Le Monde diplomatique


 June 2002

 The perfect crime


  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.

  Since 11 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 guerrillas. 

 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