The 2002 Venezuelan Coup the Media Conveniently Forgot

As the economic crisis in Venezuela worsens, a number of recent media pieces detailing President Nicolás Maduro's crackdown on his opposition paint him as a paranoid despot who unjustifiably blames the U.S. for trying to undermine him. While Maduro's recent arrests of opposition leaders may indeed be politically motivated and unjustified, a rather glaring piece of context is left out of almost all American media accounts of the ongoing crisis: namely the fact that such a "conspiracy" actually did take place in 2002:

Venezuela Coup Linked to Bush Team

The failed coup in Venezuela was closely tied to senior officials in the US government, the Observer has established. They have long histories in the 'dirty wars' of the 1980s, and links to death squads working in Central America at that time.

Washington's involvement in the turbulent events that briefly removed left-wing leader Hugo Chavez from power last weekend resurrects fears about US ambitions in the hemisphere.

As Scott Wilson of the Washington Post would explain in an interview years later:

“The United States was hosting people involved in the coup before it happened. There was involvement of US-sponsored NGO’s in training people that were involved in the coup… I think there was U.S. involvement [in the coup], yes.”

There remains doubt as to the extent the CIA played a direct part in the Venezuelan coup but there's little doubt, as the New York Times confirmed in 2004, they gave it their tacit endorsement. And while this fact does not justify Maduro's crackdown, it certainly provides a very material piece of historical context for any discussion as to the likelihood foreign elements are attempting to undermine the constitutionally elected government of Maduro. But nowhere would this shameful episode be mentioned in report after report of the current crisis:

First, Univision-Disney joint venture Fusion:

Maduro, who on 12 occasions in the past two years has denounced unsubstantiated conspiracies and assassination plots against him, said Ledezma was arrested on orders of the state prosecutor’s office and will be processed.

The Economist:


The regime’s favourite charge to level at hostile politicians is plotting to overthrow the government, often in conspiracy with the United States.



The occupation comes as the president resurrects charges that his opponents, the U.S., Colombian paramilitaries and business leaders are conspiring against him.



He expelled a group of U.S. diplomats from the country last year and accused the Pentagon and CIA of conspiring against him.

The State Department has repeatedly rejected such accusations. Last year, it said Maduro's claim that U.S. officials had conspired against the Venezuelan government was "baseless and false."

The Washington Post:


Maduro accuses business owners of waging an “economic war” against him and asserts that ­Ledezma and other leading opposition figures are part of an international plot that also includes Colombian paramilitary forces, Venezuelan expatriates in Miami, right-wing Spanish politicians and the United States, all bent on toppling his socialist government.

Left unmentioned in all these reports: "an international plot including Colombian paramilitary forces, Venezuelan expatriates in Miami, right-wing Spanish politicians and the United States" did indeed overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela just over a decade ago. While not necessarily a lie, omitting that such an event took place in April 2002 would be like covering fears of an al Qaeda plot to fly planes into the New York skyline without mentioning September 2001. Even if one doesn't think the CIA or any of the same actors Maduro is cracking down on now had anything to do with 2002, it still merits a mention for the simple fact that Maduro and his confederates do believe this. It's the animating cause behind much of their paranoia, justified or not.

But Foreign Policy's Peter Wilson and the New Yorker's Boris Munoz would take this omission one step further by completely rewriting history altogether. Without irony, both would mock Chavez for making allegations of coup conspiracies without bothering to mention that one actually happened:


During his 14 years in office, Chávez “discovered” 19 assassination plots that, oddly enough, often coincided with when his regime was beset by economic and political problems. Proof be damned.


Since Hugo Chávez took office as President of Venezuela, in 1999, the country’s government has reported no fewer than eighty plots to assassinate the President and overthrow the Chavismo movement, which continues under President Nicolás Maduro. The usual suspects include farmworkers, the paramilitary, terrorists, and former American and Colombian Presidents, in combination with Venezuelan oligarchs and extremist opposition groups. None of these conspiracies have been convincingly proved by the government.

Evidently, being illegally removed from office by right-wing forces in concert with the CIA is not enough proof that right-wing forces in concert with the CIA are attempting to illegally remove one from office. Surely, this goes beyond omission into an outright lie. 

But so it goes in what Gore Vidal referred to as the "United States of Amnesia." History is this thing long ago where the US "made some mistakes" but today the US government operates entirely above board. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki found this out the hard way in a recent press conference when she asserted the US has a "long-standing policy" against interfering in foreign governments that was met with audible laughter by an otherwise friendly press core.

AP REPORTER MATT LEE: Sorry. The U.S. has—whoa, whoa, whoa—the U.S. has a long-standing practice of not promoting—what did you say? How long-standing is that? I would—in particular in South and Latin America, that is not a long-standing practice.

STATE DEPT SPOKESPERSON JEN PSAKI: Well, my point here, Matt, without getting into history (...) is that we do not support, we have no involvement with, and these are ludicrous accusations....

AP REPORTER MATT LEE: I understand, but you said it’s a long-standing U.S. practice, and I’m not so sure how—depends on what your definition of "long-standing" is.

Maduro may be paranoid. He may have gone too far in preventing a repeat of 2002, but to constantly reference fears of a plot to overthrow the socialist government of Venezuela without mentioning that such an event did indeed take place in our very recent history is to bury inconvenient facts of history to fit a clean narrative. It leaves the reader misinformed and whitewashes a very real, documented episode that informs much of what's unfolding in Venezuela today.

An adapted version of this article first appeared on Citations Needed


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