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Pundits and Dilettantes Pontificate on Latin American Coups
email this pageprint this pageemail usJerry Brewer -
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October 06, 2010

A perplexing theme continues to emerge as a myriad of pundits, mainstream media and worldwide bloggers weigh in on the nuts and bolts of insurrection, revolt, protest and a coup d’état. Yet the recent and past events in Ecuador, Honduras and Venezuela are clear distinctions to those that can actually separate fact from fiction.

One such coup is a “Guardian" coup d’état. In this scenario the leaders portray their motives and acts as “temporary and unfortunate necessities.” The alleged aim of such a coup is generally to improve public order while ending corruption and increasing efficiency. No fundamental power structure is usually changed.

A traditional or “Breakthrough” coup d’état is usually one in which a revolutionary army takes and overthrows a traditional government and “creates a new bureaucratic elite.” This was clearly demonstrated by a career military officer by the name of Hugo Chávez Frias in 1992, in Venezuela, as he unsuccessfully attempted to remove President Carlos Andres Perez. This coup was precipitated after the Perez government cut social spending under guidance of the International Monetary Fund.

The Perez administration sought to restore fiscal stability to Venezuela’s ailing economy by also curtailing social spending. Venezuela’s poor revolted. Hugo Chávez seized the opportunity to be portrayed as a hero to the poor who would bring prosperity, and on February 4, 1992 five army units under Chávez's command rode forcefully into urban Caracas. Their mission — to assault and take control of key military installations, including the presidential palace. Chávez's plan was to intercept and take custody of Pérez as he returned from a trip overseas.

Chávez supporters were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves, in which “Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against Pérez.” As Chávez’s coup unfolded, Pérez eluded capture. The dead included 14 soldiers, plus 50 soldiers and some 80 civilians were wounded.

Chávez’s rebel forces in parts of Venezuela did take control of several large cities such as Maracaibo, Valencia, and Maracay. However, the Chávez forces failed to take Caracas.

Chávez gave himself up and called for the remaining rebel forces to cease fire and other hostilities. Chávez’s parting statement was that he had only failed "por ahora" (for now).

On April 11, 2002 a coup attempt took place in Venezuela against President Hugo Chávez. Chávez was detained by the military. The pro-Chávez Presidential Guard eventually “retook the presidential palace,” and Chávez was reinstalled. Venezuelan Air Force Colonel Pedro Soto, and Captain Pedro Rivero of the National Reserve, had previously led a rally protesting the Chávez government's “undemocratic and authoritarian practices.”

An alleged coup of a different color emerged on the morning of June 28, 2009 in Honduras. Was the removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya an illegal coup, or an action of real democracy?

Zelaya was accused of violating his nation's Constitution by sponsoring a referendum that was ruled illegal by the Honduran Supreme Court. This, an action to eliminate term barriers to reelection as other leftist Latin American leaders had recently done. Honduran officials were quick to fly Zelaya into exile on the orders of the Supreme Court. Roberto Micheletti was then sworn in as de facto president by the National Congress, to a term that would end in January 2010. Micheletti was previously the President of the National Congress, since 1982.

Was this a removal aided and abetted by the military assuming extra-constitutional powers?

The fact is that Zelaya was removed from office “with the backing of Congress and the Supreme Court.” This action, by the Republic of Honduras government, was via a viable Constitution that had censured Zelaya, forcing him to stop acts that were “considered illegal under the Constitution.” Zelaya’s persistence, shown in ordering the military to help him, subsequently demonstrated a democratic refusal by generals to comply with his order, as did his eventual removal.

Quick to respond and come to the aid of Zelaya was Venezuela’s Chávez, who is described as Zelaya’s “top ally.” Chávez called for military intervention by the United Nations if the Honduran government shows any aggression toward Zelaya. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, an ardent supporter of Chávez, offered his assistance to accompany Zelaya back to Honduras.

Recent knee-jerk accounts by some, regarding Ecuador’s “coup attempt” last week, criticized the U.S. response as “ill-advised hesitation (and) particularly damaging to the democratic legitimacy of U.S. policy in light of its pitiful performance with respect to Honduras last year, when it frustrated the democratic process by settling for an unsatisfactory compromise that did not return the ousted Zelaya to power” (Council on Hemispheric Affairs, 9/30/10).

Yet Honduras has, in fact, invited the ousted President Zelaya — who has been living in the Dominican Republic — to return and be tried.

Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia. His website is located at

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