How can it be that an administration top heavy with such pro-democracy stalwarts
as Otto Reich, Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte would welcome a military coup
that toppled a democratically elected Latin American president? Amazingly, that
is what happened April 13, when the administration of George W. Bush hailed the
ouster of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
By April 15 Chavez had regained the presidency, thanks in large part to strong
condemnation of the coup from Latin American leaders, many of whom don’t particularly
care for Chavez’s brand of populism or his authoritarian streak. Their outcry
stood in sharp contrast to Uncle Sam’s embrace of the coup makers.
It was particularly disheartening to hear National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice welcome the coup, for it was she who selected Abrams to advise her on democracy
and human rights. There is no greater champion of democratic values than Abrams.
True, he’s a convicted Iran-contra perjurer, and he led cheers for Salvadoran
army mass murderers and contra cutthroats. But hey, everybody has their bad days.
Negroponte, our ambassador to the U.N., apparently was out of the coup loop.
Back in the day, however, as Ambassador to Honduras, he was a great fosterer of
democracy -- or at least its illusion. (Hey, you got to start somewhere.) The
Reagan Gang erected a democratic facade in Honduras so the true powers, Negroponte
and the army, could run the show, crush dissent and harbor Nicaraguan terrorists.
Yep, Reagan’s beloved contra “freedom fighters” -- “the moral equivalent of the
Founding Fathers” -- were terrorists: They routinely targeted civilians for rape,
torture and murder -- and the “murder” portion was justified in a manual the CIA
wrote for and distributed to the contra terrorists.
Like Negroponte, acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere
Otto Reich is a favorite of Colin Powell, the administration’s “voice of reason.”
Reich, who was U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela in the late 1980s after a successful
stint as Reagan’s disinformation czar, had the current U.S. Ambassador urge the
coup’s front-man -- big-business fat-cat Pedro Carmona -- to refrain from dissolving
the National Assembly. Reich apparently was concerned that such an act would reduce
the likelihood that any government other than Reich’s would recognize the coup
Yes, it comes as quite a shock that the government of Reich, Abrams and Negroponte
would countenance a military coup. But it did, and so we must now parse Bush administration
statements with the same attention to detail that the media parsed Slick Willie’s
statements about sex.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stated that administration officials told
Chavez’s opponents the U.S. “would not support a coup.” So the question to ask
is, “Did the officials tell the plotters the administration would ‘oppose’ a coup,
or merely ‘not support’ it?” It appears the administration did not actively oppose
the coup, given the statements welcoming Chavez’s ouster.
Imagine that U.S. diplomats and military officials got wind of a plot to oust
an elected Latin president more to their liking. Let’s say that Mexican generals
and businessmen had a plan to remove Vicente Fox. Might our officials have informed
Fox of that fact? Might they have taken steps to head off the coup?
Or imagine a British plot by the left wing of the Labor Party to banish Bush’s
regal beagle, Tony Blair. Might the U.S. have fended that one off and alerted
Here’s another line of questioning worth pursuing:
What role did the CIA and other U.S. agencies play in supporting, organizing,
coordinating, stoking or otherwise encouraging the anti-Chavez protests, plots
and propaganda? There’s a CIA template for fomenting dissent to undermine or overthrow
governments that tick off Uncle Sam -- e.g., Brazil’s in the 1960s, Chile’s in
the 1970s and Nicaragua’s in the 1980s. It includes covert aid to and manipulation
of unions, political parties, business groups, military officers (or ex-military)
and the media.
It’s one thing for Venezuelans to organize democratically to oppose certain
policies. It’s quite another to go beyond that and work for a coup. But it’s even
worse for a foreign power to covertly stoke and manipulate that opposition --
particularly when it knows that the goal is an unconstitutional transfer of power.
Such matters won’t interest many members of our corporate news media -- particularly
the “team players” on the broadcast and cable news networks and PBS. But for those
journalists who take seriously their duty in a democracy to keep the people fully
informed, it’s time to dig. Actually, it’s past time. Any moderately curious reporter
familiar with the techniques of CIA destablization programs should long ago have
recognized the signs that our spooks might be up to their old tricks.
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York
Times, Washington Post and National Post (Canada). His essays on U.S. overt and
covert intervention in Latin America have appeared in the Miami Herald and online
at ColombiaReport.org, MediaChannel.org and TomPaine.com. He has taught courses
in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South
Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu