If at first you don't succeed...
June 20, 2002 8:06 PM   Subscribe

If at first you don't succeed... Venezuelan army officers tell the Christian Science Monitor they're planning another coup attempt. Other signs: Ten masked men criticized President Chavez on TV last week, protests are mounting and, oh, those 50 tanks you see over there? Don't be alarmed. They're just "rehearsing" for the July 5 Independence Day parade, which also happens to be the day Chavez may try to clean house during an annual round of military promotions. Ruh-roh. The good news: On June 10, workers at the country's largest newspaper released a statement denouncing last April's media manipulation by wealthy owners and promised to fight if it happened again. And everyone's favorite meddling Baptist has announced he's heading to the area. (More inside)
posted by mediareport (22 comments total)
Interview with Wayne Masden in which "he summarizes the logistical support which he maintains was provided by the Bush administration to the coup plotters." However, I can't get the audio to play.
posted by sheauga at 8:25 PM on June 20, 2002

The media workers' statement is what intrigues me most right now. This April NYTimes report seemed to imply that the main reason Venezuelan TV stations showed old movies on the 2nd day of the coup was that reporters were too afraid to go out into the streets. But the newspaper union workers' statement appears to contradict that:

No more manipulation of media sector workers making us responsible for editorial lines...the majority of employees, reporters and journalists put our lives on the line only for media owners and board members to decide not to publish anything and hide from the public the serious events that were taking place in the streets, while mainstream TV channels aired old movies as if nothing was happening.

Better is this St. Pete Times report, which offers a much more detailed and revealing analysis of the media question.

Washington Post on Venezuelan media owners' role

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting analysis of U.S. media analysis

More on media and the first coup
posted by mediareport at 8:27 PM on June 20, 2002

It was definitely dangerous in the streets from what I could see from the footage on Sixty Minutes where the army opens fire on the public. Pretty gruesome stuff. I can't blame some reporters for not going out into it. But just airing old movies, that's just turning a blind eye to the whole situation.
posted by destro at 11:02 PM on June 20, 2002

depends on which old movies
posted by yonderboy at 11:21 PM on June 20, 2002

I would advise everyone to take mediareport's spin on this story with a careful eye to the broader context.

For example, somehow Hugo Chavez has managed to lose track of US$2 billion in a rainy-day fund, in a scandal reminiscent of periodic arguments in the US about monies owed to the Social Security Trust Fund. Meanwhile, retired army officers and civilian supporters march peacefully protesting Chavez's rule and politicization of the armed forces.

Although Chavez made some initial conciliatory gestures after reclaiming the presidency, he has continued to arm the Bolivarian Circles and has said that controversial moves such as his infamous 49 Decrees of 2001, which reshaped the economy along planned-economy lines and sparked days of protest in December including at least one day where the entire country was virtually at a standstill, will not be reconsidered. Many Venezuelans want Chavez removed, by a referendum which Chavez has resisted until blinking, agreeing that it may be held in 2003 instead of 2004 as he had previously insisted. Opponents continue to pursue other legal means including amending the Constitution to the flexibility and responsiveness it had before Chavistas redrew the entire document a few years ago. A coalition of 12 political parties and 30 other groups has called for continuous civil disobedience. Some charges against Chavez have reached the supreme court which has (in an echo of a US pattern) asked the Attorney General to decide whether he can investigate or must recuse himself. The country's largest union, which has clashed with Chavez, and organized the December and April protests, has not decided on another general strike.

One of the stranger aspects of this coup is the alleged Opus Dei angle (also here and googled), a conspiracy theory which has been touted from right-wing Ruddy at NewsMax, to Lyndon LaRouche, to the World Socialist Web Site. (The LaRouchies think it's part of their pet theory of a centuries-long Jacobin reactionary plot.) There seems to be something there but the thin presence of that group in the US argues against the wildest connections.

destro: careful how you word things. The initial charges were that red-shirted Bolivarian circle members fired on the crowd, and that the army was ordered to use guns and tanks against them but refused. Even the Venezuelan congress is having a hard time sorting it out, but it seems clear that there was some intention to use the army to restore order and that there was opposition within the ranks. The identity of the actual shooters, however, remains problematic.
posted by dhartung at 11:36 PM on June 20, 2002

From the same article that dhartung linked to: Chavez was elected in 1998, a landslide apparently, and again in 2000. He has challenged his opponents (in this case a faction of the Venezuelan military) to hold a referendum, claiming that if he lost, "I'll collect my things and leave."

