"We Know What a Coup Looks Like"

by Mahmoud Gudarzi

CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 2002


When, in November 2001, the French publishing house Denoel published Ben Laden, La Verite Interdite, (Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth), the French daily Le Monde predicted "this book will create sensation!" On the contrary, no sensation was created, since no publisher in the United States or any other English speaking country was interested in touching this hot iron. Fortunately, Europe is different. The Swiss publisher Pendo published the book in German under the title Verbotene Wahrheit. The only difference is the subtitle: Entanglement of USA with Osama Bin Laden. Allegedly, The Forbidden Truth will appear in an English edition in July of this year.

For political observers with a little sense of smell, the second Bush administration has had, from its first day in office, the strong odor of oil. The Bush family's association with oil-related industries; George Jr.'s role as founder and executive director of Arbusto Energy Inc. and later Harken Energy Inc., both partly financed by some suspicious Saudi Arabian figures; his insistence on exploring for oil in Alaska, in spite of the negative environmental impact; and the members of his administration-all smell of oil.

Vice President Dick Cheney was, until his settlement in the White House, Chief Executive of the world's largest oil-service company, Halliburton. With such a background, it was hardly strange that his first activity as Vice President was the creation of the Energy Policy Task Force. This was the bridge between government and the energy industry. The result of the cooperation between Washington and power producers and traders is now well known. Cheney's involvement with the Enron corporation and his various meetings with the principals of this best-known player of the power privatization game, has dominated the business pages for months.

Congress finally invited the officials of Enron to a congressional hearing. The hearing became a senseless show, as Enron executives refused to answer any question. By revealing the corrupt policies of Enron, such as creation of a false energy crisis in California, a more thorough investigation became necessary, in spite of White House resistance. Since the repeated requests of congressional investigators remained without response, on May 24, 2002, Senator Joseph Lieberman (Dem.Conn.), chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, subpoenaed the White House for an array of Enron-related documents. That evening, the committee received a bunch of papers. Senator Lieberman said, "in many cases, they've left out details the committee asked for, such as who attended meetings or took part in communications and when all of the communications occurred." Points of interest revealed by the documents include:

Portions of the chronology document the deep ties between the Bush administration and Enron, including three phone conversations between former Enron chairman Kenneth L. Lay and Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove. Enron's top executives were some of Bush's earliest and most generous supporters, and pursued a broad agenda with the administration that ended only after its huge losses and accounting irregularities became public. Robeff McNally a special assistant to Bush on energy policy met with Enron representatives several times and received at least one e-mail from Enron's Chief Washington lobbyist. Enron officials briefed members of Cheney's energy task force about a liquefied natural gas project in Venezuela. The chronology does not say why the company felt it necessary to inform the White House about the project.

Let us return to Forbidden Truth: Many names in this administration are worth mentioning that will highlight the Bush people's oil connection, but let it suffice to point out the star of Bush's cabinet, Ms. Condoleezza Rice. The mainstream media of the country present Bush & National Security Adviser as a Russian specialist with credentials from Stanford. But the media gloss over other known facts. For instance, the media seldom mention that Ms. Rice, from 1991 to 2000, served on the Board of Directors of the Chevron Group, one of the world's largest oil conglomerates. She was, before everything, responsible for the areas of Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

The question is, how do Rice's current activities differ from her past efforts on the Board of Directors of Chevron? And this question is naturally not restricted to her, since in the case of other Bush administration members, it appears that only their office address has changed. Again Brissard and Dasquie: "The men and women who settled on January 26, 2001 in the White House were not as isolationist as one could assume, since their international relations easily smell of oil."

Bush's close connection with energy markets, and the undeniable involvement of Dick Cheney in the Enron scandal are the inescapable background to the sudden upheaval in Venezuela which resulted in the incarceration of President Hugo Chavez. This country on the northern rim of South America within a short distance from the U.S. shores, is fourth in international oil production, with a daily export of approximately two million barrels to the United States.


