The US and the Coup in Venezuela
Dissent Voice News Service, April 28, 2002
1) American Navy 'Helped Venezuelan Coup'
2) Washington channelled funds to groups that opposed Chavez
3) Venezuela coup linked to Bush team
4) US Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move
5) Otto Reich's Propaganda is Reminiscent of the Third Reich
6) Venezuelan Media accused in failed coup
1) American Navy 'Helped Venezuelan Coup'
by Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
The Guardian [UK]; April 29, 2002
The United States had been considering a coup to overthrow
the elected Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, since last June,
a former US intelligence officer claimed yesterday.
It is also alleged that the US navy aided the abortive coup
which took place in Venezuela on April 11 with intelligence from
its vessels in the Caribbean. Evidence is also emerging of US
financial backing for key participants in the coup.
Both sides in Venezuela have blamed the other for the violence
surrounding the coup.
Wayne Madsen, a former intelligence officer with the US navy,
told the Guardian yesterday that American military attaches had
been in touch with members of the Venezuelan military to examine
the possibility of a coup.
"I first heard of Lieutenant Colonel James Rogers [the
assistant military attaché now based at the US embassy
in Caracas] going down there last June to set the ground,"
Mr Madsen, an intelligence analyst, said yesterday. "Some
of our counter-narcotics agents were also involved."
He said that the navy was in the area for operations unconnected
to the coup, but that he understood they had assisted with signals
intelligence as the coup was played out.
Mr Madsen also said that the navy helped with communications
jamming support to the Venezuelan military, focusing on communications
to and from the diplomatic missions in Caracas belonging to Cuba,
Libya, Iran and Iraq - the four countries which had expressed
support for Mr Chavez.
Navy vessels on a training exercise in the area were supposedly
put on stand-by in case evacuation of US citizens in Venezuela
In Caracas, a congressman has accused the US ambassador to
Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, and two US embassy military attaches
of involvement in the coup.
Roger Rondon claimed that the military officers, whom he named
as (James) Rogers and (Ronald) MacCammon, had been at the Fuerte
Tiuna military headquarters with the coup leaders during the night
of April 11-12.
And referring to Mr Shapiro, Mr Rondon said: "We saw
him leaving Miraflores palace, all smiles and embraces, with the
dictator Pedro Carmona Estanga [who was installed by the military
for a day] ... [His] satisfaction was obvious. Shapiro's participation
in the coup d'état in Venezuela is evident."
The US embassy dismissed the allegations as "ridiculous".
Mr Shapiro admitted meeting Mr Carmona the day after the coup,
but said he urged him to restore the national assembly, which
had been dissolved.
Mr Carmona told the Guardian that no such advice was given,
although he agreed that a meeting took place.
A US embassy spokesman said there were no US military personnel
from the embassy at Fuerte Tiuna during the crucial periods from
April 11 to 13, al though two members of the embassy's defense
attaché's office, one of them Lt Col Rogers, drove around
the base on the afternoon of April 11 to check reports that it
Mr Rondon has also claimed that two foreign gunmen, one American
and the other Salvadorean, were detained by security police during
the anti-Chavez protest on April 11 in which around 19 people
were killed, many by unidentified snipers firing from rooftops.
"They haven't appeared anywhere. We presume these two
gentlemen were given some kind of safe-conduct and could have
left the country," he said.
The members of the military who coordinated the coup have
claimed that they did so because they feared that Mr Chavez was
intending to attack the civilian protesters who opposed him.
Mr Chavez's opponents claim pro-Chavez gunmen shot protesters
while his supporters say the shots were fired by agents provocateurs
In the past year, the United States has channeled hundreds
of thousands of dollars in grants to US and Venezuelan groups
opposed to Mr Chavez, including the labor group whose protests
sparked off the coup. The funds were provided by the National
Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency created and financed
by the US Congress.
The state department's human rights bureau is now examining
whether one or more recipients of the money may have actively
plotted against Mr Chavez.
