Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 12              April 28 - May 4,  2002           Quezon City, Philippines

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Another Bush Coup? America's Dirty Hands in Venezuela

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | April 19, 2002

News of the abortive coup attempt in Venezuela against the government of President Hugo Chavez has been coming fast and furious in recent days. No mainstream reports have managed to reveal the story in its entirety to date, but an amazing picture has begun to coalesce. Venezuela's democracy, emerging as a beacon of progressive leadership in South America, was attacked by business interests that wished to wrestle control of that nation away from a legitimately elected leader. It is an old story in that part of the world, but this time around the ending was different. Democracy in Venezuela survived its attempted murder, essentially because the people took to the streets and saved it.

The details in brief: Hugo Chavez won two Presidential elections in Venezuela, in 1998 and in 2000, by the largest margins in forty years. Upon his rise, he instituted a number of socially progressive programs, based upon a concept called Bolivarianism, aimed at elevating the standard of living for his people.

Chavez ratified a new Constitution guaranteeing new rights for women and indigenous peoples. He cleared out the plague of graft and corruption in Venezuelan government by restructuring the legislative and judicial branches. He instituted a government-funded breakfast and lunch program for schoolchildren that has helped increase enrollment by over a million students. He provided free health care and public education up to the university level.

How, you ask, did he pay for all these programs? This is the $64,000 question...or to be more accurate, the multi-billion dollar question. The answer lies in the small word that has so dominated American foreign policy: oil. Venezuela is a major source of petroleum, historically providing between 15% to 40% of America's imported supply. Canada and Iraq, by comparison, make up only 26% of our imported oil. Chavez's country is, without doubt, the most important nation to America on this side of the planet because of this.

Chavez redirected vast sums of money from Venezuela's petroleum production away from the multinationals, which had been profiting wildly, towards his progressive government programs. That alone was enough to draw the ire of the American petroleum industry and the IMF. But Chavez also became deeply involved with OPEC when Venezuela took over the leadership of that entity, giving it a burst of new influence that caused a spike in the price of a barrel of oil. Once drawing only $8, the price of a barrel of oil went as high as $27 on the international market after Chavez got involved. Not long after Bush took office, the decision was made: Chavez had to go.

It began with propaganda, as it always does. After Chavez won for the first time in 1998, he was labeled a demagogue and an authoritarian by members of the mainstream American media. The drumbeat of criticism from 'journalists,' whose fealty to the truth apparently came second to their support of business, continues to this day. George W. himself chimed in at one point, making the claim that Chavez's earning of a majority of the vote in two separate elections did not necessarily confer legitimacy upon his administration.

Yes, he actually said that. Go figure.

All this reached a crescendo in the past week. According to American media reports, Chavez was chased from office after several anti-government protesters were gunned down in the streets. He resigned, we were told, to preserve democracy in the region. Said democracy was delivered into the hands of the Venezuelan military and the leader of that nation's business (read: petroleum) community, a man named Pedro Carmona.

It seems, however, that Carmona and his allies misjudged the level of public support Chavez enjoyed. When Carmona abolished the Venezuelan Congress and the Supreme Court, when he changed the country's name to the Republic of Venezuela, and when he instituted a house-to-house search for congressmen and former cabinet members, the hours-old coup attempt flew apart at the seams.

A popular uprising against Carmona erupted almost immediately in every quarter of Venezuela. The common people took to the streets in support of Chavez and in defiance of the coup in an extraordinary display of patriotic vigor that shames virtually every other democracy in the world. Simultaneously, rank-and-file soldiers and officers in the Venezuelan military refused to accept Carmona's regime and began what ultimately became a successful counter-coup. In short order, Carmona's rule in Venezuela was finished, and Hugo Chavez was reinstated as President.
It seems, despite American media reports to the contrary, that Chavez never actually resigned. It seems that reports, proffered by the New York Times, CNN and even Ari Fleischer, that Chavez ordered the shooting of anti-government protesters, was wildly inaccurate. In fact, it appears that those killed were uniformly supporters of Chavez. The puny-by-comparison anti-Chavez protests that received so much play in the American media were funded by the Venezuelan business community as a means to give a 'populist' veneer for their coup. There is no doubt that the Venezuelan petroleum barons were motivated to act by pressure received from their American counterparts.

