That neverending week in April

There’s nothing new I can add about the events of April. All I can do is share my personal experience, or what is left of it in my mind.

While others focus their attention to the 11th, 12th and 13th, I think that’s too narrow. Thinking back, it’s the time between 7th and the 14th of that month that comes to mind. Sunday to Sunday.

Those eight days were the most complicated in our country’s recent history. From the moment Hugo Chavez blew the whistle and fired some PDVSA executives, he set off an uncontrollable chain of events, ending somehow with the same man holding a cross and asking for forgiveness.

What I remember is me and my family glued to the TV in our living room. Hour after hour, just watching things unfold. We hardly went out of the house, only to buy groceries. We were continually stressed and nervous. Sometimes frightened. Common sense and logical thought went right out. Our lives were dominated by emotions: joy, anger, surprise, sadness and disbelief. Our relatives in other cities were just like us.

The 9th and 10th were days of escalation, not just in Caracas but also in Barquisimeto. On Wednesday night I went to Lions’ Square (usual rallying point for the opposition in the eastern part of the city). It was full of people: waving flags, making loud sounds. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. I only saw anything like that once before in my lifetime: In 1991, when the Cardinals (our local baseball club) won the championship for the first time.

When I saw the scale of the crowd in PDVSA-Chuao on the TV screen, my jaw just dropped. Then came the news: Miraflores was their destination. Knowing that Chavismo was already out guarding the presidential palace, we were filled with uncertainty. Hours later, our worst fears came true. That Thursday night was expected to be long, so we stayed up till dawn. Lots of coffee.

Friday morning. The first page of El Impulso, our local newspaper had two simple words: “Cayó Chávez” (Chávez has fallen). Apparently the military forced him out of office, but the idea of handing the presidency to Pedro Carmona struck us as weird. Why not apply the constitution and give power to the Vice-President or the head of the Assembly?

Something was fishy. It didn’t take long to figure out why.

Watching the reading of Decree # 1 was, hands down, one of the most surreal experiences I ever had. It was so wrong on so many levels, but the content and the reactions of the audience cheering made it fascinating to watch. I was alone then and I couldn’t believe it.

The return of Chavez to power seemed inevitable to me from that point. The way it developed was undeniably powerful. The image that has stayed with me longest is one of a Chavista attacking RCTV with a hammer, smashing the windows. The violence of that single action scares me even today.

By noon of the 14th, we were exhausted. I know for sure we weren’t the only ones.

Ten years on, it feels like that week has never ended. Venezuela hasn’t really moved on. Why? In part because there hasn’t been any serious attempt for the sides in conflict to find closure. The government insists on promoting that time as something it wasn’t while the dissident movement continues to struggle with itself to figure it out what really happened: did they fall or were they pushed?

At the same time, it’s undeniable that the memory of those days will keep haunting us. That week marked us. We’re no longer the same as individuals or as a nation. Every nation has to deal with those kind of turning points: Germany dealt with the war, the division and reunification. The U.S. dealt with the Cold War, Watergate and 9/11. Every country has their share of events that don’t just shake them, but actually redefine them.

The events of April 2002 are a wound that still hasn’t healed. Looks like that wound won’t be take care of in the near future, at least. The Truth Commission that was agreed years ago is just wishful thinking. Ordinary justice has left almost all related cases in the dark, with some small exceptions used more as an political inquisition that a real attempt at justice.

Instead, the events of April have become our version of the JFK assassination. Books, TV programs and websites share all kinds of ideas and conspiracy theories. Some particular works have been helpful in clarify what happened then, like the The Silence and The Scorpion. However, one book can never be enough. Sooner or later, justice must be done. The responsibles must be held accountable and the victims must be given proper reparations.

Sometimes I wonder what would happened if things ended up differently: If Chavez had just negotiated a compromise before the April 11th march took place? If the military had obeyed the orders of implement the Plan Avila? If the Constitutional procedures for a peaceful transfer of power were used? Or what if General Raul Baduel endorsed Carmona’s decree and allowed him to rule? I can only imagine it…

I know many of us are burned out by all the self-reflection, but I think it’s still important to remember and reflected upon what happened 10 years ago. Why? Because it shows us how close we were to fighting each other and reminds us that, in important ways, we’re still on the brink. Some of what makes the best and worst of us came out in that brief period of time. The final chapter of this story is still unwritten.

Someday, the time of closure will arrive and Venezuela will finally move on. But we can not forget. No matter how it hurts, we just can’t forget.

