"We Know What a Coup Looks Like"
by Mahmoud Gudarzi
CovertAction Quarterly, Summer 2002
When, in November 2001, the French publishing house Denoel
published Ben Laden, La Verite Interdite, (Bin Laden, the Forbidden
Truth), the French daily Le Monde predicted "this book will
create sensation!" On the contrary, no sensation was created,
since no publisher in the United States or any other English speaking
country was interested in touching this hot iron. Fortunately,
Europe is different. The Swiss publisher Pendo published the book
in German under the title Verbotene Wahrheit. The only difference
is the subtitle: Entanglement of USA with Osama Bin Laden. Allegedly,
The Forbidden Truth will appear in an English edition in July
of this year.
For political observers with a little sense of smell, the
second Bush administration has had, from its first day in office,
the strong odor of oil. The Bush family's association with oil-related
industries; George Jr.'s role as founder and executive director
of Arbusto Energy Inc. and later Harken Energy Inc., both partly
financed by some suspicious Saudi Arabian figures; his insistence
on exploring for oil in Alaska, in spite of the negative environmental
impact; and the members of his administration-all smell of oil.
Vice President Dick Cheney was, until his settlement in the
White House, Chief Executive of the world's largest oil-service
company, Halliburton. With such a background, it was hardly strange
that his first activity as Vice President was the creation of
the Energy Policy Task Force. This was the bridge between government
and the energy industry. The result of the cooperation between
Washington and power producers and traders is now well known.
Cheney's involvement with the Enron corporation and his various
meetings with the principals of this best-known player of the
power privatization game, has dominated the business pages for
Congress finally invited the officials of Enron to a congressional
hearing. The hearing became a senseless show, as Enron executives
refused to answer any question. By revealing the corrupt policies
of Enron, such as creation of a false energy crisis in California,
a more thorough investigation became necessary, in spite of White
House resistance. Since the repeated requests of congressional
investigators remained without response, on May 24, 2002, Senator
Joseph Lieberman (Dem.Conn.), chair of the Senate Governmental
Affairs Committee, subpoenaed the White House for an array of
Enron-related documents. That evening, the committee received
a bunch of papers. Senator Lieberman said, "in many cases,
they've left out details the committee asked for, such as who
attended meetings or took part in communications and when all
of the communications occurred." Points of interest revealed
by the documents include:
Portions of the chronology document the deep ties between
the Bush administration and Enron, including three phone conversations
between former Enron chairman Kenneth L. Lay and Bush's senior
adviser, Karl Rove. Enron's top executives were some of Bush's
earliest and most generous supporters, and pursued a broad agenda
with the administration that ended only after its huge losses
and accounting irregularities became public. Robeff McNally a
special assistant to Bush on energy policy met with Enron representatives
several times and received at least one e-mail from Enron's Chief
Washington lobbyist. Enron officials briefed members of Cheney's
energy task force about a liquefied natural gas project in Venezuela.
The chronology does not say why the company felt it necessary
to inform the White House about the project.
Let us return to Forbidden Truth: Many names in this administration
are worth mentioning that will highlight the Bush people's oil
connection, but let it suffice to point out the star of Bush's
cabinet, Ms. Condoleezza Rice. The mainstream media of the country
present Bush & National Security Adviser as a Russian specialist
with credentials from Stanford. But the media gloss over other
known facts. For instance, the media seldom mention that Ms. Rice,
from 1991 to 2000, served on the Board of Directors of the Chevron
Group, one of the world's largest oil conglomerates. She was,
before everything, responsible for the areas of Kazakhstan and
The question is, how do Rice's current activities differ from
her past efforts on the Board of Directors of Chevron? And this
question is naturally not restricted to her, since in the case
of other Bush administration members, it appears that only their
office address has changed. Again Brissard and Dasquie: "The
men and women who settled on January 26, 2001 in the White House
were not as isolationist as one could assume, since their international
relations easily smell of oil."