For me, and I believe for many politically aware people around the world, those headlines of the U.S. press, gleefully reporting the forced resignation of the Venezuelan President by a military coup, awakened a past nightmare. That nightmare was the overthrow of the popular and democratically elected government of Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq by a coup, organized by the CIA 50 years ago in August 1953. By closely reading the reports of different phases of the Venezuelan event, one finds many similarities with what happened in Iran half a century ago.

The Wall Street Journal's man in Caracas, Marc Lifsher, reported on April 12, under the headline "Venezuelan Crisis Deepens, Cutting Oil Flow and Threatening Chavez." The first two paragraphs reported "a prolonged national strike and violent demonstrations...choking off...oil exports to U.S...." the rumors that "President Hugo Chavez had agreed to leave the country" and a clash between the demonstrators and supporters of the President. The clues and motifs of the event are given in the next paragraph:

The demonstrations and a crippling strike across this nation of 24 million threaten to loosen Mr. Chavez's grip on power. The protests are the fruit of an unusual alliance between big business and labor, led by a burly 56-year old former refinery cleaner named Carlos Ortega.... The actions have bottled up oil output, jolted global oil markets and stunned a government that Washington considers a political pariah. U.S. officials dislike the Venezuelan ruler for his national oil policy.


Chavez's national oil policy is the same crime for which Dr. Mossadeq was punished with the first covert action of the CIA. Let's not forget that the CIA success in Iran became a model later used in Guatemala, Ghana, Congo, Chile and many other places in the world. Marc Lifsher described Chavez's policy as follows:

Mr. Chavez's prickly nationalism has made him a big irritant for Washington and a bit of a wild card on the global oil scene. He has increased royalties charged to foreign oil investors and shifted Venezuelan's traditional high-production, low-price oil policy by aligning with OPEC in an effort to push prices higher. Apart from that, there's evidence that Mr. Chavez has consorted with Marxist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia, where the U.S. is backing the government in a $1.3 billion assistance program. Mr. Chavez has also maintained warm relations with a host of leaders whom the U.S. considers pariahs, including Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi.

In the 1950s, except for the Soviet Union, not many "pariahs" existed. In his book Countercoup, Mr. Kermit Roosevelt, "field commander" of the coup, asserted that, at the time of the CIA coup in Iran, Dr. Mossadeq "had formed an alliance of his own with the Soviet Union to achieve the result he wanted." This was not true.

A clearer picture of Dr. Mossadeq can be found in the carefully documented book The Eagle and the Lion:

... Mossadeq was no more stubborn than the British... Besides his personal convictions in these matters, Mossadeq's unyielding position was essential within the context of the social forces then at work in Iran. The communist left, the growing nationalist middle, and the xenophobic religious right exerted continual fierce pressure.... In a secret meeting of the Majlis [Iranian parliament] Oil Commission in 1951, he argued that in order to defeat communism, reforms were necessary. In order to implement reforms, money was essential. In order to obtain money nationalization was vital...

Based upon those facts, the previous administration of Truman/Acheson hesitated to interfere in the controversies between Iran and the U.K. For the Republican administration of Eisenhower/Dulles, with their so-called concern about communism, the logical reasoning of Mossadeq did not have any validity. Consequently, his oil policy, focused on the nationalization of Iranian oil, sufficed to make him accused of being a communist who consorted with the Soviet Union. Fifty years ago, Iranian oil was very important for the United States-important enough to make it ready to overthrow a democratic government. When we understand that most Venezuelan oil is consumed by the U.S., and some Texas refineries are actually dependent upon this source, the current U.S. position toward Venezuela becomes similarly clear.

The importance of Venezuelan oil for the U.S. was reported by the Wall Street Journals man in Caracas:

Venezuela...has long been a strategic source of crude oil of the U.S. and is only a few days tanker run to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. Petroleos De Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) wholly owns Citgo, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company that operates a number of refineries and 14,000 service stations.... Venezuela regularly ranks among the top four foreign sources of U.S. oil and usually shipped to the U.S. about 1.7 million barrels a day of crude oil and refined products like gasoline. Many of the U.S. refineries are specially engineered to handle heavy Venezuelan crude and could find themselves facing shortage in the coming weeks if Venezuela doesn't resume full production and exportation.