48 thoughts on “That neverending week in April

  1. Thank you,Gustavo for your feelings from the heart. You are appreciated.
    I thought a. things were happening so fast, b.I thought Chavez was gone forever and was very happy.,c. I knew (KNOW) Mr.Carmona was/is a good man.(My wife worked for him.),d.
    After that, I could not believe what happened. I can’t explain it-except I believe everyone was
    tricked. Maybe a conspiracy from the start to defuse and confuse everyone.. I really will always believe that Anyway, it was/is a nightmare ending-bringing Chavez back.

      • Ten years on, it feels like that week has never ended. Venezuela hasn’t really moved on.

        And there you have it. An armistice made possible by $90 oil.

    • VIP it was very clear that what Carmona tried to pull off was temerary at best. He can even be a nice guy, but he is NO polititian. That is why the 12th was so strange …

      … you cannot abandon the people/organizations that had taken him up to that point …

      Instead of sumando he attempted to start this very delicate stage bajando a un gentío del Bus … including those that had “la sarten por el mango” …

      Nice doesn’t hurt, but naive is terrible in that circumstance.

  2. You should do a “Where are they now” segment on all the key players. Most of them are in exile or hiding. Look at Baduel, the guy who brought back Chavez… I’m wondering if he has regrets…

      • Yeap.
        There is one from Altamira and another one from Bello Monte that I think are far more impressive but I can’t find decent links.

        • O sea, Altamira cerca de donde vive María Alejandra? Coye, muérete que yo también estaba pensando en ese sitio.

          • It must be nice to long for class warfare while sipping a capuccino in a trendy Brussels cafe.

            • Juan,
              I was being very ironic. I am not sure Caro got it. I am appalled at the Altamira focus.
              And I was shocked back then when I heard what was happening. When I called my sister she even said: “but the guy is a prepared man, he studied at the Université Libre de Bruxelles”. I answer: no, no, no (not just because it was the French speaking university). Don’t you see the guy is the head of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce? Why so much time? Why dissolve the parliament? Etc.
              4 February 1992 was no surprise to me at all. I was even discussing with a friend (one whose uncle was governor) when the coup was going to come.

              Up to this day I fear a real civil war. I wasn’t born but I learnt a bit about what happened in Colombia with La Violencia. I know Chavistas want, crave for something like that if they were to lose power.

            • I don’t get it guys. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
              I’m just looking for a photo taken from the Xerox tower (I think) towards the west.
              Now that I think about it, the Xerox in in Chacao, right, not in Altamira.

            • There were hundreds of thousands of marchers there, from every region and social group. And yet: the cluster’s centre tended to be towards the better educated and middle class. It is no surprise takes from Altamira were a little bit better. There is no surprise why criminal Bernal got elected in Libertador two years later, in 2004, with 73% of the votes.
              We have gone a long way.
              Still, we must these days keep repeating: and would we get the same nice take if the picture were taken from a building in the West? In Calabozo? Why? What can we do for that to happen? Spending too much time in our “comfort zones” can be dangerous.

              • You must not know Caracas very well. The takes from Altamira were better because the march started from El Cubo Negro.

            • Look at Chavez popularity numbers for Feb 2002. That was an AMAZING demonstration and it had nothing to do with people from Altamira. (of course they were also there).

              For those of you that were not there I know it is hard to understand, so please don’t attempt to shade your perspective on what you think happened.

              There are better pictures Caro, I recall one from Bellomonte that was incredible.

            • Yes, Caraqueño, I was looking for that one too. That’s the one that shows both levels of the highway full of people. Quite impressive.

          • I would demand CCs declares Kepler officially a troll (and treat him like such) if I were not convinced he is a bot

          • Juan – I believe the marcha started from the old PDVSA’s building, not the cubo negro, am I right?

  3. Your reflections are interesting as always. Maybe I am imagining this, but it seems to me that venezuelans are tied to twitter and msn messenger more than others, with an intensity that you don’t see elsewhere. I recently was near the epicentre of an insignificant earth tremor, and the first (and only) person that called to see if I was ok was from venezuela, mere minutes later, and from thousands of miles away. Saw the news on twitter.

    It seems to me that many people are consciously or subconsciously deeply affected by this kind of experience, and the symptoms are everywhere and on the surface. It is like everyone’s disaster antennae are out all the time, and highly sensitive. And those who know venezuelans start to grow them as well.

    • In 2002 there was no Youtube and no Twitter (Sorry, Aristobulo), so the experience was lived somehow differently. However, the shocking thing was fact Venezuelans were killing other Venezuelans.This was not guerrilla fighting in the mountains, but downtown in the Capital, broadcasted live to the country and to the world. I remember the horror I felt (as many others) to watch this. That day was the closest we’ve been to a full-scale civil war since the Federal War (1859-1864).