Bush's close connection with energy markets, and the undeniable
involvement of Dick Cheney in the Enron scandal are the inescapable
background to the sudden upheaval in Venezuela which resulted
in the incarceration of President Hugo Chavez. This country on
the northern rim of South America within a short distance from
the U.S. shores, is fourth in international oil production, with
a daily export of approximately two million barrels to the United
A NIGHTMARE RESURRECTED
For me, and I believe for many politically aware people around
the world, those headlines of the U.S. press, gleefully reporting
the forced resignation of the Venezuelan President by a military
coup, awakened a past nightmare. That nightmare was the overthrow
of the popular and democratically elected government of Prime
Minister Dr. Mohammad Mossadeq by a coup, organized by the CIA
50 years ago in August 1953. By closely reading the reports of
different phases of the Venezuelan event, one finds many similarities
with what happened in Iran half a century ago.
The Wall Street Journal's man in Caracas, Marc Lifsher, reported
on April 12, under the headline "Venezuelan Crisis Deepens,
Cutting Oil Flow and Threatening Chavez." The first two paragraphs
reported "a prolonged national strike and violent demonstrations...choking
off...oil exports to U.S...." the rumors that "President
Hugo Chavez had agreed to leave the country" and a clash
between the demonstrators and supporters of the President. The
clues and motifs of the event are given in the next paragraph:
The demonstrations and a crippling strike across this nation
of 24 million threaten to loosen Mr. Chavez's grip on power. The
protests are the fruit of an unusual alliance between big business
and labor, led by a burly 56-year old former refinery cleaner
named Carlos Ortega.... The actions have bottled up oil output,
jolted global oil markets and stunned a government that Washington
considers a political pariah. U.S. officials dislike the Venezuelan
ruler for his national oil policy.
NOW AND THEN
Chavez's national oil policy is the same crime for which Dr.
Mossadeq was punished with the first covert action of the CIA.
Let's not forget that the CIA success in Iran became a model later
used in Guatemala, Ghana, Congo, Chile and many other places in
the world. Marc Lifsher described Chavez's policy as follows:
Mr. Chavez's prickly nationalism has made him a big irritant
for Washington and a bit of a wild card on the global oil scene.
He has increased royalties charged to foreign oil investors and
shifted Venezuelan's traditional high-production, low-price oil
policy by aligning with OPEC in an effort to push prices higher.
Apart from that, there's evidence that Mr. Chavez has consorted
with Marxist guerrillas in neighboring Colombia, where the U.S.
is backing the government in a $1.3 billion assistance program.
Mr. Chavez has also maintained warm relations with a host of leaders
whom the U.S. considers pariahs, including Fidel Castro, Saddam
Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi.
In the 1950s, except for the Soviet Union, not many "pariahs"
existed. In his book Countercoup, Mr. Kermit Roosevelt, "field
commander" of the coup, asserted that, at the time of the
CIA coup in Iran, Dr. Mossadeq "had formed an alliance of
his own with the Soviet Union to achieve the result he wanted."
This was not true.
A clearer picture of Dr. Mossadeq can be found in the carefully
documented book The Eagle and the Lion:
... Mossadeq was no more stubborn than the British... Besides
his personal convictions in these matters, Mossadeq's unyielding
position was essential within the context of the social forces
then at work in Iran. The communist left, the growing nationalist
middle, and the xenophobic religious right exerted continual fierce
pressure.... In a secret meeting of the Majlis [Iranian parliament]
Oil Commission in 1951, he argued that in order to defeat communism,
reforms were necessary. In order to implement reforms, money was
essential. In order to obtain money nationalization was vital...
Based upon those facts, the previous administration of Truman/Acheson
hesitated to interfere in the controversies between Iran and the
U.K. For the Republican administration of Eisenhower/Dulles, with
their so-called concern about communism, the logical reasoning
of Mossadeq did not have any validity. Consequently, his oil policy,
focused on the nationalization of Iranian oil, sufficed to make
him accused of being a communist who consorted with the Soviet
Union. Fifty years ago, Iranian oil was very important for the
United States-important enough to make it ready to overthrow a
democratic government. When we understand that most Venezuelan
oil is consumed by the U.S., and some Texas refineries are actually
dependent upon this source, the current U.S. position toward Venezuela
becomes similarly clear.
