US embassy cable - 94CARACAS2731

REACTIONS TO RELEASE OF FEB 92 COUP LEADER HUGO CHAVEZ

Identifier: 94CARACAS2731
Wikileaks: View 94CARACAS2731 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Caracas
Created: 1994-04-06 17:04:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV MARR PINS KJUS VE
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
O 061704Z APR 94
FM AMEMBASSY CARACAS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7271
INFO AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
USCINCSO QUARRY HEIGHTS PM
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CARACAS 02731 
 
E.O. 12356:  N.A. 
TAGS:  PGOV, MARR, PINS, KJUS, VE 
SUBJECT:  REACTIONS TO RELEASE OF FEB 
          92 COUP LEADER HUGO CHAVEZ 
 
REF: A) CARACAS 2512, B) CARACAS 2270 
 
 
1.  (U)  SUMMARY:  POLITICAL REACTION TO THE RELEASE OF 
THE PRINCIPAL LEADER OF THE FEBRUARY 1992 MILITARY COUP, 
LTC HUGO CHAVEZ, HAS RANGED FROM "GOOD FOR DEMOCRACY" TO 
WARNINGS THAT IT SENDS SIGNALS TO THE ARMED FORCES THAT IT 
CAN ACT WITH IMPUNITY. FOR HIS PART, CHAVEZ HAS EMBRACED 
THE PUBLIC SPOTLIGHT AND ACTIVELY TAKEN UP HIS NEW 
POLITICAL ROLE IN A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS AND 
PRONOUNCEMENTS.  END SUMMARY 
 
2.  (U) IN THE DAYS FOLLOWING THE RELEASE OF THE LEADER OF 
THE FEBRUARY 1992 MILITARY COUP (REF A), LTC HUGO CHAVEZ, 
VENEZUELAN NEWSPAPERS WERE FULL OF REACTIONS FROM 
POLITICAL LEADERS AND PREMONITIONS ON WHAT THE RELEASE 
WILL MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF VENEZUELAN DEMOCRACY.  ONE OF 
THE FIRST TO STRONGLY CRITICIZE THE DECISION WAS ACCION 
DEMOCRATICA (AD) EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER EMILIO 
RONDON.  ACCORDING TO RONDON, THE PARDON OF CHAVEZ AND 
OTHER COUP PARTICIPANTS WILL SIGNAL THE MILITARY THAT IT 
CAN ACT WITH IMPUNITY.  HE SAID THAT RATHER THAN 
ESTABLISHING HARMONY AMONG MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES, 
THE PARDONS WILL BE AN IRRITANT TO THOSE MEMBERS OF THE 
ARMED FORCES WHO DEFENDED THE GOVERNMENT, ESPECIALLY SINCE 
MANY OF THOSE WHO TOOK UP ARMS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT ARE 
NOW BEING HAILED AS NATIONAL HEROES. 
 
3.  (C)  RONDON'S CONCERNS ABOUT DISQUIET IN THE MILITARY 
OVER THE PARDONS WERE SEEMINGLY CONFIRMED BY PRESS 
INTERVIEWS WITH UNNAMED CIVILIAN AND MILITARY MEMBERS OF 
THE MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM.  THESE ANONYMOUS SOURCES SAW 
THE RELEASE OF THE COUP PARTICIPANTS AS A SIGN OF A LACK 
OF AUTHORITY AND WILLPOWER ON THE PART OF THE CALDERA 
ADMINISTRATION.  (COMMENT:  THAT SOME MEMBERS OF THE 
MILITARY COURT SYSTEM ARE LESS THAN HAPPY WITH THE PARDONS 
OF THE 1992 COUP PLOTTERS IS HARDLY SURPRISING -- THEY 
WOULD VIEW THE GRANTING OF PRE-TRIAL PARDONS AS THE 
JUDICIAL EQUIVALENT OF SWEEPING THE ISSUE OF THE REBELLION 
UNDER THE RUG AND THUS DAMAGING THE INTEGRITY OF THE 
MILITARY'S JUSTICE SYSTEM.  MORE IMPORTANTLY, WE ARE NOT 
AWARE OF ANY SERIOUS SIGNS OF MILITARY DISCONTENT WITH THE 
POLITICAL DECISION TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEM OF THE COUP 
PLOTTERS VIA PARDONS AND THEIR DISMISSAL FROM THE ARMED 
FORCES.  END COMMENT) 
 
4.  (U)  THE PRESIDENT OF THE SOCIAL CHRISTIAN COPEI 
PARTY, HILARION CARDOZO, SAID THE RELEASE OF THE COUP 
PARTICIPANTS WAS ACCOMPLISHED WITHOUT COMPROMISING THE 
INTEGRITY OF THE ARMED FORCES AS AN APOLITICAL AND 
NON-DELIBERATIVE INSTITUTION.  HE SEES THE PARDONS AS A 
POSITIVE STEP FOR THE COUNTRY, AND CALLED ON CHAVEZ AND 
OTHER LEADERS OF THE COUP TO UTILIZE THE POLITICAL 
PROCESS, RATHER THAN ARMED INSURRECTION, TO EFFECT CHANGE. 
 
