Both Opposition and Chavistas Call for Justice 3 Years after Venezuelan Coup

Both opposition supporters and Chavez supporters gathered in separate demonstrations to commemorate the events of April 11, 2002, which led to 19 deaths and the coup against President Chavez.

Caracas, April 12, 2005—Venezuelans held rival demonstrations, yesterday, to commemorate the third anniversary of a failed coup against President Hugo Chávez.  While pro-Chávez crowds including dozens of foreign guests opened the 3rd Encounter in Solidarity with the Bolivarian revolution near the Presidential palace, opposition supporters congregated in another part of the city.  Opposition leaders called on supporters to reject the government commemoration, to mourn the 19 people who died in violence leading up to the coup, and to denounce what they claim is an attempt by the Chávez administration to impose an “official history” of the events.

Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel said that in April 2002 the Bolivarian Revolution was not as consolidated as it is today.
Credit: VTV

Speaking to crowds of people commemorating the violence at the Puente Llaguno, Vice-President José Vincente Rangel called for reconciliation across Venezuela’s political divide.  “The fundamental in this country is that we all stick to the law, respect the national Constitution, that we can all live together,” said Rangel.  “Here there is space for those who were involved in the coup on 11 April, just as there’s space for those of us who defended the Constitution and the rule of law.  It is the hour of reconciliation,” stated the Vice-President.

“On April 11th, the only thing to celebrate is ‘National Impunity Day,’” said Gerardo Blyde, General Secretary for opposition party Justice First (Primero Justicia—PJ).  “Today we see with great sadness how, after three years, the country continues without knowing the truth, without knowing what really happened [from the 11-13 of April, 2002],” said Blyde at an opposition march and vigil to commemorate the 19 deaths on April 11, 2002.

On April 11th, 2002 an opposition march led by police protesting the controversial leadership of Hugo Chávez headed towards the Presidential palace demanding Chávez’s resignation, provoking the President’s supporters to rally at the palace to voice their continued support for the President.  Unidentified individuals opened fire on the both demonstrations, killing 19 from both sides and wounding over 100 others.  The private media manipulated news footage of the violence, creating a montage designed to blame government supporters for the deaths.

A group of high-ranking military officers used the excuse of the killings to launch a well-orchestrated coup, which eventually succeeded in arresting Chávez and installing an “interim government” led by business-leader Pedro Carmona, who suspended the constitution, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court.  47 hours later Chávez was restored among large-scale mobilizations demanding his return and a counter-coup by elements in the military still loyal to Chávez.

To date, only a handful of police officers have been charged with the murders and no one has been convicted, leading both government supporters and the opposition to demand justice. A decision is expected today, though, on three officers who were in charge of the Metropolitan Police (PM).  Henry Vivas, Lázaro Forero and Iván Simonovis are accused of ordering the police to fire on pro-Chavez protesters near the Presidential palace on April 11, 2002.