The importance of Venezuelan oil for the U.S. was reported
by the Wall Street Journals man in Caracas:
Venezuela...has long been a strategic source of crude oil
of the U.S. and is only a few days tanker run to refineries in
Louisiana and Texas. Petroleos De Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) wholly
owns Citgo, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based company that operates a number
of refineries and 14,000 service stations.... Venezuela regularly
ranks among the top four foreign sources of U.S. oil and usually
shipped to the U.S. about 1.7 million barrels a day of crude oil
and refined products like gasoline. Many of the U.S. refineries
are specially engineered to handle heavy Venezuelan crude and
could find themselves facing shortage in the coming weeks if Venezuela
doesn't resume full production and exportation.
The reaction of the administration in Washington and the corporate
media to the Venezuelan event was practically identical. Here,
the Washington Post can serve as a sample of the American press.
On April 13, 2002, the paper had three reports and one editorial
about Venezuela. The report of Scott Wilson from Caracas under
the headline "Leader of Venezuela Is Forced To Resign"
informed the readers in the first two paragraphs:
...President Hugo Chavez, the former paratrooper whose leftist
politics roiled this oil-rich country for three years, resigned
this moming hours after military leaders seized control of the
country. His resignation followed anti-government protests that
left more than a dozen people dead.... An interim government headed
by Pedro Carmona, leader of the country's largest business group,
was sworn in at the presidential palace this afternoon in a ceremony
attended by a cross section of Venezuela's civil society Backed
by the country's top generals, who will join him on the governing
junta, Carmona declared Chavez's two-year-old constitution invalid,
dissolved the Chavez-controlled legislature and Supreme Court,
and pledged to hold new presidential and legislative elections
within a year.
LEGALITY OR LEGITIMACY?
The second report of Scott Wilson was titled "Chavez's
Gloomy Legacy for The Left." Wilson presents Chavez as a
man "...superimposed between the guerrilla heroes of old-the
face of a new generation of leftist Latin American leaders ready
to antagonize the United States," with a bleak legacy for
the radical left of Latin America, "...now pushing against
the prevailing political current of free trade, capitalism and
a general nod to U.S. interest." Two citations in that analysis
which sound like music to Washington's ears are very revealing.
The first is from an official of the state oil company who said
"Cuba would not get one more drop of Venezuelan oil,"
and the second is from Anibal Romero, professor of political science
at Simon Bolivar University. Professor Romero, like Francis Fukuyama
or Dinesh D'Souza, is the sort of ideologue much in demand at
Washington think-tanks. His lecture about the Venezuelan event:
The lesson here is that charismatic demagogues can still
win elections in poor countries. The economic and social instability
is still with us. The field is still open to the successful appearance
of these figures that, by distorting reality and securing the
hearts and minds of the uneducated, win election....Chavez showed
what was wrong with a U.S. policy that endorses democratic government
regardless of how it is carried out. Democracies operate differently
in each country and should be treated differently as a result.
It is a great improvement that the U.S. is committed to democracy
and the rule of law in Latin America, and it's a big change from
the past. But this is not a policy that should be implemented
indiscriminately Legality is one thing, legitimacy is another.
The White House was apparently familiar with the opinion of
Professor Romero, as becomes clear from the statement of Scott
The emerging response to Chavez's forced resignation, which
he tendered to three generals this moming, highlights how fragile
democracy is in an Andean region that has had three presidents
ousted by coup or popular protest in the last three years. U.S.
officials declined today to call Chavez's removal a coup, even
as the leaders from 19 Latin American nations condemned 'the constitutional
interruption in Venezuela.
U.S. CONTACT WITH THE OPPOSITION
According to Wilson's first report, some members of the opposition
contacted the U.S. Embassy in Caracas in the weeks before the
event. They were seeking U.S. support for toppling Chavez. One
U.S. official confirmed the contact: "The opposition has
been coming in with an assortment of... what if this happened?
What if that happened? What if you held it up and looked at it
sideways? To every scenario we say no. We know what a coup looks
like, and we won't support it."
The third article, by Peter Slevin and Karen DeYoung, has
one purpose: washing the administration's hands. This is reflected
in the headline: "Chavez Provoked His Removal, U.S. Officials
Say," which repeats what Ari Fleisher said the previous day:
The Bush administration yesterday blamed former Venezuelan president
Hugo Chavez for the events that led to his forced resignation
and arrest, calling his toppling by the nation's military a "change
of government" rather than a coup. Officials said Chavez's
departure was the will of Venezuela's people. Wonderful how the
will of Venezuela's people so closely parallels the designs of
the Bush administration.