2) Washington channelled funds to groups that opposed Chavez
By Christopher Marquis in Washington
Sydney Morning Herald; April 26, 2002
In the past year the United States channelled hundreds of
thousands of dollars to bodies opposed to the Venezuelan President,
Hugo Chavez, including the labour group whose protests led to
his brief removal this month.
The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy,
a non-profit agency created and financed by Congress. As conditions
deteriorated in Venezuela and Mr Chavez clashed with various business,
union and media groups, the endowment quadrupled its budget for
the country to more than $US877,000 ($1.6million).
While the endowment's expressed goal is to promote democracy
around the world, the US State Department's human rights bureau
is examining whether any recipients of the money plotted against
Mr Chavez. The bureau has put a $US1million grant to the endowment
on hold pending that review, an official said.
A State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker, said he was unaware
of the proposed grant.
Of particular concern is $US154,377 given by the endowment
to the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, the
international arm of the AFL-CIO, the US union umbrella body,
to help the main Venezuelan trade union advance labour rights.
The Venezuelan union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers,
led the work stoppages that galvanised the opposition to Mr Chavez.
The union's leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona
Estanga, the businessman who briefly took over from Mr Chavez,
in challenging the Government.
The endowment also provided significant resources to the foreign-policy
wings of the Republican and Democratic parties for work in Venezuela,
which sponsored trips to Washington by critics of Mr Chavez.
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
was given a $US210,500 grant to promote the accountability of
local government. The International Republican Institute, which
has an office in Venezuela, received a $US339,998 grant for political
party building. Two weeks ago, the day of the takeover, the group
hailed Mr Chavez's removal.
"The Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in
their country," the institute's president, George Folsom,
said. "Venezuelans were provoked into action as a result
of systematic repression by the government of Hugo Chavez."
The statement drew a sharp rebuke from the endowment president,
Carl Gershman, for the openly political stance, which he said
would undercut the institute's work in Venezuela.
The institute has close ties to the Bush Administration, which
also embraced the short-lived takeover; Lorne Craner, the assistant
secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, is
a former president of the organisation.
The Bush Administration, which has made no secret of its disdain
for Mr Chavez - and his relations with countries such as Cuba
and Iraq - has turned to the endowment to help the opposition
to Mr Chavez.
With an annual budget of $US33million, the endowment disburses
hundreds of grants each year to pro-democracy groups from Africa
to Asia. Advocates say the agency's independent status enables
the US to support democracy where government aid might be cumbersome
But critics say recipients of endowment aid do not have the
same accountability that government programs require, which opens
the door for rogue activities and freelancing. They say endowment
funds were used to sway the outcomes of votes in Chile in Nicaragua
in the late 1980s.
The New York Times
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2002/04/25/1019441285250.html
3) Venezuela coup linked to Bush team Specialists in the 'dirty
wars' of the Eighties encouraged the plotters who tried to topple
by Ed Vulliamy in New York
The Observer; April 21, 2002
The failed coup in Venezuela was closely tied to senior officials
in the US government, The Observer has established. They have
long histories in the 'dirty wars' of the 1980s, and links to
death squads working in Central America at that time.
Washington's involvement in the turbulent events that briefly
removed left-wing leader Hugo Chavez from power last weekend resurrects
fears about US ambitions in the hemisphere.
It also also deepens doubts about policy in the region being
made by appointees to the Bush administration, all of whom owe
their careers to serving in the dirty wars under President Reagan.
One of them, Elliot Abrams, who gave a nod to the attempted
Venezuelan coup, has a conviction for misleading Congress over
the infamous Iran-Contra affair.
The Bush administration has tried to distance itself from
the coup. It immediately endorsed the new government under businessman
Pedro Carmona. But the coup was sent dramatically into reverse
after 48 hours.
Now officials at the Organisation of American States and other
diplomatic sources, talking to The Observer, assert that the US
administration was not only aware the coup was about to take place,
but had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success.
The visits by Venezuelans plotting a coup, including Carmona
himself, began, say sources, 'several months ago', and continued
until weeks before the putsch last weekend. The visitors were
received at the White House by the man President George Bush tasked
to be his key policy-maker for Latin America, Otto Reich.
Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American who, under Reagan, ran
the Office for Public Diplomacy. It reported in theory to the
State Department, but Reich was shown by congressional investigations
to report directly to Reagan's National Security Aide, Colonel
Oliver North, in the White House.
North was convicted and shamed for his role in Iran-Contra,
whereby arms bought by busting US sanctions on Iran were sold
to the Contra guerrillas and death squads, in revolt against the
Marxist government in Nicaragua.
Reich also has close ties to Venezuela, having been made ambassador
to Caracas in 1986. His appointment was contested both by Democrats
in Washington and political leaders in the Latin American country.
The objections were overridden as Venezuela sought access to the
US oil market.
Reich is said by OAS sources to have had 'a number of meetings
with Carmona and other leaders of the coup' over several months.
The coup was discussed in some detail, right down to its timing
and chances of success, which were deemed to be excellent.
On the day Carmona claimed power, Reich summoned ambassadors
from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office. He said the
removal of Chavez was not a rupture of democra tic rule, as he
had resigned and was 'responsible for his fate'. He said the US
would support the Carmona government.
But the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams, who operates
in the White House as senior director of the National Security
Council for 'democracy, human rights and international opera tions'.
He was a leading theoretician of the school known as 'Hemispherism',
which put a priority on combating Marxism in the Americas.
It led to the coup in Chile in 1973, and the sponsorship of
regimes and death squads that followed it in Argentina, El Salvador,
Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere. During the Contras' rampage
in Nicaragua, he worked directly to North.
Congressional investigations found Abrams had harvested illegal
funding for the rebellion. Convicted for withholding information
from the inquiry, he was pardoned by George Bush senior.
A third member of the Latin American triangle in US policy-making
is John Negroponte, now ambassador to the United Nations. He was
Reagan's ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 when a US-trained
death squad, Battalion 3-16, tortured and murdered scores of activists.
A diplomatic source said Negroponte had been 'informed that there
might be some movement in Venezuela on Chavez' at the beginning
of the year.
More than 100 people died in events before and after the coup.
In Caracas on Friday a military judge confined five high-ranking
officers to indefinite house arrest pending formal charges of
Chavez's chief ideologue - Guillermo Garcia Ponce, director
of the Revolutionary Political Command - said dissident generals,
local media and anti-Chavez groups in the US had plotted the president's
'The most reactionary sectors in the United States were also
implicated in the conspiracy,' he said.
4) U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move
by FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, NY] April 18, 2002
When elements of the Venezuelan military forced president
Hugo Chavez from office last week, the editorial boards of several
major U.S. newspapers followed the U.S. government's lead and
greeted the news with enthusiasm.
In an April 13 editorial, the New York Times triumphantly
declared that Chavez's "resignation" meant that "Venezuelan
democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator."
Conspicuously avoiding the word "coup," the Times explained
that Chavez "stepped down after the military intervened and
handed power to a respected business leader."
Calling Chavez "a ruinous demagogue," the Times
offered numerous criticisms of his policies and urged speedy new
elections, saying "Venezuela urgently needs a leader with
a strong democratic mandate." A casual reader might easily
have missed the Times' brief acknowledgement that Chavez did actually
have a democratic mandate, having been "elected president
The paper's one nod to the fact that military takeovers are
not generally regarded as democratic was to note hopefully that
with "continued civic participation," perhaps "further
military involvement" in Venezuelan politics could be kept
"to a minimum."
Three days later, Chavez had returned to power and the Times
ran a second editorial (4/16/02) half-apologizing for having gotten
"In his three years in office, Mr. Chavez has been such
a divisive and demagogic leader that his forced departure last
week drew applause at home and in Washington. That reaction, which
we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was
removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no
matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer."
The Times stood its ground, however, on the value of a timely
military coup for teaching a president a lesson, saying, "We
hope Mr. Chavez will act as a more responsible and moderate leader
now that he seems to realize the anger he stirred."
The Chicago Tribune's editorial board seemed even more excited
by the coup than the New York Times'. An April 14 Tribune editorial
called Chavez an "elected strongman" and declared: "It's
not every day that a democracy benefits from the military's intervention
to force out an elected president."
