If there’s one thing media want you to know about Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it’s that he doesn’t like the United States. On the PBS NewsHour (1/10/13), Ray Suarez told viewers that Chavez:
“antagonized Washington, it seemed, whenever he could, forging friendships with Iran’s Mahmoud Abbas, Syria’s embattled Bashar al-Assad, and he formed an especially close bond with Cuban Presidents Fidel and Raul Castro.”
On the CBS Evening News (1/8/13), Scott Pelley said: “Chavez has made a career out of bashing the United States and allied himself with Iran and Syria.”
While it’s hard to say Chavez has made a “career” out of U.S.-bashing–he does have, after all, a full-time job as president of Venezuela–you, too, might be excused for harboring some hard feelings towards a government that helped to try to overthrow your own. Which may be why U.S. reports rarely bring up the 2002 coup attempt – and when they do, treat Washington’s involvement in it as another nutty Chavez conspiracy theory.
Here’s Juan Forero in the Washington Post (1/10/13):
A central ideological pillar of Chavez’s rule over 14 years has been to oppose Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington, which he accuses of trying to destabilize his government.
“I think they really believe it, that we are out there at some level to do them ill,” said Charles Shapiro, president of the Institute of the Americas, a think tank in San Diego.
As ambassador to Venezuela from 2002 to 2004, Shapiro met with Chavez and other high- ranking officials, including [Vice President Nicolas] Maduro. But the relationship began to fall apart, with Chavez accusing the United States of supporting a coup that briefly ousted him from power. U.S. officials have long denied the charge.
Shapiro recalled how Maduro made what he called unsubstantiated accusations about CIA activity in Venezuela, without ever approaching the embassy with a complaint. He said that as time went by, the United States became a useful foil for Chavez and most Venezuelan officials withdrew contact.
“A sure way to ruin your career, to become a backbencher, was to become too friendly with the U.S. Embassy,” Shapiro said.”
So Venezuela has a strange political culture where being friendly with the U.S. government gets you in trouble.
The Post airs Chavez’s charge–and then the U.S. denial. But the United States had all sorts of contact with the coup plotters before they made their move against Chavez in 2002. According to the State Department (7/02):
It is clear that NED [National Endowment for Democracy], Department of Defense (DOD) and other U.S. assistance programs provided training, institution building and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government.
And the CIA, as was reported by Forero himself (New York Times, 12/3/04), knew of the coup plotting.
“The Central Intelligence Agency was aware that dissident military officers and opposition figures in Venezuela were planning a coup against President Hugo Chávez in 2002, newly declassified intelligence documents show. But immediately after the overthrow, the Bush administration blamed Mr. Chávez, a left-leaning populist, for his own downfall and denied knowing about the threats.”
Scott Wilson, who was the Washington Post foreign editor at the time, told Oliver Stone for his film South of the Border:
“Yes, the United States was hosting people involved in the coup before it happened. There was involvement of U.S.-sponsored NGOs in training some of the people that were involved in the coup. And in the immediate aftermath of the coup, the United States government said that it was a resignation, not a coup, effectively recognizing the government that took office very briefly until President Chavez returned.”
And we know that the United States made quick efforts to have the coup government recognized as legitimate. The Bush government, immediately after the coup, blamed it on Chavez. And some of the coup plotters met with officials at the U.S. embassy in Caracas before they acted.
But the important thing for readers to know, according to Wilson’s successors at the Washington Post, is that U.S. officials deny they supported anything.