Chavez lost his job '...as a result of the message of the
Venezuelan people,' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer...
[He] said the Chavez government tried to suppress peaceful demonstrations,
ordered its supporters to fire on unarmed protesters and blocked
media broadcasts of the events.
In addition to such reporting and analysis, the Washington
Post felt it necessary to clarify the paper's position in the
case of the Venezuelan change of government. The Post published
an editorial that tries to demonstrate the paper's patriotism
without compromising its so-called liberal face. The opening paragraph
is a masterwork of hypocrisy.
Any interruption of democracy in Latin America is wrong, the
more so when it involves the military. The region's history of
military coups is too long and tragic, and the consolidation of
democracy too recent, for any unconstitutional takeover to be
This is a beautiful opening for an editorial. Unfortunately,
its validity is not always guaranteed, and under some circumstances
there is legitimate reason to ignore the consolidation of democracy.
The editorial presented the difference between legality and legitimacy
in the following sentence:
But first facts from Venezuela suggest that the violation
of democracy that led to ouster of President Hugo Chavez Thursday
night was initiated not by the army but by Mr. Chavez himself.
Confronted by tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators protesting
his increasingly destructive policies, Mr. Chavez forced television
stations off the air and allegedly ordered snipers and other armed
loyalists at the presidential palace to open fire. More than a
dozen people were killed and scores wounded. It was only then
the military commanders demanded the president resignation; they
would not, they said, tolerate his attempt to stop his opposition
The editorial admits that "There is no question that
democracy brought Mr. Chavez to power three years ago." But
it tries to rationalize his removal by military means by proclaiming:
Along the way Mr. Chavez seriously compromised the integrity
of democratic institutions such as Congress and the Courts And
unfortunately for the poor, who make up 80 percent of the population
of an oil-rich country, Mr. Chavez was a terrible leader. l 8
The jubilant atmosphere in Washington and the corporate media
was short-lived. The next day's headlines were unexpectedly sober.
Many dailies in the U.S. followed the Post's lead and joined in
the White House jubilation by repeating Ari Fleischer's daily
statements. On April 16, the New York Times, at least, confessed
the error of its editorial of April 14.
Scott Wilson of the Washington Post gave a precise picture
of the event. In his previous report, he called "...the media,
labor unions and the Catholic Church..." enemies of the Chavez
government. In the subsequent report, he informed the readers
that in the Fall, two officers, Pedro Soto and Carlos Molina from
Air Force and Marines respectively, began to organize a group
of officers for a plot to topple Chavez. The plot was discovered
and the two officers were forced out of service. But their idea
was supported by two high-ranking officers, General Rafael D.
Bustillos of the army, and Vice Admiral Hector Ramirez of the
navy. After the coup, Hector Ramirez became defense minister,
and Rafael Bustillos became interior and justice minister in the
interim government of Pedro Carmona. Scott Wilson found out later
that Soto and Molina received $100,000 each from a Miami Bank.