  4. On the bright side, the generals did refuse to implement plan Ávila. Let’s hope that never changes.

  5. “The return of Chavez to power seemed inevitable to me from that point.” Really?

    Please be so kind as to explain how you were able to foretell that?

    • That affirmation surges from several elements, which comes of several books, TV interviews and newspaper reports on the subject that I have read over the years:

      1.There was a split inside the military about what to do with Chavez. Some wanted him to leave, others wanted him to stay and be put on trial. Looks like the deal that was originally in place allowing Chavez to flee was reversed. Since then, Chavez refused to sign his resignation. That basically triggered his return.
      2. The military high rank wasn’t completely unified in one single position. Some people (like Vice Admiral Ramirez Perez, later named Defense Minister of Carmona’s government) was already active preparing something for some time, while others just jumped the fence after the 11-A massacre.
      3. Carmona’s first decree was inmediatly rejected by not just the military, but by large portion of the political establishment and the international community. That transition was already dead before it started. It was unconstitutional and transformed the events into a coup d’etat.
      4. General Raul Baduel was already preparing an military operation to bring Chavez back with other loyals like Garcia Carneiro. He actually had superior firepower and tactical advantage, thanks to the fact that the Honor Guard and the Batallions in Fuerte Tiuna were ready to fight.
      5. The movilizations of Chavez supporters in Caracas and the riots that followed couldn’t be controled by the Metropolitan Police. The National Guard didn’t appear at all.
      6. VP Diosdado Cabello showed up and was sworn in by the National Assembly President, the late William Lara, abiding to the constitutional rules in case of absence of the Head of State. Tecnically, he was more legitimate that Carmona, because his entrance is based on legal grounds.

      All that pushed the head of the Army, Efrain Vasquez Velasco (who looks that he was the one with the real power to decide then) to reinstate Chavez as the only way out of the crisis and avoid a all out firefight that could have ended with a heavy number of casualties, which could have started a total civil war in the country.

      I hope this clarify your question. I’m trying to pledge closely to the facts already known.

      • “Watching the reading of Decree # 1 was, hands down, one of the most surreal experiences I ever had. It was so wrong on so many levels, but the content and the reactions of the audience cheering made it fascinating to watch. I was alone then and I couldn’t believe it.”

        “The return of Chavez to power seemed inevitable to me from that point.”

        I am going to limit myself to what you wrote in your post. At the time events were unfolding, you and the rest of the country had NO way to foretell how things were going to unravel. No one in Venezuela had any way to do it, period. Except, of course, all the key players involved. That is why I have trouble with your remark, unless you are a psychic. Your response to my query is based on knowledge gained AFTER the facts, and is nothing new if I may say so.

        I also have a lot of trouble with another remark in your post, but I will deal with it tomorrow. It deserves a longer comment.

        • “I am going to limit myself to what you wrote in your post. At the time events were unfolding, you and the rest of the country had NO way to foretell how things were going to unravel. No one in Venezuela had any way to do it, period.”

          Your argument is true. I’m not a psychic. Using information that only came out later is not answering your doubt. So I’ll go back to the point in question.

          The night of the 12th, the situation of the country was on very shaky ground. The whereabouts of Chavez were unknown and the resignation announcement stayed as just that. There was no confirmation, written or otherwise. The press conference of then Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez was heavily damaging, because it brought serious doubts about what was really happening. The arrest and pursuit of Chavismo figures like then Interior Minister Rodriguez Chacin didn’t help to settle fears of a coup.

          The Carmona transition was politically dead mostly because of Decree # 1, putting the country in the way of international isolation (thanks to the recently approved OAS Democratic Charter). They made a lot of mistakes, including avoiding the constitutional mechanisms of transition. The military had to take a decision quickly, how to fix things while avoiding heavy casualties. The tension was in the air that night. The story was not over.

          I thought of that during the night, because some people try to make sense of it all, thinking and using logical terms. Based on what we knew then, I assumed (because after all, this is my recollection of what happened, not a technical or journalistic report) that Chavez’s return or the installment of the VP Cabello (still Chavismo) was the only possible solution to avoid serious bloodshed at the time.

          It’s pretty obvious that you and I have a divergence of opinions, because opinions are subjective. I saw things different to what you saw. There’s not much I can do about that. If you have problems with my remarks. OK, then. But I tried to focus on what I lived and thought then. If you want to share your own experience, welcome. If you want me to have a back and forth with you, I’m not interested. I respect your views and I hope you respect mine. An opinion is not a replacement of the truth, because we don’t know the whole truth of what happened then and probably we never will. That is all from me.