Hoping that Venezuela could now "move on to better things,"
the Tribune expressed relief that Venezuela's president was "safely
out of power and under arrest." No longer would he be free
to pursue his habits of "toasting Fidel Castro, flying to
Baghdad to visit Saddam Hussein, or praising Osama bin Laden."
(FAIR called the Tribune to ask when Chavez had "praised"
bin Laden. Columnist and editorial board member Steve Chapman,
who wrote the editorial, said that in attempting to locate the
reference for FAIR, he discovered that he had "misread"
his source, a Freedom House report. Chapman said that if the Tribune
could find no record of Chavez praising bin Laden, the paper would
run a correction.)
The Tribune stuck unapologetically to its pro-coup line even
after Chavez had been restored to power. Chavez's return may have
come as "good news to Latin American governments that had
condemned his removal as just another military coup," wrote
the Tribune in an April 16 editorial, "but that doesn't mean
it's good news for democracy." The paper seemed to suggest
that the coup would have been no bad thing if not for "the
heavy-handed bungling of [Chavez's] successors."
Long Island's Newsday, another top-circulation paper, greeted
the coup with an April 13 editorial headlined "Chavez's Ouster
Is No Great Loss." Newsday offered a number of reasons why
the coup wasn't so bad, including Chavez's "confrontational
leadership style and left-wing populist rhetoric" and the
fact that he "openly flaunted his ideological differences
with Washington." The most important reason, however, was
Chavez's "incompetence as an executive," specifically,
that he was "mismanaging the nation's vast oil wealth."
After the coup failed, Newsday ran a follow-up editorial (4/16/02)
which came to the remarkable conclusion that "if there is
a winner in all this, it's Latin American democracy, in principle
and practice." The incident, according to Newsday, was "an
affirmation of the democratic process" because the coup gave
"a sobering wake-up call" to Chavez, "who was on
a path to subverting the democratic mandate that had put him in
power three years ago."
The Los Angeles Times waited until the dust had settled (4/17/02)
to run its editorial on "Venezuela's Strange Days."
The paper was dismissive of Chavez's status as an elected leader--
saying "it goes against the grain to put the name Hugo Chavez
and the word 'democracy' in the same sentence"-- but pointed
out that "it's one thing to oppose policies and another to
back a coup." The paper stated that by not adequately opposing
the coup, "the White House failed to stay on the side of
democracy," yet still suggested that in the long run, "Venezuela
will benefit" if the coup teaches Chavez to reach out to
the opposition "rather than continuing to divide the nation
along class lines."
The Washington Post was one of the few major U.S. papers whose
initial reaction was to condemn the coup outright. Though heavily
critical of Chavez, the paper's April 14 editorial led with an
affirmation that "any interruption of democracy in Latin
America is wrong, the more so when it involves the military."
Curiously, however, the Washington Post took pains to insist
that "there's been no suggestion that the United States had
anything to do with this Latin American coup," even though
details from Venezuela were still sketchy at that time. The New
York Times, too, made a point of saying in its April 13 editorial
that Washington's hands were clean, affirming that "rightly,
his removal was a purely Venezuelan affair."
Ironically, news articles in both the Washington Post and
the New York Times have since raised serious questions about whether
the U.S. may in fact have been involved. Neither paper, however,
has returned to the question on its editorial page.
5) Latin America's Dilemma: Otto Reich's Propaganda is Reminiscent
of the Third Reich
by Tom Turnipseed
Counterpunch; April 18, 2002
The Bush administration is engaging in damage control for
their questionable involvement in the failed 2 day coup against
the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez
of Venezuela. Alarmingly, the ominous Otto Reich is emerging as
a key player in the administration's role in the failed coup attempt
to replace Chavez with an oligarchy of business, military and
wealthy elites. Scrambling to distance themselves from the botched
overthrow of the democratically elected Chavez government, the
Bush administration admitted that Mr. Reich called the coup leader,
Mr. Carmona, and asked him not to dissolve the National Assembly
because it would be a "stupid thing to do". The next
day the administration revised their story and said Reich only
asked our ambassador to relay that message to Carmona.
