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Fall & Rise of Hugo Chavez

Aired April 19, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET



JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A very confused coup. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez promises to be a new kind of president after being toppled for two days.

His opponents, his country, his continent, wonder exactly how it happened.


(on camera): Hello and welcome.

Hugo Chavez burst into Venezuelan politics a decade ago when he staged a failed coup.

Now as president rather than plotter, he has survived a coup again, or at least so it seems.

Venezuela has had a wild week.

Seven days ago, Hugo Chavez was president, then he wasn't, then he was.

On our program today, the fall and rise of Hugo Chavez.

First, though, a look at the headlines.

The United States is underscoring its desire to see Israel's offensive in the West Bank end so security talks can resume.

United States Sect. of State Colin Powell and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met in Washington Friday, and for his part, Peres says Israel is well aware there can be no peace without negotiation.


SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: We are convinced, right and left, in Israel, there is no alternative for peace. That it is impossible to achieve peace without compromise, including painful compromise, and the time available is not as long as people think. We are ready to move on the track that lays ahead.

MANN (voice-over): The Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin is complete, but the controversy over the offensive is far from over.

The Palestinians allege hundreds were killed in what they call a massacre. Israel denies the charge, but acknowledges there were some civilian casualties. Washington supports an independent investigation to look into what happened.


(on camera): The FBI says it has received word of a new terrorist threat against banks in the northeastern United States.

Justice Department officials say they received information that al Qaeda operatives could be behind possible attacks. The plans are said to include suicide bombings, but they say there is no specific threat and what they know is unsubstantiated.

Why did a small plane slam into the top floors of Italy's tallest building Thursday? That's the question investigators in Milan are scrambling to answer.

The crash killed the pilot and two women inside the building, and injured three dozen other people. The pilot had reported mechanical troubles, and authorities say the crash appears to be an accident, although they have not ruled out the possibility that the pilot in fact committed suicide.

The first round of the presidential election in France is set for Sunday and the latest opinion polls predict a flat kind of photo-finish between the two front-runners.

President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin are said to be running neck and neck at this, but more voters are saying they'll stay away from the polls than actually go.

16 candidates are running. That's a record number. A run-off between Chirac and Jospin is expected in May.

Emissaries from across the Americas gather in Washington Thursday evening to talk about Venezuela, and kept talking into Friday morning.

The organization of American states convened a special session after its chief spent two days in Venezuela trying to figure out what happened there. What he found is the president back in office, but the problems unresolved.


(voice-over): These days, Hugo Chavez seems like a changed man.

The fire brand (ph) who took power promising a revolution for the poor, is romancing the more affluent instead.

"The upper classes, the middle classes, a message of love for you," he offered this week, "Of affection, of affection of fondness. We do not hate. It is a lie that there is hate in my heart or any feeling of rejection to the upper classes of Venezuela."

If that seems like an abrupt about face, it's nothing compared to what Venezuela as a whole has been through.

Chavez has been in power three years. A populist leader who was elected democratically after promising the impoverished people who make up 4/5 of the population that he would change their country and change their lives.

The poorest never lost faith, but unions, the middle class, industrialists and elements of the armed forces were turning against him.

The oil industry did as well. A six week dispute over control of the state oil giant, Petroleos de Venezuela, culminated in a 3-day nationwide strike and massive street demonstrations.

Thursday, a protest turned into a march on the presidential palace. Sudden unexplained gunfire took the lives of more than a dozen people.

The opposition blames Chavez for the bloodshed, and Chavez admits his supporters did open fire.

By Friday, the military responded to the unrest by rising up against him. A prominent businessman who helped organize the protest, Pedro Carmona, was named president.

"With deep emotion, but also with deep commitment," he announced, he would take over what he called the full reestablishment of democratic institutions. Among his first steps, he suspended Venezuela's congress and its Supreme Court.

The United States, which sees itself as a champion of democracy in the Americas and around the world, barely seemed bothered.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECT.: We know that the action encouraged by the Chavez government provoked this crisis.

MANN: But by then, there were more protests, this time by Chavez supporters. And the new government collapsed.

Chavez's allies in the armed forces gained the upper hand and returned him to power, but the violence didn't end. Riots and looting took the lives of dozens more people.

Carmona told one newspaper that it was confusion and inexperience that ended his young government, and the president for a day was taken prisoner instead.

Having given up ruling the country, he asked it to remain calm.

"I have received good treatment," he said, "And the visit of government attorneys who guaranteed my human rights."

Chavez said there would be no witch hunt against people who might have opposed him, that Venezuela would recover form the coup attempt.

"I feel I am president of the whole nation," he said, "And I want your help to be it, within the framework of the constitution and the laws of the republic."

But not all lawmakers of the republic would agree. At least one opposition leader said he wants to hold Chavez responsible for the violence that shook Venezuela.

