Opec chief warned Chavez about coup
Posted: Monday, May 13, 2002
Monday May 13, 2002
The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, had advance warning of last month's coup attempt against him from the secretary general of Opec, Ali Rodriguez, allowing him to prepare an extraordinary plan which saved both his government and his life, an investigation has revealed.
Mr Rodriguez, who is Venezuelan and a former leftwing guerrilla, telephoned Mr Chavez from the Vienna headquarters of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Venezuela is an important member, several days before the attempted overthrow in April.
He said Opec had learned that some Arab countries, later revealed to be Libya and Iraq, planned to call for a new oil embargo against the United States because of its support for Israel.
The Opec chief warned Mr Chavez that the US would prod a long-simmering coup into action to break any embargo threat. It was likely to act on April 11, the day a general strike was due to start.
It was Venezuela which shattered the oil embargo of 1973 by replacing Arab oil with its own huge reserves.
The warning - revealed by a Newsnight investigation to be shown on BBC2 tonight - explains the swift and safe return of Mr Chavez to power within two days of his April 12 capture by military officers under the direction of the coup leader, Pedro Carmona.
Until now, it was unclear why Mr Carmona - who had declared himself president - and the military chiefs who backed the coup surrendered without firing a shot.
The answer to the mystery, Newsnight was told by a Chavez insider, is that several hundred pro-Chavez troops were hidden in secret corridors under Miraflores, the presidential palace.
Juan Barreto, a leader of Mr Chavez's party in the national assembly, was with Mr Chavez when he was under siege.
Mr Barreto said that Jose Baduel, chief of the paratroop division loyal to Mr Chavez, had waited until Mr Carmona was inside Miraflores.
Mr Baduel then phoned Mr Carmona to tell him that, with troops virtually under his chair, he was as much a hostage as Mr Chavez. He gave Mr Carmona 24 hours to return Mr Chavez alive.
Escape from Miraflores was impossible for Mr Carmona. The building was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pro-Chavez demonstrators who, alerted by a sympathetic foreign affairs minister, had marched on it from the Ranchos, the poorest barrios.
Mr Chavez told Newsnight that, after receiving the warning from Opec, he had hoped to stave off the coup entirely by issuing a statement to mollify the Bush adminstration. He pledged that Venezuela would neither join nor tolerate a renewed oil embargo.
But Mr Chavez had already incurred America's wrath by slashing Venezuelan oil output and rebuilding Opec, causing oil prices to nearly double to over $20 a barrel.
His opponents had made it clear that they would not abide by Opec production limits and would reverse his plan to double the royalties charged to foreign oil companies in Venezuela, principally the US petroleum giant Exxon-Mobil. The US government's panic over the calls for an oil embargo, made public by Iraq and Libya on April 8 and 9, also explains what Venezuelans see as the state department's ill-concealed and clumsy support for the coup attempt.
Mr Chavez told Newsnight: "I have written proof of the time of the entries and exits of two US military officers into the headquarters of the coup plotters - their names, whom they met with, what they said - proof on video and on still photographs."
Last month the Guardian reported a former US intelligence officer's claims that the US had been considering a coup to overthrow the Venezuelan president for nearly a year.
Newsnight is on BBC2 at 10.30pm
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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