The New York Times noted that the disclosure raised questions
as to whether Mr. Reich and other administration officials were
stage-managing the takeover by Mr. Carmona. Although the Bush
administration admits their desire to replace the Chavez government
because of its opposition to U.S. policies and friendship with
countries like Cuba and Iran, they now insist that they were
not involved in the armed coup. The administration also admits
talking with various Venezuelan officials prior to the coup including
General Lucas Romero Rincon, head of the Venezuelan military,
who met with Pentagon official Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, a former
close associate of the U. S. supported Contra forces in Nicaragua.
Mr. Reich's propensity to pernicious propaganda has once
again emerged from events surrounding the coup. According to
the New York Times, Reich told congressional aides that the administration
had received reports that "foreign paramilitary forces"-suspected
to be Cuban-were involved in the bloody suppression of anti-Chavez
demonstrators, in which at least 14 people were killed in Venezuela.
Reich, a former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and lobbyist with
ties to Mobil Oil in Venezuela, further told the Congressional
staffers that Mr. Chavez had meddled with the historically independent
state oil company, provided haven to Colombian guerillas, and
bailed out Cuba with preferential rates on oil.
Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American obsessed with overthrowing
Fidel Castro's regime and is also a big political supporter of
President Bush's brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who needs
strong support from Cubans in Florida in his re-election bid this
year. Reich, along with fellow Reagan administration cohorts,
Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte, were discredited for their
covert activities and false assertions when the United States
intervened in Central America in the 1980's and '90s, but have
been re-instated in prominent positions in the second Bush administration.
They abhor Latin-American governments that are elected by the
poor and working class people, like the Chavez government in
Venezuela and the deposed Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra
scandal, but has been remarkably rehabilitated and recycled back
into the second Bush administration as head of the "Office
of Democracy and Human Rights". Negroponte was appointed
as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations last September in spite
of being implicated as a friend of Honduran death squad leaders
who committed atrocities against the people of Honduras while
he was the U.S. Ambassador there.
The most recent resurrection of this trio of right-wing renegades
is the appointment of Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State
for Western Hemisphere Affairs. President Bush used the tricky
recess appointment procedure to bypass potential hostile and damaging
questioning by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Senators had some interesting examples of Mr. Reich's malfeasance
to ask him about when he was the director of the State Department's
Office of Public Diplomacy(OPD).
On September 30, 1987 a Republican appointed comptroller general
of the U.S. found that Reich had done things as director of the
OPD that were "prohibited, covert propaganda activities,
"beyond the range of acceptable agency public information
activities...". The same report said Mr. Reich's operation
violated "a restriction on the State Department's annual
appropriations prohibiting the use of federal funds for publicity
or propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress." Reich
used the covert propaganda to demonize the democratically elected
Sandinista government of Nicaragua and establish the Contras
as fearless freedom fighters. The purpose was to make the U.S.
public afraid enough of the Sandinistas to get Congress to fund
the Contras directly. The Boland Amendment was passed by Congress
in 1982 that prohibited U.S. funds from being used to overthrow
the Nicaraguan government. Meanwhile, the Contras were being
illegally armed by the Reagan administration via the Iran-Contra
On the night of Reagan's re-election in 1984, Reich's office
put out the news that "intelligence sources"revealed
that Soviet MIG fighter jets were arriving in Nicaragua and Andrea
Mitchell interrupted election night coverage on NBC to give the
phony report. This resembles the Joseph Goebbel's fabrication
that Polish troops had attacked German soldiers to give the Third
Reich an excuse to launch the Nazi blitzkrieg into Poland to begin
World War II in 1939. Other Reich prevarications given to media
sources included: Nicaragua had been given chemical weapons by
the Soviets, according to the Miami Herald; and leaders of the
Sandinistas were involved in drug trafficking, according to Newsweek
In Latin American countries the United States has a history
of doing business and siding with wealthy oligarchies of business,
professional and military elites who tend to be lighter skinned
people of European descent against the poor and working class
composed mainly of darker skinned, indigenous people and those
of African descent. The second Bush administration appears to
be adhering to this tradition with gusto. With Otto Reich churning
out the hate and fear, it is a safe bet to predict that President
Hugo Chavez of Venezuela will be increasingly presented as the
devil incarnate and his government as evil, anti-American terrorists.