  6. dude, I was able to foretell that and all I had was an internet connection thousands of miles away and the good sense to not only trust CNN for news on the Venezuelan, well, coup.

    “Why not apply the constitution and give power to the Vice-President or the head of the Assembly?” because that’s not the point of a COUP, silly!!!

    however, very nice post, earnest and not ideological. I agree that these wounds should be healed integrally not only in Venezuela but all of south America. probably not what’s happening from either side today.

  7. To Gustavo Hernández Acevedo

    Your post is simply a chronicle of what happened during those days according to what you lived. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to stay as close to the facts as possible if your intention is to be widely read. In that chronicle you can intersperse your opinions, no doubt. However, you should expect some disagreement with them and even welcome some good-natured discussion that can only enrich us all.

    Regardless of the fact that it was planned or not – something that we will never know – it is clear that this was mainly and army coup. I do not know if civilians were involved, but the main drive came from the military. As has always happened. My take of events is that the army deposed Chavez because he was unscrupulously ready to unleash lethal force (aka Plan Avila) on an unarmed civilian population, as evidenced by what the thugs of Puente Llaguno did. It would have been a real tragedy so I guess these army generals came to the compromise of removing Chavez from power. There was no time to do anything else, much less invoking a constitutional procedure to remove him from power. And giving the presidency to the VP would have not made things much different, would have they?

    In my opinion, the main thing was to preclude Chavez from invoking Plan Avila. Controlling the population and avoiding rioting can be done effectively as demonstrated at the third day of the Caracazo. I was at the time in a very advantageous place to observe the looting and violence, and I don’t know if you remember, but let me tell you after the “Toque de Queda” was implemented the streets were totally empty. Nobody dared to go out and confront a soldier with a FAL pointing at you, at least no one in his right mind. So much for the “Bravo Pueblo,” a myth if there was ever one.

    So now the army effectively had the power. Why did they deliver it to Carmona and his band of clowns? It is anybody’s guess, but it may seem plausible to think that they did not want to be seen as the new gorillas of the subcontinent. I guess they probably wanted to have control from the shadows and felt content to let civilians run the day-to-day business of government. Of course, these generals were and still are a bunch of incompetents that barely can do what they were “trained” to do: defend the country. Instead, they like very much the pleasures of life: you should see the basement of the main building of the defense ministry filled with cases of whiskey to the roof, as I have seen. Indeed, they probably had no idea of what they were doing. And of course Carmona and his band of clowns delegitimized themselves from minute one. Instead of doing what they were accustomed to do for many years, that is, trying to influence government to obtain favorable business dealings, they now saw the opportunity of owning the government to do as they pleased.

    This was too much for these generals so the infighting began to reinstate Chavez, because they were divided. All of this happened in the shadows, and I and everyone else had no way to know what was happening.

    Regarding this:

    “Every nation has to deal with those kind of turning points: Germany dealt with the war, the division and reunification. The U.S. dealt with the Cold War, Watergate and 9/11. Every country has their share of events that don’t just shake them, but actually redefine them.”

    I have a hard time concluding that the events of April 2001 redefined us as a country. In my view, once reinstated, those events allowed Chavez to have more time to continue to pursue his agenda. Sure, the military may have “imposed” some limits regarding the use of violence against the population, but he has continued to use it, albeit in a more restricted fashion. I do not see a turning point here. What I see is the country accelerating after these events into a sliding path of generalized destruction.

    And, your comparisons with Germany and USA seem to me a little bit of a stretch. For Germany, the rise of the Nazi regime and World War II were certainly periods that begged a redefinition of that nation after 1945. I am not sure how the Cold War, Watergate and 9/11 redefined the fabric of the United States, although no doubt these were important events. For instance, Watergate exemplarily confirmed that no one – even the president – is above the rule of the law. It hardly was a redefining moment, but one confirming that the United States had strong institution in place, built over a long period of time. Regarding redefining events, I am thinking more in terms of the Civil War and in second place World War II. Moreover, the New Deal was also a turning point in the history of USA, but that would take a long time to explain.

    Finally:

    “If you want me to have a back and forth with you, I’m not interested. I respect your views and I hope you respect mine.”

    I do not seem to have disrespected your views, but I will let you show me where I may have done so. I am not sure how to describe what you mean by “a back and forth.” But if you are not interested in reading what others have to say about what you write, why bother in having a comments section at all? Do you expect people to agree with you all the time? Do you need a pat in the back every time you post something? Do you have a thin skin? I will let you answers these questions.

