Uncle Sam’s Coup?

REPORTER: Aaron Lewis

EVA GOLINGER, LAWYER AND AUTHOR: And then we get into the early ’80s where we’ve got the conflicts going on in central America, the Reagan administration gets its hands really dirty financing the contra-revolutionaries, arming them.

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This is the woman Venezuela’s President, Hugo Chavez, has dubbed ‘The Bride of Venezuela’. American lawyer Eva Golinger has spent three years investigating what she says is her government’s interference in Venezuelan politics.

EVA GOLINGER: They gave a press conference, the State Department. They said, “We’ll be in and out in two years.”

Today she’s lecturing American tourists who’ve heard about her investigation and want to know more. Her subject – how the Bush Administration is gunning for regime change in Venezuela.

EVA GOLINGER: Now we’re up to the point where they’re saying Venezuela is not cooperating with the war on terrorism, we’re going to sanction them. It’s one step away from classifying Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism. In fact, that’s being discussed actively.

Venezuela’s socialist President, Hugo Chavez, has condemned America’s war on terror from the beginning.

PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ (Translation): What did this baby do to die like this when a bomb fell on his house? I said it here”¦You can not react to terror with more terror. These children are not responsible for terrorism, for Osama bin Laden, or for anything!

And he’s associated with some of Washington’s least favourite people, such as Saddam Hussein, Moamar Gaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He’s also Fidel Castro’s strongest supporter in Latin America. So in April 2002, when Chavez was briefly ousted in an ill-fated coup, it was hardly surprising that there were rumours of American involvement. But Golinger, whose mother was born in Venezuela, was the first to look for evidence, and to write it down.

EVA GOLINGER: I was in a situation where I’m a US citizen, I’m a Venezuelan citizen, I’m an attorney, I feel obliged to use whatever I have in my power to disclose and discover what’s going on here, what one of my governments is doing to the other one of my governments.

Golinger used America’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents from the CIA, State Department and the Department of Defense. What she found paints a damning portrait of covert American activities at the time of the coup. This top-secret CIA brief from April 6, 2002 contains the most dramatic revelation of all.

EVA GOLINGER: What it says is the coup will take place in the first weeks of April, which it did, violence will be provoked in an opposition march, which is what happened, and the President will be taken prisoner along with other members of his cabinet, and that’s basically what happened.

Written five days before the coup, the CIA brief shows that Washington knew all about how Chavez was going to be overthrown.

CIA BRIEF: “Dissident military factions are stepping up efforts to organise a coup against President Chavez, possibly as early as this month.”

The CIA brief singles out Chavez and 10 other senior officials for arrest, and claims that, “To provoke military action, the plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month.” This is how the events detailed by the CIA brief uncovered by Golinger actually played out. There has always been significant grassroots opposition to Chavez, and by April 11, 2002, this had came to a head.

Fed up with the President’s sweeping socialist reforms, big business, the middle class, and the private media were demanding Chavez’s resignation. At a massive rally, the supposedly spontaneous decision was made to march on the President’s palace, Miraflores.

PROTESTER (Translation): Let us not rule out the possibility of this crowd, this human river, marches united to Miraflores to expel a traitor to the Venezuelan people.

Violence ensued and a dozen people were killed by snipers who have never been identified. Just as the April 6 CIA brief had anticipated, this violence became the trigger for the coup.

ARMY OFFICER (Translation): Venezuelans, the president of the republic has betrayed the trust of his people. He is massacring innocent people with snipers. Just now six people were killed and dozens wounded in Caracas.

Incredibly, this statement by the army officers who overthrew Chavez was recorded more than two hours before the shooting. Soon Chavez was captured by the military and Pedro Carmona, a corporate giant, was installed as president.

PEDRO CARMONA (Translation): With the concensus of all forces, comprising the Venezuelan civil society and the military establishment, the armed forces, I have been asked to lead the government.

Despite its advance knowledge of the coup plans, the White House was quick to support the coup leaders, and accept their version of events. According to spokesman Ari Fleischer:

ARI FLEISCHER: “We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez Government provoked this crisis. The results of these events are now that President Chavez has resigned the presidency.”

EVA GOLINGER: When the US Government comes out and makes that statement, it’s another part of their role in the coup because here they’re trying now to project the false information to the world, convince the general public that something else had taken place than what had really taken place.

Chavez had in fact not resigned – he was imprisoned. Tens of thousands of his supporters rallied to demand his safe return. Soldiers still loyal to Chavez retook the palace, and the coup crumbled within 48 hours.

What Eva’s inquiries have since revealed is a money trail leading from Washington to key organizations and individuals involved in the coup.

EVA GOLINGER: What became very obvious and was interesting and worrisome was that there was all kinds of money flowing in to all these organisations and political parties in Venezuela that were all in the opposition. And not just that, many of them were ones that had been involved in executing the coup d’etat against Chavez in 2002.

