Venezuela: Another US coup plot exposed

By Marcus Pabian

On September 17, former Venezuelan vice-president Jose Vicente reported to the country’s National Assembly that the US government was at the centre of a foiled coup plot planned for October 15 to violently overthrow the elected government of President Hugo Chavez that is leading a socialist revolution in Venezuela. The coup would have come just weeks before state elections on November 23.

US aggression has escalated against Venezuela ever since the Chavez government moved to take control of the country’s oil industry in 2001 and use its revenues to fund programs to meet the needs of Venezuela’s poor majority, rather than enriching the Venezuelan capitalist oligarchy and the US oil corporations as the industry had done since oil was first pumped in the 1920s. A US-backed military-business coup against Chavez in April 2002 failed when a worker-soldier revolution defeated it in less than 48 hours. Despite Chavez continuing to secure victories in national elections, such as winning the 2006 presidential election with over 62% of the vote, Washington has poured more resources into efforts to overthrow Chavez.

The US imperialist rulers rightly fear that the millions of people rebelling against US corporate domination across Latin America may take the Venezuelan path of socialist revolution. Both US presidential candidates — Barack Obama and John McCain — have declared Chavez a “threat” to US “national interests”. And both have supported President George Bush’s July 1 reactivation of the Florida-based US Fourth Fleet, disbanded in 1950. In a countermove, Chavez called for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect Venezuela from the US. As part of this strategic alliance, a Russian naval squadron, led by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Peter the Great is heading to Venezuela for joint naval exercises in November.

Vincente’s report was prompted by the September 10 broadcast on the national television program La Hojilla (The Razorblade) of tape recordings in which retired military personnel discuss detailed plans for a coup against Chavez. La Hojilla is hosted by Mario Silva, Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate for governor of the state of Carabobo in the November elections. The recordings include the coup plotters discussing assassinating Chavez by bombing his plane in mid-air as part of a coordinated takeover of government offices and TV installations.

On the same day, left-wing Bolivian President Evo Morales expelled US ambassador Philip Goldberg for plotting with Bolivia’s business elite and former military officers to destabilise the country’s economy to create the political conditions for a coup. This coup plot followed an August 10 referendum to recall Morales, a strong supporter of Venezuela’s revolution, being defeated with 67.4% of voters supporting Morales. The following day, on September 11, Chavez expelled the US ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy, in solidarity with Bolivia. “Shithead Yanquis, go to hell!” Chavez thundered at a September 11 campaign rally in Carabobo state.

Vincente’s investigation into the latest anti-Chavez coup plot charged that Washington was using Colombia as a base to orchestrate the coup, pointing to the $5.5 billion in mostly military aid the US has given Colombia since 2000; the sanctuary Colombia has given to Pedro Carmona, who headed the short-lived US-backed coup regime in April 2002; and the role of Juan Manuel, Colombian defence minister, in helping Pedro Carmona train military officers at Colombia’s military intelligence school.

Media twist: Venezuela the aggressor

Since the US-backed coup in 2002 the Venezuelan revolution has sought the means to defend itself against further US aggression. But, despite its “free trade” doctrine, the US decided to ban arms sales to Venezuela in May 2006, following an assessment two months earlier by John Hillen, an assistant US secretary of state, that Washington was “pretty concerned” that Chavez was “retooling and rebuilding and rearming his military with the avowed purpose of building a military that can fight against the United States”, i.e., defend itself against the US.

Venezuela’s revolutionary government has turned to Russia for weaponry to defend itself, but any such move is twisted in the corporate media to make Venezuela appear the aggressor. The planned November joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises are portrayed by the corporate media as Venezuela stoking a new “cold war”. Thus, the September 22 London Financial Times ran an article blaming Venezuela for stirring the US into a “cold war”, because of its alliance with Russia, yet the article makes no mention of any US acts of aggression against Venezuela, including the reactivation of the US Fourth Fleet.

The following day, an article in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper reported that Chavez’s warning to the US that “Russia is with us … we are strategic allies” was a reminder of the “new cold war”. But the article did not explain that since the US government supported the 2002 coup that briefly overthrew Chavez such naval exercises are quite justifiable, especially following the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, whom Australian liberals assume not to be part of the corporate media, ran a story on its September 23 World Today radio program which described the planned Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises as “infuriating” the US, and giving Chavez “a propaganda boost” in “his long-running war of words with Washington”. But again, like the rest of the corporate media, the ABC omitted mention of any acts of US aggression toward Venezuela from its report, such as the well-documented US funding of opposition groups that supported the failed 2002 coup.

