The US and the Coup in Venezuela

Dissent Voice News Service, April 28, 2002

1) American Navy 'Helped Venezuelan Coup'
2) Washington channelled funds to groups that opposed Chavez
3) Venezuela coup linked to Bush team
4) US Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move
5) Otto Reich's Propaganda is Reminiscent of the Third Reich
6) Venezuelan Media accused in failed coup


1) American Navy 'Helped Venezuelan Coup'
by Duncan Campbell in Los Angeles
The Guardian [UK]; April 29, 2002

The United States had been considering a coup to overthrow the elected Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, since last June, a former US intelligence officer claimed yesterday.

It is also alleged that the US navy aided the abortive coup which took place in Venezuela on April 11 with intelligence from its vessels in the Caribbean. Evidence is also emerging of US financial backing for key participants in the coup.

Both sides in Venezuela have blamed the other for the violence surrounding the coup.

Wayne Madsen, a former intelligence officer with the US navy, told the Guardian yesterday that American military attaches had been in touch with members of the Venezuelan military to examine the possibility of a coup.

"I first heard of Lieutenant Colonel James Rogers [the assistant military attaché now based at the US embassy in Caracas] going down there last June to set the ground," Mr Madsen, an intelligence analyst, said yesterday. "Some of our counter-narcotics agents were also involved."

He said that the navy was in the area for operations unconnected to the coup, but that he understood they had assisted with signals intelligence as the coup was played out.

Mr Madsen also said that the navy helped with communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military, focusing on communications to and from the diplomatic missions in Caracas belonging to Cuba, Libya, Iran and Iraq - the four countries which had expressed support for Mr Chavez.

Navy vessels on a training exercise in the area were supposedly put on stand-by in case evacuation of US citizens in Venezuela was required.

In Caracas, a congressman has accused the US ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, and two US embassy military attaches of involvement in the coup.

Roger Rondon claimed that the military officers, whom he named as (James) Rogers and (Ronald) MacCammon, had been at the Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters with the coup leaders during the night of April 11-12.

And referring to Mr Shapiro, Mr Rondon said: "We saw him leaving Miraflores palace, all smiles and embraces, with the dictator Pedro Carmona Estanga [who was installed by the military for a day] ... [His] satisfaction was obvious. Shapiro's participation in the coup d'état in Venezuela is evident."

The US embassy dismissed the allegations as "ridiculous". Mr Shapiro admitted meeting Mr Carmona the day after the coup, but said he urged him to restore the national assembly, which had been dissolved.

Mr Carmona told the Guardian that no such advice was given, although he agreed that a meeting took place.

A US embassy spokesman said there were no US military personnel from the embassy at Fuerte Tiuna during the crucial periods from April 11 to 13, al though two members of the embassy's defense attaché's office, one of them Lt Col Rogers, drove around the base on the afternoon of April 11 to check reports that it was closed.

Mr Rondon has also claimed that two foreign gunmen, one American and the other Salvadorean, were detained by security police during the anti-Chavez protest on April 11 in which around 19 people were killed, many by unidentified snipers firing from rooftops.

"They haven't appeared anywhere. We presume these two gentlemen were given some kind of safe-conduct and could have left the country," he said.

The members of the military who coordinated the coup have claimed that they did so because they feared that Mr Chavez was intending to attack the civilian protesters who opposed him.

Mr Chavez's opponents claim pro-Chavez gunmen shot protesters while his supporters say the shots were fired by agents provocateurs .

In the past year, the United States has channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to US and Venezuelan groups opposed to Mr Chavez, including the labor group whose protests sparked off the coup. The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency created and financed by the US Congress.

The state department's human rights bureau is now examining whether one or more recipients of the money may have actively plotted against Mr Chavez.


2) Washington channelled funds to groups that opposed Chavez
By Christopher Marquis in Washington
Sydney Morning Herald; April 26, 2002

In the past year the United States channelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to bodies opposed to the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, including the labour group whose protests led to his brief removal this month.

The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a non-profit agency created and financed by Congress. As conditions deteriorated in Venezuela and Mr Chavez clashed with various business, union and media groups, the endowment quadrupled its budget for the country to more than $US877,000 ($1.6million).

While the endowment's expressed goal is to promote democracy around the world, the US State Department's human rights bureau is examining whether any recipients of the money plotted against Mr Chavez. The bureau has put a $US1million grant to the endowment on hold pending that review, an official said.

A State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker, said he was unaware of the proposed grant.

