Venezuela and Lies

April 25, 2002

Two weeks ago there was a coup in Venezuela that almost worked. The elected president, a left-wing man of the people, a populist who took on the oil industry and appeared to identify more with the leaders of Cuba, Iraq and Iran than with the US, was ousted for two days by a military force that had been in regular communication with US officials. At first the White House said nothing but acted as if they were pleasantly surprised. The rest of Latin America howled in protest. The White House said, well, things happen.

Now there are credible reports that US intelligence operations were off shore assisting the coup leaders. The US Southern Command Joint Interagency Task Force based in Key West, Florida, is alleged to have been helping an un-elected Venezuelan business leader oust his elected president. During the coup, further, US electronic warfare technicians were apparently inside Venezuela helping to jam cell phone and radio frequencies in Caracas to prevent communication between the elected government and its own supporters. Additional intelligence support was reportedly provided to the coup leaders from a US Forward Operating Location in Ecuador. United States Navy vessels were standing off shore, including an aircraft carrier, and three destroyers. The Navy had advance knowledge and was prepared to evacuate US citizens. A lieutenant colonel from the CIA, further, had been operating in the country since last summer helping to organize opposition leaders, including Pedro Carmona, who was to become the coup’s figurehead.

These reports are now coming from independent Washington commentators. It is not easy to verify them. But the reports identify the aircraft carriers and the cruisers by name, the forward military units, by name, the command center in Florida, the rank of the CIA officer in Caracas last summer who was doing the organizing. They have the ring of credibility, and given the history of those in this administration which is peopled by the same ones who planned Iran-Contra and the war against the Sandinistas of the 1980s, the reports seem at least as reliable as Pentagon or White House denials.

On the first day of the action, The New York Times and others passed along the report that President Hugo Chavez had voluntarily “resigned.” He had not, as it turned out, done that. President Hugo Chavez was restored to office after two days. The White House then belatedly admitted that they were still not happy and confessed that—from their perspective—sometimes elections are not the key to US support. An American president who did not come to power through a clear electoral victory does not think much of Venezuela’s Chavez, who did.

But the US press gets much of its information from the Pentagon and the Pentagon has this year renewed its dis-information programs of the Reagan years. “Dis-information,” of course, means lies. Ordinary people’s lies are often legally actionable as fraud or may be criminally prosecuted. “Dis-information,” however, is government lying and may not be prosecuted, at least according to the government.

This cynicism is certainly more dangerous to the national interest than terrorism. Cynicism eats away at the voluntary support, the heart of a people’s willingness to play by the rules which is an absolute precondition of a free society. It discourages voting, attending meetings, reading the papers being active citizens. The Administration should therefore aid democracy right here, among us, and put out the whole story of its involvement in Venezuela. And it should disabuse itself of the idea that power gives the right to control information. The truth belongs to all of us and has a way of winning out in the end.