Caracas, April 21, 2002

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After the frustrated coup d’état against the constitutional government of Hugo Chávez, last week a Spanish journalist exclaimed, "What a smell of hamburger, jabugo [an Andalucian ham] and oil!" Obviously, the man knew what he was talking about: the participation of officials from the United States, Spain and El Salvador among the rabble headed by business leader Pedro Carmona.

These assertions don’t seem out of place today. After all, the ambassadors of Spain, Manuel Viturro, and the United States, Charles Shapiro (who previously directed the State Department’s Cuban Affairs office), met with de facto president Pedro Carmona, after which he dissolved the National Assembly and the principal government institutions.

According to private investigations, one of the results of the coup was to be the denationalization of oil: the privatization of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), leaving it in the hands of a U.S. firm linked to President George Bush and to the Spanish company Repsol; to sell PDVSA’s U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, to Gustavo Cisneros and his U.S. partners; and the end of the nation’s underground reserves.

To do this, the 1999 Constitution had to be abolished and the PDVSA’s the internal conflict had to be leveraged, where the higher ups had been acting in accordance with directives sent by PDVSA’s former president, Luis Giusti, from the U.S. They also counted on businessman Isaac Pérez Recao’s financing and active participation. Carmona had worked for him at the petroleum company Venoco.

A high military source amplified to Agence France-Presse on accounts which had already been published locally: Pérez Recao ordered a small group of "right-wing extremists, heavily armed, including mortars ... under the operational control of Rear Admiral Carlos Molina Tamayo," one of the officials who had publicly rebelled against Chávez last February, and who was now in charge of Carmona’s defense forces.

According to the source, this group "belonged to a private security firm owned by ex-Mossad agents" (Israel’s security, terrorist and spy agency), which does not mean Israel was implicated in the conspiracy. Neither was this assertion made mention of locally: the person with the face and weaponry of Rambo who personally guarded Carmona was Marcelo Sarabia, linked to security firms and organizations, some of them Mossad franchises. He was in the habit of boasting of spending the night in the U.S. embassy’s bunker. He went with Pérez Recao the same Saturday the 13th. Two days later, his girlfriend abandoned the TV studios of Televén to be with him.

The U.S. intelligence company STRATFOR said the CIA "had knowledge of (the coup leaders’) plans, and could have helped extreme right civilians and military who tried, without success, to take possession of the interim government," after meeting with militants from Opus Dei and officials linked to retired general Rubén Pérez Pérez-the son-in-law of former president Rafael Caldera.

What is confirmed is that the plane in which they wanted to take Chávez out of the country from the island of La Orchila belonged to the Paraguayan banker Víctor Gil (TotalBank). Its destination? According to crew of the U.S. registered aircraft, the flight plan was to Puerto Rico, U.S. territory. The intervention of the United States came not only in the "advice" of high Washington functionaries, such as Rogelio Pardo Maurer-in charge of the Pentagon’s Latin American special operations and low intensity conflicts-Otto Reich and/or John Maisto, but also in the person of Lieutenant Colonel James Rodger, military attaché to the U.S. embassy in Caracas. His presence supported the uprising, set up on the fifth floor of the Army Command building, from where he advised the rebellious generals.

Reich, in charge of Latin American affairs in the State Department, confirmed he talked "two or three times" during the coup with Gustavo Cisneros, deep-sea fishing buddy of former president George Bush and chief of a business empire extending from the U.S. to Patagonia [southern Argentina and Chile], including: DirecTV, Venevisión, Coca-Cola, and the Mexican TV network Televisa. To Newsweek he said he was only looking for information, not encouraging or directing the organizers. "We had absolutely nothing to do with that," he added. Perhaps I may call attention to the case of the two El Salvadorians detained after the April 11 events. According to local intelligence sources, they formed part of a death squad trained to carry out attacks in Latin American countries (earlier in Cuba and Panama, now in Venezuela). These sources link them to the former ambassador in San Salvador, Christian Democrat Leopoldo Castillo, today a radio commentator and advisor to Carmona’s business association.

On the afternoon of the coup, the plotters, Carmona among them, met in the TV studios of Venevisión. "That government was armed in the offices of Gustavo Cisneros," said opposition deputy Pedro Pablo Alcántara (Democratic Action). He gained fame by being one of the censors dispatched to the press in 1992 by then-president Carlos Andrés Pérez. The person who read Carmona’s decree, Daniel Romero, was named Attorney General. He had been a high-level member of the Pérez government and a functionary in Cisneros’ organization.

