Venezuela Celebrates “Glory” of Failed Military Coup

EspañolOn Tuesday, Venezuela’s government commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the attempted military coup led by commander Hugo Chávez Frías against then President of Venezuela Carlos Andrés Peréz on February 4, 1992.

Remembering that day as a “civil-military rebellion,” Nicolás Maduro’s government launched the celebration for February 4. Chavistas regard it as the first step towards the Bolivarian revolution, and a mystical aura emerges with this date, also known as “4F.” Followers promoted the memorial through social networks with the hashtag #4FRevoluciónParaSiempre (4FRevolutionForever).

The memorial took place in a rally at the Cuartel de la Montaña (Quarter of the Mountain) — a former military museum and current mausoleum where Chávez’s remains are kept. The place is very symbolic, since it served as an operation center during the 1992 attempted coup d’état.

Led by President Maduro, supporters marched in the capital of Caracas from Pagüita square in the city center to the mausoleum, and paid tribute to their “supreme commander” Hugo Chávez. Further, social organizations gathered and talked over the importance of this date for Venezuelan history.

1992 Military Coup

The attempted coup — that yesterday the country remembered — took place in a highly unstable Venezuela. After several administrations tried to cap inflation, Carlos Andrés Pérez took office in 1988 with high levels of support from the population. He put forward firm economic reforms, backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that would have significantly affected Venezuelan society.

From the start of his tenure, the country experienced a series of protests, and in 1992 a social explosion took place: the Caracazo — a series of riots and looting in the capital city. The social discontent generated political instability, and weakened the legitimacy of political leaders who had been democratically elected.

In this context, a group of young members of the military decided to overthrow President Pérez. This Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement 200 (MBR-200) actually dated back to 1983, and members had studied ideas from Simón Bolívar, Simón Rodríguez, and Ezequiel Zamora, which inspired their concepts of “sovereignty, liberation pedagogy, and the defense of the people.”

The aim of this group was to create a National Emergency Government after the military rebellion triumphed. The MBR-200, headed by Chávez, then secretly conspired to execute a coup. However, General Manuel Delgado Gainza became aware of and denounced the operation, so the young rebels had to carry out the plan before the original date. Even so, bringing the date forward wasn’t enough to succeed because soon the government took control of the rebellion.

The Men Behind the Rebellion

The Operation Ezequiel Zamora was planned to be carried out on Tuesday, February 4, but the informer’s revelation forced the young military group to begin the coup one day early, on February 3. Hugo Chávez, Francisco Arias Cárdenas, Jesús Urdaneta Hernández, Jesús Ortíz Contreras, Yoel Acosta Chirinos, and Luis Pirela Moreno were the men behind the occupation of Venezuela’s main cities, including Caracas and the Miraflores Presidential Palace.

After the rebellion the commanders were incarcerated, and then pardoned in 1994 by then President Rafael Caldera. Most of them held — and still do — posts in different administrations.

Jesús Urdaneta Hernández distanced himself from Chávez in 2000, and accused him of financing the FARC. He even signed the referendum in 2004 that tried to revoke Chávez from his post. Yoel Acosta Chirinos continued in the military, and also joined the opposition during the presidential elections in 2012.

After being absolved, Jesús Ortíz Contreras worked for a year in diplomatic missions in Europe. He died in 1995 in a car accident.

From all of them, perhaps Francisco Arias Cárdenas is the one member who has been more involved in Venezuelan politics for the last 22 years. After supporting Chávez in his first presidential race in 1998, Arias Cárdenas made public his disagreement with the Bolivarian leader’s approach, and became the opposition presidential candidate for the 2000 general elections.

After his defeat, he then publicly stated he regretted the campaign and went back to Chavismo. He has been an ambassador and lawmaker, and he currently holds the governor post in Zulia state, in his second non-consecutive tenure.

Democracy: Yes for Chavismo, No for Opposition

The state media campaign has been quite remarkable in praising this date. The Ministry for Information and Communication has made great efforts to promote the 4F commemoration. However, the vocabulary used by the state media to broadcast this event has compelled attention. The phrase “military coup” — a very common term the government uses to refer to the opposition — is completely left out when Communication and Information Minister Delcy Rodríguez invites the nation to participate in this celebration.

The concept of democracy the regime generally refers to is an element that many experts consider important to highlight in this context. We may be accustomed to the phrase democracy as a synonym for republican democracy, but they are not necessarily the same.

According to Roddy Enrique Rodríguez, political scientist and member of the party Voluntad Popular, Chavismo has taken the concept of democracy as a “majority’s imposition.” He believe this event is not celebrated as a coup because “the Chavista narrative uses a lot of elements of the Schmidt’s friend-enemy approach: everything that they do is to favor the people, and against the stateless [lacking the fatherland] oligarchy. Therefore, all their actions are justified, even if the means the violation of human rights.”

Osmel Brito-Bigott, secretary general of the Organization for Liberal Democracy in Venezuela, assures that the “Bolivarian Revolution” can be identified as an unlimited or totalitarian democracy.

“Based on Venezuela’s long democratic tradition, and through the abuse of the majority decisions since 1999, Chavista socialism has used democracy to support their plebiscites, some which have violated individual freedoms,” asserts Brito-Bigott. For him, the most emblematic case of unlimited democracy was the passing of the current constitution which was approved only by 3.7 million votes, as well as the modification of the uninominal electoral process in 1999.

Brito-Bigott, engineer and PhD in economics, believes that these socialist movements necessitate the manipulation of history, and they do so according to their views: “As Orwell would write in 1984: ‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.’ It was necessary to emphasize the attempted coup in 1992 as a defying action against the representative democracy status quo based on the 1961 constitution.”

With Chávez’s sudden death, Brito-Bigott considers it was necessary for Chavistas to idealize him and his work, to keep him alive in the popular imagination beyond a critical reality: “For many years we’ll see in Venezuela, even after this regime is overthrown and the Cuban invasion is expelled, the memory of Chávez and his ‘great feats’ will still be alive in Venezuela’s collective memory.”

On February 4, 1992, when the rebellion’s failure was evident, Chávez said to the media: “For now . . . here in Caracas we didn’t manage to achieve power . . . I take full responsibility for this Bolivarian military movement.” The phrase “for now” would have a very specific meaning: the arrival to power, as well as its following control, would be obtained later by the means the commander would consider necessary.

Chávez announcing the failure in the attempted coup in February, 1992.

Marcela Estrada contributed to and translated this article.

Subscribe free to our daily newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special reports delivered directly to your inbox.
You can unsubscribe at any time