Venezuela: a coup countered
Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2002
by MAURICE LEMOINE
Employers, a corrupt trade union, the Church, the middle classes and the media, with the help of dissident generals, all calling themselves 'civil society', mounted a coup last month against the elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. Senior officials of the Bush administration welcomed the potential removal of a leader whose independence has been anathema to Washington. But ordinary people and loyal soldiers turned out to resist the coup. They prevailed. So Chávez stays in power for now.
The television cameras focused on the presenter, in his improvised studio on the slopes of El Avila. In the background was Caracas, at the foot of the mountain. The presenter made the audience laugh by reminding them he once persuaded Fidel Castro to sing on air - "but he can hardly hold a note!" He passionately described Guatemala, and libertador Simón Bolivar. He crooned, questioned his guests, among them a few ministers. He blew a kiss at the end of a conversation with an ordinary viewer. He had a television presenter's easy manner, but he wasn't a TV professional, but Hugo Chávez, president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
The date was 17 March. For the 100th edition of his Sunday broadcast Hello President, Chávez had gone overboard: satellite communications with the presidents of Guatemala, Dominica and Cuba. "OK Fidel, let's talk speak on the phone … Hasta la victoria, siempre!" Chávez threw twigs towards the journalists, then said "to those who would like to see the back of me: I know how many of you there are!" His audience applauded: "Long live our comandante!" The comandante was overdoing it: six hours and 35 minutes on air, without a break - but he believed the ritual was an essential way of keeping direct contact with the people who make up his majority: the excluded, the poor and the left.
The escuálidos (1) of La Castellana, Altamira, Palos Grandes and Las Mercedes - the fashionable districts of Caracas - were furious. "He's a demagogue, a populist, and mad." They grudgingly conceded his predecessors were no better, but Chávez was still leading the country to ruin. And then they dismissed him - " his place is not the presidency. A soldier can do only two things: obey orders or give them." The bankers, financiers and middle classes are the social élite, and they detest him. He looks like a taxi-driver or a hotel porter, a have-not from the ranchos, a buhonero (2). But it is precisely because he looks ordinary that he occupies the presidential palace - the Miraflores. MORE