The reaction of the administration in Washington and the corporate media to the Venezuelan event was practically identical. Here, the Washington Post can serve as a sample of the American press. On April 13, 2002, the paper had three reports and one editorial about Venezuela. The report of Scott Wilson from Caracas under the headline "Leader of Venezuela Is Forced To Resign" informed the readers in the first two paragraphs:

...President Hugo Chavez, the former paratrooper whose leftist politics roiled this oil-rich country for three years, resigned this moming hours after military leaders seized control of the country. His resignation followed anti-government protests that left more than a dozen people dead.... An interim government headed by Pedro Carmona, leader of the country's largest business group, was sworn in at the presidential palace this afternoon in a ceremony attended by a cross section of Venezuela's civil society Backed by the country's top generals, who will join him on the governing junta, Carmona declared Chavez's two-year-old constitution invalid, dissolved the Chavez-controlled legislature and Supreme Court, and pledged to hold new presidential and legislative elections within a year.


The second report of Scott Wilson was titled "Chavez's Gloomy Legacy for The Left." Wilson presents Chavez as a man "...superimposed between the guerrilla heroes of old-the face of a new generation of leftist Latin American leaders ready to antagonize the United States," with a bleak legacy for the radical left of Latin America, "...now pushing against the prevailing political current of free trade, capitalism and a general nod to U.S. interest." Two citations in that analysis which sound like music to Washington's ears are very revealing. The first is from an official of the state oil company who said "Cuba would not get one more drop of Venezuelan oil," and the second is from Anibal Romero, professor of political science at Simon Bolivar University. Professor Romero, like Francis Fukuyama or Dinesh D'Souza, is the sort of ideologue much in demand at Washington think-tanks. His lecture about the Venezuelan event:

The lesson here is that charismatic demagogues can still win elections in poor countries. The economic and social instability is still with us. The field is still open to the successful appearance of these figures that, by distorting reality and securing the hearts and minds of the uneducated, win election....Chavez showed what was wrong with a U.S. policy that endorses democratic government regardless of how it is carried out. Democracies operate differently in each country and should be treated differently as a result. It is a great improvement that the U.S. is committed to democracy and the rule of law in Latin America, and it's a big change from the past. But this is not a policy that should be implemented indiscriminately Legality is one thing, legitimacy is another.

The White House was apparently familiar with the opinion of Professor Romero, as becomes clear from the statement of Scott Wilson:

The emerging response to Chavez's forced resignation, which he tendered to three generals this moming, highlights how fragile democracy is in an Andean region that has had three presidents ousted by coup or popular protest in the last three years. U.S. officials declined today to call Chavez's removal a coup, even as the leaders from 19 Latin American nations condemned 'the constitutional interruption in Venezuela.


According to Wilson's first report, some members of the opposition contacted the U.S. Embassy in Caracas in the weeks before the event. They were seeking U.S. support for toppling Chavez. One U.S. official confirmed the contact: "The opposition has been coming in with an assortment of... what if this happened? What if that happened? What if you held it up and looked at it sideways? To every scenario we say no. We know what a coup looks like, and we won't support it."

The third article, by Peter Slevin and Karen DeYoung, has one purpose: washing the administration's hands. This is reflected in the headline: "Chavez Provoked His Removal, U.S. Officials Say," which repeats what Ari Fleisher said the previous day: The Bush administration yesterday blamed former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez for the events that led to his forced resignation and arrest, calling his toppling by the nation's military a "change of government" rather than a coup. Officials said Chavez's departure was the will of Venezuela's people. Wonderful how the will of Venezuela's people so closely parallels the designs of the Bush administration.

Chavez lost his job '...as a result of the message of the Venezuelan people,' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer... [He] said the Chavez government tried to suppress peaceful demonstrations, ordered its supporters to fire on unarmed protesters and blocked media broadcasts of the events.