"That man, that individual, was thrown out of power by the people. As a consequence we refuse to acknowledge him as the president of the republic and will act at the international level to have him put on trial."

But at the international level, concern was focused elsewhere, on democracy and stability in Venezuela, and on what kind of the role the United States may have played in establishing or assisting the short-lived regime.

The United States ambassador says he went to the presidential palace over the weekend to meet the new leaders, but only, he says, to try to limit the damage to democratic institutions.

"As you know, I went to Miraflores on Saturday morning to talk to them, and advised them first of all of the importance of restoring -- what's the right word -- reestablishing the national assembly."


(on camera): Officials back in Washington have repeatedly denied they had anything to do with the failed coup or the events leading up to it.

After the break, we'll ask a Venezuelan official about the United States role and its potential impact on future relations with its Latin neighbors.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we'll continue to have contacts with a broad spectrum of Venezuelans as we encourage that -- encourage reconciliation, encourage an end to any violence, and work with our hemisphere partners to see that Venezuela can get back on the right path.




GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: It is very important for President Chavez to do what he said he was going to do, to address the reasons why there was so much turmoil on the streets, and it's very important for him to embrace those institutions which are fundamental to democracy, including freedom of press and freedom of ability for the opposition to speak out. And if there are lessons to be learned, it's important that he learn them.

MANN (voice-over): The Bush administration has made no secret of its unease with the government in Caracas. President Chavez has rankled Washington by cultivating ties with Cuba, Iraq and Libya and questioning Washington's war on terror in the weeks after September 11th.


(on camera): Welcome back.

The United States did not condemn Venezuela's coup. It even blamed it on President Chavez.

The coup was denounced by 19 Latin American presidents with Mexico saying it would not recognize the government installed by the military.

The United States eventually followed suit, after it became clear that Mr. Chavez would be reinstated, but it has since defended its contacts with the interim military government.

Its chief policymaker for Latin America told "The New York Times" that in reviewing what went on, he would change very little of what the United States did after the coup.

We're joined now by Venezuela's ambassador to the United Nations, Milos Alcalay.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us.

Let me ask you first of all, how safe, how stable, are Venezuela's democratic institutions now? What kind of shape is the country in after a week like this?

MILOS ALCALAY, VENEZUELAN AMB. TO THE U.N.: Well, Jonathan, thank you very much for this opportunity and allow me to thank CNN for the coverage of the situation in Venezuela.

Of course, there is a lot of wounds to be solved after these 47 years of crisis, but all the country, all the people in Venezuela, have to give the solution to a constructive participative democracy.

President Chavez came with a very important appeal to the country, both to the followers and to the opposition, to construct a very solid democracy.

So the challenge is there. And I think that, of course, always there are extremes. In the position and probably in the followers of President Chavez, but the hardcore of entities in Venezuela, the democratic institutions, and of course democratic institutions followed by the constitution, that needs to make a profound institutional change and by constitution, that will support more than 90 percent of Venezuelan voters.

So this is the challenge and I am absolutely clear and optimistic about the future of Venezuela. I do think that we are going to have a very prominent success if all of us give to a constructive way.

MANN: The United States is saying, and said both during and after the coup, that the president brought it on himself. Does that rankle you?

ALCALAY: I think that there is a lot of misinformation about the situation in Venezuela, and I think that what President Bush and what the American administration is saying about the needs of unity, the needs of strengthening institutions, the needs of fulfilling the constitution -- well, President Chavez agrees completely.

And I think that this is the way. I think that more than reading the partial visions of Venezuela, it is a good opportunity for all of us to have another lecture. Venezuela is a friend of the United States. Venezuela is a close country of the United States. One of our best economical partners is the United States, and what when we have to build together, we are in the same hands, and I do look forward with Ambassador Shapiro (ph) starting his new work in Venezuela to continue building a very constructive way. Not only for Venezuela and the United States relations, but for hemispheric relations and United Nations world vision of a constructive way.

MANN: Now, you're covering a lot of ground, but I don't want to drop this question about the United States role before we move back to some of your other remarks.

Is there any investigation underway or planned to look into what kind of role the United States may have had, either in contacts with the coup leaders during the weekend, or in contacts that no one denies in the months preceding the coup, meetings that were going on in Washington that seemed innocent at the time but now may raise some questions.

I would imagine that Caracas would want to look into those.

ALCALAY: Well, not only Caracas. I mean, the American press has put out a series of questions, and the American press, in general (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

So I think that a lot of things are going to come into the air, but the important thing is to see for the future, how it is important to have a global vision of Venezuela, and not a caricature of what has happened in Venezuela.

MANN: Let me ask you about that, because the president is promising a different kind of administration. He's promising reconciliation, and you've spoken about that yourself.

