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The Coup Against President Chavez

Americans recently (as of April 2002) heard that President Chavez of Venezuela had been ousted in a military coup after protests organized by "business and labor" in which some protesters were killed. Newspaper coverage in the US hinted that Chavez was mentally unstable. It sounds pretty clear cut: if both "business" and "labor" were against him, his policies must have been foolish, right?

I'm skeptical of that picture, because on March 4, Greg Palast reported that Chavez had done something very sensible: he had raised taxes on oil being exported from Venezuela (from 16% to 32%, I have read elsewhere) to pay for social programs. In other words, he insisted that the rich countries that buy the oil must let Venezuela, a poor country, have a substantial share of the value of that oil.

When Mossadegh in Iran did something similar in the 1950s, the CIA arranged a coup, putting the Shah in absolute power. (His tyrannical rule stimulated the public hostility that brought Khomeini to power and took Americans hostage; don't you wish the CIA had left Mossadegh alone?)

According to Palast, the IMF was already openly fomenting the overthrow of Chavez before March, and appealing to right-wing groups in business, unions, and the Church. I'd expect that the CIA and the US embassy were helping, since that's normal for them. Palast predicted, "watch this space: the President of Venezuela will be out of office in three months or shot dead. They are not going to allow him to raise taxes on the oil companies." I now predict that the new government will soon reduce the oil taxes and cancel the social programs.

Was Chavez mentally unstable? Perhaps. He thought he could make his country independent of the IMF. He thought that the generals of his Venezuela would be loyal to Venezuela instead of Washington. A man would have to be crazy to believe such things--or would he?

Maybe not. Yesterday Chavez's mass supporters, joined with international pressure (not from the US of course), reversed the coup and brought him back to power.


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