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Posted: Sunday, April 14, 2002

Government and financial circles in the United States and other industrial powers did little on April 12 and 13 to disguise their satisfaction with the apparent fall of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías, who had followed nationalist and left-populist policies in political and economic relations with other countries. Although the United States stopped short of recognizing the de facto government that replaced Chávez, Ari Fleischer, spokesperson for U.S. President George W. Bush, refused to protest Chávez's overthrow or even to describe the events as a coup. "We know that the action encouraged by the Chávez government provoked this crisis," he told reporters on April 12. (New York Times 4/13/02; La Jornada 4/13/02)

A New York Times editorial on April 13 called Chávez "a ruinous demagogue" who "courted Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein." With Chávez's "resignation...Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator... Washington has a strong stake in Venezuela's recovery. Caracas now provides 15 percent of American oil imports, and with sounder policies could provide more. A stable, democratic Venezuela could help anchor a troubled region where Colombia faces expanded guerrilla warfare, Peru is seeing a rebirth of terrorism and Argentina struggles with a devastating economic crisis." (NYT 4/13/02)

According to Thomas ("Mack") McLarty, special envoy for Latin America under former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the coup could also impact the presidential candidacy of Brazilian leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. "[W]hat happened in Venezuela could be perceived as a sign that messianic solutions, as opposed to genuine reform measures, lead to disaster. It bodes well for those in the region who advocate for open markets in the region. I don't think this is a net positive for Lula's candidacy." (Miami Herald 4/14/02)

Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, head of the European Council, spoke by phone April 12 with de facto Venezuelan President Pedro Carmona, a leader of the attempted coup, to assure him of Europe's support for a "democratic and peaceful" solution to the crisis. (LJ 4/13/02 from DPA, AFP, Reuters)

International Monetary Fund spokesperson Thomas Dawson told a regular news conference April 12, "We stand ready to assist the new administration in whatever matter they find suitable." Venezuela is not currently in an IMF program. (Xinhua News Service 4/13/02)

About eight hours after Chávez was removed from power April 12, Merrill Lynch, the largest U.S. brokerage, put out a statement to its clients upgrading its assessment of Venezuela. "With a change in the government, the odds are very favorable for an improvement in the economic and political situation," the firm announced. (LJ 4/13/02, quote retranslated from Spanish)

Chávez's "demise as a political leader likely means a power vacuum and declining influence for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC], and delivers a body blow to Cuba's economy, which Chávez lovingly supported," the Miami Herald's Gregg Fields wrote before Chávez's return to power. "For the United States, it looks like a win-win: Lower oil prices, and the departure of a Western hemisphere leader who never missed a chance to annoy Washington." Chávez had pushed OPEC to reduce production, forcing up oil prices. (MH 4/14/02) International oil prices fell about 6 percent on April 12, when it seemed that Chávez was out of the way. (NYT 4/13/02)

Latin American governments were generally less supportive of the coup. A meeting of the 18 presidents in the Río Group, held in Costa Rica on April 12, condemned the "interruption of the constitutional order in Venezuela, generated by a recent process of polarization." They stopped short of refusing to recognize the de facto government, but called for a meeting the next day of the Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council. The OAS Democratic Charter—signed in a Lima meeting last September 11, the day of terrorist attacks on the United States—provides for such meetings in the case of interruptions of democratic processes. (LJ 4/13/02 from correspondent, DPA)

Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada, who was attending the Costa Rica summit, read a statement saying that Mexico "will abstain from either recognizing or not recognizing the new government in Venezuela and will limit itself to continuing diplomatic relations with that government."

But Colombian foreign minister Clemencia Forero Ucrós described de facto Venezuelan President Carmona as a "great friend" of Colombia. "We hope...democracy prevails in Venezuela," she said. "We expect to have the best relations with the interim government." (MH 4/13/02) On April 13, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana told Carmona that he supported him and expressed solidarity with the transition government, according to a spokesperson who declined to be named. (El Nuevo Herald 4/14/02 from EFE)

Cuba's government condemned the "coup mafia" and called for the "immediate return" of Chávez to Miraflores, the presidential palace. Referring to the coup leaders' announcement that they would fly Chávez to Cuba, an official government communiqué from late on April 13 said that "the best and fastest plane from our airline would have been ready so that he could return immediately to the heart of the heroic people that awaited him." (LJ 4/14/02 from correspondent)


More than a dozen items such as this appear in each Weekly News Update on the Americas (ISSN 1084-922X), published Sundays by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York. For a one-year subscription (electronic or hard copy costs $25 in the United States), a free one-month trial, back issues or source material, contact the network at 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012, 212-674-9499, Permission to reproduce this item is authorized if the reproduction includes this paragraph.

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