After two attempts of coup d’état (February and November 1992) and two years in prison, the Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez was democratically elected president of Venezuela on December 6, 1998. A left-wing populist, Chavez had the support of an extra-parliamentarian coalition with a program to tackle corruption and poverty.
Since Hugo Chavez took power, he implemented a social protection plan for the people in greatest need (“Bolivar Plan 2000”) and provided schooling for 4 million children. With the support of the Constituent National Assembly  that was 90% controlled by his followers, he proposed to ratify a new constitution. It was passed by referendum by the majority of the 71.2% of the voters (December 15, 1999). The country became the “Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela”, the Senate and the House of Representatives merged into only one Assembly, and the presidential powers were strengthened. During the implementation process of the new constitution, regional, legislative and presidential elections were called.
Hugo Chavez presented a program of “peaceful and democratic revolution” and was massively re-elected for 6 years, renewable only once. On July 30, 2000, his Party, Movement for the Fifth Republic (MVR), obtained 98 seats in the National Assembly out of a total of 165. Hence, 12 out of 23 presidencies of regional States.
In terms of foreign policy, Hugo Chavez challenged the United States when he visited Fidel Castro and set preferential oil rates to Cuba (October 2000). Later, he visited Saddam Hussein and Muhammar El-Khadafi. He requested the accession of Venezuela into MERCOSUR (free trade area among Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay). He chaired the “Group 77” (developing and non-aligned countries) and denounced the “poisonous neoliberalism.” He labelled the bombings against civilians in Afghanistan as a “massacre” which made Washington to fly into a rage and called its Ambassador in Caracas for consultation (November 1st, 2001).
Hugo Chávez, above all things, took on a new lease of life the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) , whose main founders were basically Saudi Arabia and Venezuela in 1960. Taking advantage of thee best diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and with Mexico’s support, Chavez managed to convince his partners and established a mechanism to adjust the gross price of crude oil (petroleum). The discipline imposed by Petroleos de Venezuela SA Enteprise (PDVSA)  was an example and strengthened the system efficiency. In 18 months, the oil price had tripled, and the US and Europeans drivers were all the rage. In the same year, in September, the OPEC World Summit in its 40th Anniversary was held in Caracas, and applauded “Chavez policy.” On that occasion, the Venezuelan Minister of Energy, Ali Rodriguez, was appointed as the new Secretary General of the organization. _ This situation was not tolerated by the United States, especially because Venezuela was its third energy supplier. Regarding domestic economy, Hugo Chavez increased the minimum salary and that of the officers 20% during his first term (April 28, 2000). After the war in Afghanistan and drop in price of petroleum, he decreed an agrarian reform and reoriented the control of Petroleos de Venezuela: on the one hand, he conferred the usufruct of unproductive land profits to the marginalized and discriminated people by the big landowners; on the other hand, he fired seven leaders of PDVSA and advanced the retirement of other 12 leaders (November 13, 2001).
Recovery of National Harmony
In the United States, the “Matrix of the Global Attack ”, adopted by the president George W. Bush, included Venezuela among the 80 countries which were targets of CIA secret actions and within the framework of the so-called “War on Terror” (September 15, 2001). As a result of the Hugo Chavez’s criticism on the bombings in Afghanistan and his control upon Petroleos de Venezuela, there was a rumor in the Chanceries that the CIA had received the order to eliminate Chavez and terminate his government.
On December 10, 2001, the Confederation of Workers of Venezuela (CTV) under the social-democrat Carlos Ortega (linked to Democratic Action, Party of the former president Carlos Andres Perez), called for a general strike with the support of Fedecamaras  (Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production Associations [Venezuela]), main employer’s federation. Such development paralyzed the oil production and refining, thus causing major losses of revenue to the State. On February 7, 2002, an air force officer who was not very well known, Colonel Pedro Vicente Soto, made a speech during a demonstration of 10 000 people from the opposition. He labeled the regime as “totalitarian” and Hugo Chavez as a “fascist”, and at the same time, demanded the president to step down from power “to save democracy.” He was accompanied by the Captain of the National Guard Pedro Jose Soto, and four other officers . Faced with such challenge, Hugo Chavez announced on February 12 an austerity plan and let the Bolivar to devaluate 19.7%. The opposition mobilized 200 000 people to rally and Chavez 1 500 000 of his followers.