Please note that a coalition of 12 political parties and 30 "groups" is not hard to assemble - and has no bearing on popular support.

Sadly, I don't have the time to pick through the other articles. Bottom line: Chavez is an elected leader. If it is so crucial he be ousted, why can't this be done via democracy instead of violence?
posted by D at 12:49 AM on June 21, 2002

For some unknown reason, dhartung apparently believes I'm an unqualified Chavez supporter. I'm not. I'm delighted, in fact, that dhartung has visited the same Yahoo! page I did but chose to emphasize different stories. For the record, I will admit to an obvious bias against military coups in favor of peaceful, nonviolent protest. Sue me.

I'll also point out the obvious class element in Venezuelan politics; it seems that the poorer you are in Venezuela, the more pro-Chavez you are. Make of that what you will.

I do find it interesting that dhartung, a person who offered blatant distortions of the facts the last time we discussed this issue, is warning the MeFi community about someone else's "spin." And I challenge dhartung's implication that because "initial charges" were that Chavez ordered troops to fire on civilians, those charges are somehow more valid than the counter-charge: Masked anti-Chavez gunmen fired from rooftops into crowds to spark an incident the coup leaders could use to their advantage. Both are equally plausible; dhartung has offered no evidence to the contrary.

Conflicting reports are understandable; we may never know exactly what happened that day. But I have yet to see anyone come up with a rebuttal to claims that coup supporters fired on unarmed pro-Chavez demonstrators during the next day's counter-coup. That has not been difficult to sort out.

Anyway, I'm happy to debate the complexities of this issue. But I'd also suggest that I'm far more open to alternative interpretations of conflicting Venezuelan data than dhartung is.
posted by mediareport at 1:12 AM on June 21, 2002

dhartung's already shown himself to have no sympathy for the elected leader of Venezuela. He lays down a stack of straw men, and yet he's the one who looks like a scarecrow. Probably bidding for that TV franchise in Caracas.

Opus Dei? Fuck that for a lark: they're piloting the disappeared jet at the Pentagon with the other tin-hats. Tarring supporters of Chavez with that brush isn't going to work.

I notice no mention of Otto Reich, though.
posted by riviera at 1:32 AM on June 21, 2002

My problem with dhartung's post is that it's become conveniently, selectively ignorable that the Bush administration was wholeheartedly behind the prior coup. dhartung's always struck me as an honest guy. For him to leave that out of his assessment is straight up disingenuine.

Squawk squawk. . .


C'mon brother. Certainly there are ideals you stand for. Are you just a link searcher with a taut pen? You can't possibly agree that in a civilized Venezuela, talk of ousting a democratically elected president by military higer-ups is anywhere close to the democratic dream even the non-resigned-to-fascism right wing over here would agree with on their own turf. This is a fucking sovereign country man. With democratic laws.

Anything that happens in Venezuela is more an indictment of American-capitalistic imperialism than it is of the just-so story that will eventually be the Truth About the Venezuelan Coup of 2002.

I'm not saying I even know thing one about this affair. But I'll also be willing to bet that dhartung shares my boat.
posted by crasspastor at 2:22 AM on June 21, 2002

Try "Otto Reich" "Venezuelan coup", riviera.
"Pulling the strings in the Venezuelan coup plot and ultimately directing the activities of the ACILS “labor front” are men such as Otto Reich, the undersecretary of state for Latin American affairs. A rabidly anticommunist Cuban émigré, Reich formerly served as the head of an illegal government effort to spread false propaganda against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government and in support of the CIA-backed contra mercenaries."
posted by sheauga at 4:40 AM on June 21, 2002

Less partisan coverage:
Caracas News
Venezuela Online News
Venezuela Analytica -
Documents on the Events of April 2002
(In Spanish. Includes speeches by Chavez, State Dept. and OAU documents, news articles.)
posted by sheauga at 4:47 AM on June 21, 2002

Please excuse my digression, but does anyone know whether these guys from the "meddling baptist" link in the main post are for real? The site has all the trappings of a parody, but I'm not sure. I can't quite confirm my suspicion that it's not a complete put-on. It's disturbing.
posted by Loudmax at 5:56 AM on June 21, 2002

OK, I found my confirmation. It's a complete joke. Sorry for the digression.