The corporate media campaign to discredit the Chavez government as a warmongering human-rights abuser with links to terrorism is essential for the success of US coup plans as it presents the Venezuelan socialist revolution as a threat to the livelihoods of ordinary US and Venezuelan citizens, providing a cover for the real aim of such a coup — reimposing US corporate domination of Venezuela and Latin America.

Human Rights Watch con

On September 18, the New York-based Human Rights Watch organisation released a 230-page report A decade under Chavez: political intolerance and lost opportunity for advancing human rights in Venezuela. The report is full of distortion, a hatchet job aimed at discrediting the revolution, that can only aid US coup plans. Understandably, the Chavez government expelled HRW Americas director Jose Miguel Vivanco and his deputy, Daniel Wilkinson, the day they presented their report to the media in Caracas.

The report completely omits any overview of the enormous gains in basic human rights the revolution has brought millions of Venezuelans such as the free provision of health care, expanded and free education from pre-school through university, the thousands of subsidised food markets increasing nutritional levels, tens of thousands of new houses built for the poor to replace shanty housing, universal access to clean drinking water — all of which have raised poor people out of the squalor they had been subjected to under Venezuela’s capitalist governments. Nor does the report acknowledge the 54% drop in the number of households living in extreme poverty since Chavez was elected in 1998, or that overall poverty has fallen by 34% in that time.

The report attempts to present Chavez as a human rights abuser who is against unions, civil liberties and a critical media. It claims that Chavez takes an “aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates and civil society organizations”, despite the fact that the Chavez government has promoted the development of over 18,000 communal councils, which are funded by the government yet small enough to be controlled by local communities and are the most direct form of day-to-day civilian democracy in Venezuelan history.

The report claims that one of the most “brazen labour rights violations” was the firing of over 18,000 striking oil “workers” in 2003. Yet the report acknowledges that the “strike” was not over any labour claims or rights but over control of the state oil company PDVSA. In fact it was a “strike” initiated by top managers of PDVSA and leaders of the opposition who were attempting to create an economic catastrophe they could exploit to overthrow Chavez.

In contrast to the report’s claim that the Chavez government “has sought to remake the country’s labor movement in ways that violate basic principles of freedom of association”, the government has backed critical labour struggles. For example, in April this year the Chavez government nationalised the huge steel company Sidor in response to the demands of the workers as well as giving them the right to elect the vice-president of the company.

The HRW report claims that the “Venezuelan government under President Chavez has undermined freedom of expression through a variety of measures aimed at reshaping media content and control”. It claims that the Chavez government has “shifted the balance of the mass media in the government’s favor. This shift has been accomplished, not by promoting more plural media, but by stacking the deck against critical opposition outlets while advancing state-funded media that represent the views only of Chavez’s supporters.” But only two paragraphs later, the report acknowledges that the “government has actively supported the creation of community radio and TV stations, whose broadcasting contribute to media pluralism and diversity in Venezuela”!

HRW failed to denounce the 2002 coup against Chavez. It said nothing about the Venezuelan corporate media’s advance knowledge of and support for the coup, or the air time they gave the coup makers. Yet when Chavez refused to renew the licence for one of these TV stations, HRW vehemently complained and denounced the act as censorship.

In July 2004, under the banner of “democratic principles”, Vivanco openly supported the US capitalist rulers’ funding of the Venezuelan opposition, through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — even after the opposition had organised a military coup against the elected Chavez government. Vivanco told the Miami Herald: “The fact that NED, the European Union, the Swedish government, the Canadians or any other country supports groups like these is not only legitimate, but necessary and within the hemisphere’s democratic principles.” So much for the human right of the Venezuelan people to select their own governments! Vivanco has also endorsed the human rights record of the US-backed Uribe government in Colombia, which leads the world in murdering labour organisers.

From its 1978 beginnings as the US Helsinki Watch Committee (or Helsinki Watch), HRW advanced Washington’s interests as a propaganda instrument against the Soviet Union. Despite occasional exposure of human rights abuses by Washington and allied governments, too often HRW has “serv[ed] as a virtual public relations arm of the [US] foreign policy establishment,” according to Edward Herman, David Peterson and George Szamuely in their 2007 article titled, “Yugoslavia: Human Rights Watch in Service to the War Party”. In the lead up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Rockefeller Foundation-funded HRW concentrated on exposing the lesser crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime, thus helping to prepare the propaganda ground for the much greater crime that Washington was preparing.

Vivanco’s latest “human rights” report should be seen for what it is — an exercise in support for the US-backed coup plots against a government that has given millions of Venezuelans human rights they have never had before — proper housing, free education, free health and popular democracy.