The New York Times, under the title "Bush Officials Met With
Venezuelan Who Ousted Leader" quoted a Pentagon spokesperson
saying that U.S. military officials were not discouraging coup
plotters, and were sending informal signals that they don't like
TUMULTUOUS 48 HOURS IN 2002
According to the official story of the interim government,
on Thursday, April 11th, about 3:00 p.m., demonstrators opposing
Chavez arrived at the presidential palace. Chavez, concerned about
the loyalty of some high-ranking military officers, called directly
the commander of 3rd division in Caracas, asking for 30 tanks
to defend the palace, Miraflores. As Chief of the Armed Forces
Lucas Rincon received the order, he stopped it and sent only seven
tanks. About one hour later, Hector Ramirez, as the new minister
of defense, accompanied by a group of officers, appeared on television,
denounced Chavez as dictator and demanded his resignation. On
Friday, April 12th, the military named Pedro Carmona interim President,
claiming that Chavez had resigned. Carmona immediately dissolved
the Congress and Supreme Court. The United States, unsurprisingly,
endorsed the interim government. Latin American leaders refused
to support the coup. As the coup was stimulating harsh international
criticism, the supporters of Chavez took to the streets surrounding
the presidential palace demanding his return to office. The insistence
of Chavez supporters day and night around the palace forced some
part of the military to reconsider their position. A series of
rebellions among army units warned the Carmona clique and cooperating
Mark Lifsher's report in the Wall Street Journal, cynically
titled "In Under 48 Hours, Venezuelans Have Enough of a Coup,"
describes the events as follows:
When a group of military men and the head of Venezuela's
main business association ousted leftist President Hugo Chavez
last week, the coup-plotters denounced the former paratrooper
as a dictator....But once in power the plotters revealed that
they too were undemocratic-and lacking in Mr. Chavez's flair with
Venezuela's aggrieved working class. The brief government, headed
by business leader Pedro Carmona, immediately issued a decree
shutting down the Congress, suspending the Supreme Court and authorizing
the firing of elected officials, including state governors and
Both the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal interviewed
Anibal Romero, professor of political science. After Chavez returned
to power, the professor said he has been . . . immensely strengthened
both domestically and internationally he is a martyr who's come
back from the grave. This is not simply a setback but is a tragedy
and it's going to take the opposition a long time and enormous
effort to rebuild.
TUMULTUOUS 48 HOURS IN 1952
The fact is that the 16th parliament of Iran generally supported
the view of Mossadeq. But the election for the 17th parliament
was a great risk, since all his opponents such as the Shah, the
military and the clerics (including Ayatollah Khomeini) were mobilized
to destroy his legislative support. The loyalty of high-ranking
officers of all branches of the military to the Imperial Court,
and their broad influence over regional governments was a well-known
fact. To encounter such sabotage, Dr. Mossadeq did not have any
other choice than to break this cycle. In this light, Amir Arjomand
analyzes the situation at that time:
Furthermore, Mossadeq also sought to restrict the neo-patrimonial
powers of the Shah and to reduce him to a constitutional monarch
and a ceremonial figurehead. To achieve this constitutional goal,
he forced a showdown with the Shah in July 1 952.
As the Shah refused the Prime Minister's demand, Mossadeq
resigned. For this the British and the Shah had waited a long
time. The Shah immediately nominated Ahmad Ghavam as prime minister.
This was clearly against the existing Iranian Constitution at
that time, and was demonstrably a coup d'etat. Much as it happened
in Venezuela in April 2002, mass demonstrations in Tehran and
other major cities, forced the Shah to dismiss Ghavam and invite
Dr. Mossadeq back. This spontaneous demonstration of the people
was a real countercoup.
In spite of condemnation by 19 Latin American leaders, the
White House stuck to its position. The day Chavez reclaimed the
presidency, the White House released the following statement:
The people of Venezuela have sent a clear message to President
Chavez that they want both democracy and reform. The Chavez administration
has an opportunity to respond to this message by correcting its
course of governing in a fully democratic manner.
Although Chavez's first speeches were conciliatory, the relationship
between the two countries has been damaged. On the first day of
his return to power, Chavez made the following appeal: "Organize
yourselves, members of the opposition! Engage in politics that
is fair, just and legal!" Three weeks later, on May 3, Chavez
gave an interview primarily focused on future relations between
the two countries. He discussed not only the role of the U.S.
in the coup, but also the existence of a plan to assassinate him.
The indirect message in this interview was to Washington, where
political assassination has been outlawed for thirty years.
The evidence includes information collected from a coastal
radar installation that tracked a foreign military ship and aircraft
operating in and over Venezuelan waters a day after his ouster.
The ship, helicopter and plane-identified by their transponder
codes as military-disappeared from the radar the moming he returned
from his imprisonment on the island of La Orchila, he said....ln
addition, Chavez said, an American was involved in what he characterized
as an assassination plot against him uncovered in Costa Rica four
months ago. He said the details of the plan revealed at the time
essentially predicted what transpired on April 11, when a protest
march on the presidential palace turned violent and led to his
arrest by senior military officers.
The revelation of the alleged assassination plan occurred
as Chavez and his family were vacationing in January 2002. Chavez
received a phone call from his foreign minister, urging him to
return to Caracas. On his arrival, discovery of the plot was disclosed.
