28 May 2002
The Current Situation in Venezuela
(Document presented by the delegation of Venezuela at the meeting of the
Permanent Council held on May 28, 2002)
THE CURRENT SITUATION IN VENEZUELA
Report presented by the Permanent Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for consideration by the Permanent Council of the OAS
Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 28, 2002
On April 11, 2002, Venezuela suffered a coup d’état, which entailed an abrupt interruption of the democratic and constitutional order.
The international community condemned these acts. The Hemisphere appeared to have regressed to fateful episodes of the past, characterized by the crushing of fundamental freedoms and disregard for human rights. During the forty-eight (48) hours the de facto government remained in power, those who took part in the coup demonstrated their repressive and aggressive attitude toward the people.
The Heads of State of the member countries of the Rio Group, gathered in San José de Costa Rica on April 12, 2002, contested the rupture of the constitutional order and urged a return to the normalcy of democratic institutions. They also requested that a special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council be convened under Article 20 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. This political forum met on April 13 in Washington, D.C. and adopted resolution CP/RES. 811 (1315/02) entitled “The Situation in Venezuela,” in which it, too, condemned the alteration of the constitutional order and convened a special session of the General Assembly.
The twenty-ninth special session of the General Assembly was held in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2002. It made a truly historic decision. The ministers of foreign affairs and the heads of delegation adopted resolution AG/RES. 1 (XXIX-E02) “Support for Democracy in Venezuela,” in which they expressed their “satisfaction at the restoration of the constitutional order and the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez Frías in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” They expressed “the determination of the member states to continue applying, without distinction, and in strict accordance with the letter and spirit of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the mechanisms provided for therein for the preservation and defense of representative democracy, reiterating their rejection of the use of violence to replace any democratic government in the Hemisphere.” They supported “the initiative of the Government of Venezuela to convoke immediately a national, all-inclusive dialogue” and urged “all sectors of Venezuelan society to participate and devote their best and most determined efforts to bringing about the full exercise of democracy in Venezuela.”
Furthermore, the ministers of foreign affairs instructed the Permanent Council of the Organization to present “an overall report on the situation in Venezuela to the General Assembly at its next regular session.” Pursuant to this mandate, today’s meeting will approve the Report.
Against this backdrop, our delegation presents the views of the Government of Venezuela regarding the tragic and lamentable events that occurred and the policies currently being pursued to achieve complete institutional normalcy in our country.
II. Restoring the Constitutional Order
As the international community is aware, a rousing popular movement, in alliance with Venezuelan Armed Forces loyal to the fundamental values of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, managed to reestablish the constitutional order and reinstate President Hugo Chávez Frías as Chief Executive. This was a unique, unprecedented event in the political history of our Continent. Democratically elected governments have been swept from office by coups d’état, which have not, however, triggered immediate social and political movements with enough strength to restore them to power. Not so in Venezuela. Most segments of the Armed Forces and key command structures proved to be profoundly democratic.
President Hugo Chávez’ first words, upon resuming office as Head of State, in the early hours of Sunday, April 14, 2002, were intended to foster peace and reconciliation. He called for rationality in politics and the reunification of the country. He promised to continue implementing the political program he heads (aimed at achieving a more just, equitable, libertarian country), within a democratic and peaceful framework. He called upon all political and social sectors, without exception, to pause for reflection in the quest for alternatives that abide by the Constitution. He said that he was returning to fulfill the high functions entrusted to him by the sovereign people, with no desire to retaliate or seek revenge. He reaffirmed his government’s readiness to respect human rights unreservedly. He expressed his willingness to convoke a far-reaching national dialogue aimed at overcoming the principal problems besetting the country.
Sad to say, the Venezuelan government inherited a country fraught with injustice. The abundant revenue from oil exports was not used by those in power in recent years to develop the country in a comprehensive fashion; streamline the State; correct age-old injustices; and reduce marginalization. On the contrary, social, economic, and territorial inequalities worsened. Poverty increased to unprecedented levels.
III. Attacks on Democracy in Venezuela
The National Constitution promulgated in 1999 calls for a participatory democracy in which citizens have a leading and responsible role. These are principles that allow representative democracy to work, inasmuch as they generate mechanisms of communication and dialogue that ensure that all citizens, and especially those who are traditionally excluded, are heard by those who direct the affairs of state.
Political participation has been boosted in Venezuela, as never before. There are frequent demonstrations of grassroots support for President Chavez, especially by those Frantz Fanon once referred to as “The Wretched of the Earth.” Political opponents repeatedly take to the streets to voice their opinions. All these are unmistakable manifestations of the political pluralism that is the hallmark of a democratic society, such as Venezuela’s at this time.