Of particular concern is $US154,377 given by the endowment to the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, the international arm of the AFL-CIO, the US union umbrella body, to help the main Venezuelan trade union advance labour rights.

The Venezuelan union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, led the work stoppages that galvanised the opposition to Mr Chavez. The union's leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who briefly took over from Mr Chavez, in challenging the Government.

The endowment also provided significant resources to the foreign-policy wings of the Republican and Democratic parties for work in Venezuela, which sponsored trips to Washington by critics of Mr Chavez.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs was given a $US210,500 grant to promote the accountability of local government. The International Republican Institute, which has an office in Venezuela, received a $US339,998 grant for political party building. Two weeks ago, the day of the takeover, the group hailed Mr Chavez's removal.

"The Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country," the institute's president, George Folsom, said. "Venezuelans were provoked into action as a result of systematic repression by the government of Hugo Chavez."

The statement drew a sharp rebuke from the endowment president, Carl Gershman, for the openly political stance, which he said would undercut the institute's work in Venezuela.

The institute has close ties to the Bush Administration, which also embraced the short-lived takeover; Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, is a former president of the organisation.

The Bush Administration, which has made no secret of its disdain for Mr Chavez - and his relations with countries such as Cuba and Iraq - has turned to the endowment to help the opposition to Mr Chavez.

With an annual budget of $US33million, the endowment disburses hundreds of grants each year to pro-democracy groups from Africa to Asia. Advocates say the agency's independent status enables the US to support democracy where government aid might be cumbersome or unwelcome.

But critics say recipients of endowment aid do not have the same accountability that government programs require, which opens the door for rogue activities and freelancing. They say endowment funds were used to sway the outcomes of votes in Chile in Nicaragua in the late 1980s.

The New York Times

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3) Venezuela coup linked to Bush team Specialists in the 'dirty wars' of the Eighties encouraged the plotters who tried to topple President Chavez
by Ed Vulliamy in New York
The Observer; April 21, 2002

The failed coup in Venezuela was closely tied to senior officials in the US government, The Observer has established. They have long histories in the 'dirty wars' of the 1980s, and links to death squads working in Central America at that time.

Washington's involvement in the turbulent events that briefly removed left-wing leader Hugo Chavez from power last weekend resurrects fears about US ambitions in the hemisphere.

It also also deepens doubts about policy in the region being made by appointees to the Bush administration, all of whom owe their careers to serving in the dirty wars under President Reagan.

One of them, Elliot Abrams, who gave a nod to the attempted Venezuelan coup, has a conviction for misleading Congress over the infamous Iran-Contra affair.

The Bush administration has tried to distance itself from the coup. It immediately endorsed the new government under businessman Pedro Carmona. But the coup was sent dramatically into reverse after 48 hours.

Now officials at the Organisation of American States and other diplomatic sources, talking to The Observer, assert that the US administration was not only aware the coup was about to take place, but had sanctioned it, presuming it to be destined for success.

The visits by Venezuelans plotting a coup, including Carmona himself, began, say sources, 'several months ago', and continued until weeks before the putsch last weekend. The visitors were received at the White House by the man President George Bush tasked to be his key policy-maker for Latin America, Otto Reich.

Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American who, under Reagan, ran the Office for Public Diplomacy. It reported in theory to the State Department, but Reich was shown by congressional investigations to report directly to Reagan's National Security Aide, Colonel Oliver North, in the White House.

North was convicted and shamed for his role in Iran-Contra, whereby arms bought by busting US sanctions on Iran were sold to the Contra guerrillas and death squads, in revolt against the Marxist government in Nicaragua.

Reich also has close ties to Venezuela, having been made ambassador to Caracas in 1986. His appointment was contested both by Democrats in Washington and political leaders in the Latin American country. The objections were overridden as Venezuela sought access to the US oil market.

Reich is said by OAS sources to have had 'a number of meetings with Carmona and other leaders of the coup' over several months. The coup was discussed in some detail, right down to its timing and chances of success, which were deemed to be excellent.

On the day Carmona claimed power, Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office. He said the removal of Chavez was not a rupture of democra tic rule, as he had resigned and was 'responsible for his fate'. He said the US would support the Carmona government.

But the crucial figure around the coup was Abrams, who operates in the White House as senior director of the National Security Council for 'democracy, human rights and international opera tions'. He was a leading theoretician of the school known as 'Hemispherism', which put a priority on combating Marxism in the Americas.

It led to the coup in Chile in 1973, and the sponsorship of regimes and death squads that followed it in Argentina, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and elsewhere. During the Contras' rampage in Nicaragua, he worked directly to North.

