Fidel & Chavez: a dramatic rescue

2006-04-21

Richard Moore

Original source URL:
http://www.progresoweekly.com/index.php?progreso=Ignacio_Ramonet&otherweek=1145509200

Fidel ordered Chavez's 'rescue'

"They attempted to execute Chavez but the firing squad refused to shoot"

By Ignacio Ramonet

In the book "Fidel Castro, a two-voiced biography," published by the 
Debate Publishing House, the Cuban president told Ignacio Ramonet 
information not previously released about the events of April 2002 in 
Venezuela.

Castro states that he phoned Miraflores Palace before Chavez 
surrendered and told him: "Don't kill yourself, Hugo. Don't do like 
Allende, who was a man alone. You have most of the Army on your side. 
Don't quit, don't resign."

Later, Fidel directed Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, to 
fly to Caracas in one of two planes to pick up Chavez and fly him to 
safety.

Castro contacted "a general who sided with [Chavez]" to tell him that 
the world knew the president had not resigned and to ask the general 
to send troops to rescue the president.

Fidel Castro, who delivers so many speeches, has granted very few 
interviews. Only four long conversations with him have been published 
in the past 50 years. The fifth such interview, with the editor of Le 
Monde Diplomatique, Ignacio Ramonet, has become the book "Fidel 
Castro, a two-voiced biography," a summary of the life and thoughts 
of the Cuban chief of state, distilled from 100 hours of 
conversation. The first interview was held in late January 2003; the 
final one, in December 2005.

Published in these pages is an excerpt from the interview in which 
Castro talks about the Venezuelan conflict that occurred on April 11, 
2002. As the Comandante says, he will remain in office "as long as 
the National Assembly, in the name of the Cuba people, wishes." The 
book, soon to appear, is published by the Debate Publishing House.

Progreso Weekly is pleased to translate and reproduce excerpts from 
the interview, published in Koeyu Latinoamericano.

Ignacio Ramonet (IR):You have said you feel a great admiration for 
Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela.

Fidel Castro (FC):Well, yes. There we have another Indian, Hugo 
Chavez, a new Indian who is, as he himself says, "an Indian mixture," 
mestizo, with a little white, he says. But you look at Chavez and you 
see an autochthonous son of Venezuela, the son of a Venezuela that 
itself is a mixture. But he has all those noble features and an 
exceptional, truly exceptional talent.

I make it a point to listen to his speeches. He feels proud of his 
humble origin, of his mixed ethnic background, which has a little of 
everything, mainly of those who were autochthonous people or slaves 
brought from Africa, with a mixture of Indian origin. That's the 
impression. Maybe he has some white genes, and that's not bad. The 
combination always is good, it enriches humanity, the combination of 
the so-called ethnic backgrounds.

IR: Have you followed closely the evolution of the situation in 
Venezuela, particularly the attempts to destabilize President Chavez?

FC: Yes, we have followed events with great attention. Chavez visited 
us after being released from prison before the 1998 elections. He was 
very brave, because he was much reproached for traveling to Cuba. He 
came here and we talked. We discovered an educated, intelligent man, 
very progressive, an authentic Bolivarian. Later he won the elections 
several times. He changed the Constitution. He had the formidable 
support of the people, of the humblest people. His adversaries have 
tried to asphyxiate him economically.

In the 40 famous years of "democracy" that preceded Chavez, I 
estimate that about $200 billion fled from the country. Venezuela 
could be more industrialized than Sweden and enjoy Sweden's levels of 
education, if in truth there had been a distributive democracy, if 
those mechanisms had worked, if there had been some truth and 
credibility in all that demagoguery and all that publicity.

 From the time that Chavez took office until currency controls were 
established in January 2003, I estimate that about $30 billion flew 
out of the country -- capital flight. So, as we maintain, all those 
phenomena make the order of things unsustainable in our hemisphere.

IR: On April 11, 2002, there was a coup d'etat against Chavez in 
Caracas. Did you follow those events.

FC: When we learned that the demonstration by the opposition had 
changed direction and was nearing Miraflores [Palace], that there 
were provocations, shootings, victims, and that some high officials 
had mutinied and come out publicly against the president, that the 
presidential guard had withdrawn and that the army was on its way to 
arrest him, I phoned Chavez because I knew that he was defenseless 
and that he was a man of principle, and said to him: "Don't kill 
yourself, Hugo! Don't do like Allende! Allende was a man alone, he 
didn't have a single soldier on his side. You have a large part of 
the army. Don't quit! Don't resign!"

