I've been following the turmoil in Venezuela as closely as I could from the distance of New York, between other distractions like assignments and my own government's sowing of turmoil in Iraq and other places. I can't do much about Iraq, but I do have some experience that might be useful in Venezuela. Finally this week I decided to do something about it, to try to clarify the issues: I've written a grant proposal to let me go back to Caracas and talk to people in the barrios, as Venezuelans call those dense, poor warrens of improvised housing clinging to the slopes around the city, where the mass of Hugo Chávez's fervent supporters struggle for life. (I lived and worked in two of these communities years ago, in my first job after college, so I'll feel like Brer Rabbit back in the briar patch.) And I also plan to talk to the professional and business people and union leaders who oppose him. Each side accuses the other of being "antidemocratic." Yet each side has approved an attempted military coup! The anti-Chávez people just in April 2002 -- shortly undone by the rapid and mostly spontaneous massing of Chávez's supporters from the barrios and the loyalty of most of the armed forces. And ten years earlier, Chávez himself led a nearly-successful coup that his followers now celebrate. Just what kind of democracy are they talking about then?
I just came across this old essay of mine, previously unpublished, on Chávez's 1992 coup and what it meant. You may find it useful if you too are puzzled by events there. Hugo Chávez's Failed Coup of 1992.