The Bush administration disgraced the USA's commitment to democracy and also bungled relations with one of our top oil suppliers when it embraced the April 12 military/business coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Congress must step up to investigate what role the Bush administration played in the abortive coup that tried to replace the populist Chávez with a business-oriented dictator more palatable to the Bush White House.
The Bush administration has denied any role in the 48-hour coup, which claimed more than 100 lives, but the White House certainly endorsed the regime under businessman Pedro Carmona even after he dissolved the National Assembly and Supreme Court in favor of rule by decree. The Venezuela coup was reversed when enraged Chávez partisans took to the streets and seized the presidential palace while labor unions and junior officers of the military objected to Carmona's dictatorial powers and Latin American democracies defied the United States in opposing the coup.
The Bush administration's denials of complicity would be easier to believe if they didn't involve government officials with histories of lying to Congress and the public about previous covert operations in Latin America.
The irony that Bush, who was put in office by the Supreme Court in 2000 after he lost the popular vote, would lecture Chávez, who was overwhelmingly elected in 1998, is not lost on other nations who are used to self-righteous rhetoric from the norteamericanos. Further irony: The Organization of American States, a body long dominated by Washington, last Sept. 11 had ratified a Democratic Charter to condemn and investigate the overthrow of any democratically elected member government and, if necessary, suspend the offender's membership. Bush had hailed the charter in his Pan-American Day proclamation on April 12, as the coup was progressing. But instead of condemning it, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced that Chávez had provoked the crisis and resigned in a "change of government," rather than a coup. "A transitional civilian government has been installed," Fleischer said, noting that it "promised early elections."
The Observer of London on April 21 reported that Bush aides with long histories in the "dirty wars" of Central and South America during the 1980s were tied to the Venezuelan intrigue. One of them, Elliot Abrams, whom the Observer said "gave a nod to the attempted Venezuelan coup," was convicted for misleading Congress over the infamous Iran-Contra arms smuggling affair. Abrams was pardoned by President George Bush I and is now "senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations" at the National Security Council.
OAS officials and other diplomatic sources told the Observer the White House was not only aware the coup was about to take place, but had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success. Coup plotters reportedly were received at the White House by Bush's point man for Latin American affairs, Otto Reich, who was Ronald Reagan's ambassador to Venezuela in the 1980s and was placed in his current post as a "recess appointment" in defiance of Senate opposition.
Also involved, according to the Observer, was John Negroponte, ambassador to the United Nations. He was Reagan's ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 when a US-trained death squad tortured and murdered scores of activists. Negroponte reportedly had been "informed that there might be some movement in Venezuela on Chávez" at the beginning of the year.
On the day Carmona claimed power, Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin America to his office. When the representative from Brazil said his country could not condone a rupture of democratic rule in Venezuela, Reich reportedly responded that the ouster of Chávez was not a rupture of democratic rule because he had resigned and was "responsible for his fate." Reich said the US would support the Carmona government and other Latin American countries "had to support the new government," a diplomat told the New York Times. But while 19 Latin American heads of state denounced the coup as a violation of democratic principles, only the Bush administration in the name of the USA endorsed the military action.
Newsweek reported in its April 29 issue that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was investigating contacts between US officials and the Venezuelan military officers involved in the botched takeover. Among those suspected of financing the plot is Gustavo Cisneros, a media tycoon and fishing buddy of former president George H.W. Bush. (Cisneros denies any role, Newsweek said. But Pedro Carmona, the president of Fedecámaras, the main national business confederation, who was sworn in as Chavez's replacement on April 12, was seen coming directly from Cisneros' office.)
After Chavez's reinstatement, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice warned Chávez to "respect constitutional processes."
Chávez played down the US role in the coup, saluting the United States with "love and affection" as he promised a more moderate government. Perhaps he remembered that the first attempt to bring down the elected government of socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende, in June 1973, also failed. Three months later, US-backed plotters succeeded in bringing down the government and killing Allende.
We Deserve Answers, Not Scorn
US Rep. Cynthia McKinney deserves support, not mockery, for her eminently reasonable proposal that Congress probe events surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [see page 20]. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and mainstream media pundits have ridiculed the Georgia Democrat for suggesting that there is a need to examine what happened. George W. Bush reportedly has sought to stymie such an investigation. We wonder what he has to hide. As McKinney said, we hold thorough inquiries for rail disasters, plane crashes and natural disasters to understand what happened and to prevent them from happening again. "Why does the administration remain steadfast in its opposition to an investigation into the biggest terrorism attack upon our nation?" she wonders.
It's a good question. Reports from such respected news sources as Der Spiegel in Germany, the London Observer, Le Figaro of Paris and the Los Angeles Times, among others, indicate that US government and intelligence services received warnings of Al Qaeda threats and may even have had contact with Osama Bin Laden last summer but did little or nothing to prevent the attacks. The BBC reports that the Bush administration actually interfered with attempts to investigate the Bin Laden family and other suspicious activities by Arab nationals. The relationship of US intelligence services to Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere calls for explanation, as does the apparent US military source of anthrax used to threaten Democratic Senate leaders and news media.
Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., condemned her comments as "very dangerous and irresponsible" and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the probe idea "nutty," but Salim Muwakkil noted in the Chicago Tribune that even with that scorn an (unscientific) poll showed nearly one-half of Journal-Constitution readers agreed with McKinney's call for a probe.
We are asked to accept abridgement of civil liberties and a state of permanent war against terrorism but we are not allowed to ask how that war started? Our representatives are not allowed to question how that war will be prosecuted and who benefits from it? Even Republican congressmembers are starting to grumble about the lack of accountability from the White House and the Pentagon. As long as the United States holds the pretense of democracy, the government must be answerable to the people. If Congress won't demand those answers we should send new representatives who will. --JMC