'An Atmosphere of War'

Venezuela: Coup de Grâce?

Anti-Chavez demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela
Caracas, Venezuela, July 11, 2002 (AFP Photo/Juan Barreto).

The mobilization on July 11 of a massive opposition march in Caracas—staged less than 48 hours after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s reconciliation mission to Venezuela ended in failure—has intensified expectations of an imminent showdown between embattled President Hugo Chávez and the broad front of political, business, and labor opponents demanding his resignation.

“We have begun to enter a tunnel of no return, into an atmosphere of war,” observed columnist Gerardo Blyde in El Universal (July 5). Comparing the present national mood to that of Spain on the eve of that nation’s bloody civil war in the 1930s, Blyde lamented that Venezuela has become “a country fragmented into two extremes who seem not to wish to live together.” Far from embarking on a national dialogue to achieve reconciliation,” he wrote, “Each zone has become entrenched in its radical postures.”

The July 11 march, called to commemorate the April 11 clash between protesters, security forces, and Chávez supporters that left 19 dead, proceeded without violence as anti-Chávez demonstrators reluctantly obeyed an official ban that prevented conclusion of the march at the Miraflores presidential palace. “Venezuelans yesterday marked another extraordinary success in their fight for democracy and the rule of law,” observed El Nacional (July 12). “It was peaceful, orderly, vast, representative, in sum, all that is the Venezuelan people and that they yearn for so ardently: peaceful solutions to the unsustainable situation that we are going through.”

Columnist Vladimir Villegas wrote in El Mundo (July 11) that, “three months after April 11..., its balance of death, violence, and coup-plotting seems to have made no impression on some dark spirits who continue to be engaged in traveling the path to confrontation and the shortcut of conspiracy.” He worried that the democratic opposition is at risk of falling hostage to radicalized elements who would hold that “Anyone who favors dialogue with the government is legitimizing it and playing the role of the useful fool.”

Chávez’s pointed refusal to accept international mediation has led his critics in the press to explore other alternatives. “Much has been said about which is the best way out of the difficult situation that we are living through in Venezuela,” said Rodolfo Chacín of Tal Cual (July 8). “They talk of continuing the mobilizations, amending the constitution, holding a consultative or recall referendum, of possible legal action against the president....And—why not say it—many wish for a coup.”

“For my part,” Chacín wrote, “aside from a coup d’etat...I believe that no solution can be dismissed out of hand. Civil society must pursue with equal enthusiasm all possible roads, because it is our future that is at stake.” His advice to the Venezuelan military: “Stay calm, because history has demonstrated that institutional crises always produce their own solutions.”