The unexpected breakdown of interim government was very puzzling.
But, having knowledge of such a plan; observing the mutiny of
some officers; and knowing about the contact of the opposition
members with U.S. officials, in Caracas as well as in Washington;
the Chavez administration was fully aware of the threat of a coup,
and prepared a thorough defense.
On May 13th the Guardian corroborated this by publishing an
investigative report. The Guardian had reported one month earlier
that a former U.S. intelligence officer claimed that the overthrow
of Chavez has been considered by the U.S. for nearly a year. The
report did not find any echo, although it revealed that the Chavez
administration received an advance warning of a coup attempt from
the Venezuelan Ali Rodriguez, the secretary general of OPEC. This
advance warning, first reported on the BBC program "Newsnight"
allowed the Chavez administration to counter the coup by an extraordinary
Mr. Rodriguez, a former leftwing guerrilla, telephoned Mr.
Chavez from the Vienna headquarters of the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries...several days before the attempted overthrow
in April. He said OPEC had learned that... Libya and Iraq, planned
to call for a new oil embargo against the United States because
of its support for Israel.
The sudden collapse of the coup was for a time a mystery.
According to Chavez insiders, several hundred Chavista troops
were already hidden in the basement of the presidential palace.
At the time of coup, Mr. Juan Barreto, a Chavista member of the
National Assembly was trapped along with Chavez in Miraflores.
Mr. Barreto said that Jose Baduel, chief of the paratroop division
loyal to Mr. Chavez, had waited until Mr. Carmona was inside Miraflores.
Mr. Baduel then phoned Mr. Carmona to tell him that, with troops
virtually under his chair, he was as much a hostage as Mr. Chavez.
He gave Mr. Carmona 24 hours to return Mr. Chavez alive. Escape
from Miraflores was impossible for Mr. Carmona. The building was
surrounded by hundreds of thousands of pro-Chavez demonstrators
who, alerted by a sympathetic foreign affairs minister, had marched
on it from the Ranchos, the poorest barrios.
COUP AND COUNTERCOUP
According to an interview with President Chavez on BBC's "Newsnight,"
his administration has
... written proof of the time of the entries and exits of
two U.S. military officers into the headquarters of the coup plotters-their
names, whom they met with, what they said-proof on video and on
Here lies the key difference between the first American coup
in August 1953, in Iran, and the last in April 2002, in Venezuela.
Apparently, based upon early warning, the Chavez administration
had a precise plan, not only to counter the coup, but also to
Dr. Mossadeq also had such information, and somehow was prepared
to counter the coup and ordered the arrest of a senior coup plotter.
But he did not believe that the plot would continue after that
arrest. One American researcher in the field of U.S. policy toward
Iran gives the following picture of the first phase of the coup:
Well, the coup was supposed to take place on the night of
August 15-16. The main plan was that selected military units would
take certain actions and in particular certain officers would
go and arrest Mossadeq, and so they did. But the Prime Minister
had learned about this, apparently through Tudeh party informants
in the U.S. Embassy who had passed the word to their party and
the Tudeh passed it on to Mossadeq. This is apparently how it
happened, although this is not certain. Anyway Mossadeq somehow
knew; he was expecting visitors and he knew that they were coming
to arrest him. So when the officer arrived, he had him arrested,
and then a number of other things didn't work out very well. There
were military units that were supposed to occupy certain locations
in Tehran, but officers got cold feet. So the initial coup plan
which was scheduled to occur on the night of August 15-16 quickly
fell apart 26
Although at that time, Mossadeq could have unmasked the coup
plotters, and used his enormous popularity to mobilize people
against them and enhance his national movement, he didn't do anything.
The reasons for Mossadeq's inconsistency are both personal and
Like many politicians of the l9th century (this year marks
the 120th anniversary of his birth), Mossadeq viewed politics
as an inescapably moral enterprise. He was one of the rare Iranian
politicians who opposed Reza Khan, founder of Pahlavi dynasty
and father of Mohammad Reza Shah, who was key to the plot against
him. During the reign of Reza Shah, Mossadeq was for many years
under house arrest until the occupation of Iran during World War
II by the allied forces and the subsequent expulsion of Reza Shah
On September 17, 1941, Mohammad Reza Shah's inauguration began
with his oath before parliament to be faithful to and supportive
of the Iranian constitution. Mossadeq was now freed, and soon
elected to parliament. He once told the young Shah that he had
sworn to be faithful to the Iranian monarchy. For him it was immoral
to break this oath, although the Shah was breaking his oath to
be faithful to the constitution.
