Chavez resigned the presidency. Before resigning, he dismissed the vice president and the Cabinet. A transition civilian government has promised early elections. - excerpt from U.S. Department of State press release regarding the April 2002 coup d'etat in Venezuela
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
- the only democratically elected president of an OPEC
nation - was overthrown on April 12, 2002 by an alliance of that nation's business leaders, trade unions, news media, military factions, and the Catholic
church. Chavez was elected president in 1998 with 60% of the vote - the United States worked actively to thwart his election at the time. Ironically, six years before his election, Chavez had led his own unsuccessful coup attempt.
While there is no direct evidence the United States sponsored the coup, in November 2001 the National Security Agency, the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department held a two-day meeting on U.S. policy toward Venezuela. Historically, similar meetings took place before U.S sponsored coups in Iran, Vietnam, Chile, Guatemala, Brazil and Argentina. Additionally, the New York Times reported that senior Bush administration officials met Venezuelan business and military plotters behind the coup several times, and agreed that the controversial and populist Chavez should be removed from power.
Whether directly involved or not, the U.S. response raised eyebrows around the world. Rupert Cornwell, The Independent's Washington correspondent wrote:
...the affair has made the US look stupid. Washington, even as it trumpets support for democracy and human rights, stands accused of conniving at the overthrow of a democratically elected leader in its own hemispheric backyard.
Doubly embarrassing, the US was almost alone in not denouncing the coup. Several other governments, led by Mexico, condemned it and refused to recognise an interim government installed by the military.
The whole affair had to be triply embarrassing when, less than 48 hours after being overthrown, Chavez was back in power. The "popular" uprising against Chavez was revealed to be nothing more than a managed affair. After deposing Chavez, Venezuelan business leader Pedro Carmona
was anointed president and immediately proceeded to dissolve the legislature, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office, the national electoral commission, and the state governorships. He then decreed that the 1999 constitution
, which had been written by a constitutional assembly and ratified by vote, was to be suspended.
Despite an almost total news blackout, Venezuela's population rose up againt Carmona and the coup. Within 24 hours more than 100,000 people marched on the Presidential palace. The rank and file military also proved to be on Chavez's side and the coup's support evaporated.
Under Chavez, inflation in Venezuela has dropped from 40% to 12%, unemployment from 18% to 13%, and primary school enrollment has increased by 1 million students. Despite supplying 13% of the U.S.'s oil imports, Chavez has angered the United States by criticizing the bombing of Afghanistan as "fighting terror with terror;" refused the U.S. airspace over Venezuela to fight Colombian rebels; has made friendly overtures to Iran, Iraq, Cuba, and Libya; and generally been an independent voice unwilling to jump at every demand made by the the United States.