On April 9, 2002, CTV and Fedecamaras called for another general strike, which was expected to last one day, but it was prolonged for an indefinite period of time and was accompanied by street rallies. 50 000 people rallied in Caracas with American flags. The strikers did not only demand the abrogation of the reforms, but also insulted the “communist” Hugo Chavez. Private channels, which were broadcasting a message from the president of the nation, suddenly cut off their images and broadcasted in parallel the presidential statement and opposition rally. On April 11, Carlos Ortega, CVT president, demanded Chaves to step down from power and stated that the rally – which started in rich neighborhoods – would head towards the city downtown and take control of Miraflores presidential palace. In response to such actions, Chaves followers were mobilized to protect the president. As a result of the turmoil, 15 people were killed, including a journalist, and other 350 people were wounded . _ The private TV networks said that Chavez’s supporters had shot against the crowd and broadcasted the statements of a dozen senior officials who accused Chavez of sowing hatred and demanded his resignation. The president Chavez realized that his government was at risk and cut off the transmissions of Televen, Globovision, Meridiano, Vale TV and CMT, which had explicitly somehow made a call to overthrow him. In a news conference, the general of the National Guard and vice-minister of the Interior Security, Luis Camacho Kairuz, stated he resigned from the government, confirmed that Chavez’s supporters had shot against the crowd and joined those who staged the coup and senior officials to demand the president’s resignation. In the same evening, the commander of the army, Efrain Vasquez, also joined the rebellion, including the Minister of Finance, General Francisco Uson. On April 12, the private TV stations resumed their transmissions. They broadcasted a message from the head of the Armed Forces, General Lucas Rincon: “We, members of the military staff, are sorry for the outrageous events that took place yesterday night in the capital. In view of such events, we have requested the president of the Republic to resign, something that he has accepted… From now on, we are at your disposal (…) I have faith in the National Armed Forces.” Hugo Chavez was immediately imprisoned in Tiuna Fortress. Forty minutes later, although the article 233 of the Constitution provided that, in principle, the Vice-President Diosdado Cabello would take power temporarily, the president of the employers’ federation and businessmen, Pedro Carmona, stated: “It has been decided to create immediately a transition government and I have been assigned to be the leader, following a consensus of forces, not only the Venezuelan civil society but also the command of the Armed Forces (…) The power that has been vested in me is historical: I take it before the nation.”
The major news agencies Associated Press (AP) and Reuters, in their analysis and reviews, described Chavez as a former military who staged a coup but they failed to mention that he was democratically elected.
In Washington, the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, stated with certain degree of satisfaction: “What we know is that the actions undertaken by Chavez’s government have caused a crisis (…) The United States is sorry for the number of people dead. We would like to express our solidarity to the Venezuelan people and we are working with the democratic forces of Venezuela to restore the main elements of democracy ”.
In Madrid, the Spanish delegation that presided that year the European Union (rotation system), supported those involved in the coup and the coup d’état, following the same policy of the United States and declared: “[The European Union] has confidence in the transition government that it will respect the values and democratic institutions in order to solve the current crisis within the framework of national harmony and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms.” And Joseph Pique, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs added: “There is no solution without people’s will and democratic system (…) [Hugo Chavez] had everyday less institutional and people’s support. In a press release published in Washington, Spain and the United States stated that they would follow the developments with ‘great interest and concern.’ [They] condemned the acts of extreme violence, called for a cease of violence and restore stability; expressed their desire that this exceptional situation Venezuela was going through would lead as soon as possible to a full democratic normalization ”. Likewise, in Washington, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – which had diminished to a minimum its relations with Chavez’s government, declared: - “that it hoped that discussions would continue with the new administration and further mentioned it was ready to assist the new administration in any way . Russia and France, however, were outraged. In Paris, the spokesman of the French government, Francois Rivasseau, denounced “the interference and detriment to the constitutional order .”
The 19 States of South America and the Caribbean which are members of the “Rio Group” denounced the coup d’état. The most independents were surprised to see that the United States congratulated the overthrow of a regime democratically elected, since sometime before, on September 11, 2001, in the morning of the attacks in US territory, the general Colin Powell signed with great pomp the Inter-American democratic Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) .
The former president Carlos Andres Perez (79 years old), in New York, where he lived in the exile, said he was going back to Caracas to ensure the “return to democracy.”