In addition to such reporting and analysis, the Washington Post felt it necessary to clarify the paper's position in the case of the Venezuelan change of government. The Post published an editorial that tries to demonstrate the paper's patriotism without compromising its so-called liberal face. The opening paragraph is a masterwork of hypocrisy.

Any interruption of democracy in Latin America is wrong, the more so when it involves the military. The region's history of military coups is too long and tragic, and the consolidation of democracy too recent, for any unconstitutional takeover to be condoned.

This is a beautiful opening for an editorial. Unfortunately, its validity is not always guaranteed, and under some circumstances there is legitimate reason to ignore the consolidation of democracy. The editorial presented the difference between legality and legitimacy in the following sentence:

But first facts from Venezuela suggest that the violation of democracy that led to ouster of President Hugo Chavez Thursday night was initiated not by the army but by Mr. Chavez himself. Confronted by tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators protesting his increasingly destructive policies, Mr. Chavez forced television stations off the air and allegedly ordered snipers and other armed loyalists at the presidential palace to open fire. More than a dozen people were killed and scores wounded. It was only then the military commanders demanded the president resignation; they would not, they said, tolerate his attempt to stop his opposition with bullets.

The editorial admits that "There is no question that democracy brought Mr. Chavez to power three years ago." But it tries to rationalize his removal by military means by proclaiming:

Along the way Mr. Chavez seriously compromised the integrity of democratic institutions such as Congress and the Courts And unfortunately for the poor, who make up 80 percent of the population of an oil-rich country, Mr. Chavez was a terrible leader. l 8

The jubilant atmosphere in Washington and the corporate media was short-lived. The next day's headlines were unexpectedly sober. Many dailies in the U.S. followed the Post's lead and joined in the White House jubilation by repeating Ari Fleischer's daily statements. On April 16, the New York Times, at least, confessed the error of its editorial of April 14.

Scott Wilson of the Washington Post gave a precise picture of the event. In his previous report, he called "...the media, labor unions and the Catholic Church..." enemies of the Chavez government. In the subsequent report, he informed the readers that in the Fall, two officers, Pedro Soto and Carlos Molina from Air Force and Marines respectively, began to organize a group of officers for a plot to topple Chavez. The plot was discovered and the two officers were forced out of service. But their idea was supported by two high-ranking officers, General Rafael D. Bustillos of the army, and Vice Admiral Hector Ramirez of the navy. After the coup, Hector Ramirez became defense minister, and Rafael Bustillos became interior and justice minister in the interim government of Pedro Carmona. Scott Wilson found out later that Soto and Molina received $100,000 each from a Miami Bank. The New York Times, under the title "Bush Officials Met With Venezuelan Who Ousted Leader" quoted a Pentagon spokesperson saying that U.S. military officials were not discouraging coup plotters, and were sending informal signals that they don't like Chavez.


According to the official story of the interim government, on Thursday, April 11th, about 3:00 p.m., demonstrators opposing Chavez arrived at the presidential palace. Chavez, concerned about the loyalty of some high-ranking military officers, called directly the commander of 3rd division in Caracas, asking for 30 tanks to defend the palace, Miraflores. As Chief of the Armed Forces Lucas Rincon received the order, he stopped it and sent only seven tanks. About one hour later, Hector Ramirez, as the new minister of defense, accompanied by a group of officers, appeared on television, denounced Chavez as dictator and demanded his resignation. On Friday, April 12th, the military named Pedro Carmona interim President, claiming that Chavez had resigned. Carmona immediately dissolved the Congress and Supreme Court. The United States, unsurprisingly, endorsed the interim government. Latin American leaders refused to support the coup. As the coup was stimulating harsh international criticism, the supporters of Chavez took to the streets surrounding the presidential palace demanding his return to office. The insistence of Chavez supporters day and night around the palace forced some part of the military to reconsider their position. A series of rebellions among army units warned the Carmona clique and cooperating officers.

