Former Venezuelan Vice President Testifies on Recent Coup Plot

In a presentation to the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) on Wednesday, former Vice-President José Vicente Rangel detailed the results of his ongoing investigations into plots to assassinate President Hugo Chávez and overthrow the government.
Former Vice-President José Vicente Rangel spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon, after testifying before the National Assembly's special commission to investigate the latest coup plot against President Chavez.

Mérida, September 18, 2008 (— In a presentation to the Venezuelan National Assembly (AN) on Wednesday, former Vice-President José Vicente Rangel detailed the results of his ongoing investigations into plots to assassinate President Hugo Chávez and overthrow the government.

The testimony was one of several that were programmed by the AN’s special commission to investigate coup plans. The most recent plot was foiled last week when recordings of retired military officers involved in the conspiracy were broadcast on the government television station, VTV.

Rangel, who also served as Chávez’s Defense Minister and currently works as an investigative journalist, identified the Venezuelan opposition, the Colombian government, the domestic and international media, and the U.S. government as the four principal agents involved in the coup planning.

The retired military officers who were detained after appearing in the recordings publicized last week have since confirmed their identity in the recordings, Rangel reported. He remarked that this confession contrasts to the adamant denials of those who carried out the two-day coup against President Chávez in April 2002.

Nonetheless, Rangel alleged that many of those who are planning the next coup are the same people who planned the last one, with new civilian and military actors on board. One new actor is General Raúl Isaías Baduel, a long time Chávez ally who organized the counter-coup to bring Chávez back to power in April 2002, but allied himself with the opposition in the lead-up to the constitutional reform referendum in late 2007.

Baduel recently met with Pedro Carmona, the former head of Venezuela’s largest chamber of commerce who was named interim president during the April 2002 coup, Rangel said. They met in Colombia at what Rangel called a “sanctuary of the conspiracy against Venezuela,” Sergio Arboleda University, where Carmona now holds a post as a university professor.

Baduel gave an anti-Chávez speech and plugged his book, “My Plan for Venezuela,” and secretly met with members of the Colombian Association of Retired Military Officers, according to Rangel’s investigations.

Rangel also submitted a photo he said was of Carmona giving classes to military officers in Colombia’s military intelligence school. “The Colombian intelligence and counter-intelligence and [Colombian Defense Minister] Juan Manuel Santos are involved in this conspiracy,” said Rangel, emphasizing that Santos is Colombia’s main contact with the U.S. military.

Santos has met several times with retired Venezuelan military officers to coordinate the infiltration of Colombian paramilitaries, who are known to have close ties to the administration of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, to be coup operatives in several Venezuelan cities, Rangel alleged. He reported that recently, the officer in charge of a Venezuelan military base gave 45 access permits to paramilitary troops.

Moreover, Rangel warned that before the regional and local elections this November, opposition student activists are preparing a “Red October,” during which they will launch violent protests across Venezuela, which they have done several times in the past, to provoke repression against them and trigger paramilitary activity against the government.

Rangel also said Colombia’s accusations that the Chávez administration has financed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Colombian insurgent army which the governments of Colombia and its chief ally the United States consider a terrorist organization, is an effort to set the pretext for future military action against Venezuela.

Rangel said the accusations of financing were totally false, but acknowledged that the Chávez government has sustained a political relationship with the FARC, just like several previous Venezuelan presidents had, in their efforts to deal with the conflict. “The relationship exists, but now they want to present it as though it were a political perversion, like a deformation. It is a politicized argument.”

Rangel also denounced that Colombia is planning to make public a new computer that will falsely link Venezuelan government officials including National Assembly President Cilia Flores to drug trafficking.

The ongoing campaign by the U.S. government to link the Chávez administration to drug trafficking in South America is another aspect of the coup conspiracy, Rangel said. Also under the pretext of combating drug trafficking, the U.S. Congress has appropriated $5.5 billion in mostly military aid to Colombia since the year 2000.

The private media has been the essential ally of the campaign to link Venezuela with terrorism and drug trafficking. Among the Venezuelan media outlets, Rangel specified the newspapers El Nacional and El Universal and the television stations Globovisión and Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), as the major culprits.

These media outlets collaborated in the April 2002 coup by falsely reporting that Chávez had resigned, that Chávez supporters had shot at peaceful opposition protesters, and by broadcasting entertainment programs to black out news of crucial events leading up to Chavez’s return to power.

However, Rangel emphasized that it is the owners and chief editors of these news outlets who “practically substitute political parties” and are involved in the coup plans, not the reporters.

As further evidence of U.S. involvement, Rangel cited the re-activation of the Fourth Naval Fleet of the U.S. Southern Command, the strengthening of military bases in the Caribbean islands, and U.S. involvement in coup plotting against Latin American governments throughout the twentieth century.

According to Rangel, coup planning has accelerated recently because the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush seeks to oust Chávez before Bush’s term in office ends. “It is a great challenge that the man who has been able to build Latin American unity remains in [the Venezuelan presidential palace] Miraflores,” he remarked.