Santa Elena de Uairén, April 14th 2014 (venezuelanalysis.com)- On Sunday thousands marched in remembrance of the popular uprising in the streets of Caracas that reinstated late president Hugo Chavez on April 13, 2002 after he was forcefully removed from office on April 11th that year.
An Attempted Coup
On April 11th Chavez was detained by members of the military and elite businessmen of the Venezuelan Federation of Chambers of Commerce (Fedecamaras) whose chief executive, Pedro Carmona, was declared interim president. During the 47 hours of his rule, Carmona dissolved the Venezuelan National Assembly and the Supreme Court, and declared the 1999 constitution void. Many mainstream media outlets supported the coup and falsely reported that Chavez had resigned.
On April 13th the Metropolitan police of Caracas tried and failed to repress a colossal manifestation made up of civilian Chavez supporters and military loyalists who marched against the coup, shouting “Chavez didn’t resign, they have held him hostage.” Under pressure from the massive displays of resistance, the Carmona government was forced to surrender to the pro-Chavez Presidential Guard who retook Miraflores presidential palace without firing a shot.
Yesterday Chavez successor Nicolas Maduro oversaw a Day of Dignity march in front of Miraflores, where both military and civilian government supporters gathered to remember their 2002 victory. The term “every 11th has its 13th” was written across the podium from which Maduro spoke, honoring what he called one of the “decisive days of 21st Century history… [in which] the fate of Venezuela was determined.”
Minister of Foreign Relations Elias Jaua reflected yesterday on the importance of a common understanding between military forces and civilians. “The civil-military union is a democratic vaccine against coup attempts," he said. “It was this union that made the democratic rebellion of April 13th, 2002 possible.”
Not everyone shared in reminiscing, however. Since February of this year, Venezuela has been wracked with violent anti-government protests that have left at least 39 dead and many severely injured. Last Thursday, peace talks were held between executive government leaders and members of the opposition, overseen by three ambassadors of the Union of South American States, UNASUR.
Henry Ramos Allup, executive secretary of the Democratic Unity Roundtable alliance (MUD) which encompasses 12 leading oppositional parties, indicated during Thursday’s talk that the so-called civil-military union should be considered unconstitutional. “The military man who wants to be involved in politics should withdraw; as long as he has a uniform and a weapon he cannot take sides.”
He said that in the constitution there is “no mention of a title for the armed forces, "It is not called the Bolivarian Armed Forces, nor revolutionary, nor chavista. The military officials who identify as chavista are on the margin of the constitution, and that causes unrest in the quarters.” Allup also criticized the national militia; people with some military training who receive minimum wage and take on minor tasks of national security, such as the organization of food distribution and the protection of public spaces during events.
Militiamen and women from all across the country, who often originate from Venezuela’s working class, were present in yesterday’s march. The militia have played an important role throughout Venezuelan history. Two militiamen, Manuel Gaul and Jose Maria Espalier, were credited with inciting peasant rebellion against Spain in 1797. Chavez placed special emphasis on the militia, referring to April 13th as the Day of the Bolivarian Militia, and added 35,000 to their ranks in 2010.
Yesterday Maduro responded to Allup’s comments while speaking to the crowd. He accused Allup of defending an “archaic concept” of what the military stands for, as if they should be “a class apart from society, distanced and viewing people with suspicion while the people view [them] with fear.”
“We will not return to this," he said. “Now it is the people in arms, organized in four professional components and in the National Bolivarian Militia.”
Despite recent protests calling for the ousting of Maduro, yesterday Vladimir Padrino Lopez, commanding chief of operational strategy of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces rejected the possibility of another 2002 style coup today. He also emphasized the “union” between uniformed and ordinary Venezuelans, and warned that anyone hopeful of promoting a “soft coup” will find they are “deeply mistaken.”
Among the crowd yesterday were others who feel that recent protests can be compared to the threat posed 12 years ago.
“We remember how the right-wing advanced with manipulative rhetoric, with lies, myths, and everything else we call media war,” said Oliver Rivas, member of the Advanced Popular Collective and Cultural Left Front. “We saw how they set the stage for a coup, supported by traitors within the military, who are no longer there. Today we remember this and are aware, we are together and determined in our goal to end poverty and misery on this continent… through socialism. We will continue with the government’s plan, which we, the people, voted for on April 14th [2013, when Nicolas Maduro was voted into presidency.”
Today marks one year since Maduro was elected. Marked by conflict and economic difficulties, polls conducted by the private firm Hinterlaces last week indicate that the president enjoys the same 51% approval rating as when he took office last year.