Mr. Reich will dish out the poisonous propaganda to every news
source that covers the Bush administration's Latin American policy.
Joseph Goebbels would be proud.
Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and civil rights activist
in Columbia, South Carolina.
6) Media accused in failed coup Venezuelan news executives
defend themselves against allegations that they suppressed facts
as the ousted president returned.
By DAVID ADAMS and PHIL GUNSON
St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2002
CARACAS, Venezuela -- As Venezuela's coup began to collapse
last weekend, a handful of the country's media barons were summoned
to the presidential palace.
A day after Friday's ouster of President Hugo Chavez, the
self-declared "transitional government" was losing its
grip. The media were its last hope.
What happened next is disputed. Chavez loyalists say coup
leaders, in a desperate bid to hang onto power, persuaded the
media executives to suppress coverage of the unraveling coup.
Several of the executives flatly deny any such agreement.
But this much is certain: On Saturday, as protesters packed
the streets and the presidential palace changed hands for the
second time in two days, Venezuelan TV viewers were left in the
dark. Instead of news, most got cartoons, reruns and Pretty Woman.
The next day, with Chavez safely back in the palace, none
of the country's main Sunday newspapers appeared.
"It was a media coup, a complete blackout," said
journalism professor Antonio Almeida, who teaches at the Central
University of Venezuela. "Instead of informing the public
they covered up the facts."
Amid the many questions stemming from the political turmoil
that has engulfed Venezuela in recent days, the country's news
operations -- television and radio in particular -- have plenty
of answering to do.
The alleged self-censorship has prompted accusations that
some owners allowed their stations to become accomplices of the
coup and may also have actively participated in its design.
After his return to power, Chavez was quick to point his finger
at the press.
"The news media have enormous power, and they should
not act as a laboratory of lies," he said. He added that
their actions during the coup amounted to "psychological
Chavez accused the media of distorting information, magnifying
the strength of the coup and creating confusion in military ranks.
"Some innocently let themselves become involved,"
he said, without naming names. "But there were others who
were not so innocent and were directly involved."
As an example, Chavez said that during the coup TV stations
refused to broadcast interviews with members of his government
to give their side of the story.
Media bosses deny the allegations, saying they played no role
in the coup.
"That's a fantasy," said Gustavo Cisneros, owner
of Venevision, one of the country's top TV stations. Interviewed
in a special report broadcast on his own channel, Cisneros added,
"We haven't conspired, we didn't want to conspire, and we
don't know how to conspire."
The allegations of censorship stem in large part from the
close relationship between the media and a broad coalition of
anti-Chavez forces comprising the country's main business groups
and labor unions.
Like many in the private sector, media owners were deeply
concerned by Chavez's leftist policies, which critics alleged
were undermining the country's democratic institutions.
In recent months media bosses were engaged in a fierce battle
with the Chavez government over press freedom. There was a financial
aspect to their fears as well. The lucrative broadcast media operate
under government licenses that Chavez had threatened to take away.
But Cisneros and others offer a different explanation for
the lack of coverage. They say the alleged news blackout was the
result of threats and intimidation from pro-Chavez demonstrators
who laid siege to various TV stations in the capital.
"There were violent people on the street threatening
our reporters. We had to think of their safety," said Victor
Ferreres, Venevision's president. Protesters also blocked access
to the station headquarters, making it impossible to transmit
Cisneros and Ferreres said Venevision had received a number
of calls from people purporting to be members of the Chavez government.
The station refused to take their calls, arguing that "it
was impossible to verify who they were."
Critics scoffed at such claims, pointing out that one of the
callers was Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello.
The media's Saturday blackout contrasted sharply with the
blanket coverage of events Thursday leading up to the coup. That
included dramatic footage of the repression of a massive antigovernment
march in which at least 15 people, including one photographer,
were killed and hundreds injured.