    Best regards,

    Johnny Walking

    • A back and forth means to have an online version of a shouting match.

      I respect your views on the subject and I wish you best reagrds as well.

    • “Why did they deliver it to Carmona and his band of clowns? It is anybody’s guess, but it may seem plausible to think that they did not want to be seen as the new gorillas of the subcontinent.”

      My guess is that the military guys had been looking for a civilian with a Venezuelan solution to the Venezuelan problem of decades, especially corruption and poverty, for a long time, even before chavez’s name was ever in the news. At some point, with chavez in power, they were probably convinced that Carmona could run the country like a business, much better than any past or current government. It’s not that they didn’t want to be seen as gorillas, it’s that they really weren’t/aren’t gorillas; they truly wanted to install a new government that would be honest, democratic, and efficient. They had reached the conclusion that Venezuela was no longer democratic, certainly not honest, and undeniably inefficient, and that the only option –and their constitutional responsibility– was to reset via coup. I think that had they found Carmona before chavez was elected, they would had done the same before chavez at the earliest opportunity. I really think that to them it was doing a bad thing for very good reasons, like in National Treasure.

      • My dear friend: I, of course, respect your opinion, but I beg to disagree. Carmona was basically a non-entity until the coup, at least politically. I think you give way too much credit to the military. I don’t believe that they were looking for a civilian to solve decades-old problems. I think that is stretching things quite a bit. Before Chavez, we had a political system with very well defined political actors. A coup then would have been unthinkable.

        “At some point, with Chavez in power, they were probably convinced that Carmona could run the country like a business, much better than any past or current government.”

        As I stated, I don’t think they contemplated a coup until Chavez wanted to implement Plan Avila. I think that was the last drop, so they removed him from power because they rightly thought that he was a menace. If they did not want to be seen as gorillas or weren’t ones is irrelevant at this point. They staged the coup and used Carmona to avoid the sure backlash that they were going to get. How could they think that someone with absolutely no executive or legislative experience had the chops to be president? Moreover, as representative of the privileged class, what assurances did they have that he would implement the right policies to help the less fortunate and not unduly favor his chums at the entrepreneurial class? Don’t you think they were risking going back to the worst excesses of the so-called fourth republic?

        “It’s not that they didn’t want to be seen as gorillas, it’s that they really weren’t/aren’t gorillas; they truly wanted to install a new government that would be honest, democratic, and efficient.”

        So, they wanted to install an honest, democratic and efficient government? Huh? If they really wanted that, then they left me scratching my head. Democratic? Well, then: take power invoking article 350 of the constitution, put the thug on trial, and call for elections in less than a year. An honest and efficient government? What does the Venezuelan military know about honesty and efficiency, for God’s sake?

        They staged a half-assed coup and then delivered power to Carmona and his band of clowns who only had the bright idea of doing away with every democratic liberty “de un plumazo.” You call this democratic and efficient? Again, respecting your opinions, I find the role of the military during the coup incredibly stupid.

        • Johnny Walking, assume for a moment that I’m right about one thing: that a group of military folk had been planning a coup at the same time that chavez was planning his first coup. Since we know for a fact that chavez attempted a coup when he did, you can’t very well say that a coup then was unthinkable. Not such a far fetched assumption. Note that there was no 350 back then.

          Assuming for a moment that the military men had no idea how to solve the Venezuelan problem, but, unlike chavez, were aware of their limitation. It’s not so far fetched to think, then, that they would not move forward without meeting someone that convinced them of having a good plan.

          Assuming for a moment that they were/are very nationalistic, it’s not too far fetched to think that they would insist on a Venezuelan original solution, and not an imported one.

          Assuming for a moment that they considered themselves democratic, but were sickened by the situation, it’s not far fetched to think that military folk at the admiral/coronel levels and maybe some generals would insist on a civilian figurehead for a transitional government.

          Assuming all the above is true, it’s easy to understand why some of them even went against Carmona when he took off his business hat and put on his political straw hat.

          I’m not calling their coup democratic and efficient. I’m pointing to their intended form of government resulting from the coup, an honest, democratic, efficient one. But you should note that the coup was successful. Not a minor feat. I believe it’s Carmona that went off his rocker on them. I think even Carmona surprised himself, and is probably still kicking himself.

          Thank you for respecting my opinion on this. I can sense politeness holding you back; I appreciate it. I hope you don’t just brush off these assumptions because of how far fetched they may sound; there’s more than guessing involved.

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