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WHAT WE THINK
A U.S.-backed coup that backfired

April 19, 2002 | Page 3

"WHEN IS a coup not a coup?" asked the New York Times' Tim Weiner. "When the United States says so, it seems--especially if the fallen leader is no friend to American interests." Weiner perfectly captured the lying-through-their-teeth hypocrisy of the Bush gang and their support for the would-be dictators who briefly seized power in Venezuela last week.

The details will be years in coming out, but make no mistake--the U.S. was up to its eyeballs in the plot to topple Venezuela's Hugo Chávez Frias. For months before, a parade of Venezuelan government and business leaders trooped to the U.S. embassy in Caracas, seeking support for action against Chávez.

Many of the coup makers got their "training" at the National Endowment for Democracy, a longtime front for CIA covert operations. And two of the top military brass involved were graduates of the U.S. Army's School of Assassins training camp for Latin American dictators.

The Bush gang concluded that its interests--in ensuring "stability" in the third-largest oil supplier to the U.S.--overlapped with this motley bunch.

Though he came to power on the strength of promises to bring change, Chávez has mostly gone along with Washington's free-market economic demands. But his criticism of Washington's foreign policy--from Plan Colombia to the "war on terror"--and his ties to Cuba's Fidel Castro put him in the crosshairs for a Bush administration packed with veterans of the U.S. government's 1980s dirty wars in Latin America.

When Chávez was placed under arrest, the White House lost no time in recognizing the coup plotters. Apparently, the fact that Chávez was the democratically elected president of the country was a mere formality. For its part, the U.S. media focused obsessively on the impact on gas prices--speculating hopefully that the new regime might pull Venezuela out of OPEC.

But the coup makers overreached by suspending the constitution and dissolving the National Assembly. This split the forces that backed the coup--just as thousands of ordinary Venezuelans were taking to the streets in protest.

Chávez returned to the presidential palace--and the White House was left muttering that this had been a warning to negotiate with the "democratic opposition."

Now the U.S. is in trouble with Latin American governments that it has lectured about "democracy." Even staunch U.S. allies like Mexico refused to recognize a new government in Venezuela until one was chosen by free elections. But when "democracy" and "U.S. interests" collide, democracy always loses out.

By defeating the coup, ordinary Venezuelans proved that they were more committed to democracy than the U.S. government or its lackeys in Venezuela.

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