The broad spectrum of debate taking place in Venezuela reflects the necessary and complex process of introducing changes of a progressive nature that the country requires at every level. A truly historic challenge. The vast majority of people in our society seek a deeper and more perfect democracy, by combining ongoing respect for the rule of law with statutes that guarantee economic, social, and territorial equity. For the Government of Venezuela, Democracy and Justice are two sides of the same coin.
There are, nonetheless, some who oppose these changes. Many of them, because they are confused. A minority, which clung to the perks and privileges of power and lived lewdly off the immense wealth generated by Venezuela’s oil-based economy, has unfortunately managed to sow the seeds of its antidemocratic ideology. This minority stubbornly opposes any option involving balance and justice in the distribution of wealth. In its recklessness, this minority has no qualms about resorting to racism to discredit grassroots sectors and their leaders. Lamentably, racism has expanded its ranks in Venezuela. The ideology underlying it, which used to be confined to tiny niches, has seeped into certain social strata. This is a worrisome development in a society historically shaped by an egalitarian and tolerant culture.
The Government considers opposition legitimate. As absolutely necessary to enhance democracy. Never before in the history of our country did the opposition enjoy such leeway to voice its views. Its criticisms are often excessive. Even so, its spokesmen are treated with respect and consideration by the Government. For those who took part in the coup of April 11, human rights and due process have been respected. They are even invited to the National Parliament, in which a majority supports President Chávez, to express their opinions, which are broadly and instantaneously published by all the media. That is how tolerant the Venezuelan government is. Its conduct is unparalleled in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean. Murder, torture, imprisonment, and persecution used, often enough, to be the fate meted out to dissident politicians and those who rose up against the authorities.
The civilian leader of the abortive coup publishes his columns in the national press. He was put under house arrest, with his family beside him. From there he managed to get to the residence of the ambassador of Colombia, which granted him asylum. President Chávez has ordered a safe conduct pass for him, to enable him to leave the country.
Again and again, President Chávez has proclaimed the need for national consensus. Opposition demonstrators repeatedly take to the streets. Supporters of the President are equally entitled to air their views. A state of emergency, which the National Constitution provides for, has never been decreed, despite the difficult times the country has been through.
Now, when political tensions have reached a high point, dialogue is the only way to find solutions to conflicts of interest.
Plots to destabilize the democratic order are still being woven. The truth of the matter is: they began the moment President Chavez won the elections. Despite their trouncing, antidemocratic circles persist in provoking unseemly clashes and refuse to take part in the dialogue proposed by the head of state. They spend huge amounts of money on campaigns in Venezuela and abroad to discredit the Government. Their obsession is to overthrow President Chávez, by hook or by crook, even if in the process they ruin the country. No stone is left unturned in their attempt to achieve their mindless objectives. They refrain from competing in the democratic arena and to abide by the Constitution.
The competent authorities are investigating events during the coup and its perpetrators, discretely and magnanimously. They are trying to establish, strictly within the law, the responsibility incurred by the protagonists of the coup.
IV. Lamentable consequences
The sequel to the call for an indefinite general strike was the march by the opposition convoked for April 11, which was to go from Parque del Este to Chuao, the headquarters of the PDVSA in Caracas. The emotions, excitement, and good faith of the crowd were manipulated by certain leaders who pressed it to continue to the Palacio de Miraflores, thereby contravening the rules that require prior authorization for any street demonstration.
Several Government spokesmen–and the President of the Republic himself–warned the leaders of the demonstration to exercise greater prudence, reflection, and rationality to avoid a highly undesirable clash between conflicting groups in the vicinity of the Palacio de Miraflores. These calls were ignored and the result was an atmosphere of confusion and conflict. That was when tragedy struck and blood was shed.
April 11, 12, and 13 were the fateful days. People were killed and private property was severely damaged. Venezuelan homes were suddenly fraught with anxiety and unease.
A few civilian and military players, who had been plotting a coup and their antidemocratic strategy for some time, manipulated and abused the inalienable right of any sector in society to dissent from official policies. This is what happened on April 11. That day previously programmed military mechanisms to overthrow the legitimately elected President were activated. And for a few hours they achieved that objective. The lamentable deaths that occurred in the confusion and violence were exploited by opposition circles to cast blame on the President. A number of military officers were undoubtedly misled. Under cover of chaos and with the news manipulated by the media, those taking part in the coup detained the President and held him incommunicado. They named a de facto ruler, who, during his swearing-in on the afternoon of April 12, announced the dissolution of all powers of State and annulled the Constitution backed by 80 percent of the population in the first referendum in the country’s history. By decree, he derogated 48 laws addressing social and economic issues. He dismissed all governors, mayors, and parish councils elected by universal and direct suffrage. And he even eliminated the country’s name, sullying the honor of our illustrious founder, the Liberator Simón Bolívar. The de facto government unleashed a ferocious persecution against parliamentarians and other leaders who support President Chávez.
According to Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, freedom of expression and information is not unlimited. It must be exercised with responsibility and in such a way as not to impair national security, or the dignity and honor of individuals. Some media celebrated the overthrow of the Constitutional President, but failed to report that millions of Venezuelans took to the streets on April 12, 13, and 14, 2002 in the country’s principal cities, to demand his return and the reestablishment of the constitutional order.
Despite that, the Government of Venezuela has refrained from retaliating or imposing any restrictions on those media. On then contrary, President Chávez has urged all those who support him to respect the media and journalists, thereby furnishing irrefutable proof of political tolerance. The truth of the matter is that criticism has never been exercised in the media with as much freedom as it is today. There have, undoubtedly, been manifestations of intolerance against various media by government supporters. The President and other leading authorities have objected to these undesirable forms of behavior and requested that they should not happen again.
V. The Historic Return of the President
On Saturday, April 13, masses of people began to assemble in the early hours of the morning at Fort Tiuna, the country’s principal military facility. Thousands of demonstrators demanded the release of President Hugo Chávez Frías. Similar protests proliferated in numerous cities in the interior, and a crowd congregated around Miraflores Palace to demand the return of President Hugo Chávez.
That afternoon, the de facto government–besieged by an enormous crowd–was losing control of the Government Palace. The supporters of the coup fled, and the people recovered the country’s main symbol of power. In the dawn of Sunday, April 14, President Chávez was restored to his high post. An exceedingly democratic civilian-military movement restored the constitutional order in an unusually peaceful act that is unparalleled in the modern history of our Hemisphere.
That very same afternoon, some Cabinet members of the constitutional government returned to Miraflores Palace. The news that the President had not resigned became known and was circulated at the bold, valiant initiative of a soldier serving at one of the locations where the Head of State had been detained. Democratic soldiers from Caracas, Maracay, and throughout the country demanded a return to the constitutional order. At the same time, some international news channels transmitted these historic events. Indeed, it was the strong democratic conviction of Venezuelan society and the attachment of most military sectors to the rule of law that led to the great victory for Venezuelan democracy, providing the world with a lesson in civic maturity.
The government institutions of the Venezuelan State are now taking a series of steps to enhance democratic stability and seek the reconciliation of all Venezuelans, in the framework of the respective areas of responsibility and authority entrusted to them in the Constitution. They are striving to establish by consensus the foundation for democratic governance, inspired by liberty and justice.
The head of state’s willingness to promote dialogue was not just a pledge. Through a decree issued on April 28, 2002 he established the Commission for Dialogue, which he personally chairs. He appointed the new Executive Vice President of the Republic, Dr. José Vicente Rangel, former Minister of Defense and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, to coordinate the Commission. The Executive Vice President has a proven democratic track record and has been a staunch defender of human rights in his public life. The Commission was formed with broad participation by different sectors of national society, by a plurality represented intuitu personae. The first meeting was held on May 16, 2002. The Commission is discussing the most important topics weighing on the current national situation.
By consensus, Commission members have prepared a decalogue of pressing social issues, such as the need to overcome the widespread poverty that exists in the country. Regarding political/institutional issues, there is discussion of the length of the constitutional term; reform of the Constitution; the role of the Círculos Bolivarianos; the role of the populace; and the make-up of the National Electoral Council. Special emphasis is given to consideration of the regrettable acts of violence that occurred on the day of the coup and in subsequent days. The Commission recommends forwarding a plan to considerably reduce the use of firearms, to keep them out of the hands of the civilian population, since use of firearms is an exclusive privilege of the armed forces, State security forces, and duly authorized individuals.
President Chávez has publicly admitted, in a self-critique that is unprecedented in the history of Venezuela, that his government had made mistakes in the democracy building process.
He has reiterated his explicit appeal for dialogue and for the reconciliation of all Venezuelans.
In this regard, a series of initiatives were taken to promote intensive national dialogue, without exclusion, with strict adherence to the Bolivarian Constitution.
