Caracas, February 5, 2007 (venezuelanalysis.com)— Thousands of Venezuelans clad in red T-shirts and caps marched through Caracas yesterday, to commemorate the fifteen year anniversary of a military coup attempt led by Hugo Chavez, then a Lieutenant Colonel in the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
Two separate marches converged on Fuerte Tiuna (a military base in the capital, Caracas), where people congregated to watch a military parade and to hear President Chavez speak on the day Chavez supporters commonly refer to as ‘4F,’ for the 4th of February.
“History will absolve us, the people will absolve us,” proclaimed Chavez yesterday, echoing the words of Cuban leader Fidel Castro when he defended himself at his trial for the attack on the Moncada Barracks, in 1953.
Chavez and his supporters justified the coup against the neoliberal government of Carlos Andrés Pérez on the grounds that at the time, Venezuela was a highly undemocratic and socially unjust society, in which the government violently repressed expressions of popular discontent. In this context the February 27, 1989 riots against the Perez government, in which the government is said to have killed between 400 and 3,000 people, was proof of the illegitimacy of the government at the time. Following the unsuccessful 1992 coup, Chavez spent two years in prison.
His televised surrender in which he famously said, “Unfortunately, for now, the objectives we had set out were not met in the Capital,” and in which he told his troops to “listen to Comandante Chavez […] please reflect and put down your weapons, because, in truth, the objectives […] are impossible to reach,” struck a chord with many poor disaffected Venezuelans. These words, along with his acceptance of responsibility for his actions, catapulted Chavez into the consciousness of Venezuelans.
The support for Chavez’s coup attempt was so great that he was pardoned and released by then President Rafael Caldera in 1994 and won a landslide victory in the 1998 Presidential elections, gaining 56.3% of the vote.
“Make no mistake […] I have always said, and today more than yesterday: the Bolivarian Revolution is peaceful, but it is not unarmed,” Chavez stated at yesterday’s event. “Those guns there are in the hands of patriotic soldiers to make real the dream and the mandate of the people which is the road to Socialism of the 21st Century,” he added.
The U.S. Defense Department claimed last month that Venezuela has spent more on arms purchases since 2005 than China, Pakistan or Iran, according to Bloomberg.
Venezuela’s increased spending on arms is in no small part due to what Chavez sees as the threat of a U.S. invasion. In April 2002, Chavez was removed from power in a short-lived coup supported by the U.S. government.
In May 2006 the Bush administration declared a ban on arms sales from the U.S. to Venezuela, alleging Venezuela was “not cooperating fully” in the “war on terrorism”. Venezuela is the only country on the U.S. list of countries that is not cooperating fully with terrorism which is not on their list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The arms sale ban affects U.S. sales and licensing for the export of defense articles and services to Venezuela, including the transfer of defense items. In 2005, Venezuela spent $34 million on military equipment in the U.S., mostly for spare parts for C-130 cargo planes.
At yesterday’s parade, Chavez stated that “three centuries of frustrated revolutions gathered on the February 4 1992, and now what was gathered has turned into the biggest driving force of the people and the soldiers.”
Also speaking at the event yesterday was newly appointed Vice-President Jorge Rodriguez, who led the march from the 23 de enero neighborhood, a Chavista stronghold. “The homeland we have now is a consequence of all the popular struggles that took place at the end of the eighties and nineties,” said Rodriguez.
When asked about the motive for celebrating this coup and not the April 11 2002 coup, Rodriguez said, “40 years of destruction and exclusion were expressed on 4F in 1992, and 27F in 1989 [a mass revolt against neoliberal measures which was brutally repressed by the military] when the people said enough,” according to the Venezuelan daily, El Universal. “There is no doubt that the people have been building their future in peace and democracy,” he added.
Leaders of Venezuela’s opposition, from the National Commando of Resistance, announced today that they would ask the Attorney General to investigate the parade for representing an effort to justify a crime and for advocating coups in general.