Mark Lifsher's report in the Wall Street Journal, cynically titled "In Under 48 Hours, Venezuelans Have Enough of a Coup," describes the events as follows:

When a group of military men and the head of Venezuela's main business association ousted leftist President Hugo Chavez last week, the coup-plotters denounced the former paratrooper as a dictator....But once in power the plotters revealed that they too were undemocratic-and lacking in Mr. Chavez's flair with Venezuela's aggrieved working class. The brief government, headed by business leader Pedro Carmona, immediately issued a decree shutting down the Congress, suspending the Supreme Court and authorizing the firing of elected officials, including state governors and mayors.

Both the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal interviewed Anibal Romero, professor of political science. After Chavez returned to power, the professor said he has been . . . immensely strengthened both domestically and internationally he is a martyr who's come back from the grave. This is not simply a setback but is a tragedy and it's going to take the opposition a long time and enormous effort to rebuild.


The fact is that the 16th parliament of Iran generally supported the view of Mossadeq. But the election for the 17th parliament was a great risk, since all his opponents such as the Shah, the military and the clerics (including Ayatollah Khomeini) were mobilized to destroy his legislative support. The loyalty of high-ranking officers of all branches of the military to the Imperial Court, and their broad influence over regional governments was a well-known fact. To encounter such sabotage, Dr. Mossadeq did not have any other choice than to break this cycle. In this light, Amir Arjomand analyzes the situation at that time:

Furthermore, Mossadeq also sought to restrict the neo-patrimonial powers of the Shah and to reduce him to a constitutional monarch and a ceremonial figurehead. To achieve this constitutional goal, he forced a showdown with the Shah in July 1 952.

As the Shah refused the Prime Minister's demand, Mossadeq resigned. For this the British and the Shah had waited a long time. The Shah immediately nominated Ahmad Ghavam as prime minister. This was clearly against the existing Iranian Constitution at that time, and was demonstrably a coup d'etat. Much as it happened in Venezuela in April 2002, mass demonstrations in Tehran and other major cities, forced the Shah to dismiss Ghavam and invite Dr. Mossadeq back. This spontaneous demonstration of the people was a real countercoup.


In spite of condemnation by 19 Latin American leaders, the White House stuck to its position. The day Chavez reclaimed the presidency, the White House released the following statement:

The people of Venezuela have sent a clear message to President Chavez that they want both democracy and reform. The Chavez administration has an opportunity to respond to this message by correcting its course of governing in a fully democratic manner.

Although Chavez's first speeches were conciliatory, the relationship between the two countries has been damaged. On the first day of his return to power, Chavez made the following appeal: "Organize yourselves, members of the opposition! Engage in politics that is fair, just and legal!" Three weeks later, on May 3, Chavez gave an interview primarily focused on future relations between the two countries. He discussed not only the role of the U.S. in the coup, but also the existence of a plan to assassinate him. The indirect message in this interview was to Washington, where political assassination has been outlawed for thirty years.

The evidence includes information collected from a coastal radar installation that tracked a foreign military ship and aircraft operating in and over Venezuelan waters a day after his ouster. The ship, helicopter and plane-identified by their transponder codes as military-disappeared from the radar the moming he returned from his imprisonment on the island of La Orchila, he said....ln addition, Chavez said, an American was involved in what he characterized as an assassination plot against him uncovered in Costa Rica four months ago. He said the details of the plan revealed at the time essentially predicted what transpired on April 11, when a protest march on the presidential palace turned violent and led to his arrest by senior military officers.

The revelation of the alleged assassination plan occurred as Chavez and his family were vacationing in January 2002. Chavez received a phone call from his foreign minister, urging him to return to Caracas. On his arrival, discovery of the plot was disclosed. The unexpected breakdown of interim government was very puzzling. But, having knowledge of such a plan; observing the mutiny of some officers; and knowing about the contact of the opposition members with U.S. officials, in Caracas as well as in Washington; the Chavez administration was fully aware of the threat of a coup, and prepared a thorough defense.

