Will Trump’s US try another coup attempt in Venezuela?

Washington backed the effort to overthrow Hugo Chavez in 2002, but appears to be resisting calls to try to oust his successor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Monday, 10 September, 2018, 9:56pm

In April 2002, Venezuelan president at the time Hugo Chavez was briefly deposed in a coup attempt launched by mutinous army officers. But within 48 hours, Chavez surged back to power with the aid of loyal generals and masses of supporters surrounding the presidential palace where the plotters had taken over.

It emerged that the CIA had knowledge of the plot, despite the George W. Bush administration’s denials. There were documented links between Washington and anti-government figures involved in the botched takeover.

Chavez made hay of those revelations, linking his own ordeal to the wider American legacy of dirty wars, election interference and military interventions.

“Having a government of this type in the United States is a threat to the world,” he declared.

Sixteen years later, some might argue that the government Chavez bequeathed to Venezuela is a threat to the world. Years of mismanagement and cronyism have hollowed out the Venezuelan economy, triggering mind-boggling hyperinflation and devastating food and medicine shortages – all of which Caracas blames on Washington. A humanitarian calamity is now straining Venezuela’s neighbours, who are struggling to cope with the influx of refugees.

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Analysts have suggested that Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, could be vulnerable to a coup. Maduro and his allies have withstood several murky attacks from renegade soldiers, including an apparent assassination attempt with an explosive-laden drone.

According to The Washington Post, officials from the Trump administration met several times with Venezuelan military officers who claimed to be coup-plotting dissenters. The Venezuelans’ requests for covert aid were rebuffed.

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“We had very little confidence in the ability of these people to do anything, no idea at all about who they represented, and to what extent they had not exposed themselves already,” one official told the newspaper. But the details, reported first by The New York Times, were enough for Maduro’s government.

“We denounce before the world the United States’ intervention plans and help to military conspirators against Venezuela,” tweeted Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela’s foreign minister.

The White House tried to subdue speculation it wants to intervene. National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said: “US policy preference for a peaceful, orderly return to democracy in Venezuela remains unchanged.”

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President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has included Venezuela among the mostly Muslim-majority countries targeted by his travel ban. He has touted the “military option” for Venezuela – rhetoric that sent sirens ringing on a continent all too familiar with American interventions. Reports indicate Trump floated the invasion idea with other Latin American leaders.

But the revelations suggest America’s allies on the ground would be out of their depth. “The main request of the military plotters was encrypted radios,” noted the Times.

In an era of smartphones and encrypted apps, the request for radios struck Venezuelan observers as absurd. “It’s just another reminder that the guys atop the military ... are not only very, very criminal: they’re also painfully stupid,” wrote Francisco Toro of the Caracas Chronicles blog.

The irony of the moment is critics say Trump too is heading down a dark path.

“He’s remarkable in his lack of appreciation for democratic values and institutions and I think that’s where some of the greatest damage is being done,” Republican Senator Bob Corker told CNN last week. “Left to his own accord, our country would look somewhat like Venezuela.”