Congressional investigations found Abrams had harvested illegal funding for the rebellion. Convicted for withholding information from the inquiry, he was pardoned by George Bush senior.

A third member of the Latin American triangle in US policy-making is John Negroponte, now ambassador to the United Nations. He was Reagan's ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985 when a US-trained death squad, Battalion 3-16, tortured and murdered scores of activists. A diplomatic source said Negroponte had been 'informed that there might be some movement in Venezuela on Chavez' at the beginning of the year.

More than 100 people died in events before and after the coup. In Caracas on Friday a military judge confined five high-ranking officers to indefinite house arrest pending formal charges of rebellion.

Chavez's chief ideologue - Guillermo Garcia Ponce, director of the Revolutionary Political Command - said dissident generals, local media and anti-Chavez groups in the US had plotted the president's removal.

'The most reactionary sectors in the United States were also implicated in the conspiracy,' he said.


4) U.S. Papers Hail Venezuelan Coup as Pro-Democracy Move
by FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, NY] April 18, 2002

When elements of the Venezuelan military forced president Hugo Chavez from office last week, the editorial boards of several major U.S. newspapers followed the U.S. government's lead and greeted the news with enthusiasm.

In an April 13 editorial, the New York Times triumphantly declared that Chavez's "resignation" meant that "Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator." Conspicuously avoiding the word "coup," the Times explained that Chavez "stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader."

Calling Chavez "a ruinous demagogue," the Times offered numerous criticisms of his policies and urged speedy new elections, saying "Venezuela urgently needs a leader with a strong democratic mandate." A casual reader might easily have missed the Times' brief acknowledgement that Chavez did actually have a democratic mandate, having been "elected president in 1998."

The paper's one nod to the fact that military takeovers are not generally regarded as democratic was to note hopefully that with "continued civic participation," perhaps "further military involvement" in Venezuelan politics could be kept "to a minimum."

Three days later, Chavez had returned to power and the Times ran a second editorial (4/16/02) half-apologizing for having gotten carried away:

"In his three years in office, Mr. Chavez has been such a divisive and demagogic leader that his forced departure last week drew applause at home and in Washington. That reaction, which we shared, overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed. Forcibly unseating a democratically elected leader, no matter how badly he has performed, is never something to cheer."

The Times stood its ground, however, on the value of a timely military coup for teaching a president a lesson, saying, "We hope Mr. Chavez will act as a more responsible and moderate leader now that he seems to realize the anger he stirred."

The Chicago Tribune's editorial board seemed even more excited by the coup than the New York Times'. An April 14 Tribune editorial called Chavez an "elected strongman" and declared: "It's not every day that a democracy benefits from the military's intervention to force out an elected president."

Hoping that Venezuela could now "move on to better things," the Tribune expressed relief that Venezuela's president was "safely out of power and under arrest." No longer would he be free to pursue his habits of "toasting Fidel Castro, flying to Baghdad to visit Saddam Hussein, or praising Osama bin Laden."

(FAIR called the Tribune to ask when Chavez had "praised" bin Laden. Columnist and editorial board member Steve Chapman, who wrote the editorial, said that in attempting to locate the reference for FAIR, he discovered that he had "misread" his source, a Freedom House report. Chapman said that if the Tribune could find no record of Chavez praising bin Laden, the paper would run a correction.)

The Tribune stuck unapologetically to its pro-coup line even after Chavez had been restored to power. Chavez's return may have come as "good news to Latin American governments that had condemned his removal as just another military coup," wrote the Tribune in an April 16 editorial, "but that doesn't mean it's good news for democracy." The paper seemed to suggest that the coup would have been no bad thing if not for "the heavy-handed bungling of [Chavez's] successors."

Long Island's Newsday, another top-circulation paper, greeted the coup with an April 13 editorial headlined "Chavez's Ouster Is No Great Loss." Newsday offered a number of reasons why the coup wasn't so bad, including Chavez's "confrontational leadership style and left-wing populist rhetoric" and the fact that he "openly flaunted his ideological differences with Washington." The most important reason, however, was Chavez's "incompetence as an executive," specifically, that he was "mismanaging the nation's vast oil wealth."

After the coup failed, Newsday ran a follow-up editorial (4/16/02) which came to the remarkable conclusion that "if there is a winner in all this, it's Latin American democracy, in principle and practice." The incident, according to Newsday, was "an affirmation of the democratic process" because the coup gave "a sobering wake-up call" to Chavez, "who was on a path to subverting the democratic mandate that had put him in power three years ago."