On May 13th the Guardian corroborated this by publishing an investigative report. The Guardian had reported one month earlier that a former U.S. intelligence officer claimed that the overthrow of Chavez has been considered by the U.S. for nearly a year. The report did not find any echo, although it revealed that the Chavez administration received an advance warning of a coup attempt from the Venezuelan Ali Rodriguez, the secretary general of OPEC. This advance warning, first reported on the BBC program "Newsnight" allowed the Chavez administration to counter the coup by an extraordinary plan.

Mr. Rodriguez, a former leftwing guerrilla, telephoned Mr. Chavez from the Vienna headquarters of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries...several days before the attempted overthrow in April. He said OPEC had learned that... Libya and Iraq, planned to call for a new oil embargo against the United States because of its support for Israel.

The sudden collapse of the coup was for a time a mystery. According to Chavez insiders, several hundred Chavista troops were already hidden in the basement of the presidential palace. At the time of coup, Mr. Juan Barreto, a Chavista member of the National Assembly was trapped along with Chavez in Miraflores. Mr. Barreto said that Jose Baduel, chief of the paratroop division loyal to Mr. Chavez, had waited until Mr. Carmona was inside Miraflores. Mr. Baduel then phoned Mr. Carmona to tell him that, with troops virtually under his chair, he was as much a hostage as Mr. Chavez. He gave Mr. Carmona 24 hours to return Mr. Chavez alive. Escape from Miraflores was impossible for Mr. Carmona. The building was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pro-Chavez demonstrators who, alerted by a sympathetic foreign affairs minister, had marched on it from the Ranchos, the poorest barrios.


According to an interview with President Chavez on BBC's "Newsnight," his administration has

... written proof of the time of the entries and exits of two U.S. military officers into the headquarters of the coup plotters-their names, whom they met with, what they said-proof on video and on still photographs.

Here lies the key difference between the first American coup in August 1953, in Iran, and the last in April 2002, in Venezuela. Apparently, based upon early warning, the Chavez administration had a precise plan, not only to counter the coup, but also to document it.

Dr. Mossadeq also had such information, and somehow was prepared to counter the coup and ordered the arrest of a senior coup plotter. But he did not believe that the plot would continue after that arrest. One American researcher in the field of U.S. policy toward Iran gives the following picture of the first phase of the coup:

Well, the coup was supposed to take place on the night of August 15-16. The main plan was that selected military units would take certain actions and in particular certain officers would go and arrest Mossadeq, and so they did. But the Prime Minister had learned about this, apparently through Tudeh party informants in the U.S. Embassy who had passed the word to their party and the Tudeh passed it on to Mossadeq. This is apparently how it happened, although this is not certain. Anyway Mossadeq somehow knew; he was expecting visitors and he knew that they were coming to arrest him. So when the officer arrived, he had him arrested, and then a number of other things didn't work out very well. There were military units that were supposed to occupy certain locations in Tehran, but officers got cold feet. So the initial coup plan which was scheduled to occur on the night of August 15-16 quickly fell apart 26

Although at that time, Mossadeq could have unmasked the coup plotters, and used his enormous popularity to mobilize people against them and enhance his national movement, he didn't do anything. The reasons for Mossadeq's inconsistency are both personal and historical.

Like many politicians of the l9th century (this year marks the 120th anniversary of his birth), Mossadeq viewed politics as an inescapably moral enterprise. He was one of the rare Iranian politicians who opposed Reza Khan, founder of Pahlavi dynasty and father of Mohammad Reza Shah, who was key to the plot against him. During the reign of Reza Shah, Mossadeq was for many years under house arrest until the occupation of Iran during World War II by the allied forces and the subsequent expulsion of Reza Shah from Iran.

On September 17, 1941, Mohammad Reza Shah's inauguration began with his oath before parliament to be faithful to and supportive of the Iranian constitution. Mossadeq was now freed, and soon elected to parliament. He once told the young Shah that he had sworn to be faithful to the Iranian monarchy. For him it was immoral to break this oath, although the Shah was breaking his oath to be faithful to the constitution.

