the coup in our interest; and it may have seemed that popular support for Chavez had fallen so low that the people were ready to stand behind any alternative, which proved not to be the case.

zooprax: You've grasped one of the essentials of diplomacy: that sometimes there isn't a good outcome to choose from. And a lot of the time you end up saying good words to people on both sides, just in case tomorrow they're the ones you have to deal with.
posted by dhartung at 9:17 AM on April 16, 2002


As with water, oil doesn't mix well with free elections.
posted by rushmc at 10:14 AM on April 16, 2002


I don't know if there's a good reason to get rid of Chavez - the story seems to be that the US just thinks he's too left-wing, which would not count as an acceptable reason for a coup in my book. But in general democracy isn't just about majority rule (or at least arguably not).

Take the example of the Algerian election in 1992, which was won by fundamentalist Islamists, and was annulled by an army coup, leading to an ongoing civil war. Would it have been better if that election result had been allowed to stand? Would it have been more democratic to let the Islamists take power, even though they would have imposed theocracy? Sometimes democracy is messed up either way and there's a tough choice to be made.
posted by Gaz at 10:24 AM on April 16, 2002


Oh, the irony.

From the first link: A bush spokesman says "Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters, however."

And from the Krugman link: National security adviser, Condoleezza Rice cautioned the restored president to "respect constitutional processes."

As Dave Berry would say, you can't make this stuff up.
posted by JackFlash at 10:40 AM on April 16, 2002


I don't know if there's a good reason to get rid of Chavez - the story seems to be that the US just thinks he's too left-wing, which would not count as an acceptable reason for a coup in my book.

Beyond his general leftishness, the U.S. distaste for Chavez seems to stem from:
  • The fact that he plays nicey nice with Iran, Iraq, Libya; I think this can be reasonably explained away by the fact that those states are also OPEC members and
  • Chavez is in favor of a strong OPEC; as Venezuela is a huge oil exporter outside the Middle East, American economic interests would be well served by having Chavez comitted to cheap American oil.
  • Chavez plays nicey nice with Castro, always a panic button for some.
  • Chavez may or may not be supporting FARC, the rebels in the long-running Colombian civil war; I've read mention of this, but can't speak to whether it's true (or how authoritative the proof is).
Additionally, Chavez supporters seem far too willing to set up an informer state; the fear seems to be that Venezuela is going to turn into a mainland Cuba, only instead of losing access to casinos, cigars, and really good pork sandwiches, America will be losing access to a huge supply of oil that can be transported overland. (Turning into a mainland Cuba probably wouldn't be so bad for impoverished Venezuelans economically, just as the majority of Cubans initially benefited when Castro came to power, but would it go along with an end to a free Venezuelan press? Jailing of the opposition? Jailing of people who speak in favor of the opposition? Cessation of free elections? A socialist Venezuela isn't itself bad, but what will Chavez do to move it there?)

Are these things enough to put aside the stated American commitment to democratic rule in South America? I don't think so; even if Chavez wants to wreck his country's economy to spite America, which I don't think he does, that's not an open invitation for us to support a coup. I certainly don't think a botched involvement will improve our reputation in the region. My discomfort Chavez's burgeoning cult of personality aside, I think we should be operating within a democratic framework, barring an outright imposition of extra-constitutional law, a dictatorship, an outright police state, or the like. But there's a bit more complexity than there might seem to be at first glance.
posted by snarkout at 10:47 AM on April 16, 2002


Contrary to Bush's public denials about ties to Ken Lay, he did some lobbying on behalf of Enron for a pipeline in Venezuela way back in 1988.

Along comes a reformer who threatens these oil interests and the American government encourages the coup of a democratically elected president. Considering Venezuela supplies about 25% of American's imported oil, Bush's desire for an Iraq war, and undependable OPEC allies, Bush wanted better odds than offered by democracy in South America. It goes to show that America's foreign policy is not about freedom and democracy throughout the world but foremost about the promotion of America's economic interests.

Whenever someone brings up what America did in Guatamala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, etc. they say that's past history. Well this happened just yesterday.

Could this heavy-handed arrogance be why many people around the world hate Americans?
posted by JackFlash at 11:34 AM on April 16, 2002


Whenever someone brings up what America did in Guatamala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, etc. they say that's past history. Well this happened just yesterday.

Yesterday, were American-trained Venezuelan military officers leading death squads? Were we training them to torture nuns? Backing out on our commitment to a democratic South America just because we think Chavez is bad news isn't great, but there's no comparison between American statements recognizing and welcoming the post-coup government and some of the truly reprehensible actions in Central America.
posted by snarkout at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2002


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