Narco News reports of the existence in Venezuela of a CIA command bunker operating under the name MIL GROUP. This operation greatly increased its staff size in the weeks before the coup. Chavez himself has commented upon the appearance of a private jet with American markings that arrived on the island where he was briefly held before being reinstated. Individuals loyal to Carmona urged him to board the plane and fly into exile, but he refused. Chavez has vowed to get to the bottom of that strange aircraft, and the curious timing of its appearance.

A potentially explosive story hit the wires on the afternoon of April 18th: officials within Chavez's Presidential office claim that the American military attaché to Caracas was present with the coup leaders at that city's main military base in the days leading up to the coup attempt. The name of the attaché has not yet been released, and the US State Department has vehemently denied the charge.

A number of shoes must still drop before the full story of what happened in Venezuela comes clear. This much, however, is evident: Petroleum interests attempted to overthrow a democratically-elected leader because he was interfering with oil profits, and because he was engineering the rise of what some have called the purest democracy in the world. A number of major American news outlets, including the New York Times and the Associated Press, either completely misreported or flat-out lied about the happenings there.

More ominously, reports are gradually beginning to indicate American involvement in the coup. The purported CIA presence, the mysterious private airplane with American markings, and the report from Chavez's own office that the senior American military diplomat in Venezuela was squatting with the plotters when the deal went down, all point a finger towards Washington, D.C. The implications of this are grievous. If the American government is implicated in a plot to destroy a democratic government in its own neighborhood, its international stature in this dangerous time of war will suffer a mighty blow.

The attempt to discern the potential motivation for this involvement must center, as it always seems to, around oil. Venezuela's connections to the American petroleum industry are significant. Consider the case of Citgo, an American gasoline and asphalt giant based out of Oklahoma that is wholly owned by Petroleos de Venezuela. Petroleos is the dominant petroleum entity in Venezuela. Petroleos provides a million gallons of oil per day to America, half of which is routed to Citgo refineries on the East Coast and in Texas.

The current President of Citgo is a man named Oswaldo Contreras, a brigadier general in Venezuelan military. Contreras was suffering a depletion of profits with Chavez in charge of Venezuela, as were most other oil interests, because of Chavez's move to redirect petroleum profits into his social programs. Contreras was appointed to his position by Chavez himself in October of 2000.

Herein lies a possible direct American connection: a Venezuelan brigadier general, whose American-shores profits were suffering under Chavez, with likely contacts among the very Venezuelan military officers who helped execute the coup. For this to be true, however, Contreras would have had undergone a change of allegiance in the last two years, from the man who appointed him to the parent company owners to whom he was required to answer as President of Citgo.

Did Contreras side with the coup leaders and Venezuelan oil interests in an attempt to solidify Citgo's profits and petroleum supply? Did he use his contacts in the Venezuelan military to further that agenda? These are but a few questions, and a few possibilities, to be considered. Citgo is but one petroleum interest with a stake in the outcome of the Venezuelan coup.

More significantly, would the Bush administration have assisted oil interests in the overthrow of a democratically-elected leader so as to re-establish corporate hegemony over that nation's petroleum production? Would they have committed CIA agents, military advisors (the aforementioned attaché), and an aircraft to whisk Chavez away from Venezuela and thus complete the coup?

Only if their priorities have changed.

- - - - -

The excellent journalism of the Narco Times, and of Greg Palast for the UK Guardian, provide the factual backbone of this essay. Additional research was performed by Kathryn Weddington, Matthew Topspun, and Richard Mynick. My grateful thanks to all for making clear a most extraordinary story.

William Rivers Pitt is freelance writer and a regular contributor to t r u t h o u t. You can visit Will at : www.willpitt.com


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