Venezuela: growing evidence of new coup plot

September 20, 2008

Four retired and one active Venezuelan military officials have been arrested, a further 33 questioned and the US ambassador expelled in the wake of the September 10 revelation of a planned coup and assassination attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

New evidence of taped conversations made public a week later revealed that the conspirators planned to carry out the coup attempt on October 15, just over a month out from the November 23 elections for governors and mayors.

On September 14, United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) candidate for Carabobo governor Mario Silva, who first released the taped conversations on his TV program The Razorblade, accused the current Carabobo governor Carlos Acosta Carlez and Guarico governor Eduardo Manuitt — until recently PSUV members — of involvement in the plans to overthrow Chavez.

Mounting evidence

Evidence of the coup plot became public when taped phone conversations between retired vice-admiral Carlos Alberto Millan Millan, retired National Guard general Wilfredo Barroso Herrera and retired Air Force general Eduardo Baez Torrealba were broadcast on state television.

The discussion included plans that potentially involved the take over of Miraflores presidential palace, including potentially bombing the building. The conspirators also talked off the need to "take Chavez out", including blowing up the presidential plane with him onboard.

Millian, Barrosa, major Elimena Labarca Soto and active lieutenant colonel Ruperto Chiquinquira Sanchez Casare — the last two from the National Guard — are now awaiting trial. It is believed that Baez is now out of the country.

Silva also alleged the involvement of former defence minister in Chavez's government, retired general Raul Isaias Baduel, and a prominent shipping businessperson.

A special commission to investigate the coup plot set up by the National Assembly has uncovered fresh evidence on the involvement of others.

Speaking to the commission on September 17, former vice-president under Chavez, Jose Vincent Rangel, provided evidence of the involvement of other military and civilian figures, as well as figures in the Colombian military.

He also accused the US government of involvement.

Rangel alleged that Air Force police commander, lieutenant colonel Ruperto Sanchez, had handed out 45 security credentials for the Libertador Air Base to civilians and paramilitaries.

He also provided evidence of the involvement in the plot of seven other colonels from the Air Force.

He also fingered Colombian defence minister Juan Manuel Santos, stating that he has been in constant contact with the Venezuelan opposition and retired Venezuelan military officials, although he added he did not have proof of his involvement in this latest plot.

The Sergio Arboleda University in Bogota — where leader of the failed 2002 coup against Chavez, Pedro Carmona, and others linked to the opposition have been giving classes and arranging meetings — has acted as "sanctuary for conspiring against Venezuela" according to Rangel.

Carmona is wanted on charges of treason in Venezuela.

Rangel noted that Baduel, who since publicly breaking with Chavez last year has called on the armed forces to act against him, had met with Carmona and Colombian generals at the university, where he recently launched his new book.

The two Colombian generals Baduel met with, Manuel Bonet Locarno and Juan Salcedo Lara, are currently accused of genocide.

Rangel also raised the presence of paramilitaries in the border states of Apure, Zulia, as well as urban cities like Barquisimeto, Maracay, Valencia, and parts of Caracas.

US involvement

During his statement, Rangel explained that the key figure behind this conspiracy was the US government, which is desperate to get rid of Chavez before the November 4 US presidential elections.

General Jesus Gregorio Gonzalez Gonzalez, head of the strategic operational command of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, argued that in cases of coup attempts like the one exposed, there always existed the hidden hand of the CIA and the US government.

He pointed to the re-activation of the US navy Fourth Fleet to patrol Latin American waters as a clear sign of US imperialism's aims to destroy the Venezuelan revolution led by Chavez.

Overwhelming evidence exists of US involvement in the failed 2002 coup. Since then, the US campaign against Chavez has sought to paint his government as a dictatorial regime involved in terrorism and narcotrafficking.

Behind this campaign is their fear of the growing influence of Chavez, and the socialist revolution he is leading, in the context of a continental rebellion against US imperialism.

While stating that the expulsion of the US ambassador was done in solidarity with the same move by Bolivian President Evo Morales against the US-backed coup attempt in Bolivia, Chavez had warned weeks before of taking such a decision.

Referring to US ambassador Patrick Duddy's comments about alleged increased drug flows from Venezuela, Chavez warned on this August 31 Alo Presidente TV show that he would not tolerate any further interference into Venezuela's internal affairs.

"Read my lips: if you violate international conventions you will have to pack your bags and leave", Chavez declared.

Two days later, US State Department spokesperson Sean McCormark, referring to Chavez's comments, stated the US would continue to "openly talk" about their opinions on what was occurring within Venezuela.

Duddy's expulsion immediately made Venezuela a topic in the US presidential election, with Democrat candidate Barack Obama claiming the decision had been taken by a leader who "rejects fundamental democratic norms" in order to "distract attention from his increasing incapacity to comply with the basic needs of his people".

For Republican candidate John McCain, the announcement was a reminder of the "dangerous tendencies" in the region, declaring Venezuela's democratically elected government an "authoritarian regime".

He accused Venezuela of "helping terrorists" and of attempting to "destabilise" its "democratic neighbour Colombia".

On September 12 the US government upped the ante even further — accusing the Ramon Rodriguez Chacin (until recently Venezuela's justice minister) and two other government officials of "arming, helping and financing the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC], including while they terrorised and kidnapped innocent civilians".

Chacin played a central role in the negotiations with the FARC that secured the release of six FARC-held prisoners.

On September 16, for the fourth time in a row, the US put Venezuela on the "black list" for non-compliance in its "war on drugs".

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