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Opinion and Analysis: Politics

Another Coup In The Making in Venezuela?

On April 11th, 2002, a group of businessman, politicians, and military officers, in conjunction with the cooperation of the major national media, kidnapped the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and took over the national government.  Two days and 19 deaths later, the coup d'etat ultimately failed and the president was returned to power.  The wealthy businessmen and oligarchs were unable to get rid of the popular president of the masses.  However, recent events give the impression that they will soon make another attempt. 

With most of the polls and surveys showing that Chavez has a huge advantage in the upcoming December elections, there remains little doubt about who will win the presidential elections on December 3rd.  However, the opposition candidates and opposition media in Venezuela have a habit of claiming fraud every time Chavez or his party win an election.  The stage is already being set for the upcoming elections, as mainstream media in Venezuela constantly mention the possibility of fraud, and claims the elections are not transparent.  The question remains; how can they claim fraud when dozens of surveys taken over the last few months show that the election won't even be a close contest?  And secondly, why would the Chavez government commit fraud when it is obvious that they will easily win?  The answer: it is all part of a plan to overthrow the government in the days following the December 3rd election.

The opposition parties in Venezuela have been making claims of fraudulent elections over the last few years.  Often times they focus on the "captahuella" machines, which take the voters fingerprint to prevent them from voting more than once.  Other times the claims center on the CNE, the national electoral body which oversees the elections.  The opposition claims that this body is totally under the control of the Chavez government.  All of these claims by the opposition are, of course, widely covered in the private media, and have created the feeling that Venezuela has unfair elections.  So, for the December presidential elections, whether people believe it or not, this is all more of the same old story.

Last week, however, leaders of the opposition stepped up their rhetoric and discussed a "plan" for the days surrounding the elections.  Prominent journalistic businessman Rafael Poleo, who was also involved in the 2002 coup attempt, announced on the cable network Globovision the opposition "plan" for December 3rd, 4th, and 5th.  The plan calls for all voters aligned with the opposition to come out and vote on December 3rd.  Then, on December 4th, claiming that the elections were fraudulent, the opposition voters must take to the streets to protest the Chavez victory.  Referring to the "Orange Revolution," when popular protests in Ukraine overturned fraudulent elections in 2004, Poleo claims that the electoral fraud is already in place, and makes a call for all Venezuelans who are opposed to Chavez to come out into the streets and protest on December 4th.  He emphasizes that Manuel Rosales, the opposition candidate, must join this movement on December 4th and claim that the elections were fraudulent.  If he does, says Poleo, Rosales could become the most important person in 21st century Venezuelan history. 

With all of this in place, the plan continues with a call to the high military command, in the words of Poleo, to "decide if it is going to continue forcing the Venezuelan opposition to put up with an embarrassing regime."  These words, directed to the high military command, basically amount to a call to overthrow the government.  He continues by referring to the plan as a sequence of events that all Venezuelans are going to see this December, and in which their destiny as dignified human beings, and the destiny of their respectable nation, is at play.  Obviously, Poleo is implying that if Chavez continues in power, Venezuela will cease to be a dignified and respectable nation, and that Venezuelans should not have to continue putting up with him.  He forgets to mention, however, that surveys show Chavez has the support of the majority of Venezuelans.

This message to the high military command coincides with a similar call made by candidate Manuel Rosales one day before.  At a political rally, Rosales made a call for a meeting with the high military command, "because we have to be preparing for a transition and change of government that will come to Venezuela in the near future," he said.  Rosales has yet to make the claim that the elections are fraudulent, but he did call on the government to get rid of the "captahuella" machines, which he had previously accepted as a condition of the election.  Rosales maintains that he will win at the ballot box, although nearly all the polls show him to be trailing Chavez by a large margin.

If it weren't for the 2002 coup attempt, which occurred in a strikingly similar fashion, these words from the opposition might not be as significant.  But the 2002 coup also began with large opposition protests against the government.  When violence broke out between pro and anti-government groups, snipers and the Metropolitan police opened fire on innocent protesters both from the Chavez camp and from the opposition.  Next, blaming the violence on the government, military officers aligned with the opposition forced the president to leave office under the threat that the Presidential Palace would be bombed.  Just as they appear to be doing now, the private media set the stage for the coup after they made numerous calls for the people to come out and march against Chavez.  Later, with the intervention of a group within the military they were almost successful in overthrowing the government.  Popular demonstrations forced them to hand power back over Chavez, but the radical opposition groups didn't go away, and they have continued their attempts to destabilize the country in the years since. 

On December 4th, it is almost certain that there will be large opposition protests in the major cities of Venezuela.  Since the private media continues to report false surveys that show a possible victory for the opposition, a large sector of the population now believes that Rosales may hold the lead.  When Chavez beats him at ballot box, which is the obvious result according to most polls, it will be a hard reality to accept for all those Venezuelans who have been decieved by their major media's manipulation.  Rosales and the opposition leaders have called out to the people, and to the military command.  There will no doubt be protests in the days following the elections, but will there be a coup?