Mossadeq took a positive view of the United States. (Even
Ho Chi Minh believed the Truman administration might help free
his nation from the yoke of French colonialism.) In contrast to
European countries like England, France, Netherlands, Belgium,
and Portugal, in Mossadeq's view the United States never had any
colony. For Dr. Mossadeq's hope of ending the dominance of England
and nationalizing Iranian oil, the U.S. appeared to be a helpful
ally. Because of this viewpoint and despite copious evidence,
Mossadeq did not want to believe that the U.S. would assist in
a coup in favor of British oil interests. In the end, the fact
is that Mossadeq's passivity resulted in the continuation of the
coup in its second phase by CIA man Kermit Roosevelt, as described
by James A. Bill:
The first act of Operation Ajax failed when Mossadeq got word
that he was to be ousted. Colonel Nimatullah Nassiri, the officer
who tried to serve him with political eviction orders signed by
the shah, was arrested on the spot, and the shah made a hasty
flight out of the country on August 16, 1953. Rather than cancel
the operation at this point, Roosevelt took it upon himself to
move forward with plans to call into the street his paid mobs
from south Tehran along with the royalist military officers led
by Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi... After much confusion and street fighting,
the royalists won the day and on August 19, Muhammad Mossadeq
was forced to flee his residence and was arrested soon thereafter.
On August 22, the shah flew back to Iran in triumph.
To justify the second phase of the initial coup, which crumbled,
Mr. Roosevelt coined the name "Countercoup" for its
followup. Unfortunately, James A. Bill and others have followed
According to the pre-coup Iranian constitution in place in
l953, the prime minister could resign, or his government might
fall upon a no-confidence vote of parliament. In either case,
parliament alone had the right to nominate his successor. The
Shah would then invite the nominee to appoint the next government.
This was a pro forma role for the Shah. He did not have the power
to veto the nomination of parliament. In the first phase of the
coup, the officer who was designated to arrest Mossadeq carried
a decree with him signed by the Shah, dismissing Dr. Mossadeq
as prime minister, and appointing Gen. Fazlollah Zahedi-who was
on the payroll of the CIA. This act by the Shah was an outright
violation of the constitution, and a real coup d'etat. Hence the
arrest of the officer sent to arrest Dr. Mossadeq, was a real
countercoup. Referring to Kermit Roosevelt's overthrow of Mossadeq
as a "countercoup" is nothing but a public relations
The resistance of Hugo Chavez's administration and the Venezuelan
people can be legitimately called a countercoup. Organizing a
coup today is not as easy as it was in 1953 Iran, where most participants
were paid only thirty cents for their destructive role. Kermit
Roosevelt professed amusement that he had a million dollar budget
to overthrow Mossadeq but spent only $100,000. The reaction of
most Latin American leaders showed respect for democratic principles
and national rights. Some of today's leaders of the hemisphere
were former partisans of democracy who are now practicing it.
As an example, it is interesting to note that the man who gave
warning of the Venezuelan coup, Mr. Ali Rodriguez, secretary general
of OPEC, was a former active guerrilla. The political sharpness
of such people cannot be compared to the sincere belief of a 19th
century social democrat like the late Dr. Mossadeq. In spite of
all that, one should not take the victory of the Chavez administration
as a fully guaranteed matter. As mentioned before, the first attempt
against Mossadeq, a joint project of the Shah and the British
in June 1952 was defeated by the people on the streets of Tehran
and put Mossadeq back in power within 48 hours. But he was not
immune against the subsequent attempt, in August 1953, which unfortunately
succeeded. There are still many Pinochets in Latin America who
would not mind going through one or more blood baths to serve
their master. The recent demonstrations by black shirt wearers
in Caracas on May 11 and 23, very similar to fabricated demonstrations
in Mossadeq's time should alert the Chavez administration.
