By Jesús Rodríguez Espinoza – Apr 13, 2022 (first published April 13, 2005)
Below you will find a piece written 17 years ago that I believe worthy of translation and additional elaboration to make it more digestible for international audiences, and also to place it in the context of issues currently affecting most of humanity. I will place the additional text in italics to differentiate the original content from the updated content.
In the interest—very important—of recording the personal experiences of those of us who suffered the coup of April 11, 2002, I allow myself to recount my humble experience:
Despite having been educated on the left, living for several years in the Soviet Union and considering myself a person with social sensitivity, I always saw myself as an aspiring technocrat, as someone who had to work for products, with predefined schedules and allocated resources. Thus on April 11, as a good aspiring technocrat, I was at my job (at that time with the Ministry of Science and Technology) attentive to everything that was happening in the country (via the internet and radio), but working nevertheless, as much as the situation permitted.
In those days Antiescualidos.com, Espacio Autogestionario and Redbolivariana.com were good places to find an alternative perspective to conventional media, and when I had a chance I consulted them, although at that time I was still a believer in mainstream media and paid more attention to it.
It’s worth mentioning that April 11, 2002, signified a rupture between millions of Venezuelans and domestic mainstream media, due to the active role it played in promoting and actually leading the coup d’état. At that time Aporrea.org was still not online. A few months later, Aporrea.org became an indispensable tool for many Chavistas to access information without the censorship and bias of domestic mainstream media.
I particularly remember the morning drive (on Thursday, April 11, 2002) from my house in El Paraíso to my office in Los Ruices (east of Caracas). I saw a convoy of brand new cars (mostly) with colored and black flags and upper-middle-class youth participating in a kind of political orgy or celebration. Arriving at the office I asked myself: how could it be that the other humble Venezuelans, who are going to work and going about their everyday lives, are not going to go out and defend this [Bolivarian Revolution]—the only thing that I had ever known, since my birth, that could permit them to achieve their legitimate demands?
I was still very far from being aware of what it meant to go from talking to doing, and from understanding the impact of the decisions made by those of us who believed in change. In other words, I did not clearly distinguish between spectators, and those who are activists or actors who lead the change.
April 11, 2002 and the days that led up to to April 13 represented for many Venezuelans a paradigm of change in the way we saw life, and in the way we saw politics and ourselves as agents of change. It was one of those rare historical moments that force one to take sides and realize that you have to do more than simply go out to vote, or discuss change in an online platform—that you have to become a protagonist of change.
That day I arrived at the office, I did the best I could within the context, and at noon, when reports came in that the opposition demonstration had been diverted towards Miraflores, the first thing that came to mind was to think: “These crazy people are seeking bloodshed. Chavez must order the arrest of these fanatics and the dissolution of that march.” In any case, the macabre plan of the fascists had already begun and it was impossible to stop it.
In respect for the truth, this was a moment when all right wingers in Venezuela were able to unite and mobilize tens of thousands of supporters that were supposedly to concentrate in Chuao, east of Caracas, but later decided to march directly to Miraflores Palace where a few thousand Chavistas had been holding a vigil for two days. Only during the guarimbas of 2006, and perhaps in 2014, did the opposition forces manage to gather such a large number of supporters in the streets.
A few minutes after that announcement the Ministry authorities ordered the staff to go home as a security measure. I remained in my office until three or four in the afternoon, watching electronic media, news, contacting friends in Venezuela and abroad who shared our support for the government of Hugo Chávez.
I got back to my house, avoiding all the roadblocks that were on the streets (highways were closed), where my wife and daughter were already waiting for me with concern. On the way, all I could do was listen, almost desperately, to half of President Chávez’s speech, which increased my concern about the fate of the revolution.
At my house, I had no choice but to ingest, until about four in the morning, all the distorted information that the traditional media disseminated, and the small amount of information that VTV issued (until it was taken off the air).
Taking Venezolana de Television (VTV), the stated-owned television station, off the air, was the signal for many of us that a coup d’état had been consummated. The action was led by the right-wing governor of Miranda, Enrique Mendoza, then very popular among right wingers, and a political mentor for Julio Borges and Leopoldo López, newcomers to Venezuela’s political landscape at that time.
Like many of us who felt the responsibility of caring for our families but were upset by the insane evolution of events, the media war had its impact—at least momentarily—and on several occasions during the night of Thursday, April 11, I cursed Chávez and the inept individuals who worked with him. In any case, I was not sufficiently aware of the degree of manipulation generated by the reactionary Venezuelan media.
It is important to clarify that the primary goal of mainstream and local media during that particular day was to accuse Chavistas of being responsible of the shooting of right-wing protestors who irresponsibly marched towards Miraflores Palace where they knew Chavista forces were also gathering. That was the narrative of the Pistoleros de Puente Llaguno (the shooters of Llaguno Bridge) that was so brilliantly exposed as staged in the great documentary film by Angel Palacios, Puente Llaguno: Claves de una Masacre (Llaguno Bridge: Keys to a Massacre), which can be viewed (with English subtitles) below. The film contains violent images—but these are needed in order to demonstrate the falsity of the narrative.
I was watching television and surfing the internet until three or four in the morning when I heard Lucas Rincón’s (then Minister for Defense) statements that ended up disarming me, despite the fact that when I heard them I felt that he was speaking with great annoyance, and under duress.