The Los Angeles Times waited until the dust had settled (4/17/02) to run its editorial on "Venezuela's Strange Days." The paper was dismissive of Chavez's status as an elected leader-- saying "it goes against the grain to put the name Hugo Chavez and the word 'democracy' in the same sentence"-- but pointed out that "it's one thing to oppose policies and another to back a coup." The paper stated that by not adequately opposing the coup, "the White House failed to stay on the side of democracy," yet still suggested that in the long run, "Venezuela will benefit" if the coup teaches Chavez to reach out to the opposition "rather than continuing to divide the nation along class lines."

The Washington Post was one of the few major U.S. papers whose initial reaction was to condemn the coup outright. Though heavily critical of Chavez, the paper's April 14 editorial led with an affirmation that "any interruption of democracy in Latin America is wrong, the more so when it involves the military."

Curiously, however, the Washington Post took pains to insist that "there's been no suggestion that the United States had anything to do with this Latin American coup," even though details from Venezuela were still sketchy at that time. The New York Times, too, made a point of saying in its April 13 editorial that Washington's hands were clean, affirming that "rightly, his removal was a purely Venezuelan affair."

Ironically, news articles in both the Washington Post and the New York Times have since raised serious questions about whether the U.S. may in fact have been involved. Neither paper, however, has returned to the question on its editorial page.


5) Latin America's Dilemma: Otto Reich's Propaganda is Reminiscent of the Third Reich
by Tom Turnipseed
Counterpunch; April 18, 2002

The Bush administration is engaging in damage control for their questionable involvement in the failed 2 day coup against the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Alarmingly, the ominous Otto Reich is emerging as a key player in the administration's role in the failed coup attempt to replace Chavez with an oligarchy of business, military and wealthy elites. Scrambling to distance themselves from the botched overthrow of the democratically elected Chavez government, the Bush administration admitted that Mr. Reich called the coup leader, Mr. Carmona, and asked him not to dissolve the National Assembly because it would be a "stupid thing to do". The next day the administration revised their story and said Reich only asked our ambassador to relay that message to Carmona.

The New York Times noted that the disclosure raised questions as to whether Mr. Reich and other administration officials were stage-managing the takeover by Mr. Carmona. Although the Bush administration admits their desire to replace the Chavez government because of its opposition to U.S. policies and friendship with countries like Cuba and Iran, they now insist that they were not involved in the armed coup. The administration also admits talking with various Venezuelan officials prior to the coup including General Lucas Romero Rincon, head of the Venezuelan military, who met with Pentagon official Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, a former close associate of the U. S. supported Contra forces in Nicaragua.

Mr. Reich's propensity to pernicious propaganda has once again emerged from events surrounding the coup. According to the New York Times, Reich told congressional aides that the administration had received reports that "foreign paramilitary forces"-suspected to be Cuban-were involved in the bloody suppression of anti-Chavez demonstrators, in which at least 14 people were killed in Venezuela. Reich, a former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and lobbyist with ties to Mobil Oil in Venezuela, further told the Congressional staffers that Mr. Chavez had meddled with the historically independent state oil company, provided haven to Colombian guerillas, and bailed out Cuba with preferential rates on oil.

Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American obsessed with overthrowing Fidel Castro's regime and is also a big political supporter of President Bush's brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who needs strong support from Cubans in Florida in his re-election bid this year. Reich, along with fellow Reagan administration cohorts, Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte, were discredited for their covert activities and false assertions when the United States intervened in Central America in the 1980's and '90s, but have been re-instated in prominent positions in the second Bush administration. They abhor Latin-American governments that are elected by the poor and working class people, like the Chavez government in Venezuela and the deposed Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal, but has been remarkably rehabilitated and recycled back into the second Bush administration as head of the "Office of Democracy and Human Rights". Negroponte was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations last September in spite of being implicated as a friend of Honduran death squad leaders who committed atrocities against the people of Honduras while he was the U.S. Ambassador there.

The most recent resurrection of this trio of right-wing renegades is the appointment of Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. President Bush used the tricky recess appointment procedure to bypass potential hostile and damaging questioning by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Senators had some interesting examples of Mr. Reich's malfeasance to ask him about when he was the director of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy(OPD).