The repercussions of the frustrated coup began in Washington and threatened to become the Bush administration’s first public foreign affairs scandal. Don’t discount the fact that the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee sealed documents detailing contacts of Venezuelan citizens with the highest-level U.S. civil and military officials. Among them: Luis Giusti, the ex-president of the state oil company, PDVSA.

After Carmona’s plutocratic government dissolved the National Assembly and trampled on the Constitution, and after it learned of the unrest among the Latin American heads of state at the Rio Group meeting in Costa Rica, and in a good part of generals and the civil opposition to Chávez, they began to speak of a pluralistic junta, one which would respect the terms of office of Congress and the governors and mayors.

There were numerous calls between Caracas and Washington from Friday night to mid-day Saturday. To General Efraín Vásquez, principal commander during Carmona’s brief tenure, the Pentagon conveyed a series of points to comply with. These were sent by State Department officials in the U.S. capital to the head of negotiations with Venezuela, Luis Herrera Marcano, and to Carmona by Ambassador Shapiro, and to the army chiefs by Colonel Harkins, also a member of the U.S. delegation in Caracas.

In their flight from the Miraflores Palace, the coup leaders left behind a sumptuous lunch and various documents in the presidential office. One of these, sent by Luis Herrera Marcano to Rear Admiral Molina Tamayo, who without doubt was the link between the coup plotters and the U.S. government, reads as follows:

This morning Mr. Phillip Chicola of the State Department telephoned to ask me to communicate urgently to the Venezuelan Government the following viewpoints of the United States Government:

  1. Given that the United States subscribed to and supports the complete validity of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which condemns any rupture of constitutional legality, it is necessary that the transition which is going on in Venezuela, with which they understand and sympathize, preserves constitutional norms. To that end, they consider it indispensable we get the National Assembly to approve the resignation of President Chávez, and that, if he seeks recourse to the Supreme Court, they affirm it. Mr. Chicola made it very clear he was not talking about an imposition but on the contrary an exhortation to make it easier for them to formally support the new authorities. He indicated not only were they obligated by the provisions of the Democratic Charter, but were also subject to legal norms which require them to inform Congress of any interruption of the constitutional authority of a country on the continent, and eventually to suspend all cooperative activities.
  2. In keeping with this, Mr. Chicola suggested the new Government send a communiqué as soon as possible to the United States Government in which it formally expresses its commitment to call elections in a reasonable time frame, and indicating observers from the OAS would be welcome in the elections.
  3. He indicated it was of equally great importance that we produce a copy of the resignation signed by President Chávez.
  4. Finally he indicated his hope that current permanent representative from Venezuela to the OAS would be replaced soon. He insisted this was a friendly suggestion for the sake of Venezuela and not a declaration he was "persona non grata". Mr. Chicola asked this message be sent by the U.S. Ambassador in Venezuela.

(Communication 913, oddly enough on letterhead of the Embassy of Venezuela and not of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.)

Interference? Suggestion?

This libretto had already been learned by the representatives to the OAS’ Permanent Council.

Colombian César Gaviria, Secretary General, suggested that since the government of Chávez has been deposed, Ambassador Valero should not join the meeting. Chilean representative Esteban Tomic and the Council’s Chair, Salvadorian Margarita Escoba, sent the news. The United States, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Colombia made efforts to recognize the de facto government. Mexico, Argentina and Brazil-with the unanimous support of the Caribbean countries-insisted in the primacy of the Democratic Charter. Gaviria annoyed these countries a second time when he announced the Carmona government had removed Valero from office. The representative from Barbados rebuked Gaviria for serving as a connection between the coup plotters and the OAS and for ordering an ambassador be suspended without complying with the necessary procedure.

One of those pressured to support the Carmona government was Santiago Cantón, Rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights who that Saturday the 13th sent a communication directed to "His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Relations, José Rodríguez Iturbe."

On the Spanish side, the hullabaloo could not fool Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Piqué or the officials in the embassy in Caracas. Some Spanish business people who got on better with Chávez than the embassy affirmed there was a fund of 500 million bolivars (a little more than a half a million dollars) to help finance the general strike and the coup, with money from the large conglomerates such as Repsol and the banks, but it has not been possible to confirm this.

In any event, Ambassador Viturro met with all the high-ranking Spanish personnel last Sunday to lay out the strategy they will follow from here on: via the news media, insist on the necessity of a referendum or that Chávez call new elections in the short term. Exactly the same strategy launched by U.S. Ambassador Shapiro from the bunker of Valle Arriba, in the southeast of Caracas, to the country’s English speaking accredited journalists.

Translated by Mark McHarry