WASHINGTON. When it comes to Venezuela's rocky diplomatic relations with the United States, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is usually given the blame. His frequent denunciations of U.S. "intervention" in Venezuela are taken as indications that he is hostile to America.
But the evidence is mounting that Washington is the party responsible for friction with our third largest oil supplier. Last week the New York Times reported on recently released CIA documents showing that our government had advance knowledge of the military coup that briefly overthrew Venezuela's democratic government on April 11-13 of 2002. The Bush Administration not only failed to warn Venezuela of the coup, but actually pretended that it wasn't a coup at all.
"They lied about not knowing about coup threats before April 11th, and when they claimed that the coup was a popular uprising when they knew that it was actually being planned for weeks," said U.S. Congressman Jose Serrano of New York City today.
The documents (available at http://www.venezuelafoia.info/CIA/CIA-index.htm), show clearly that the White House knew that there were detailed plans for a coup in April, that these plans included arresting the President, and that "to provoke military action, the plotters might try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations." That is exactly what happened on April 11.
Yet on April 12, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer gave the coup leaders' version of events -- that violence at the demonstrations had led to Chavez' "resignation," and that the government was responsible for the violence. "The results of these events are now that President Chavez has resigned the presidency. Before resigning, he dismissed the vice president and the cabinet, and a transitional civilian government has been installed."
This false version of events allowed the Bush Administration to support the coup government, which proceeded to abolish Venezuela's constitution, General Assembly, and Supreme Court. The Administration reversed its support for the coup government the next day, after being diplomatically isolated.
This deception indicates that the Bush Administration's support for the overthrow of Venezuelan democracy went well beyond what has been previously reported.
In other words, the Bush Administration was not just lying about what it knew, but actively joining the coup leaders in their short-lived attempt to convince the media and the world that a "transitional civilian government" had legitimately seized power in order to defend the public from alleged state violence. And all the while knowing that this was false, and that the military coup was part of a plan that they knew about in advance.
More evidence of this effort comes from Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's former foreign minister, who recently told the press that the United States and Spain tried to gather diplomatic support for the coup government.
But Washington's efforts to oust Venezuela's democratic government did not begin or end with the April 2002 coup. The U.S. State Department noted in its internal investigation of Washington's role in the coup that "the [State] Department, and DOD [US Department of Defense] provided training, institution building, and other support under programs totaling about $3.3 million to Venezuelan organizations and individuals, some of whom are understood to have been involved in the events of April 12-14 [the coup]."
The same is true for National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. Congress. After the coup failed, the NED continued to fund opposition groups -- including some led by supporters of the coup -- as they tried to recall President Chavez in a referendum on August 15 of this year. The recall effort failed by a margin of 59 to 41 percent -- the third overwhelming electoral victory for Chavez.
As a result of Congressman Serrano's efforts, the NED will have to explain to the Congress how U.S. taxpayers' dollars ended up funding coup leaders, as well as other efforts contrary to its mission of "promoting democracy." But a much wider, independent investigation of our government's activities in Venezuela is needed.
President Chavez has told me that he wants normal and good relations with the United States, something he has repeated numerous times both publicly and privately. But he also insists that Washington respect democracy in his country.
That shouldn't be too much to ask.
Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
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