Lucas Rincón appeared on television in the early morning of Friday, April 12, informing Venezuela that President Hugo Chávez was “handed” a letter of resignation “that he accepted.” Lucas Rincón’s behavior conveyed the image of a person who was forced to do something against his will. The nature of the statement was worrisome: How could a letter of resignation be “handed” to a President? Shouldn’t he himself write a letter of resignation, if he really wanted to resign? However, April 12 news coverage discussed the alleged letter, and one popular news anchor of the time, Napoleon Bravo, dared to “show” the letter, but did not show Chávez’s signature.
Starting at noon on Friday, some friends came to the house. We began making phone calls and speaking to people who were on the street and relatives. We reviewed the international media through the internet, and of course we monitored Venezuela’s private television stations.
Even before Carmona’s insane self-swearing-in, media statements pointed to a coup d’état, so I decided to review the Constitution from cover to cover to be certain of the constitutional mechanisms specified for this type of event. To my surprise, nothing that Carmona had been saying on radio, television, and the internet was consistent with what was established in the Magna Carta. I began to set up a list of electronic addresses of national and international media, multilateral organizations, national and international non-governmental organizations, etc. The list got to about 180 emails. I took the articles of the Constitution that I considered best applicable for the restoration of democracy. The return of the president was not even a scenario that I considered, I was only thinking of finding ways for the vice president or president of the National Assembly to take office (as stipulated in the Constitution).
During the night of Friday, April 12, Pedro Carmona, President of Fedecamaras (the biggest business association in the country), surrounded by the most “select” wealthy Venezuelans, businesspeople, clerical authorities, right-wing politicians, and military officers, took Miraflores Palace, and in an unprecedented display of political overreach allowed Carmona to appoint himself as President of Venezuela. At the same time, they changed the name of the country back to the Republic of Venezuela, instead of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and took down the large portrait of Simón Bolívar from the center of Miraflores Palace’s main meeting room, and dismissed all state authorities, governors, and deputies. This was clear evidence of the atrocious coup d’état that prompted a response from many Chavistas, and even some right wingers.
In the afternoon the fears were confirmed. The deranged opposition gave us a Venezuelan version of Napoleon’s coronation amid claims of freedom and democracy.
At that time, the evidence of brutal police repression was confirmed by some physician friends who stopped by the house and gave us details of what was going on in the hospitals, and what had been experienced the day before. With great indignation, I sat with my wife next to my computer and told her—seeking approval—that I was planning to launch a massive email campaign denouncing the violation of the rule of law, that this meant running the risk that the reactionary forces, that were already beginning to take up positions in the security forces, would try to hunt me down. My wife, aware of the dramatic historical moment, supported me and somehow validated my need to take action (even though the situation might endanger our lives).
From then on, what I remember is a massive email campaign, participating in virtual forums in various international newspapers (denouncing the coup). In all of them, the common thread was the complaint about the violation of the Constitutional norm and the request for international help to restore the Constitutional legality.
This single act changed my life drastically. I began to participate in internet networks, local and international, with progressive forces that united to defend the Bolivarian Revolution. I met new people and comrades. One thing led to another, and I ended up becoming a relevant Chavista internet activist, that was even portrayed in a Nazi-style website called Reconocelos.com (RecognizeThem.com), with names and information about active Chavistas that they needed to neutralize. A few month later I ended up becoming part of the Aporrea.org collective, that I voluntary left around 2015 when I no longer identified with its editorial line.
Since then, this “leftist aspiring technocrat” began to see a world that he had always heard existed, but that the technocratic discourse had made him believe was a simple political invention. I began to see that behind the pseudo-objective criteria and mechanisms of the technocracy, lies the deepest reaction, and the defense of the interests of the privileged. I recognized that it was not possible to sustain an alternative model without the determined participation of all of us who believe in it, regardless of our greater or lesser degree of economic privilege or level of training. All of us—each one from his or her position—had to support the revolutionary process with real actions.
After that, a series of concatenated events have led me to be part of the Aporrea.org Collective, which has given me the greatest revolutionary satisfaction, despite the fact that I am still a public servant. Something will surely have to be revised at some point so that this amount of satisfaction levels off.
One thing about this very important moment in Venezuelan history that is frequently omitted is the technological context of the events. Google was just beginning, and was not so developed during those days. The internet was a relatively new tool and searching for information was not as easy as it is now. Cellphones were the innovation of the moment, and in that context SMS messages became a very important tool for the organization of Chavistas, particularly during Saturday, April 13, when Chavismo took to the streets to demand the return of Hugo Chávez, because it was by SMS messages that we shared the facts that Chávez had not resigned, and was being held prisoner on La Orchila island, a naval base in the Caribbean.
Featured image: Presidential guard in Miraflores Palace after retaking control of the headquarters of the government in the afternoon of Saturday, April 13, 2002. File photo.
Special for Orinoco Tribune by Jesús Rodríguez Espinoza
Jesús Rodríguez-Espinoza is an expert in international relations, Venezuelan politics and communication. He served for several years as Consul General of Venezuela in Chicago (United States) and prior to that he was part of the foundational editorial team of the website Aporrea.org. He is the founder and editor of the Venezuelan progressive website Orinoco Tribune.