4) Current political events (April 2004) & Television

For the first couple of days, in between speakers, we viewed a documentary one of our guides, Alicia Centeno, was involved in producing, which recounted the events of the April 2002 coup: Chronicle of a Coup. It was impossible for me to take notes, because the film had so many rapidly changing visual components, and was subtitled in English, taking all my concentration just to try to watch and read at the same time (I'm not very good at that).

One quote that I really did not want to forget, however, I did manage to write down. The scene was being filmed inside the Cuban embassy in Caracas, which the Golpistas had marched on. They were wreaking havoc outside, destroying automobiles in the parking lot, and one of the coup leaders was inside insisting that they be allowed to inspect the building. Of course, an embassy really does not belong to the state in which it is located, but to the government sponsoring it. Obviously, the Cuban ambassador knew that the Golpistas had no legal leg to stand on, and was in no way intimidated by either the violence outside or the bluster inside. "We have been confronting the largest force on this planet for 46 years, and we have not let them inspect. We will not let you."

[Note 06/28/04: Baruta mayor Henrique Capriles Radonski has just been charged with crimes in connection with this incident.]

On Saturday, April 10, we were visited by Professor Henry Suarez, another pro-Chávez historian, and paid a visit to the state run TV station, Channel 8, which included a surprise that affected the remainder of our trip.

Professor Henry Suarez
Current political events

NOTES from the presentation:

Hugo Chávez' lead in the Caracazo uprising in 1989 greatly affected the relationship between the future president and the military in the April 2002 Opposition coup. A coup was planned by ex-president Caldera's son-in-law even before Chávez was officially elected in 1998, but pressure by both the Accion Democratica (AD) and Social Christian (COPEI) parties, whose leaders believed they could simply "buy" Chávez, prevented its execution.

After the April coup had been countervailed and the second attempt by the Opposition was underway to wreck the economy by shutting down the oil industry, Chávez replaced PDVSA's head with a pro-Chávez company president. Therefore, the Opposition was forced to find another way to oust Mr. Chávez.

A plan was hatched by the Opposition leaders (Golpistas) to use unsuspecting anti-Chávez citizens in a coup on the presidency. The Opposition began to broadcast an advertisement calling for people to attend a protest march which was to end at the PDVSA offices. A CNN reporter in Venezuela was telephoned the night before the scheduled march to let the international media know there would be a demonstration "and some deaths".

Venevision TV, owned by Gustavo Cisneros, broadcast a video created by the Merchant Marines calling again for a strike on the oil industry. Cisneros is the wealthiest man in Venezuela, and a friend of George H.W. Bush.
(Note: I am going to omit the events of the coup as related by Professor Suarez. They are set out in other accounts, which I have already referenced in the Asheville Global Report, and also in the documentary "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised".)

In cooperation with the coup, an anti-Chávez telephone company cut all government officials' phone signals. TelCel/Bell South assisted in the countervailance by locating the Chávez government ministers, who had been scattered and in hiding, through their cell phone signals. TelCel also published an open letter in newspapers after the people had returned Chávez to office congratulating the people and proclaiming any phone calls they made during re-establishment of the government free of charge.

Personal notes:

I have read from time to time that former Chávez supporters have been joining the Opposition movement, and I am curious as to their reasons, assuming that people switch allegiance some times when they are disappointed in the direction their compatriots are moving. Professor Suarez mentioned a man by the name of Michelina (?)* who abandoned Chávez, and so I asked him if he knew why. His quick response was because Michelina expected personal favors which Chávez did not deliver - he found out he couldn't "buy" the president. I don't know whether this was opinion or whether there is some evidence to support the professor's answer.

*[Note 06/17/04: I have just come across the name of this man in a Miami Herald article: Luis Michelena]

As concerns Mr. Cisneros, he is currently - May 2004 - accused of plotting another coup involving Colombian paramilitaries. I am confused about the reports coming out which seem to indicate that the General Assembly is proposing Cisneros be stripped of his Venezuelan citizenship, a move that would have serious implications for him, and perhaps his holdings. This doesn't make any sense to me, since I would think he would have to actually be officially, formally charged with treason, or whatever citizenship-stripping charge exists, tried and found guilty before such a move could be considered. I emailed two of our Venezuelan Global Exchange tour guides to ask about this, and received responses, which I'll excerpt here:
Last Sunday the investigation police captured around 90 Colombian people, from the paramilitary forces. According to the investigation they had been there for almost a month, in a country house owned by Robert Alonso, who is a well known anticastrist, good friend of Cisneros family and one of the authors of the Guarimba (urban terrorist schemes designed to create chaos to accelerate Chávez fall).... Things are happenning very quickly for us too, so it is difficult to digest all the information. I am actually not sure that Cisneros could be stripped of his citenzenship before a trial. It is true that Chávez and the vice-president have said that not only Cisneros, but also other people could see their residence conditions in Venezuela affected on the basis of "traición a la patria" that may be aproximately translated by betray of the country.
I am shocked about what is happening regarding the citizenship, not only of Cisneros, but of three "journalists" from the opposition who were born in other countries. I think that initiative is quite absurd and I thought it wouldn´t prosper in the National Assembly; however, it did, even though a few MPs from the Chavista side refuse to vote in favor of such a stupidity. I am not sure what the process is, I will try to find out more details of how it is possible to legally do such a thing...
I still think these kind of actions will not succeed, but you never know.

Channel 8 - Venezolana de Televisión

Venezuela has only two pro-Chávez television stations, and one of them is just getting started. Channel 8 is the established state TV station, and was the only station broadcasting the actual events of the April 2002 coup. (It was taken over by the Opposition early in the coup, recovered by the Chavistas, then had its lines cut by the Opposition, and finally was restored to power.) Our tour group went to the station with the understanding that our Global Exchange liaison, Tanya Cole, would be interviewed for a 10-minute spot.

Plans were changed when we arrived. The station decided to do a full 30-minute special report interviewing not only Tanya, but two of the group who spoke Spanish, a college student from England, and a nurse and activist from New York City. We were told later that something on the order of two million people watched the broadcast, and we were given our first glimpse at how riveted the Venezuelans are on their politics. Every day after that broadcast, people on the streets of Caracas anywhere, in crowds or on street corners, would recognize those members of the group and stop to talk, eager to tell us what was occurring in their country and eager for us to take the message outside Venezuela, and particularly back to the United States.

Kwami Abdul-Bey photo
Tanya, Rob and Beth, Venezolana de Televisión interview April 10, 2004