Part of the reason that people in the United States don't particularly trust him and part of the reason that so many Venezuelans turned against him is that he seemed to run roughshod over the democratic institutions of the country. Having been elected democratically, he staged a referendum that many people said was unconstitutional. He tried to get opposition labor leaders out of their own positions in an independent labor federation. He tried to put his own supporters into key positions inside various apparatus or various organizations of the state, basically. And he tried to rule most famously by decree, passing more than 40 measures without the ascent of the Venezuelan congress.

Is all that going to change now?

ALCALAY: Well, this is precisely the caricature of the reality that I was saying. Because one of the arguments that the provisional government took after the coup attack was they closed the national assembly. They closed the justice...

MANN: Forgive me for interrupting. I don't mean to defend anything that happened during the coup d'etat. My question is actually about what preceded it, about the measures that the president seemed comfortable adopting that many people were horrified by.

ALCALAY: Now, Jonathan, I am absolutely convinced that we have to strengthen the democratic institutions, not only in Venezuela. The government announced their intentions for strengthening of democratic institutions. But you can be assured that the only way, and this is the name of the game, we have all to believe in democracy. You cannot only go with a very violent and a very sophisticated position to overthrow a democratic government.

We have to work all together, and again, in this moment, to heal the wounds, as I said. We have to work very much. Not only the government. The opposition, international friends, and I think that it is important to have a very transparent action for the future.

MANN: What's going to happen inside the Venezuelan military? Some officers have already been relieved of their posts, replaced by people who are more loyal to the president. That's an obvious measure. It raises some questions, though.

And in fact, the secretary general of the Org. of American States, I don't have to tell you, visited Venezuela and said that one of the key things the government has to do is get the army out of politics. In fact, it seems, if anything, the army is going to be politicized because it's going to be even more full of supporters of the president in key positions.

What is he going to do about the army? It could turn against him, I would imagine, in a week from now the same way it did a week ago.

ALCALAY: I don't think so, because the consolidation of all institutions are very clearly indicated by the constitution.

The role of the military is a military role. Nevertheless, in the world, the action towards a civic military action, for sociopolitical reasons or to fulfill the activities that the constitutions gives. But also in a constitutional way. So there is already a settlement for this. It is to institutionalize the military role in what the constitution says.

So that is very clear, and of course the military has to fulfill their mandate, as militaries in any other country of the world.

MANN: Let me ask you on last question, and I don't mean to minimize the importance of all these issues, but one of the extraordinary things about President Chavez weren't just his policies, there were his words, his rhetoric, the way he spoke to the people of Venezuela, promising a revolution, taking on the elite as enemies. Really strong language that really infuriated some people, but really made other people very passionate. Are we going to see a more cautious, more traditional style of leadership out of him now, do you think?

ALCALAY: There are two aspects which I think are very important. Venezuela. Venezuela is a sort of iceberg. The needs of Latin America to have a profound social change, change in democracy, revolution in democracy. But we will not achieve a revolution if you do not have revolutionary institutions in a constructive way, in a democratic way.

You cannot have a rich country with 80 percent poverty. And we have to see how to have food for the people, housing for the people. And if we do not do that, we will have in all of Venezuela, and all of Latin America, and all of the world, a series of explosions.

So that is why international institutions, like (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I was this morning, as president of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the chapter of New York, speaking to the monetary fund and to the world bank. They see this avant garde. Things have to change.

And, of course, in Venezuela, the revolution is necessary. And sometimes the passion with which President Chavez speaks is the passion of the people who await change in Venezuela and in other parts of the world.

MANN: Milos Alcalay, Venezuela ambassador to the United Nations. Thank you so much for talking with us.

ALCALAY: Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you.

MANN: Another break, and then a look at how the president skidded on oil. Stay with us.



MANN (voice-over): In good times and bad times, Venezuela depends on oil. The country makes $50 billion a year from it, is the fourth largest exporter in the world. It simply couldn't pay its bills without it.


(on camera): Welcome back.

When Hugo Chavez rails against the rich and powerful in Venezuela, he doesn't spare the executives who sell its oil.

He says a small elite is getting rich running a state industry that belongs to the people. That dispute helped set off not only the coup attempt, but also a cut in production that sent world oil prices swinging wildly.

Joining us now to talk more about that is Constantine Menges, a scholar of Venezuela at the Hudson Institute in Washington. He also served with the United States National Security Council back when Ronald Reagan was president.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Let me ask you about oil. Venezuela has been through a lot in the last week. It's been through a lot in the last three years. When you look back over that time, how much oil runs through what we're seeing?

CONSTANTINE MENGES, HUDSON INSTITUTE: Well, I think one of the things that we have to remember is that when Chavez was inaugurated as president in February of 1999, oil was at $12 a barrel.