Please carry on.
posted by Loudmax at 6:01 AM on June 21, 2002

CARTOON AND CRISIS was a segment about a political cartoonist (ZAPATA!) in caracas that was on the pbs newshour the other day, which i thought was pretty insightful ("What is happening in Venezuela doesn't have a logical explanation." :)

there's also the oil angle. chavez is stading firm with OPEC, while his opposition would like to break with OPEC and increase production (to the US of course! actually i dunno, but the US is where most venezuelan oil goes so it seems pretty plausible i think :)
posted by kliuless at 6:30 AM on June 21, 2002

mediareport, blatant distortions, my god damn ass. I was wrong about where Carlos the Jackal, a figure of the 1970s, was born. The rest you and I will never agree on.

Because I don't believe the crypto-Maoist peasant-power politics of Al Giordano and his narconews pals, I'm some sort of supporter of military coups? I posted several links showing a political groundswell that is attempting to use constitutional means to oust Chavez. I don't give them good odds, and it's a shame that the coup seems to have completely discredited any of their objections in the eyes of the same old rhetorical masticators. (Yes, I mean here.) Our national interest includes carefully monitoring military movements; our national interest includes dialog with both sides. I continue to believe that we've done nothing worse than wink at this coup, whose roots are certainly indigenous, and whose perpetrators quickly showed themselves unworthy of our support and clumsy in the extreme, as if it were all planned over a weekend at the house of a pal rather than directed by, um, the solons of the world's largest spy apparatus.

My thesis is this: Chavez has pursued policies which have split Venezuelan society. His opposition has been fragmented but is coming together. If Chavez expects to remain in office, as a practical matter, he will have to find a way toward political compromise.

I absolutely hope he finds it, because another coup would be an absolute disaster for Venezuelan society.
posted by dhartung at 2:56 PM on June 21, 2002

mediareport, blatant distortions, my god damn ass. I was wrong about where Carlos the Jackal, a figure of the 1970s, was born. The rest you and I will never agree on.

I encourage anyone still reading to examine the thread crasspastor and I linked to above. The issue at hand is dhartung's blatant mischaracterization of many of the links he himself had posted. For example, he linked to a WaPo article with this:

In a very ominous sign, he started up Bolivarian Circles -- neighborhood revolutionary cells -- loyal only to him.

But the article itself paints the Bolivarian Circles mainly as neighborhood watch groups that focus on things like buying prosthetic legs for amputees, cleaning up neglected parks, raising money for playground equipment, etc. Are they also an attempt by Chavez to solidify his grassroots support? Almost certainly. Are they really nothing but groups of armed revolutionary thugs, as one academic insists? Well, maybe, but there just happens to be zero evidence in the article itself for that accusation, and lots of evidence to the contrary. Dhartung never responded to this point, preferring instead to make cracks about the "revolutionary party line" he saw dominating the thread. He still insists -- again, without offering a single shred of evidence -- that he will "never" agree that the Bolivarian Circles are anything other than "a very ominous sign."

Oookay, dhartung. Thanks for playing.

Also, his claim that his only mistake was being wrong about where Carlos the Jackal was born is more bullshit manipulative spin. Here's what he said:

"He has praised 1970s terror icon Carlos the Jackal, who kidnapped many of his OPEC buddies in an infamous hostage incident, by saying 'We have a commitment to this citizen' (Venezuela was one of the countries to which he'd fled)."

Now look at the actual quote in the article he cites:

"We have a commitment to this citizen," [Chavez] said during a visit to Paris two weeks ago, "especially to guarantee that his human rights are respected."

Not only did dhartung miss the fact that Carlos the Jackal was a Venezuelan citizen, entitled to the same protections other countries make sure their natives get in foreign criminal trials, he also clipped the actual quote and then claimed the link was proof Chavez "praised" (praised!) the terrorist.

Don't tell me that's not a blatant distortion, dhartung. Put up or shut up. Either give us some evidence or apologize for posting sloppy, misleading garbage. When exactly did Chavez "praise" Carlos the Jackal?

the crypto-Maoist peasant-power politics of Al Giordano and his narconews pals

Ladies and gentlemen, I present dhartung's style of argument in Venezuela threads.