IR: You were encouraging him to resist, gun in hand?

FC: No, on the contrary. That's what Allende did, and he paid 
heroically with his life. Chavez had three alternatives: To hunker 
down in Miraflores and resist to death; to call on the people to 
rebel and unleash a civil war; or to surrender without resigning, 
without quitting. We recommended the third choice, which was what he 
also had decided to do. Because history teaches us that every popular 
leader overthrown in those circumstances, if he's not killed the 
people claim him, and sooner or later he returns to power.

IR: At that moment, did you try to help Chavez somehow?

FC: Well, we could act only by using the resources of diplomacy. In 
the middle of the night we summoned all the ambassadors accredited to 
Havana and we proposed to them that they accompany Felipe [Perez 
Roque], our Foreign Minister, to Caracas to rescue Chavez, the 
legitimate president of Venezuela. We proposed sending two planes to 
bring him here, in case the putschists decided to send him into exile.

Chavez had been imprisoned by the military putschists and his 
whereabouts were unknown. The television repeatedly reported the news 
of his "resignation" to demobilize his supporters, the people. But at 
one point, they allow Chavez to make a phone call and he manages to 
talk to his daughter, Maria Gabriela. And he tells her that he has 
not quit, that he has not resigned. That he is "a president under 
arrest." And he asks her to spread that news.

The daughter then has the bold idea to phone me and she informs me. 
She confirms to me that her father has not resigned. We then decided 
to assume the defense of the Venezuelan democracy, since we had proof 
that countries like the United States and Spain -- the government of 
Jose Maria Aznar -- who talk so much about democracy and criticize 
Cuba so much, were backing the coup d'etat.

We asked Maria Gabriela to repeat it and recorded the conversation 
she had with Randy Alonso, the moderator of the Cuban TV program 
"Mesa Redonda" [Round Table], which had great international 
repercussion. In addition, we summoned the entire foreign news media 
accredited to Cuba -- by then it must have been 4 o'clock in the 
morning -- we informed them and played them the testimony of Chavez's 
daughter. CNN broadcast it at once and the news spread like a flash 
of gunpowder throughout Venezuela.
IR: And what was the consequence of that?

FC: Well, that was heard by the military people faithful to Chavez, 
who had been deceived by the lie about a resignation, and then there 
is a contact with a general who is on Chavez's side. I talk to him on 
the phone. I confirm to him personally that what the daughter said is 
true and that the entire world knows Chavez has not resigned.

I talk with him a long time. He informs me about the military 
situation, about which high-ranking officers are siding with Chavez 
and which are not. I understand that nothing is lost, because the 
best units of the Armed Forces, the most combative, the best trained, 
were in favor of Chavez. I tell that officer that the most urgent 
task is to find out where Chavez is being detained and to send loyal 
forces there to rescue him.

He then asks me to talk to his superior officer and turns me over to 
him. I repeat what Chavez's daughter has said, and stress that he 
continues to be the constitutional president. I remind him of the 
necessary loyalty, I talk to him about Bolivar and the history of 
Venezuela. And that high-ranking officer, in a gesture of patriotism 
and fidelity to the Constitution, asserts to me that, if it's true 
that Chavez has not resigned, he continues to be faithful to the 
president under arrest.

IR: But even at that moment nobody knows where Chavez is, true?

FC: Meanwhile, Chavez has been taken to the island of La Orchila. He 
is incommunicado. The Archbishop of Caracas goes to see him and 
counsels him to resign. "To avoid a civil war," he says. He commits 
humanitarian blackmail. He asks [Chavez] to write a letter saying he 
is resigning.

Chavez doesn't know what's happening in Caracas or the rest of the 
country. They've already tried to execute him, but the men in the 
firing squad have refused and threatened to mutiny. Many of the 
soldiers who guard Chavez are ready to defend him and to prevent his 
assassination. Chavez tries to gain time with the bishop. He writes 
drafts of a statement. He fears that once he finishes the letter, 
[his captors] will arrange to eliminate him. He has no intention of 
resigning. He declares that they'll have to kill him first. And that 
there will be no constitutional solution then.

