Venezuela’s ‘Best Governor’ and 2002 ‘Hero’ García Carneiro Dies

The three-time La Guaira state governor and former defense minister passed away from a heart attack Saturday.

By Paul Dobson
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Jorge Luis García Carneiro (C) after having seized a tank during the overturning of the 2002 coup d’état, when he was one of the few generals who remained loyal to President Chávez. (VTV)
Jorge Luis García Carneiro (C) after having seized a tank during the overturning of the 2002 coup d’état, when he was one of the few generals who remained loyal to President Chávez. (VTV)

Mérida, May 24, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelans paid tribute to Jorge Luis García Carneiro over the weekend after he passed away early Saturday morning.

García Carneiro (69) was the governor of the La Guaira state (formally Vargas state) since 2008, amply winning reelection in 2012 and 2016 with more than 60% of the vote.

The army general reportedly suffered a heart attack while asleep at home after taking part in a bridge inauguration and cultural event at the afro-descendent Chuspa shantytown on Friday.

Following his death, an open casket funeral was held in La Guaira’s Plaza Bolívar-Chávez. He was later granted posthumous honors in Caracas’ Military Academy and awarded the prestigious Order of Libertadores.

Speaking from the funeral, President Nicolás Maduro described the long-time Chavista official as an “exceptional human being” and “the best governor in Venezuela” due to his “leadership, efficiency, love for the people and closeness to the poorest (…) This is why the people wave him off with tears in their eyes today.” Maduro also proposed founding a Jorge Luis García Carneiro Government and Efficiency Training School in his honor.

Praise also rained in from a collection of García Carneiro’s colleagues, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, who said that the former governor was “a man of courage, of goals, [and] loyal to his principles.” The United Socialist Party (PSUV) hailed him as a “hero.”

For his part, the mayor of La Guaira’s Vargas municipality, José Alejandro Terán, explained that García Carneiro had “undoubtedly changed the history of La Guaira, not just in building infrastructure but also in elevating the self-esteem of the residents (…) He was a revolutionary leader who oozed love and sewed hope in every local family.”

María Gabriela Chávez, youngest daughter of former president and close friend of García Carneiro, Hugo Chávez, was a surprise attendant at the funeral. María Gabriela has kept a low public profile since resigning from her role as alternate UN ambassador in 2019.

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An open casket funeral was held for Garcia Carneiro. (VTV)
An open casket funeral was held for Garcia Carneiro. (VTV)

Jorge Luis García Carneiro was born in the working class Caracas district of El Valle in 1952. He graduated in military arts and sciences in 1975 and continued his military career alongside Chávez, reaching the rank of general-commander of the army (2003) and later commander-in-chief of the armed forces and defense minister (2004-5).

He participated in Chávez’s 4F attempted insurrection (1992) and was a key player in overturning the 2002 US-backed coup, later retelling the events in his book La Conciencia de la Lealtad (The Consciousness of Loyalty).

During the short-lived coup against Chávez, García Carneiro was one of the few generals who remained loyal to the president. At the time, he was in charge of Caracas’ armed forces, a role which led the coup mongers to arrest him and hold him in Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters on April 11.

After convincing a handful of mid-ranking officers to disobey orders and free him, García Carneiro famously took to the city’s streets with a loudspeaker, organizing the remaining loyal military officers and local residents flooding down from the shantytowns to demand the return of their president. His actions, including breaking barricades and seizing tanks, spurred Caracas on to successfully force Chávez’s return on April 13.

Remembering the events of 2002, Culture Minister Ernesto Villegas paid his respects to García Carneiro by tweeting “Since his first parachute jump alongside Chávez, this son of El Valle (Caracas) has formed part of Venezuela’s contemporary history. Standing on that famous tank, Jorge García Carneiro embodied the civil-military union of April 2002. He has left his mark on La Guaira and on the hearts of the people. Honor and glory!”

Following the 2002 coup, García Carneiro was influential in defeating the 2002-3 oil lockout and subsequent destabilization efforts, famously raiding a Caracas apartment in 2004 where over 100 hard-right paramilitaries organized anti-government operations.

Apart from occupying the ministry for defense, García Carneiro also held other important government offices including minister for social development and popular participation (2005-7) before being elected Vargas governor in 2008. Cross party commentators credit him for transforming the state by building a host of tourist and economic projects, overseeing the modernization of the Simón Bolívar International Airport and working closely with local communities to solve a number of day-to-day problems, including fresh water supply and garbage collection. The father of five’s labor put him in the crosshairs of Washington and Ottawa, with both the US and Canada sanctioning him in 2019.

His death adds to an increasing number of high-profile losses for Chavismo over the past ten months.

La Guaira resident and prominent PSUV Deputy Darío Vívas succumbed to Covid-19 last August, while both Ecosocialism Minister Oswaldo Barbera and Education Minister Aristóbulo Istúriz passed away in April following health complications.

Equally, PSUV mayors Pedro Bastidas, Yannelys Patiño, José Gregorio Guevara, Luis Hidalgo and Stalin Nava of Girardot municipality (Maracay state), Gómez municipality (Nueva Esparta state), Achaguas municipality (Apure state) and Boconó and Pampán municipalities (both Trujillo state), respectively, have all died from Covid-19 since last August.