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Irish Filmmaker's Eyewitness Account Of Venezuelan Coup D'état
Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

Michael McCaughan speaks to Kim Bartley, who witnessed last weekend's coup attempt in Venezuela
Reprinted from Irish Times 16 April 2002

Ms Kim Bartley and Mr Donnacha O'Brien have spent the past three months filming a documentary on Venezuelan President Mr Hugo Chavez for Power Productions, an independent film company based in Galway.

"I arrived in the centre of town just as the shooting started," says Kim. "I filmed a while then took cover in a doorway. Whoever was firing aimed directly at the crowd, which was pro-Chavez. I filmed two dead bodies, both of them beside the podium set up to rally Chavistas to defend the presidential palace.

"A woman working in the vice-president's office identified the bodies as a legal secretary and an archivist, both working inside the building. A 10-year-old girl was then taken away, fatally injured.

"More shots. We ran for cover like everyone else. We made it to the palace through back streets as the firing continued and as soon as we got in the gate another sniper started aiming at the crowd. We were all thrown to the ground behind a wall and later ran for cover into the building. Three of the snipers were arrested . . . "Chavez was about to explain what was happening in a live television broadcast but the state channel's signal was cut just as he began to speak.

"The army generals arrived and went off for a meeting with Chavez. The evening passed in a flash as we waited for news inside the presidential palace. A tearful Environmental Minister, Ms Analisa Osorio, emerged in the early hours of Friday, announcing the end of an era. 'He's under arrest,' she said. Chavez emerged, barely visible with all the bodyguards and junta soldiers jostling both to protect and arrest him.

"The atmosphere turned ugly. Radio and television immediately announced the resignation of Chavez and began broadcasting upbeat messages: 'Venezuela is finally free' was the banner across all private TV channels.

"The government went into hiding. Everyone fled for their lives. The witch-hunt began. We decided not to go home, checking into a hotel instead, for safety . . .

"The media kept repeating footage of the swearing-in ceremony of the interim president [Pedro Carmona] which was followed by images of empty streets, everything in perfect tranquillity. We were about to book a ticket to Panama when a well-dressed passer-by told us to get off the streets. 'The Chavistas are coming' he said. It was Saturday afternoon.

"We took a taxi to the centre, where huge crowds had surrounded the palace, demanding the return of Chavez. We managed to get inside and found several Chavez deputies calling round the country to find out what was going on. A dozen people who were working for the interim government had been taken to a room in the basement for their own safety.

"Reports came in from around the country, barracks by barracks, like a Eurovision song contest jury, that the military was rebelling against the coup. Then came the rumours that a commando had been sent to kill Chavez at the army base where he was being kept.

"The television continued to broadcast a steady diet of soap operas, saying nothing about the huge mobilisation, which was now making a deafening racket outside. Then came the news that Chavez had been freed and was taking a helicopter to Miraflores. The crowds went wild. The presidential guard made a tunnel from the palace gates to a helicopter pad across the street. The sound of choppers buzzing overhead.

"Then he was there, striding toward the palace, mobbed by supporters. It was like a dream, it's still hard to believe it really happened."

© The Irish Times * Reprinted for Fair Use Only

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