Mossadeq took a positive view of the United States. (Even Ho Chi Minh believed the Truman administration might help free his nation from the yoke of French colonialism.) In contrast to European countries like England, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal, in Mossadeq's view the United States never had any colony. For Dr. Mossadeq's hope of ending the dominance of England and nationalizing Iranian oil, the U.S. appeared to be a helpful ally. Because of this viewpoint and despite copious evidence, Mossadeq did not want to believe that the U.S. would assist in a coup in favor of British oil interests. In the end, the fact is that Mossadeq's passivity resulted in the continuation of the coup in its second phase by CIA man Kermit Roosevelt, as described by James A. Bill:

The first act of Operation Ajax failed when Mossadeq got word that he was to be ousted. Colonel Nimatullah Nassiri, the officer who tried to serve him with political eviction orders signed by the shah, was arrested on the spot, and the shah made a hasty flight out of the country on August 16, 1953. Rather than cancel the operation at this point, Roosevelt took it upon himself to move forward with plans to call into the street his paid mobs from south Tehran along with the royalist military officers led by Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi... After much confusion and street fighting, the royalists won the day and on August 19, Muhammad Mossadeq was forced to flee his residence and was arrested soon thereafter. On August 22, the shah flew back to Iran in triumph.

To justify the second phase of the initial coup, which crumbled, Mr. Roosevelt coined the name "Countercoup" for its followup. Unfortunately, James A. Bill and others have followed his lead.

According to the pre-coup Iranian constitution in place in l953, the prime minister could resign, or his government might fall upon a no-confidence vote of parliament. In either case, parliament alone had the right to nominate his successor. The Shah would then invite the nominee to appoint the next government. This was a pro forma role for the Shah. He did not have the power to veto the nomination of parliament. In the first phase of the coup, the officer who was designated to arrest Mossadeq carried a decree with him signed by the Shah, dismissing Dr. Mossadeq as prime minister, and appointing Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi-who was on the payroll of the CIA. This act by the Shah was an outright violation of the constitution, and a real coup d'etat. Hence the arrest of the officer sent to arrest Dr. Mossadeq, was a real countercoup. Referring to Kermit Roosevelt's overthrow of Mossadeq as a "countercoup" is nothing but a public relations fraud.

The resistance of Hugo Chavez's administration and the Venezuelan people can be legitimately called a countercoup. Organizing a coup today is not as easy as it was in 1953 Iran, where most participants were paid only thirty cents for their destructive role. Kermit Roosevelt professed amusement that he had a million dollar budget to overthrow Mossadeq but spent only $100,000. The reaction of most Latin American leaders showed respect for democratic principles and national rights. Some of today's leaders of the hemisphere were former partisans of democracy who are now practicing it. As an example, it is interesting to note that the man who gave warning of the Venezuelan coup, Mr. Ali Rodriguez, secretary general of OPEC, was a former active guerrilla. The political sharpness of such people cannot be compared to the sincere belief of a 19th century social democrat like the late Dr. Mossadeq. In spite of all that, one should not take the victory of the Chavez administration as a fully guaranteed matter. As mentioned before, the first attempt against Mossadeq, a joint project of the Shah and the British in June 1952 was defeated by the people on the streets of Tehran and put Mossadeq back in power within 48 hours. But he was not immune against the subsequent attempt, in August 1953, which unfortunately succeeded. There are still many Pinochets in Latin America who would not mind going through one or more blood baths to serve their master. The recent demonstrations by black shirt wearers in Caracas on May 11 and 23, very similar to fabricated demonstrations in Mossadeq's time should alert the Chavez administration.

The warning should not be treated as a prediction of gloom and doom, but an appeal for alertness. The Venezuelan people can and must utilize the historical experience of the millions of victims of other CIA coups around the world. Planners of a coup do not easily renounce their plans. They postpone their work only to find other ways to pursue the initial plan. They do not hesitate to use all possible avenues to reach their goal. Let us refresh our memory by a fast review of the different episodes of the British against Mossadeq.

