Mark Weisbrot (www.cepr.net
7 August 2002
Bush Administration Tries to Hide Role in
Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill's trip to
Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay has brought some needed
attention to the financial and economic crises there. But
there is one country where the US is playing an enormous
-- and thoroughly destructive -- role that has been left
out of the picture: Venezuela.
Last April the Bush Administration sent a
powerful message not only to Venezuelans but to all of our
Southern neighbors: if we don't like the presidents you
elect, we will use our muscle to get rid of them. By any
means necessary. That is what was understood when the
Administration endorsed the attempted military coup on
April 11 against the elected president of Venezuela. (The
White House later justified its response by saying it
thought that President Hugo Chavez had "resigned;" but
nobody south of the Rio Grande was fooled).
Now we will see whether the Democratic-led US
Senate will object to this 1950s-style foreign policy.
On May 3, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee requested an
investigation from the US State Department, to find out
what it did wrong in Venezuela. What he got was a complete
whitewash -- which was turned over to the Senate last
The State's Department's supposedly independent
Office of the Inspector General didn't even interview a
single Venezuelan, but relied on US embassy officials and
others who had a direct career interest in covering up
what happened. This is comparable to investigating Enron
by talking to Ken Lay and Andrew Fastow.
Significant parts of the report remain classified
-- most tellingly, a section entitled "Miscellaneous
Issues Raised by the News Media in Venezuela or the United
States." Just what issues raised by the Venezuelan and
U.S. news media are our State Department trying to keep
away from the public discussion?
Of course they can't hide what the press has
already printed. The Washington Post and New York Times
cited numerous meetings between top US officials and the
people who led the military coup on April 11. The European
press was even more explicit about these meetings: "The
coup was discussed in some detail, right down to its
timing and chances of success, which were deemed to be
excellent," reported the Observer of London, citing
sources at the Organization of the American States.
There were dozens of such leads in the press that
the State Department could have investigated. But they
chose not to do so; or if they did, they have apparently
withheld the results from the public.
Some of the report's admissions are even more
damning than the omissions. Listing the reasons for US
hostility to President Chavez, the report notes "his
involvement in the affairs of the Venezuelan oil company,
and the potential impact of that on oil prices." There you
have it: the number one reason for the US State Department
supporting a military coup against a democratically
elected president. He had the nerve to get involved in
deciding how much oil Venezuela should produce, instead of
leaving these decisions to Washington! And people wonder
why anti-US sentiment is rising in Latin America.
Even more importantly, the report admits that US
officials did little or nothing to warn the coup leaders
that the United States would impose sanctions on a
government that was installed by military force. This
means that all the admonishments from the US embassy about
not supporting a coup -- while Washington was funneling
millions of dollars to pro-coup organizations -- were a
mere formality. The real message was a big green light.
The anti-democratic Venezuelan opposition will
continue to understand that message, until there is an
explicit statement from the Bush Administration that a
coup would result in a cut-off of economic and diplomatic
relations with the United States.
The Senate should demand exactly such a
statement, and conduct a real investigation in place of
the State Department's cover-up. Anything less would tell
the world that our Congress -- not just the Bush
Administration -- has little respect for democracy in
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic
and Policy Research, in Washington D.C. (www.cepr.net)