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CIA Documents Show Bush Knew of 2002 Coup in Venezuela

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Newly released CIA documents show the Bush administration — at the very least–knew about the plot to overthrow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez weeks before the April 2002 military coup. We speak with Peter Korbluh of the National Security Archive and we go to Caracas to speak with attorney Eva Golinger who obtained the documents. [Includes rush transcript]

Newly released CIA documents show the Bush administration — at the very least–knew about the plot to overthrow Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez weeks before the April 2002 military coup and did nothing to stop it.

Until now the Bush administration has claimed it had no role in the failed coup and didn’t know one was being planned.

The CIA documents, which were heavily censored before being released, were obtained by Venezuelan-American attorney, Eva Golinger. One of those documents, dated April 6, 2002, says explicitly “dissident military factions…are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chavez, possibly as early as this month.” The document adds the groups: ” may bungle the attempt by moving too quickly.”

A CIA spokeswoman told Newsday the agency played no role in the coup and was merely collecting information about political events in Venezuela for top U.S. officials.

Chavez supporters have long-criticized the U.S. for supporting the failed coup attempt in April 2002. Chavez was removed from power by a coalition of military officials and business leaders but returned to office two days later.

U.S.-Venezuela relations have turned sour ever since Chavez was elected president in 1998. As president, Chavez has condemned the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and threatened to cut off oil sales to the United States.

Since then, more than $1 million in U.S. government money has been given to Venezuelan opposition groups for democracy-training programs under the auspices of the National Endowment for Democracy–a private agency funded entirely by the U.S. government.

  • Eva Golinger, Venezuelan-American attorney based in New York. She runs the website which has been using the Freedom Of Information Act to obtain more information on the connection between the U.S. government and the anti-Chavez opposition in Venezuela. She joins us from Caracas in Venezuela.
  • Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a public-interest documentation center in Washington. He is the author of “The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s begin with Eva. Talk about the significance of these documents and how did you get them?

EVA GOLINGER: The documents are obtained under the freedom of information act. I contacted the journalist in Washington and we were surprised actually to get these documents considering they were top secret and the request was submitted, we submitted it in November of last year. So they came fairly quickly. The most important point though, about these documents is the one you referred to, the April 6, senior executive intelligence brief that went to over 200 representatives of five different government agencies, the united states and what the documents, the document that particular one says not only that they were stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chavez, but they talk about level of detail in the reported plans and the fact that the plans targeted Chavez for arrest, along with 10 other senior officials, and that to provoke the action, meaning to provoke the coup, the plotters would try to exploit unrest stemming from an opposition march scheduled to take place a few days later and this was April 6, the coup happened April 11. On April 9 and 10 was when the opposition declared a general strike. On April 11 was one of the largest marches ever in Venezuela history and the largest that the opposition has led and that’s precisely what happened was that during that march on April 11, violence struck out and basically, I mean what the evidence shows today here is that there were snipers set out in various points along the march route that just began firing and apparently, according to these documents, that was the plan. In fact, it was the plan in order to justify the coup and blame the violence on President Chavez, which is precisely what the opposition did. The importance of this is that this shows the U.S. government knew ahead of time. This was April 6, 2002. The coup was April 11, meaning the U.S. government knew on April 12 when Ari Fleischer and Phillip Reager of the State Department and Ari Fleischer of the White House came out and made statements saying that to the best of their knowledge, President Chavez provoked the violence and had subsequently resigned because of it. They had in their hands, they had received five days before, plans that showed that that is just what the opposition and military officers were going to do was to provoke that violence and take Chavez prisoner, and the fact that the U.S. government spokespeople came out and said that they had no other knowledge besides this version that Chavez was the one doing this is now contradicted by these top-secret documents that have been declassified by the C.I.A. so the United States Government has been caught in its own trap and even more interesting was last week Adam Morelli, the spokesperson for the State Department responded to these documents and he said that the U.S. government had warned president Chavez about a possible coup and assassination attempt before it happened. What’s interesting about that is that the documents, the importance of them is not whether or not the U.S. government warned Chavez. We don’t know that. President Chavez hasn’t responded. He’s currently on a trip around the world. But the importance is that they knew about the coup and they knew exactly how it was going to be played out and when it was played out to the T according to the documents they had, the plans they had, they then came out and said they knew nothing about it. And that’s what’s important here.

AMY GOODMAN: While we were in Spain this controversy continued there with the Venezuela Foreign Minister Martinos saying that the Spanish ambassador to Caracas was involved with the U.S. ambassador, with supporting the coup and Chavez himself said in Spain I have no doubt that’s what happened. The Spanish ambassador was the only one together with the U.S. ambassador recognized the tyrant put in place via a blood bath and break with the institutional norm. Peter, the significance of this and do you believe that the US not only knew but was involved with the at the same timed coup?

PETER KORNBLUH: The documents don’t really tell us whether the United States was directly involved. They tell us more or less exactly what Eva has just stated, that the U.S. Intelligence community, it’s not actually clear whether it was the CIA or the Defense Intelligence Agency or other members of the Pentagon, had contacts with civilian and military sectors in Caracas and were getting a steady stream of reports on planning for this coup. We know that from the documents. We also know from the documents as Eva pointed out, that this information was, you know, not stopped at some low-level, mid-level desk in the state department or in the CIA, but actually distributed through a very interesting committee called the strategic warning committee headed by the CIA to almost, to the very highest levels of the U.S. government. The senior executive intelligence brief is one step below the presidential daily brief, which goes to the president and about 15 of his top advisers. But the senior executive brief goes to 200 of the, all the most important national security advisers. So this was distributed throughout the US government and certainly since we know that it was distributed, we know that there were meetings held about it, discussions on how to respond, how to perhaps prepare, etc., and as events played out, it is clear that the United States developed, the Bush administration had developed its response, who to blame, how to spin this, and how to support it. I suspect, and let me just say that these documents are incredibly important and perhaps the tip of an iceberg that Eve is starting to melt.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, just very quickly before we move on to Iraq with our guests in Baghdad, in Chile, the government announcing it will give out monthly compensation to 28,000 Chileans who suffered human rights abuses under the Pinochet regime, Peter Kornbluh, you wrote a critical book. Its significance this latest move?

PETER KORNBLUH: Chile is going through a wrenching period where all attention of the nation is being paid to an incredibly detailed report on the torture of perhaps 35,000 people. 28,000 who may receive compensation. The president, president Lagos went on television last night, a major address announcing the release of this report, announcing this compensation. What he didn’t denounce, however, is the key question on every victim’s mind is who did this? When will they be identified and when will they be prosecuted? And that is still an outstanding question that no amount of compensation for the victims is going to address.

AMY GOODMAN: Well I want to thank you both for being with us, Peter Kornbluh of national security archives. His book is The Pinochet File and Eva, speaking to us from Caracas.

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