IR: Meanwhile, was it still your intention to send planes to rescue 
him and take him into exile?

FC: No, after that conversation with the Venezuelan generals, we 
changed plans. We shelved Felipe's proposition to travel with the 
ambassadors to Caracas. What's more, shortly thereafter we hear a 
rumor that the putschists are proposing to expel Chavez to Cuba. And 
we immediately announce that if they send Chavez here, we shall send 
him back to Venezuela on the first available plane.
IR: How does Chavez return to power?

FC: Well, at one point we again get in contact with the first general 
with whom I had spoken and he informs me that they've located Chavez, 
that he's on the island of La Orchila. We talk about the best way to 
rescue him. With great respect, I recommend three basic steps: 
discretion, efficacy and overwhelming force. The parachutists from 
the base at Maracay, the best unit of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, 
who are faithful to Chavez, carry out the rescue.

Meanwhile, in Caracas, the people have mobilized, asking for Chavez's 
return. The presidential guard has reoccupied Miraflores [Palace] and 
also demands the president's return. It expels the putschists from 
the palace. Pedro Carmona, president of the management association 
and very temporary President-usurper of Venezuela, is almost arrested 
right there at the palace.

Finally, at dawn on April 14, 2002, rescued by the faithful soldiers, 
Chavez arrives in Miraflores amid a popular apotheosis. I almost did 
not sleep the two days of the Caracas coup, but it was worthwhile for 
me to see how a people, and also patriotic soldiers, defended the 
law. The tragedy of Chile in 1973 was not repeated.

IR: Chavez is a representative of the progressive armed forces, but 
in Europe and Latin America many progressives reproach him precisely 
because he is a military man. What opinion do you have about that 
apparent contradiction between progressiveness and the military?

FC: Look, in Venezuela we have an army playing an important role in 
the Bolivarian revolution. And Omar Torrijos, in Panama, was an 
example of a soldier with conscience. Juan Velasco Alvarado, in Peru, 
also carried out some notable acts of progress. Let's not forget, for 
example, that among the Brazilians, Luis Carlos Prestes was an 
officer who led a march in 1924-26 almost like the march led by Mao 
Zedong in 1934-35.

Jorge Amado wrote about the march of Luis Carlos Prestes in a 
beautiful story, "The Gentleman of Hope," one of his magnificent 
novels. I had an opportunity to read them all, and that march was 
something impressive. It lasted more than two and a half years, 
covering enormous territories in his country, and he never suffered 
defeat.

In other words, there were prowesses that came from the military. 
Let's say, I'm going to cite a Mexican military man, Lazaro Cardenas, 
a general of the Mexican Revolution, who nationalized petroleum. He 
is very prominent, carries out agrarian reform and gains the support 
of the people. When one talks about affairs in Mexico, one mustn't 
forget the roles played by personalities like Lazaro Cardenas. And 
Lazaro Cardenas originated in the military.

One mustn't forget that the first people in Latin America to rise up 
in the 20th Century, in the 1950s, were a group of youths who 
rebelled, young Guatemalan officers, who gathered around Jacobo 
Arbenz and participated in revolutionary activities. Well, you can't 
say that's a general phenomenon but there are several cases of 
progressive military men.

In Argentina, Peron also came from military origins. You need to see 
the moment when he emerges. In 1943, he was appointed Minister of 
Labor and drafted such good laws that when he was taken to prison the 
people rescued him -- and he was a military chief. There was also a 
civilian who had influence over the military men, he studied in 
Italy, where Peron also had lived; he was Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, and 
they were popular leaders.

Peron was an embassy attache. He worked in Rome in the 1930s during 
the Mussolini period and was impressed by some of the forms and 
methods of mass mobilization he witnessed. There was influence, 
including in some processes, but in those cases where I mention that 
influence, Gaitan and Peron used it in a positive sense, because the 
truth is that Peron carried out social reform.

Peron commits, let us say, a mistake. He offends the Argentine 
oligarchy, humiliates it, strips it of its symbolic theater and some 
symbolic institutions. He worked with the nation's reserves and 
resources and improved the living conditions of the workers. And the 
workers were very grateful, and Peron became an idol of the workers.


Copyright 2006(C)  Progreso Weekly, Inc.
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