The warning should not be treated as a prediction of gloom
and doom, but an appeal for alertness. The Venezuelan people can
and must utilize the historical experience of the millions of
victims of other CIA coups around the world. Planners of a coup
do not easily renounce their plans. They postpone their work only
to find other ways to pursue the initial plan. They do not hesitate
to use all possible avenues to reach their goal. Let us refresh
our memory by a fast review of the different episodes of the British
The British knew Mossadeq very well, as a law-abiding democrat.
They first took the case of nationalization of Iranian oil to
the Security Council of the UN. The Council supported Mossadeq's
argument that the case was between Iran and a private company
and not between two nations or governments. Britain next went
to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Mossadeq argued
Iran's case. On July 22, 1952, the majority of the Court acknowledged
Iran's rights to nationalize its own resources as a sovereign
nation. Even the British judge ruled in Iran's favor. As the British
judicial arguments were exhausted, the tactics shifted to more
political intrigues for overt actions inside Iran, and diplomatic
initiatives to win American support for covert actions. The British
were encouraged by Mossadeq's opponents-the Shah, the military
and the clerics were ready for cooperation. In this instance:
[T]he British indicated openly and frequently that no negotiations
were possible with him, and that they would prefer to do business
with his successor. Mossadeq's only hope was to maintain the momentum
of nationalist movement, with its built-in anti-British stance,
in order to minimize his government against orchestrated parliamentary
machination and other activities sponsored by the British and
History tells us that Dr. Mossadeq was not alert enough. Today,
when Mr. Pedro Carmona openly boasts of backing from the United
States, and eventual future attempts, it is clearly still high
noon for President Chavez and his administration.
Coups do not occur in a vacuum, so the CIA has typically relied
on black propaganda as a preparatory measure in every coup since
l953. Disinformation, planted through news agencies or hired journalists
is a very effective and important way to create the necessary
social tension. Typical of such propaganda is the Washington Post
characterization of Chavez's presidency as "unfortunate for
the poor who make up 80 percent of the population of an oil-rich
country." Chavez's response to such charges was printed in
Le Monde Diplomatique, but never showed up in the Washington Post:
We have lowered unemployment... created 450,000 new jobs...
Venezuela moved up four places on the Human Development Index.
The number of children in school has risen 25 percent. More than
1.5 million children who didn't go to school are now in school,
and receive clothing, breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks. We
have carried out massive immunization campaigns in the marginalized
sector of population. Infant mortality has declined. We are building
more than 135,000 housing units for poor families. We are distributing
land to landless campesinos. We have created a Women's Bank that
provides micro-credit loans. In the year 2001, Venezuela was one
of the countries with the highest growth rates on the continent,
nearly 3 percent... We are delivering the country from prostration
Such a balance of achievements rarely finds the smallest reflection
in the main stream media of the United States. But Mr. Stephen
Johnson from the Heritage Foundation has the opportunity, as "Policy
Analyst for Latin America," to use the opinion page of Wall
Street Journal to criticize President Chavez:
In October 2000, Mr. Chavez signed an agreement with Fidel
Castro to provide Cuba with a sizable chunk of its oil needs in
exchange for welcoming Cuban experts to train Venezuelan teachers
and help develop new school curricula. In March 2001, some 10,000
parents and teachers gathered in various cities across the nation
to protest what they perceived as an effort to indoctrinate their
The history of U.S. covert operations in the Third World shows
clearly that such operations are seldom planned as one-shot deals.
Coups are generally the last resort in a series of multifaceted
covert operations, implemented only when all other methods have
failed. Once the advantage of surprise is lost, coup planners
must resort to other clever tricks as they mount their second,
third or fourth attempts. One such trick is a smokescreen of saturation
media coverage on a simultaneous overt operation in another part
of the world. Once international attention is focused elsewhere,
a blitzkrieg is unleashed. As long as the U.S. continues to rely
on covert operations to achieve its goals, eternal vigilance is
essential to preserving democratic gains anywhere around the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mahmoud Gudarzi was born in Tehran, Iran
in 1932 He studied in West Germany and the U.S., taking degrees
in Journalism and Education. In 50 years of journalism, he has
published over 1,000 articles on Iran and problems of the Middle
East He writes regularly for the weekly Shahrvand (Toronto and