Golinger’s flow chart shows that in the months before the coup, Washington gave million of dollars to Chavez’s opponents. The documents she obtained show that the money was delivered to projects like, “strengthening political parties”, which received $300,000 and “support for democratic union action”, which received over $150,000.

EVA GOLINGER: It wasn’t just that they were giving them money, it was that they had quadrupled the funding from 2001 to 2002, during the time period when the opposition all of a sudden grew. I mean, they spurted out of the ground basically.

If America wanted to fund democracy, its proteges had a strange way of going about it. While President Chavez was in custody, Pedro Carmona was dissolving the parliament and the courts, leaving him free to rule by decree. Just five months before, Carmona had been visiting Washington as a guest of the State Department. A cable from the US Embassy in Caracas referred to the future coup leader and his colleagues as, “influential business leaders who have consistently played a critical role in advancing US commercial interests.” Another cable said Carmona was regarded as, “the right man for the right time in Venezuela.”

EVA GOLINGER: Fall of 2001, the Embassy starts sending cables up to Washington saying Carmona, Pedro Carmona, is the right man for the right time in Venezuela. He’s a statesman, and this, that and the other. Things that are very revealing about how they were prepping Carmona for the position of president.

In fact, US Ambassador Charles Shapiro was one of the first people to visit President Carmona on the day he took power. When Chavez was returned to power after 48 hours, the State Department sent instructions to its embassy.

EMBASSY INSTRUCTION: “If asked ‘Was the United States involved in the attempt to remove Chavez from power?’ answer ‘Absolutely not.'”

Eva Golinger has other declassified documents which show that Washington’s support wasn’t limited to civilians like Carmona. Washington also backed disgruntled elements within the Venezuelan armed forces. This memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff describes a key meeting with Lucas Rincon, the Venezuelan general who announced Chavez’s resignation.

JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF MEMO: “While our relationship with Venezuela is strained because of the words and actions of President Chavez, and his administration our relationship with the military continues to be strong.”

Washington has since admitted that its military attache was even present at the army base where President Chavez was held prisoner. Yet significantly, a Congressional report found that embassy officials, including Charles Shapiro, had actively discouraged the coup.

CONGRESSIONAL REPORT: “The record shows that the Department and the embassy consistently discouraged the overthrow of that democratically elected regime. And, far from working to foment his overthrow, the United States alerted President Chavez to coup plots and warned him of an assassination threat that was deemed to be credible.”

REPORTER: Ambassador Shapiro claims he informed Chavez about both the oncoming coup and the assassination attempts.

EVA GOLINGER: Chavez has said that he has no recollection of that information.

REPORTER: Isn’t that a strange thing to say? You’d figure he’d recollect, you’d figure Chavez would say…

EVA GOLINGER: Absolutely. At the same time, even if they had sent over… Like, maybe he sent a fax. Everyone in Venezuela knew that there were coup plots going on, OK, so it wasn’t like, “Oh!” But the issue was who was doing it and how it was going to be done. And that’s something the US Government knew.

It’s also possible that Washington discouraged the coup plotters because they were concerned the coup would not succeed. The April 6 CIA brief uncovered by Golinger warned that dissident army factions, “may bungle the attempt by moving too quickly.” And that “prospects for a successful coup at this point are limited.”

Today opposition groups are still working hard to oust Chavez in December’s presidential election. And remarkably, despite the failure of the coup – or perhaps because of it – Washington has massively increased its funding for the opposition.

EVA GOLINGER: Everybody knew who they were. You know, there was no question of it. Instead of the National Endowment for Democracy saying, “Wow these guys aren’t really democratic, they just tried to overthrow the government, we can’t keep funding these guys”. Instead of doing that, two weeks after the coup, the US State Department issues a special $1 million fund to the National Endowment for Democracy to fund Venezuela projects, and they give that money to the same people that had just executed the coup. So it seemed more as though they were saying, “We didn’t give you guys enough. We’ve got to give you more, because you failed,” you know.

The sole opposition presidential candidate, Manuel Rosales, was one of those who signed the decree that dissolved the parliament and the courts. At a press conference he was asked if his campaign was being funded by Washington.

JOURNALIST (Translation): The second question is to do with the accusations about funds being improperly channelled to the campaign.

MANUEL ROSALES (Translation): First tell me where such funds are. We have no funds.

Eva Golinger says her painstaking research has built a strong case that America was involved in the coup against Chavez. And today, ironically, American support for the opposition has only strengthened Chavez’s hold on power.

Reporter/Camera:

AARON LEWIS

Editor:

ROWAN TUCKER-EVANS

Producer:

AMOS COHEN

EP:

MIKE CAREY