5.  (U)  IN KEEPING WITH THE POPULIST SENTIMENT IN SUPPORT 
OF THE COUP PLOTTERS, THE ARCHBISHOP OF CARACAS JOSE ALI 
LEBRUN SAID THE PARDONS ARE "GOOD FOR DEMOCRACY" AND WILL 
CONTRIBUTE TO THE SPIRIT OF PACIFICATION NEEDED IN 
VENEZUELA.  HE AGREES WITH PRESIDENT CALDERA THAT THE 
RELEASE WILL HELP PUT THE "HOUSE IN ORDER". 
 
6.  (C) IN A RELATED ISSUE THAT WON'T SEEM TO GO AWAY, 
"MOVIMIENTO AL SOCIALISMO" (MAS) PARTY MEMBER LUIS MANUEL 
ESCULPI HAS ONCE AGAIN CALLED FOR A CONGRESSIONAL 
INVESTIGATION INTO A TRIP MADE BY FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER 
RADEMES MUNOZ LEON (REF B).  THE NEW CALL TO INVESTIGATE 
STEMS FROM CHARGES MADE BY CHAVEZ THAT MUNOZ WAS ON A 
MISSION TO THE US LAST SEPTEMBER TO SECURE THE NEUTRALITY 
OF THE USG IN THE EVENT OF A HIGH LEVEL COUP IN 
VENEZUELA.  (COMMENT: CONGRESSIONAL DISINTEREST IN THIS 
ISSUE WILL ASSURE AN INVESTIGATION WILL NOT COME TO 
FRUITION.  WE SEE THIS AS MAS, ONCE AGAIN, TRYING TO MAKE 
POLITICAL GAIN FROM THE SITUATION.) 
 
7.  (C)  SINCE HIS RELEASE, CHAVEZ HAS BATHED IN THE 
POLITICAL SPOTLIGHT AND, THROUGH A SERIES OF INTERVIEWS, 
PRESS CONFERENCES, AND TRIPS, EMBRACED HIS NEW CIVILIAN, 
POLITICAL ROLE.  IN AN APRIL 4 INTERVIEW, FOR EXAMPLE, HE 
CONTINUED HIS ACCUSATION THAT THEN DEFENSE MINISTER MUNOZ 
LEON WAS PLANNING A COUP IN LATE 1993, ALTHOUGH HE 
ADMITTED HE HAD NO PROOF.  REACTING TO FORMER PRESIDENT 
CARLOS ANDRES PEREZ' RECENT STATEMENT THAT HE INTENDS TO 
RE-ENTER POLITICS AND MAY ONCE AGAIN SEEK THE PRESIDENCY 
(ONCE CLEARED BY THE SUPREME COURT), CHAVEZ WARNED THAT 
SHOULD CAP RETURN TO POWER HE AND HIS FOLLOWERS WOULD 
"FIGHT HIM FROM THE MOUNTAINS."  HE ALSO SUGGESTED, RATHER 
STRANGELY, THAT MUNOZ AND CAP WERE SOMEHOW INVOLVED IN A 
SCHEME TO SURRENDER VENEZUELAN SOVEREIGNTY IN THE GULF OF 
VENEZUELA TO COLOMBIA. 
 
8. (C)  COMMENT:  A SHREWD AND EXPERIENCED POLITICIAN, 
CALDERA KNOWS THAT TIMING IS EVERYTHING.  CHAVEZ WAS 
RELEASED ON THE SATURDAY BEFORE VENEZUELA SHUT DOWN FOR 
EASTER WEEK.  THE PAPERS FROM SUNDAY TO WEDNESDAY AFTER 
THE RELEASE WERE FILLED WITH STORIES ON CHAVEZ, HIS 
POPULAR SUPPORT, AND THE CONSEQUENCES FOR DEMOCRATIC 
PROCESSES.  THERE WERE NO NEWSPAPERS PUBLISHED ON THURSDAY 
AND FRIDAY, AND THE CITY WAS EMPTY FOR EASTER SATURDAY AND 
SUNDAY.  BY THE TIME PEOPLE RETURNED TO TOWN ON MONDAY, 
THE HEADLINES WERE BACK TO WHAT CONCERNS VENEZUELANS MOST; 
THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY.  THE BIG STORY IS THE REOPENING 
OF BANCO LATINO. 
 
9.  (C)  CHAVEZ, OF COURSE, INTENDS TO KEEP HIMSELF IN THE 
HEADLINES.  HE IS CLEARLY CHARISMATIC AND ARTICULATE, AND 
DEFT AT USING HIS STATUS AS A HERO -- AT LEAST IN THE EYES 
OF SOME -- TO BUILD A POLITICAL MOVEMENT.  HIS IDEOLOGY AS 
EXPRESSED IN VARIOUS INTERVIEWS, INCLUDING HIS ANTI-US 
BIAS AND HIS OPEN THREAT OF ANOTHER COUP ATTEMPT SHOULD 
CAP BE RE-ELECTED (AN UNLIKELY EVENT), REVEAL AN 
ESSENTIALLY PRIMITIVE AND FUNDAMENTALIST APPROACH.  HE HAS 
BEEN PUBLICLY LABELLED AS A "CRETIN" BY AN INFLUENTIAL 
JOURNALIST, A VIEW WHICH IS SHARED BY MOST OF THE 
POLITICAL CLASS IN VENEZUELA.  IT IS AN OPEN QUESTION 
WHETHER A CHAVEZ WITHOUT HIS RED BERET AND MARTYR STATUS 
WILL CONTINUE TO ATTRACT SIGNIFICANT POPULAR SUPPORT. 
 
 
DAVIDOW 

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