A Transition Government
At Miraflores presidential palace, the new president was not inaugurated as president by the military that staged the coup d’état but by a group of eight influential personalities who came from the shade. It was made up by:
- His Excellency Monsignor Ignacio Cardenal (Opus Dei)
- Luis Enrique Ball (businessmen)
- Jose Curiel (political party)
- Rocio Jigarro (associations)
- Miguel Angel Martinez (media)
- Governor Manuel Rosales (regional governments)
- Alfredo Ramos (trade unions)
- Carlos Fernández (employers’ federation)
This conspirator group promulgated a “Constituent Act” with 11 items:
Article 1: appointed Pedro Carmona as president;
Article 2: changed the name of Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela by Republic of Venezuela;
Article 3: dissolved the National Assembly and called for constituent legislative elections for a date before December 2002 [to reform the constitution of 1999, adopted under Chavez’s presidency];
Article 4: establishment of a Council of State of 35 members for consultations;
Article 5: authorized the president to coordinate the policy during the transition;
Article 6: called for presidential elections before one year;
Article 7: authorized the president to dissolve all national, provincial and municipal public powers;
Article 8: dismissed the president and the members of the Supreme Court of Justice;
Article 9: revoked the 49 decree laws of November 2001 [on agrarian reform and national control upon Petroleos de Venezuela PDVSA];
Article 10: maintained the international agreements signed by Venezuela;
Article 11: urged the transition government to render accounts to the future elected government.
The new government was made up by 9 ministers:
Interior: general Rafael Damián;
- Foreign Affairs: Jose Rodríguez Iturbe (is an American and Venezuelan binational, member of the Opus Dei);
- Economy: Leopoldo Martinez;
- Agriculture: Raul de Armas;
- Labor: Cesar Augusto Carballo;
- Planning: Leon Arismendi;
- Defense: Vice-Admiral Hector Ramirez Perez;
- Health: Rafael Arreaza;
- Ministry of Presidency: Vice-Admiral Jesus Enrique Briceno Garcia.
The famous daily the New York Times, in its evening editorial, commented: “the Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a dictator’s regime because the military have intervened and put power in the hands of a respected business manager .”
The new power did not have time to implement anything. While the police arrested Chavez’s main leaders, the underprivileged, marginalized and poor people came down from their shantytowns and headed for downtown. While the revolution reemerged, the private TV stations continued broadcasting programs that favored those who staged the coup and failed to inform the TV viewers about the change of the situation. The crowd demanded to see Hugo Chavez’s resignation letter. It did not believe the existence of such letter and moved forward shouting “Freedom for Chavez”. In Radio Union station, the minister of the Ministry of Presidency who was involved in the coup, tried to cool down the people’s pressure by stating that he was unable to show Chavez’s resignation letter because he was verbally cast down from power.
The Chief of Staff of the Army, general Efrain Vasquez, refused having shot against the people. He consulted with his officers and set an ultimatum of 12 items to obey Pedro Carmona. The army would not defend the new government if it did not reestablished immediately the institutions democratically elected. Pedro Carmona realized that the involvement of some senior officers in the coup d’état had not been enough to eliminate the support that Hugo Chavez enjoyed in the armed forces. He left Miraflores Palace for shelter in Tiuna fortress, while Chavez’s supporters led by the former president of the National Assembly and other former ministers took control of the government palace. The National Guard joined the people and leaders of the country. _ The chaos prevailed in the capital where plundering and riots multiplied. The vice-president Diosdado Cabello reappeared and reestablished the legal constitution, including a council of ministers. The president Hugo Chavez, prisoner in the Orchila island was set free and returned triumphantly in a helicopter to Caracas.
A crowd surrounded Tiuna fortress to prevent Pedro Carmona from escaping. In the capital, the demonstrators attacked the Radio Caracas Televisi studio, which was accused of having collaborated and followed the interests of the “fascists”, while the crowd gathered in front of the presidential palace welcomed Hugo Chavez and shouted: “We love you”. The next day, on April 14, 2002, Hugo Chavez Frias addressed the nation with a long TV message being next to a picture of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Latin America. The populist leader assured that there would not be “a witch hunting” and called for national unity. He convened a “round table for national dialogue”.
Congratulatory telegrams were received from Iraq, Brazil, Qatar, Cuba, etc.
In Washington, the Bush administration which did not know how to lose and always tried to get revenge, declared through Condoleezza Rice: “I hope that Hugo Chavez understands the message sent by his people, that his policy does not meet the interests of the Venezuelan people (…) He has to respect the constitutional process (…) I hope that Hugo Chavez is aware that the whole world is looking at him and it is the time that he sets a proper route since the one he has been taking for long time is wrong ”.
In this regard, the United States did not say anything when the coup d’état took place in Venezuela to overthrow Hugo Chavez, although he had been democratically elected, but it has been a lesson of proper behavior and moral to be learned when he resumed his presidential duties “to respect the constitutional process!”.