"That day the stations allowed their reporters to be
heroes, risking their lives," said Almeida, the journalism
professor. "When the tables were turned, the stations decided
they had to protect the lives of their staff and station property."
There was no denying an ugly climate of intimidation Saturday
by Chavez supporters, as well as looting. On the other hand, there
were no reports of journalists being hurt.
Protesters who besieged the offices of one station, RCTV,
smashing some windows, said they were there only to demand that
normal broadcasting be resumed.
"The palace is in our hands, why aren't you showing that?"
Instead, RCTV was showing Walt Disney cartoons. Venevision
ran a daylong marathon of Hollywood movies: Lorenzo's Oil, Nell
and Pretty Woman. Another station, Televen, told its viewers "to
stay indoors," treating them to baseball and soap operas.
Globovision, the country's top 24-hour news station and CNN
affiliate, spent much of the day rebroadcasting upbeat footage
of Chavez's ouster. An announcer repeatedly cautioned viewers,
"We are living in times of political change." Viewers
were urged to be "prudent" and avoid spreading "false
alarms" and "rumors."
Moreover, Globovision president Alberto Ravell reportedly
telephoned CNN offices in Atlanta to request the U.S. network
join the blackout. CNN's Spanish-language station was giving ample
coverage to Saturday's events, making it almost the only source
of news for those with access to cable or satellite.
In a statement, CNN did not confirm or deny the request. Instead,
an official statement acknowledged the affiliation with Globovision,
adding, "We retain editorial control of all material which
airs on the CNN networks."
On Tuesday, in an emotional appearance on his own station,
Ravell asked for forgiveness "from any viewer who feels we
failed them that day."
While also blaming the pro-Chavez demonstrations, he became
the only media executive so far to acknowledge withholding information.
"Sacrificing our credibility . . . and freedom of expression,
we decided not to broadcast images of violence and looting."
Whatever the cause, news coverage was virtually nonexistent
after Saturday's meeting, in which the media executives rolled
up at the palace in shiny SUVs and limousines. They had been summoned
by the interim defense minister, Gen. Hector Ramirez, to meet
with interim President Pedro Carmona.
The group was led by Cisneros, the Venevision owner and one
of the country's wealthiest and most influential figures. The
Cisneros Group, which he heads, also holds a major stake in Spanish-language
broadcasting in the United States.
A frequent visitor to Washington, Cisneros is a friend of
former President George Bush. The two have made several fishing
trips together in Venezuela.
Also present were Ravell of Globovision; Miguel Otero, publisher
of the El Nacional group of newspapers; and Marcel Granier of
In 1998, Cisneros and Otero were major contributors to Chavez's
successful election campaign, helping organize positive media
coverage. Like most in the private sector, they had grown disenchanted
with Chavez in the years since.
According to palace reporters, Carmona and his team were unnerved
by reports that a march of thousands of "Chav-istas"
was headed for the palace. The crackle of gunfire could be heard
from nearby slums overlooking the palace.
A key military base outside the capital had also announced
its opposition to the coup.
Military officers loyal to Chavez were said to be getting
up-to-the-minute information from within the palace, provided
by sympathetic presidential guards.
"We knew exactly what was going on," said Lt. Col.
William Farinas, who helped negotiate Chavez's return to power.
According to Farinas, the palace guards overheard Carmona
telling the media barons: "In your hands lie the safety and
stability of the government."
Ferreres, Venevision's president, denied the media delegation
was pressured to censor its reporting. "We received no instructions
either from the de facto government, nor any government,"
he said. "No one tells us what we can and cannot do."
Privately, however, Venezuelan journalists from several media
outlets say news desks stopped taking their stories. Citing concerns
over job reprisals, they agreed to speak on condition that their
names not be used.
"Unless there is a serious internal investigation of
what went on," said one reporter, "professional journalism
in Venezuela is finished."
-- Times Latin America correspondent David Adams and correspondent
Phil Gunson are reporting from Caracas.
DISSIDENT VOICE NEWS SERVICE APRIL 28, 2002
Dissident Voice Santa Rosa, CA USA (707) 545-6458 email: firstname.lastname@example.org