I can't imagine a clearer example of a MeFi poster actively distorting facts to fit their own agenda than dhartung's bizarre behavior in that thread.
posted by mediareport at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2002

mediareport, obviously you're not going to let this go. I suggested people needed a broader context than you gave (in either thread); you've accused me, repeatedly, of outright lying -- and now "bizarre behavior", apparently because of a sarcastic comment not even directed at you. Go to hell for that.

Admittedly I made points while using links which poorly supported those points, but they were not intended as characterizations of the articles' content, but minor errors of haste, as supplementary material below will make clear. Nor do I have "my own agenda" other than getting people to look beyond the objectively pro-Chavista cheerleader views of certain South American journalists who are being cited. (e.g. Giordano, who has claimed that the April 11 coup "strengthened" Chavez -- a view that, to say the least, is shared by few analysts of the situation.)

Chavez accused of militia links -- the BBC News.

Evidence to support the theory of armed Circles has come mainly from video footage shot on 11 April showing a handful of Chavistas who are the President's die-hard supporters firing into a crowd of anti-government protesters. An independent investigation has already revealed that three men who were held in police custody for the shootings are either members of Bolivarian Circles or have close ties to them.

Confidential documents obtained by the BBC show that high ranking civil servants and military intelligence officials are aware of the variety and quantity of weapons at the disposal of several unidentified Bolivarian Circles.

You are, of course, welcome to challenge the BBC's "bullshit spin". I would be entertained should you do so.

As for the question of Hugo Chavez praising Carlos the Jackal, try: Chavez writes Carlos the Jackal, addressing him "Distinguished Compatriot" - TIME {entertaining, if cryptic excerpts}; Chavez has written letters of admiration to Carlos the Jackal, ABC (Aus.); Among the Jackal's admirers is Hugo Chavez, BBC; and in 1999, Chavez explicitly arranged for the imprisoned Jackal to vote on the new "Bolivarian" constitution; and last year, after Chavez proclaimed that Venezuela "did not consider him a terrorist", when the American ambassador "expressed bewilderment at the sympathy" for Carlos the Jackal, the Venezuelan government summoned her to "clarify" those remarks. Is "praise" the same as "admiration"? Perhaps not. Was I wrong to choose that word, given the widespread acceptance of the latter characterization? Is that a "blatant distortion" as you so generously put it?

What is my agenda? The CSIS situation report, even though it's more critical of the opposition than I would be. We share the same goal of national reconciliation through constitutional means, while remaining tremendously concerned that the Chavez government just doesn't get it.

By the way, to make things perfectly clear, I'm against kicking puppies, euthanasia for mimes, earthquakes, the color puce, and food with maggots in it. And, oh yes, military coups as well. I'm dreadfully sorry I haven't brought these points up, since it's so easy for people to assume otherwise. I haven't told you my views on AIDS, nuclear war, improperly cooked blowfish, and termite infestations: you are thus free to assume that I am in favor of all of these things.
posted by dhartung at 7:14 PM on June 21, 2002

Well, thanks for all the information, mediareport & dhartung. I'll be clicking away at these lovely links for awhile here. However, the personal sniping detracts from the validity of your arguments.

I still haven't heard anything that contradicts the opinions of my Venezuelan friends: Chavez esta muy loco. I just hope the current situation can resolved without additional violence.
posted by groundhog at 5:49 AM on June 22, 2002

[long response]

mediareport, obviously you're not going to let this go. I suggested people needed a broader context than you gave (in either thread); you've accused me, repeatedly, of outright lying -- and now "bizarre behavior", apparently because of a sarcastic comment not even directed at you. Go to hell for that.

The "bizarre behavior" was posting links that not only didn't provide the evidence you said they did, but also contradicted your claims. I don't know what sarcastic comment you're talking about. Anyway, I do thank you for the June 12 BBC article, which is the best summary of the evidence about Bolivarian circles I've seen. That "several unidentified Bolivarian Circles" (compare to estimates of between 700,000 and one million members for all Circles) have been armed, maybe heavily, is serious. So's the report that investigators have found three of those who shot at crowds were Chavistas. Horrible (and stupid). But, now that we have some evidence -- reserving the normal skepticism for "confidential documents obtained by [x]" -- let's ask a few deeper questions.