On September 30, 1987 a Republican appointed comptroller general of the U.S. found that Reich had done things as director of the OPD that were "prohibited, covert propaganda activities, "beyond the range of acceptable agency public information activities...". The same report said Mr. Reich's operation violated "a restriction on the State Department's annual appropriations prohibiting the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress." Reich used the covert propaganda to demonize the democratically elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua and establish the Contras as fearless freedom fighters. The purpose was to make the U.S. public afraid enough of the Sandinistas to get Congress to fund the Contras directly. The Boland Amendment was passed by Congress in 1982 that prohibited U.S. funds from being used to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Meanwhile, the Contras were being illegally armed by the Reagan administration via the Iran-Contra arms deal.

On the night of Reagan's re-election in 1984, Reich's office put out the news that "intelligence sources"revealed that Soviet MIG fighter jets were arriving in Nicaragua and Andrea Mitchell interrupted election night coverage on NBC to give the phony report. This resembles the Joseph Goebbel's fabrication that Polish troops had attacked German soldiers to give the Third Reich an excuse to launch the Nazi blitzkrieg into Poland to begin World War II in 1939. Other Reich prevarications given to media sources included: Nicaragua had been given chemical weapons by the Soviets, according to the Miami Herald; and leaders of the Sandinistas were involved in drug trafficking, according to Newsweek magazine.

In Latin American countries the United States has a history of doing business and siding with wealthy oligarchies of business, professional and military elites who tend to be lighter skinned people of European descent against the poor and working class composed mainly of darker skinned, indigenous people and those of African descent. The second Bush administration appears to be adhering to this tradition with gusto. With Otto Reich churning out the hate and fear, it is a safe bet to predict that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela will be increasingly presented as the devil incarnate and his government as evil, anti-American terrorists. Mr. Reich will dish out the poisonous propaganda to every news source that covers the Bush administration's Latin American policy. Joseph Goebbels would be proud.

Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and civil rights activist in Columbia, South Carolina.


6) Media accused in failed coup Venezuelan news executives defend themselves against allegations that they suppressed facts as the ousted president returned.
St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2002

CARACAS, Venezuela -- As Venezuela's coup began to collapse last weekend, a handful of the country's media barons were summoned to the presidential palace.

A day after Friday's ouster of President Hugo Chavez, the self-declared "transitional government" was losing its grip. The media were its last hope.

What happened next is disputed. Chavez loyalists say coup leaders, in a desperate bid to hang onto power, persuaded the media executives to suppress coverage of the unraveling coup.

Several of the executives flatly deny any such agreement.

But this much is certain: On Saturday, as protesters packed the streets and the presidential palace changed hands for the second time in two days, Venezuelan TV viewers were left in the dark. Instead of news, most got cartoons, reruns and Pretty Woman.

The next day, with Chavez safely back in the palace, none of the country's main Sunday newspapers appeared.

"It was a media coup, a complete blackout," said journalism professor Antonio Almeida, who teaches at the Central University of Venezuela. "Instead of informing the public they covered up the facts."

Amid the many questions stemming from the political turmoil that has engulfed Venezuela in recent days, the country's news operations -- television and radio in particular -- have plenty of answering to do.

The alleged self-censorship has prompted accusations that some owners allowed their stations to become accomplices of the coup and may also have actively participated in its design.

After his return to power, Chavez was quick to point his finger at the press.

"The news media have enormous power, and they should not act as a laboratory of lies," he said. He added that their actions during the coup amounted to "psychological terrorism."

Chavez accused the media of distorting information, magnifying the strength of the coup and creating confusion in military ranks.

"Some innocently let themselves become involved," he said, without naming names. "But there were others who were not so innocent and were directly involved."

As an example, Chavez said that during the coup TV stations refused to broadcast interviews with members of his government to give their side of the story.

Media bosses deny the allegations, saying they played no role in the coup.

"That's a fantasy," said Gustavo Cisneros, owner of Venevision, one of the country's top TV stations. Interviewed in a special report broadcast on his own channel, Cisneros added, "We haven't conspired, we didn't want to conspire, and we don't know how to conspire."

The allegations of censorship stem in large part from the close relationship between the media and a broad coalition of anti-Chavez forces comprising the country's main business groups and labor unions.

Like many in the private sector, media owners were deeply concerned by Chavez's leftist policies, which critics alleged were undermining the country's democratic institutions.

In recent months media bosses were engaged in a fierce battle with the Chavez government over press freedom. There was a financial aspect to their fears as well. The lucrative broadcast media operate under government licenses that Chavez had threatened to take away.

But Cisneros and others offer a different explanation for the lack of coverage. They say the alleged news blackout was the result of threats and intimidation from pro-Chavez demonstrators who laid siege to various TV stations in the capital.