The British knew Mossadeq very well, as a law-abiding democrat. They first took the case of nationalization of Iranian oil to the Security Council of the UN. The Council supported Mossadeq's argument that the case was between Iran and a private company and not between two nations or governments. Britain next went to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Mossadeq argued Iran's case. On July 22, 1952, the majority of the Court acknowledged Iran's rights to nationalize its own resources as a sovereign nation. Even the British judge ruled in Iran's favor. As the British judicial arguments were exhausted, the tactics shifted to more political intrigues for overt actions inside Iran, and diplomatic initiatives to win American support for covert actions. The British were encouraged by Mossadeq's opponents-the Shah, the military and the clerics were ready for cooperation. In this instance:

[T]he British indicated openly and frequently that no negotiations were possible with him, and that they would prefer to do business with his successor. Mossadeq's only hope was to maintain the momentum of nationalist movement, with its built-in anti-British stance, in order to minimize his government against orchestrated parliamentary machination and other activities sponsored by the British and the Court.

History tells us that Dr. Mossadeq was not alert enough. Today, when Mr. Pedro Carmona openly boasts of backing from the United States, and eventual future attempts, it is clearly still high noon for President Chavez and his administration.

Coups do not occur in a vacuum, so the CIA has typically relied on black propaganda as a preparatory measure in every coup since l953. Disinformation, planted through news agencies or hired journalists is a very effective and important way to create the necessary social tension. Typical of such propaganda is the Washington Post characterization of Chavez's presidency as "unfortunate for the poor who make up 80 percent of the population of an oil-rich country." Chavez's response to such charges was printed in Le Monde Diplomatique, but never showed up in the Washington Post:

We have lowered unemployment... created 450,000 new jobs... Venezuela moved up four places on the Human Development Index. The number of children in school has risen 25 percent. More than 1.5 million children who didn't go to school are now in school, and receive clothing, breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. We have carried out massive immunization campaigns in the marginalized sector of population. Infant mortality has declined. We are building more than 135,000 housing units for poor families. We are distributing land to landless campesinos. We have created a Women's Bank that provides micro-credit loans. In the year 2001, Venezuela was one of the countries with the highest growth rates on the continent, nearly 3 percent... We are delivering the country from prostration and backwardness.

Such a balance of achievements rarely finds the smallest reflection in the main stream media of the United States. But Mr. Stephen Johnson from the Heritage Foundation has the opportunity, as "Policy Analyst for Latin America," to use the opinion page of Wall Street Journal to criticize President Chavez:

In October 2000, Mr. Chavez signed an agreement with Fidel Castro to provide Cuba with a sizable chunk of its oil needs in exchange for welcoming Cuban experts to train Venezuelan teachers and help develop new school curricula. In March 2001, some 10,000 parents and teachers gathered in various cities across the nation to protest what they perceived as an effort to indoctrinate their children.

The history of U.S. covert operations in the Third World shows clearly that such operations are seldom planned as one-shot deals. Coups are generally the last resort in a series of multifaceted covert operations, implemented only when all other methods have failed. Once the advantage of surprise is lost, coup planners must resort to other clever tricks as they mount their second, third or fourth attempts. One such trick is a smokescreen of saturation media coverage on a simultaneous overt operation in another part of the world. Once international attention is focused elsewhere, a blitzkrieg is unleashed. As long as the U.S. continues to rely on covert operations to achieve its goals, eternal vigilance is essential to preserving democratic gains anywhere around the world.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mahmoud Gudarzi was born in Tehran, Iran in 1932 He studied in West Germany and the U.S., taking degrees in Journalism and Education. In 50 years of journalism, he has published over 1,000 articles on Iran and problems of the Middle East He writes regularly for the weekly Shahrvand (Toronto and Dallas).

South America watch

Index of Website

Home Page