From the CSIS situation report you cite:
"Since mid-April the military views the Bolivarian Circles as a threat to their monopoly on the use of armed force and wants Chávez to disarm the circles so the two sides (i.e., Chávez and the opposition) can have a meaningful dialogue."

I forget, dhartung, are you a 2nd Amendment supporter? I am. If there were a military coup here, would you be happy or sad that some citizens were fighting back? Why should Chavez believe the military that just tried to oust him would be interested in dialogue as soon as he disarmed the Circles?

A democratically-elected socialist president in Latin America who regularly criticizes the U.S.A. sees signs of a coup attempt growing since last fall. Is it really a surprise he'd encourage some of his supporters to arm themselves? I'm not being facetious and I'm not defending armed citizens who fire on unarmed citizens. I'd honestly like to know how you feel about that.

Anyway, this quote from Chavez protestor/Chavez supporter Lina Ron made sense to me:

"We have every right to defend President Chavez in the event of a coup. I'm prepared to die for him...We're now in a stage just before a civil war. But we also need to remind ourselves that the Circles were founded first and foremost as social projects for the poorest neighborhoods of Venezuela."

Admittedly I made points while using links which poorly supported those points

Thank you for finally acknowledging that fact, dhartung. What else do we have here, if not the links we give to back up our arguments?
posted by mediareport at 12:29 PM on June 23, 2002

Re: Chavez' sympathy for Carlos the Jackal:

Thanks for pointing to articles that actually make your case, dhartung. But you're still being a bit careless; it was the defense minister, not Chavez, who "went further, declaring that the government did not consider Ramirez a terrorist since 'he has never been convicted of terrorism in Venezuela.'"

Still, I can't deny that Chavez, like a lot of left-wing Venezuelans, apparently, has something of a hard-on for Carlos. Dammit, now I want to know why on earth that would be. As if I didn't have enough stuff filling my head, now I have to find room for Carlos the Jackal's Marxist dad.
posted by mediareport at 12:42 PM on June 23, 2002

I suppose it all boils down to you believing that the things I said were derived from the links directly, rather than from other sources, including print, over the last year, and trying to find links that pointed in that direction. Clearly had I known that your mind would seize on two cases where I fell short of my intentions and still be seized on those cases two months later ...

But I did not distort the facts, as you charged. I reported them as I understood them, and looked for links that would assist readers in investigating the points.

So what? Look:

I don't care if Chavez is a loony Carlos-lovin' leftie, on his own time. But it's not especially complimentary of him as the elected leader of a country, and it doesn't exactly buttress the case of one who wishes to argue that Chavez is the victim of political violence when he goes around lauding one of its most infamous practitioners. It speaks to his character, simply, which is the only reason I raised it.

I don't care whether or not Chavez has the moral right, or whatever, to arm the citizenry or create sewing circles with extra-sharp needles. If he's doing it, it's -- in my words which you specifically quoted as a problem -- "an ominous sign" of coming political violence, and coupled with a total lack of political compromise, a telling point, again, on his character: and also of deep-seated political divisions.

We can argue all we want over the legitimacy of a military coup in specific instances. I don't think one would be the best solution for Venezuela right now, but there's slim ground to defend Chavez on other than constitutional legitimacy, and that's based on a constitution he rewrote and even under those new rules bent and stretched his presidential term. The man is no strict constructionist. My point is that concentrating on the Evil Guys Planning a Military Coup alone solves nothing for Venezuela; this sort of thing doesn't appear in a vacuum.
posted by dhartung at 11:14 PM on June 23, 2002

What about the 2nd Amendment question, dhartung?

Seriously. Your opinion of the 2nd Amendment in the U.S.A. gets to the heart of the matter. I'll admit that Chavez seems a bit loony (like Clinton or Bush, who both strike me as loony), but I'm very interested in your take on Venezuelan citizens' right to arm themselves to protect against a military coup designed to overthrow their democratically elected president.

We can argue all we want over the legitimacy of a military coup in specific instances.

The specifics of that argument are key to our discussion, dhartung. So I'll ask again: Under what circumstances do you feel that a military coup in Venezuela would be "legitimate?" And under what circumstances would civilian defense against such a coup be "illegitimate?" Thanks in advance for your reply.
posted by mediareport at 11:46 PM on June 23, 2002

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