Le Monde diplomatique
The perfect crime
by IGNACIO RAMONET
Look again at the coup in Venezuela in April against President Hugo Chavez (1). He was quickly restored to office, but the lessons of this textbook attempt at overthrow seem not to have been grasped. Understanding them is vital if we want to avoid the fresh military confrontation now looming in Caracas. The first astonishment is the near absence of international concern about this crime against a government that has been conducting, with great respect for civil liberties, a moderate programme of social transformation it represents the only experience of democratic socialism in Latin America.
This makes it all the worse that Europe's social democratic parties, including the French Socialist party, were silent during the brief crushing of civil liberties in Venezuela. And also that some of their longstanding leaders, like Felipe Gonzalez, have even justified the putsch (2) and had no qualms about joining in the euphoria shared by the International Monetary Fund, the president of the United States and Jose Maria Aznar, the prime minister of Spain, who is currently holder of the presidency of the European Union.
In Latin America the last army overthrow of an elected president took place in Haiti in September 1991 when Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed. The cold war was over, and some people imagined that Washington had distanced itself from the spirit of Operation Condor (3), the anti-communist project that helped install dictatorships in South America during the 1970s and 1980s. We imagined that anti-democratic conspiracies against freely elected governments had become unacceptable.
September 2001 the warmongering mood in Washington seems to have swept away such scruples (4). From
that point, as President George Bush put it, "either you
are with us or you are with the terrorists" and Chavez had shown himself too independent. He had reactivated
the oil exporters' cartel OPEC, an organisation
that Washington loves to hate. He had met Saddam
Hussein. He had visited Iran and Libya. He had established normal relations with Cuba. And he had refused
to support the Plan Colombia against that country's
He had made himself a target. But Washington could not employ the bloody means of earlier days like Guatemala in 1954, or Santo Domingo in 1965, or Chile in 1973 in dealing with him. The man in charge of this brief, Otto Reich, the US undersecretary of state for inter-American affairs, has pointed out that in the past 10 years, without any actual coups d'etat, six democratically elected Latin American presidents have been toppled the latest being Fernando de la Rua in Argentina, not by the army but by the people.
This is likely to be the scenario for overthrowing Chavez: there will be a coalition of the well-to-do, bringing together the Catholic Church (represented mainly by Opus Dei), the financial oligarchy, the employers' organisations, the bourgeoisie and corrupt trade union leaderships all repackaged as "civil society". The owners of major media will collude in a mafia pact to support the campaigns that they will each launch against the president, in the name of defending that "civil society". The media will function as a factory of lies and will fire public opinion with facile slogans: "Chavez is a dictator" even though the country has not one single political prisoner. "Chavez equals Hitler" (5). The media will yell the message that "Chavez must go".
As media owners conspire at the overthrow of a democratic president, the press and TV will brandish terms "the people, democracy, liberty" etc. They will mobilise street demonstrations and any attempt by the government to criticise them will be immediately described as "a serious assault on freedom of statement", to be reported to relevant international organisations (6). At the same time they will revive the insurrectional strike and encourage ideas of a coup and an assault on the presidential palace.
Carried away by a natural preference for propaganda, the media cannot distinguish the imaginary people in whose name the 11 April coup was committed from the real people who, less than 48 hours later, reinstated Chavez in office. The media's repentance was shortlived. With renewed ferocity and remarkable impunity the Venezuelan media currently uses lies and disinformation in the biggest ever destabilisation campaign against a democratically elected government. Since the world hardly seems to care, the media hopes that this time it will succeed in committing the perfect crime.
(1) See Maurice Lemoine, "Venezuela: a coup countered", Le Monde diplomatique English edition, May 2002.
(2) El Pais, Madrid, 12 April 2002.
(3) See Pierre Abramavici, "Latin America: the 30 years' dirty war", Le Monde diplomatique English edition, August 2001.
(4) See Guerres du XXIe siecle, Galilee, Paris, 2002.
(5) See the editorial in the monthly Exceso, Caracas, April 2002.
(6) Closing its eyes to the one of the most odious media campaigns ever launched against a democratic government, the organisation Reporters sans Frontieres has allowed itself to be manipulated and has published several reports against the Chavez government, which has never limited freedom of statement, banned media, or arrested a journalist.
Translated by Ed Emery