Workers in Venezuela
foil U.S.-backed coup
BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
Tens of thousands of working people, facing police repression, took to the streets of Caracas April 13 in opposition to the imperialist-backed coup.
Working-class mobilizations foiled a pro-imperialist military coup in Venezuela April 13, restoring the government of Hugo Chávez to power two days after he was jailed. In the face of Washington's immediate backing of the short-lived regime and the support of a wing of the military, tens of thousands of people poured into downtown Caracas from neighborhoods across the city in response to the anti-worker actions of the new regime.
"Caracas became the scene of an extraordinary social conflict with sharp overtones of class struggle," the Los Angeles Times reported April 13 from that city, Venezuela's capital. "Gunshots rang out in the Catia slum, a Chávez bastion, as police tried unsuccessfully to contain the protests. Many poor residents marched and rode motorcycles toward the center of the capital city, angrily calling for Chávez's reinstatement." Press reports indicate some 30 people were killed and hundreds wounded opposing the coup.
"Here there are two Venezuelas," Luis Alfonso Godoy, a retired soldier, told the Los Angeles Times reporter. "Chávez was the first president to speak for the poor."
The article noted: "Two days earlier it is was thousands of mostly middle-class Venezuelans who joined an anti-Chávez rally."
Working people battled to take back the presidential palace, the state-run television station, and military garrisons from the U.S.-backed coup plotters.
"You can't take someone who is democratically elected by the people, and then put in a dictatorship of convenience," said Carlos Duque, a participant in the demonstration. "We want to get back the president of the republic."
Desiree Santos, a Chávez supporter and member of the National Assembly, said she and other officials who had been forced into hiding maintained contact with each other and reached out to supporters, trying to organize protests. As the battle against the coup gained momentum, "we decided, with the people, to then take Miraflores," the presidential palace, she added.
Despite detailed news coverage and photographs of reactionary rallies leading up to the coup, few newspapers reported on the mobilizations that swept the U.S.-backed military regime away. Anywhere from tens of thousands to 200,000 people marched on the presidential palace, according to various sources, as the military divided and officials of the deposed government contradicted the military's assertion that Chávez had resigned.
At a press conference April 12 in Havana, Cuba's foreign minister explained that Venezuela's attorney general had told the press that "no document of president Chávez's resignation has been shown to the public." Similar statements were made by Chávez's wife, who told CNN that he stated that he would resign only before the National Assembly as required by the country's constitution. She called for international solidarity to defend the Chavez government.
That same day Chavez sent a faxed message from the Turiamo naval base where he was held, declaring, "I, Hugo Chávez Frías have not relinquished the power legitimately given to me by the people."
According to news reports, a faction of 10 generals led the April 11 ouster of Chávez and the next day installed an "interim administration" headed by Pedro Carmona, a wealthy oil man and head of the bosses' federation Fedecámaras. On April 12 Carmona "announced his progamme to an audience of business leaders who seemed to have come directly from the country club," the Financial Times reported April 15. He stated that elections for a new president would be held next year.
Excluded from the meeting were officials of the Venezuelan Workers Federation (CTV) who had played a major role in giving protests and "strikes" organized by Fedecámaras the cover of a "popular" opposition to the government.
The new regime revoked 49 laws that were passed by the government over the last year, many of which included limited social measures that benefited Venezuelan toilers. The coup leaders threw out the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, fired the supreme court, and dismissed all state governors and mayors.
The country was renamed the Republic of Venezuela, deleting the "Bolivarian" designation established under Chávez in reference to the 19th Century revolutionary hero of Latin America.
Reflecting the class divisions in the country and racism of the capitalist rulers, one Venezuelan general told the Wall Street Journal that among the new cabinet members, aides, and others gathered to celebrate the swearing-in ceremony, "There were only white people."
The new administration arrested some Chávez government officials and forced others into hiding as police and security forces raided their homes. "I had to hide, my family had to hide," said Chávez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello. "I just kept moving with different people. I slept in the homes of friends, people who supported what we were doing."
Chávez's interior minister, Ramón Chacín, was hauled off to jail and nearly lynched by anti-Chávez mobs. Security forces loyal to Carmona searched homes of members of the Bolivarian Circles, neighborhood groups that were formed by the Chávez government. They were accused by the interim regime of shooting down antigovernment protesters. The coup leaders' repression, including the raids, were broadcast live by television stations sympathetic to the new regime.
With actions such as these the regime signed its own death warrant. The military divided, support from union officials waned, and government officials deserted the "democratic" charade. Some of the generals who participated in the coup began criticizing the new regime.
Gen. Efrain Vasquez, head of the army, said the military "demands respect for the constitution" and would defend Carmona only if he agreed to bring back the National Assembly. The commander of the air base in Maracay announced his decision to side with Chávez supporters. Many of Venezuela's F-16 fighter jets are based there.
In the end, the 3,000 members of the National Honor Guard that protects the presidential palace went into action and forced Carmona to scamper across town to army headquarters at Fort Tiuna.
"The presidential guard remained loyal to Chávez because they saw Carmona and the oligarchs come in here and begin pouring out whisky," said Nicolás Maduro, a pro-Chávez legislator. "The guards hated that."
The mobilization marked the first time that an elected head of state in Latin America had been overthrown by a right-wing military coup and then returned to power by a popular uprising. Referring to opinion polls regularly announced in the capitalist media that showed sharply declining support for Chávez in Venezuela, the Financial Times dryly noted after he was restored to power: "Popular support for the president has proved to be of a kind that limits the value of conventional opinion poll analysis."
Campaign of lies and distortions
From the moment the coup plotters arrested the Venezuelan president the capitalist press has carried out a campaign of lies and distortion. For example, one headline in the April 12 New York Times announcing "Generals Revolt in Venezuela" carried a subheadline reporting "President Is Said to Flee." Two days later the paper reported on a CNN interview with Carmona who claimed "in the next few hours [Chavez] will leave the country in accordance with his wishes."
The privately owned news media in Venezuela refused to cover the protests defending Chávez, although broad coverage was given to the actions demanding his resignation. The president of Venezuela's telecommunications agency, Jesse Chacon, said the TV stations that failed to cover the protests against the coup would be investigated. He condemned them for trying to depict a calm Venezuela after the coup to help the military regime.
Since returning to power, Chávez has offered a conciliatory stance toward the imperialists and his opponents in Venezuela. All the members of the interim regime have been released from custody, although Carmona was placed under house arrest. The government is also holding up to 80 soldiers and officers.
After the coup was put down, some government officials said that it was the military who shot Chávez supporters during the April 11 antigovernment protests, instead of Chávez backers shooting unarmed workers, which was how the story was widely portrayed in the media.
Chávez later told reporters April 15 that he didn't "deny it--it would be false to say that there was no gunfire from our side to theirs" and said firing may have occurred from both sides. Troops were also sent to patrol working-class districts and Chávez announced the board of directors he had appointed to run the state oil company, a move that met stiff opposition from the bosses of the company, had resigned.
The conflict is far from over, however. The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens. The U.S. embassy has offered its staff members and dependents airfare to return home, calling the situation "volatile and unpredictable," indicating Washington's intentions to continue pressing for the overthrow of the Venezuelan government.
Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser for the Bush administration, responded to Chávez's return by saying he "needs to respect constitutional processes," and added that "we do hope that Chávez recognizes that the whole world is watching and that he takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."
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