"There were violent people on the street threatening our reporters. We had to think of their safety," said Victor Ferreres, Venevision's president. Protesters also blocked access to the station headquarters, making it impossible to transmit images.

Cisneros and Ferreres said Venevision had received a number of calls from people purporting to be members of the Chavez government. The station refused to take their calls, arguing that "it was impossible to verify who they were."

Critics scoffed at such claims, pointing out that one of the callers was Chavez's vice president, Diosdado Cabello.

The media's Saturday blackout contrasted sharply with the blanket coverage of events Thursday leading up to the coup. That included dramatic footage of the repression of a massive antigovernment march in which at least 15 people, including one photographer, were killed and hundreds injured.

"That day the stations allowed their reporters to be heroes, risking their lives," said Almeida, the journalism professor. "When the tables were turned, the stations decided they had to protect the lives of their staff and station property."

There was no denying an ugly climate of intimidation Saturday by Chavez supporters, as well as looting. On the other hand, there were no reports of journalists being hurt.

Protesters who besieged the offices of one station, RCTV, smashing some windows, said they were there only to demand that normal broadcasting be resumed.

"The palace is in our hands, why aren't you showing that?" they shouted.

Instead, RCTV was showing Walt Disney cartoons. Venevision ran a daylong marathon of Hollywood movies: Lorenzo's Oil, Nell and Pretty Woman. Another station, Televen, told its viewers "to stay indoors," treating them to baseball and soap operas.

Globovision, the country's top 24-hour news station and CNN affiliate, spent much of the day rebroadcasting upbeat footage of Chavez's ouster. An announcer repeatedly cautioned viewers, "We are living in times of political change." Viewers were urged to be "prudent" and avoid spreading "false alarms" and "rumors."

Moreover, Globovision president Alberto Ravell reportedly telephoned CNN offices in Atlanta to request the U.S. network join the blackout. CNN's Spanish-language station was giving ample coverage to Saturday's events, making it almost the only source of news for those with access to cable or satellite.

In a statement, CNN did not confirm or deny the request. Instead, an official statement acknowledged the affiliation with Globovision, adding, "We retain editorial control of all material which airs on the CNN networks."

On Tuesday, in an emotional appearance on his own station, Ravell asked for forgiveness "from any viewer who feels we failed them that day."

While also blaming the pro-Chavez demonstrations, he became the only media executive so far to acknowledge withholding information. "Sacrificing our credibility . . . and freedom of expression, we decided not to broadcast images of violence and looting."

Whatever the cause, news coverage was virtually nonexistent after Saturday's meeting, in which the media executives rolled up at the palace in shiny SUVs and limousines. They had been summoned by the interim defense minister, Gen. Hector Ramirez, to meet with interim President Pedro Carmona.

The group was led by Cisneros, the Venevision owner and one of the country's wealthiest and most influential figures. The Cisneros Group, which he heads, also holds a major stake in Spanish-language broadcasting in the United States.

A frequent visitor to Washington, Cisneros is a friend of former President George Bush. The two have made several fishing trips together in Venezuela.

Also present were Ravell of Globovision; Miguel Otero, publisher of the El Nacional group of newspapers; and Marcel Granier of RCTV.

In 1998, Cisneros and Otero were major contributors to Chavez's successful election campaign, helping organize positive media coverage. Like most in the private sector, they had grown disenchanted with Chavez in the years since.

According to palace reporters, Carmona and his team were unnerved by reports that a march of thousands of "Chav-istas" was headed for the palace. The crackle of gunfire could be heard from nearby slums overlooking the palace.

A key military base outside the capital had also announced its opposition to the coup.

Military officers loyal to Chavez were said to be getting up-to-the-minute information from within the palace, provided by sympathetic presidential guards.

"We knew exactly what was going on," said Lt. Col. William Farinas, who helped negotiate Chavez's return to power.

According to Farinas, the palace guards overheard Carmona telling the media barons: "In your hands lie the safety and stability of the government."

Ferreres, Venevision's president, denied the media delegation was pressured to censor its reporting. "We received no instructions either from the de facto government, nor any government," he said. "No one tells us what we can and cannot do."

Privately, however, Venezuelan journalists from several media outlets say news desks stopped taking their stories. Citing concerns over job reprisals, they agreed to speak on condition that their names not be used.

"Unless there is a serious internal investigation of what went on," said one reporter, "professional journalism in Venezuela is finished."

-- Times Latin America correspondent David Adams and correspondent Phil Gunson are reporting from Caracas.



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