He and his government were very important within OPEC in agitating for oil prices, and they got it up to the 30's in the fall of 1999, and it went on through 2000 and, in fact, I think, had a major impact in creating the global recession.

If you look at OPEC production, its about 29 million barrels a day. World production is about 74 million a day. Chavez, working with the more radical members of OPEC, like Iran, Iraq, Libya, helped move the oil price us. I think the global recession itself brought it back it back down.

But in the meantime, Chavez has had, by my calculations, roughly $45 billion more in revenues as a result of the higher oil prices than Venezuela had in, let's say, taking 1998 as a base year.

The question of course is what happened to that money, since the poor people in Venezuela, despite all the rhetoric, have really benefited very little in the three years and three months of the Chavez administration.

MANN: What about the dispute with the state oil company? How did that get started?

MENGES: This is part of the process that Chavez has been doing since coming into office, and I would just like to say, Mr. Mann, that it's very important to understand that leaders can be democratically elected, but then behave in antidemocratic ways.

I believe Chavez, from the start of his presidency in February 1999, has acted in antidemocratic, unconstitutional ways, within the framework of Venezuela's constitution that existed at the time.

And part of what he was doing was trying to get control of all the major institutions of the country. And last among those that he wanted to totally dominate was the Venezuelan state oil company, that accounts for 28 percent of GDP, about 70 percent of export earnings for Venezuela.

So it's a very important organization, and it was his actions against -- his actions outside the law against the management and labor groups there that led management and labor together to oppose him in March that led to the demonstrations that ultimately led to the protests by hundreds of thousands of people who really were reflecting, representing pro- democratic political parties, labor unions, civic associations, business associations. They were reflecting their deep concern about three years of antidemocratic actions by Chavez, and they wanted to draw the line at the state oil company.

And that's when Chavez ordered his armed thugs in the Boliviarian Circles to fire on demonstrations, and then ordered the military to fire on the demonstrators. They refused. That then led to the events resulting in his removal from office.

MANN: It's quite intriguing, when you think about it, that in fact, in a conflict between what was, after all, or what is a state bureaucracy and a populus leader who claims to speak for the people, so many people would go to the streets to defend the independence of the bureaucracy.

MENGES: Exactly. And that's why I'm saying it really was a symbolic issue that was about the question of whether Chavez would start obeying the law.

Let's remember, how would you like it if our president got on television on a Sunday morning, as Chavez did on March 10th of this year, and said he's going to allocate $150 million to armed militia of the Republican National Committee, who are going to go attack enemies of the Republican party.

Well, that's what Chavez did. He said, without any law backing him up, he was going to take $150 million out of the federal treasury and give it to his Boliviarian Circles. That was part of his action in January when he established the political command of the revolution, as he called it, reporting directly to him in the presidency, with the armed thugs in the Boliviarian Circles, who would act in parallel as a means of repressing pro-democratic political parties, labor unions, civic business leaders and religious organizations.

And that will continue now, despite the pseudo-conciliation phase that Chavez is in now. The parallel armed thugs are at this present time, I have information from people in Venezuela, threatening them with death, threatening women journalists, threatening women and men activists with killing themselves, their family, their children, burning their homes down. This is happening today.

Ambassador Alcalay may not know about it, but in fact this is the process by which Chavez wants to look conciliatory as the government acts, but on the other hand, the armed thugs he has will continue trying to use repression of pro-democratic groups in Venezuela.

MANN: I suppose we can quickly add that in fact on the night when, I think it was 14 people were killed during anti-government demonstrations, the president has been asked about whether his supports in fact fired on them.

He said that in fact since, in his words, so many of the protestors were armed, his own people were armed as well, and they did fire.

In light of all of this, it may seem mercenary to worry about oil, but should the world -- should oil markets, should the United States, worry about oil with President Chavez back in power?

MENGES: Yes, I think so. I think because he is a close ally of Iraq and Iran and, in fact -- the three bad things about Chavez, since his coming to office in February 1999 are, first, he's acted against democracy, acted unconstitutionally, and illegally, and I'd like to spell out a couple of things...

MANN: We have just a moment. You'll have to be extremely brief. I apologize.

MENGES: Secondly, he's been an ally of terrorist supporting states like Cuba, Iran, Iraq and Libya. And thirdly, he himself is a state supporter of terrorism by supporting the armed Communist guerrillas attacking Colombia and also supporting radical movements attacking the democratic governments in Bolivia and Ecuador.

It's a very serious situation and the United States and the people of Venezuela should work together, in my view, to help restore genuine democracy to Venezuela.

MANN: Constantine Menges of the Hudson Institute, thank you so much for talking with us.

MENGES: Pleasure to be with you.

MANN: That is INSIGHT for this day.

One quick word: join us on Monday. We'll be reporting from Rome on the Vatican's extraordinary meeting with American cardinals.

For now, I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.





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