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Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Thursday, October 02, 2003

Venezuela: is US Ambassador Charles Shapiro organising a coup, or investigating one?

Conspiracy theories involving Latin America and US plots have, I suspect, been around ever since there was such a thing as the US. I've mentioned 1850s filibuster William Walker before (March 20), and he was very far from the first gringo to meddle in politics below the Rio Grande.

These days, gringos have short memories. So the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende bulks large in liberal popular history as where the whole thing started to go wrong [1] - a useful [2] Counterpunch piece (October 1) runs through Uncle Sam's record in Latin America since then - taking care to namecheck the guys in and around the Administration now (John Negroponte and Elliot Abrams, to mention but two) who were getting their hands dirty way back when.

(The self-explanatory list Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798 - 1993 is helpful for perspective; this list includes US interventions in Latin America where the locals did the rough stuff: as, for instance, in the 1954 CIA-'assisted' coup against the President of Guatemala Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán [3], which perhaps served to encourage the proliferation of such interventions in the post-war (WW2) period.)

Mostly recently, the focus of regional CIA-watchers has been on Venezuela, particular during and after the April 2002 coup [4]. The eminence grise of the forces opposing President Hugo Chávez Frías is, it seems, generally reckoned to be US Ambassador in Caracas, Charles Shapiro [5].

Where I came in was with a couple of more recent pieces: a snippet from the Washington Times (September 8) had Chavez
warn[ing] the United States against interfering in a planned referendum that could force him to resign, after the American ambassador met last week with officials overseeing the recall effort.
His beef included the fact that Shapiro
met last week with officials of the National Electoral Council and offered the assistance of the International Foundation for Election Systems, an independent U.S. nonprofit organization.

And a piece from AFP (September 27) saying Shapiro had announced that
El gobierno estadounidense investiga un presunto complot contra el mandatario venezolano Hugo Chávez preparado por supuestos militares entrenados en Estados Unidos.

Chavez had cancelled his trip to speak at the UN General Assembly at the end of last month, on the basis of security fears that I infer were not taken that seriously at the time by USG.

The AFP piece says
Chávez aseguró que en el estado de Florida se entrenan supuestos militares venezolanos, vinculados al fracasado golpe de Estado en su contra en 2002, y anticastristas cubanos para atentar en su contra.

One would expect this to be marked down as the usual old bollocks from the would-be Castro-in-waiting. Chalk one up to the Revolution that the gringos admit to having taken notice.

(There is another US-Chavez row over a piece (October 6) in the US News & World Report - I kid you not! - which alleges that Venezuela is now World Terror Central. What's particularly annoying him, according to this , is the allegation that the FARC have camps on Venezuelan soil, by arrangement with the Venezuelan government. The diatribe may be instructive about the character of the man:
"Yo reto al estado mayor del Us News & World Report o a sus dueños, a que vengan aquí a buscar una sola prueba, que muestran al mundo una sola prueba", dijo Chávez en rueda de prensa con corresponsales extranjeros.

"El gobierno de los Estados Unidos es el que debería responder esto. (La revista) cita supuestamente informaciones emitidas por funcionarios del gobierno de Estados Unidos".

"Si un diario en Venezuela emitiera una cochinada como esta, citando a funcionarios de Miraflores (palacio presidencial), mi gobierno respondería. Eso es mentira, pero está, queda sembrado", agregó molesto Chávez.

As you'll see, the US News piece has a note in italics on page 1 giving the latitude and longitude (to the nearest second) of the FARC main camp. The hack responsible went on radio in Colombia to stand up for her story.

Patient readers may recall [6] that a Colombia-Venezuela war of words took place on the question of FARC camps in the spring of this year: it was a mixture of wag the dog for the economically crippled Venezuela, and a bargaining counter for Colombia to encourage the release of cash due to its exporters that Chavez had blocked. One look at a decent map of the area tells you there's nothing the ersatz revolutionary could do about the FARC on his side of the border even if he wanted to!)

  1. There's a partisan thing here, I suspect, as well as a generational one: 1973 was the watch of left hate figures par excellence Nixon and Kissinger.

  2. In my experience, the pieces there tend to major too much on the moral outrage, rather than giving those checkable dates/names/places that are generally serve the cause rather more effectively.

  3. There may be some goodness to extract from this, this and this. Historical archives for Guatemala seem to have some items covering 1954; a paper (PDF) from a Harvard institution U.S.-Latin American Relations During the Cold War and Its Aftermath looks interesting; this a source-heavy amateur effort on the coup that looks to have plenty to mine; a piece from McMaster University Interpreting the 1954 U.S. Intervention in Guatemala; and a more general paper (PDF) in which the 1954 coup figures largely, La administración de Eisenhower y su política exterior.

  4. A short timeline; the Guardian list of archived Venezuela articles covers the period.

  5. According to the official bio, a Hispano-American specialist career diplomat, and, from the photo, severely aesthetically challenged. More to the point, he was
    Political Counselor in San Salvador, El Salvador (1985-1988).
    Bizarrely, I can see no allegation made that Shapiro had hand, act or part in organising the civil war in El Salvador. What was he doing there?

    He took over as Ambassador in Venezuela, it says, on February 25 2002: just in time for the coup! There's an archive of pieces on Shapiro from the Caracas El Nacional. During the coup, he was not, it seems, backward in meeting his temporary replacement, Pedro Carmona. And that, from a good deal of looking, seems the be the most heinous specific charge made against him!

    (Cato has a gripe (September 10) about his having

    recently pulled the U.S. visa from Gen. Enrique Medina Gómez, the best-known military opponent of Castro's friend, President Hugo Chávez.
    Perhaps the guy is a bit of a Trot on the QT...)

  6. Work back from piece of April 25.

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