Venezuela’s Chavez and Supporters Celebrated Anniversary of the Feb 4th Rebellion

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took the streets to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the insurrection against corrupt President Carlos Andres Perez, which catapulted Chavez into the political spotlight

Hugo Chavez during a rally in Feb. 4,  2004

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 5 ( Thousands of supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took the streets of south-western Caracas yesterday to celebrate the 12th anniversary of the February 4th 1992 insurrection against corrupt President Carlos Andres Perez. The coup attempt launched Chavez into the national spotlight.

The President supporters marched for several hours under the rain, and gathered at a horse racetrack where to hear political speeches and music. Chavez delivered a speech where he described the February 4th rebellion a historical event that signaled the beginning of end of the corrupt two-party system that ruled Venezuela since 1959.

Chavez, then a lieutenant colonel in Venezuela’s Army, was one of the commanders of the uprising which failed to remove Carlos Andres Perez from power. President Perez was very unpopular at the time due to his attempts to impose economic austerity policies inspired by the International Monetary Fund. Riots erupted in 1989 and Perez ordered the military to impose order even if they had to shoot on civilians. An estimated 2.000 civilians died as a result of the repression. Perez’s actions caused outrage in the military and among the poor. Chavez said that the massacre of 89 was what inspired the insurrection of 92.

Chavez was one of the leaders of an organization called Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement 200 (MBR-200), inspired on the ideas of Latin American independence hero Simon Bolivar. The group was composed of low ranking military officers and left-wing civilians, and was formed as a response to the weaknesses of the civilian left unable to challenge the ruling political class.

“For now…”

After the rebels under Chavez’s command failed their mission of taking over the Presidential Palace in Caracas, he surrendered, and then was allowed to speak on TV to call for the other officers to also surrender. He assumed full responsibility for the movement, and said “for now, we were unable to achieve the goals we had…”. The phrase “for now”, and Chavez’s courage to assume responsibility for his actions, made him very popular among the masses who were suffering the IMF-influenced economic policies of Carlos Andres Perez. Perez was later impeached on corruption charges, and he is now an active opponent of Chavez in the United States.

The rebellion, which left 14 people death according to an official report, was very popular among the poor and low middle classes. On march 10th, a month after the coup attempt and under martial law, the people spontaneously staged a massive pot banging protest (cacerolazo) to demand President Perez’s resignation, and in support of the coup.

Chavez, and his comrades were released from jail in 1994 by President Rafael Caldera, who was elected helped by his public display of sympathy with the political motives of the rebellion. Chavez then went to build a grassroot movement to come to power by peaceful means, and was elected president with a historical margin against a candidate supported by all the old mainstream parties.

A split in Venezuela’s history

During his speech yesterday, Chavez said that the uprising of February 1992 was a rebellion against “the dictatorship of the International Monetary Fund, the dictatorship of the Punto Fijo Pact, and the dictatorship of the Venezuelan oligarchy”. The Punto Fijo Pact was an agreement signed in 1958 by leading Venezuelan political figures, to share power and ensure political stability. The pact is regarded by critics as being responsible for acts of corruption and inefficient policies not being criticized or denounced during the 40 years that the main two political parties alternated in power.

After the 92 rebellion, mainstream political parties have collapsed and have been unable to win presidential elections in spite of forming a coalitions behind single candidates to challenge Chavez in 1989 and 2000.

Chavez remembered those who died in the rebellion and criticized a small opposition demonstration where people dressed in black to mourning the deaths. Chavez had called them hypocritical because more people die from common crime in the poor neighborhoods every weekend, without the upper-class opposition mourning their deaths. The President said that the opposition must be mourning the death of the old corrupt political parties that ruled before him.

“The armed forces shall never be use the way it was used by the local oligarchy and its international allies did,” said Chavez, referring to the repression of the riots of 89, and the coup attempt against him by military generals and upper-class leaders in 2002.

Opponents of Chavez criticize him for celebrating a coup d’etat against an elected president, at the time that he blames sectors of the opposition from conspiring against him. In April of 2002, a group of high-ranking military officer helped by upper-class sectors briefly overthrew Chavez, who was reinstated in power when hundreds of thousands took the streets to demand his return.

At the demonstration, Chavez launched the gubernatorial candidacy of General Felipe Acosta Carles to the state of Carabobo currently under the rule of an opposition governor. Acosta Carles was very active during the lock-out and sabotage of the oil industry sponsored by the opposition in 2002, where food companies stopped production, and hid their inventories to generate scarcity. General Acosta Carles commanded several raids to food companies, including a Coca-Cola plant.

Chavez’s popularity continues to grow as he faces a possible recall referendum on his rule. Polls by opposition-aligned pollsters place his approval rating between 41 and 45 percent, up from 32 to 35 percent last October. A margin of less than 30% is needed for a possible recall referendum to succeed.