Immediate initiatives have been implemented for this national dialogue, which was supported by the ministers of foreign affairs at the twenty-ninth special session of the General Assembly, held on April 18, 2002. [KFC1]
The purpose of the Dialogue Roundtables (Mesas de Diálogo) is to reinforce the involvement of Venezuelan society in fundamental actions of the State. Their recommendations will serve as a reference for the policies carried out by all branches of the government. Decisions in the Roundtables are reached by consensus.
The decalogue has been distributed for consideration and implementation in five committees on political, social, economic, land, and international balance. Dialogue will also be fostered in the regions, with support from universities, state governments, and mayor’s offices.
The agenda for the dialogue contains issues that are essential for achieving a broad political agreement:
- Respecting the Constitution and the laws of the Republic;
- Condemning coups as a means of achieving societal change;
- Rejecting violence and intolerance in all their manifestations;
- Supporting the independence of the branches of government, pursuant to the Constitution;
- Ensuring a flawless investigation into the violence that took place on April 11, 12, 13, and 14;
- Examining the role of the mass media;
- Establishing criteria for transparency and balance, to move forward with the dialogue;
- Recommending a sweeping fight against corruption and impunity;
- Democratizing the dialogue to include all levels and all regions of the country;
- Regulating and controlling possession of firearms, in accordance with the law; and
- Guaranteeing transparency and equity in the allocation of government resources.
Mediation Commissions were also established comprising different sectors, for rapprochement with the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV), the Federation of Chambers of Industry and Commerce (FEDECAMARAS), the media, and the Church.
A special parliamentary committee is investigating the events that transpired during the unconstitutional breakdown. It is composed of members of parliament of all political affiliations and chaired by an opposition member. Intensive questioning of both government supporters and detractors is being carried out in this context.
Following vigorous parliamentary debate, it was unanimously decided to establish a Truth Commission, composed of members of civil society. The national Truth Commission Act will be passed to govern its operations and make its final decisions more transparent. This is an absolutely novel experiment in the Hemisphere; the truth commissions created to date, at least officially, were intended to shed light on events and human rights violations corresponding to past periods in each country, never to present or developing situations, as will be the case in Venezuela. This is true, for example, of the National Commission on Disappeared Persons (CONADEP) created in Argentina through Decree-Law 187/83 of December 15, 1983 or the National Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CNVR) established in Chile through Supreme Decree No. 355 of April 24, 1990. Both commissions were established specifically to investigate and clarify brutal human rights violations that occurred in past periods or political regimes.
The National Assembly’s public questioning of the main protagonists, both in the government and in the opposition, is the best demonstration that democratic rule of law is in effect in Venezuela. Senior political and military officials have been questioned. Even President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to appear; he has shown his openness to dialogue and willingness to work with the special committee, even though, according to current constitutional principles in the country, as Head of State he could refuse to appear or limit his cooperation to providing a written response to the questionnaire sent to him. This is singular in the political history of Venezuela.
The Ombudsman promotes actions to protect human rights and fosters a climate of tolerance, a culture of peace, and democratic awareness. In the immediate term, the Ombudsman is seeking reconciliation, with a view to reactivating the capabilities of the Nation.
To achieve its objectives, this Office is strengthening the team of prosecutors appointed in the areas of criminology and forensic medicine, to more swiftly investigate the identity of the perpetrators of the events that caused fatalities and injuries on those fateful days in April.
Moreover, the Office is investigating the possible criminal liability of officials in some mayor’s offices in metropolitan Caracas that may have acted unlawfully on those days. It is also looking into the actions of certain officials who participated in searches without a warrant and arbitrary detentions. It is designing protection mechanisms for relatives of the victims and witnesses, to facilitate the investigative process.
The Office is complying with the precautionary measures adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by appointing various prosecutors to establish the veracity of the facts denounced and determine responsibility, as appropriate.
The Government of Venezuela recognizes the solidarity demonstrated by the OAS at a crucial time in the democratic life of the country. It greatly appreciates General Assembly resolution AG/RES. 1 (XXIX-E/2) of April 18, 2002, in which the Assembly agrees:
As indicated throughout this report, Venezuela is moving forward in pursuit of national consensus, although each sector continues to defend its political cause and projects. The dialogue process is in full development, even though obstacles persist. Preliminary agreements have already been reached. Other equally substantive agreements will emerge in the coming days. The main support that the Government of Venezuela is requesting from the OAS is basically political support. In this regard, the aforementioned resolution is already evidence of support for the government and for democracy in our country.
The government hopes to strengthen consensus further, through the dialogue and reconciliation process. It would be inclined to request specific support from the highest hemispheric organization, if necessary, to improve and enhance the democratic institutional framework in Venezuela.