Why Are the Coup Plotters So Impatient?
…And How Venezuela Can Defeat Them Legally
By Heinz Dieterich Steffan
December 8, 2002
The constitutional government of Hugo Chávez faces its fourth assault in eight months. The April 11th coup d’etat launched a chain of mob acts that were repeated under the banner of “civic” or “labor strikes,” all of them programmed with high levels of physical violence and media manipulation.
This high pro-coup intensity against Venezuelan democracy enters a new paradox. The Bolivarian Constitution of 1999, born from the breast of a Constituent Assembly and approved by referendum of the citizens is, without a doubt, the most democratic in Latin America. As such, it provides for removal of elected public officials. Its Article 72 stipulates that “all posts and magistrates that are popularly elected are revocable,” as of halfway though the term for which they are elected.
Applying this Article to President Chávez, the possibility of removing him by recall referendum opens up in August 2003, under the terms of the Magna Carta. That is to say, there is an institutional path to change leadership – that, according to opposition members is the goal of their street actions – whose utilization would protect the life of citizens, strengthen the democratic government and civic exercise of power and improve the national economic situation.
President Chávez has publicly affirmed that he will submit himself to this constitutinoal instrument and the international mediators of the conflict, like César Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), have insisted that the adequate mechanism to resolve the country’s problems is the institutional path. However, the “strikers” dismiss the constitution and the hemispheric political institution, insisting on an extra-constitutional solution and on street violence.
The question that this situation raises is the following: Why don’t the “strikers” wait eight months to reach their goal through peaceful and institutional routes? What is the urgency that makes them act desperately fomenting chaos, ungovernable situations and military coup instead of working toward August?
The reasons for this behavior are obvious and can be summed up by three points: Since the April 11th coup d’etat, which was their maximum point of power, the conspirators have been weakened in two key ways. A. They have lost internal unity and fight among themselves for power, and, more importantly, B. They have lost a fundamental part of their social base in the middle classes. During the 24 hours they were in power, during the April 11th coup d’etat, it became clear that the middle classes had been used as cannon fodder in a transnational dictatorial project. And the previous mob actions via “civic strikes” only deepened the erosion of the pro-coup clique’s legitimacy, supported from foreign lands by Otto “Third” Reich and recycled Spanish Franco fascism.
The second reason for the pro-coup haste is the entrance in vigor of various important laws that come into effect on January 1, 2003, that touch vital interests of the economic elite: Among them, the Land Law that affects not just the large plantation owners in the country but also real estate speculators and vacant lots in urban zones. The Hydrocarbon law is even more important because it will permit the dismantling of the meta-State of the petroleum business PdVSA, the corrupt oil group that controls the economic life of the country and that is an integral part of the New World Energy Order of George Bush.
Today, only 20 percent of the income of this mega-company goes to the State. Eighty percent goes to “operating costs” that enrich secret accounts of the beneficiaries of this economic cancer. The power of this petroleum “steal-ocracy” has become propped up progressively during recent decades. In 1974, the company delivered 80 percent of its income to the State and kept 20 percent (“operating costs”). In 1990, the ratio tied at 50 to 50 percent and in 1998 it reached the ratio of 80 to 20 percent. It’s logical that they are going to fight to the death – of the nation – to defend “their” black gold.
Today, only 20 percent of the income of this mega-company goes to the State. Eighty percent goes to “operating costs” that enrich secret accounts of the beneficiaries of this economic cancer
The third reason the pro-coup forces are in a hurry is found in their doubts about being able to win a recall referendum. Article 72 places three conditions to revoke the term of the president. 1. A number of no less than 20 percent of the voters signing petitions is necessary to call the referendum. 2. The voter turnout must be 25 percent or more. 3. The number of voters who vote for the recall have to be equal or more than the number of voters who elected the official. Since Chávez was elected with 57 percent of the vote, the “strikers” will have to meet or supercede this percentage in the August referendum.
There is an aggravating situation for the pro-coup forces. During the period for which the official is elected “there can not be more than one recall referendum on his term” according to the Magna Carta. Thus, an eventual failure of the referendum will use up all institutional possibilities of overthrowing the Bolivarian government.
In the current phase of the conflict, the clique that runs PdVSA and the mass media in Venezuela are two fronts of the internal battles where the destiny of the Boliviarian experiment is being decided. Having lost their pro-coup nucleus in the Armed Forces and part of their social base in the middle class, the conspirators have made the decisive battle of this mob action that they call “an active strike with an ingredient of gasoline.” That is to say: Control of the petroleum steal-ocracy.
To defeat the attempt at strangulation by energy by the subversives opens the door to the firing of the directorship of PdVSA and the recuperation of the company for the nation. This will be the means of triumph or failure by the government. All compromise with the conspirators on this point will maintain the economic-union center of the counter-revolution alive and weaken the popular process.
To defeat the conspiracy through legal, but firm, opportune and audacious measures would reduce the internal hydra to jsut one head: the media octopus. The politics of this octopus is explained by multiple economic and political interests of wide influence, among which the quartet of (former president) Carlos Andrés Pérez, Gustavo Cisneros (of Venevision TV), Jesús Polanco (of the daily El País in Spain) and (Spanish politician) Felipe González figure prominently. That will be the theme of another analysis.
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