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The Textbook CIA Coup That Failed
Hugo Chavez

Wherever in the woods of rural Virginia the CIA teaches it's masters course in coup plotting & execution, the template undoubtedly studied is the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq, the CIA's perfect black ops coup. Mossadeq was the last democratically elected Iranian head of state pursuant to free elections. "Mosaddeq was a nationalist and passionately opposed foreign intervention in Iran. He was also the architect of the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control." Link. Sound familiar? Yes, substitute "Chavez" and "Venezuela" for Mosaddeq and Iran; substitute "American" for British and you have the same fact pattern of President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela circa 2002. More on Venezuela later. First Iran.

Here is how Wikipedia generally describes it: "In the 1953 Iranian coup d'├ętat, the administration of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower orchestrated the overthrow of the democratically-elected administration of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq and his cabinet from power. The support of the coup was carried out using widespread bribery in a covert operation by Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). According to a report on the BBC, Britain, motivated by its desire to control Iranian oil fields, contributed to funding for the widespread bribery of Iranian officials, news media and others." Wikipedia, Operation Ajax. The plan elements were as follows:
  • Make local alliances with the financial elites of the country,
  • Bribe the military (easy task as they were US trained),
  • Bribe the news media,
  • Hire street thugs to lead demonstrations in conjunction with business leaders and others disaffected by the current regime,
  • Propaganda campaign, step 1: use local and international media to give sympathetic coverage to the demonstrations showing them as much larger than they actually were,
  • Surreptitiously commit violence against the peaceful demonstrators,
  • Propaganda campaign, step 2: blame the violence on the current government through the bribed media,
  • During the chaos stemming from the violence you the coup plotters initiated, activate the military within major cities to control said violence,
  • Coup leaders (military) demand ouster of the current government leadership as an emergency measure to restore order coupled with a promise to return to democracy at some indefinite future date,
  • Media hypes the necessity of a military takeover and gives the coup their stamp of approval,
  • Purge--kill or exile leaders of democractically government who have been overthrown,
  • Crackdown--jail or kill all internal opposition to the coup.
This is the CIA coup blue print. It worked in Iran, but just barely. The Shah panicked and fled for Iraq before Mossadeq was arrested by the Iranian military. The Shah had to be coaxed to return to Iran by US General Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr. (yes, the father of the alleged Desert Storm hero). The CIA had a fallback plan in case the coup did not work: they organized a guerrilla force in southern Iran to form a clandestine safe haven from which U.S.-funded fighters and intelligence agents could operate a guerilla war against the Iranian government (think Nicaraguan "Contras").

Here is a list of CIA coups. I'm sure I missed a few so feel free to submit comments pointing out the ommissions:
  • 1952 Cuba
  • 1953 Iran
  • 1954 Guatemala
  • 1955 Argentina
  • 1963 South Vietnam (assassination)
  • 1963 Ecuador
  • 1968 Iraq
  • 1973 Chile (assassination)
  • 2002 Venezuela
    Possible CIA assassinations:
  • 1961 Congo *     (added pursuant to suggestion from anonymous commenter)
  • 2007 Pakistan **
        * Researches say President Eisenhower directly ordered the CIA to assassinate Lumumba; however, it is unclear whether the operations was actually carried out by the Belgians with their own assets or in concert with the CIA.
        ** See 'CIA suspected in Bhutto's assassination'

Notice anything interesting about this list? The people are heavily anti-American in almost every country on this list. South Korea's population, at best, can bed classified as ambivalent toward the US. There is a reason for high levels of anti-Americanism in these countries. The CIA now calls it blowback.

Venezuela 2002

Hugo Chavez is populist (some may say socialist) and nationalistic. It's no surprise that American oil interests would wish to replace him and that the Bush CIA would do the bidding of big oil. The Iranian coup would serve as the template for the Venezuelan coup against Chavez in 2002. As luck would have it, a western film crew was in Venezuela making a documentary about Chavez at the time of the coup. They had intimate access to the President allowing for an incredibly detailed record of the coup from inside the Chavez camp. The entire film, called "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", is on Youtube. Please see video at bottom of this page. It does a far better job of demonstrating what happened during the coup than I could ever do with words. The movie is gripping, a piece of history in its own right.

Short story of coup. The CIA made an alliance with the Venezuelan elite who controlled the majority of the television stations in the country and top generals of the Venezuelan military. The CIA initiated a progranda campaign through the controlled television stations followed by street demonstrations. Then the CIA used snipers to create choas in the streets. Choas was used as the pretext for the military to demand the ouster of Chavez. The military went so far as to arrest Chavez but he never resigned. The whole plan unraveled after 48 hours when Chavez supporters flooded the streets of Caracas and junior officers within the military (especially the palace guard) defected back to Chavez. Once the countercoup forces gained control of the main television station, the game was up. The people overwhelmingly demanded the return of Chavez.

Why Did Chavez Survive?

Two reasons I believe: (a) the incredible inner strength of Hugo Chavez and (b) the fanaticism of his popular support among the people. When the coup went down, Hugo never freaked out. He didn't resort to violence, he never resigned, and he did not flee the country. Point 'A' merely gets Chavez as far as Moseddeq (who also never fled nor resigned but ended up in an Iranian jail until his death). The Venezuelan people rallied around Chavez despite the fact that the military and local media had defected to the coup leaders. The people flooded the streets and marched on the presidential palace. Ordinary soldiers within the palace guard then counter-defected to the people (who demanded Chavez's return). I've never seen anything like it in my lifetime. Props to the brave people of Venezuela. On Chavez the man, I love that he stared down the CIA. I am for his policy of redistributing the country's wealth. But Saint Hugo has his warts: as an Army officer he attempted a failed coup against an earlier Venezuelan government in 1992 for which he was jailed, abolished presidential term limits in the constitution so that he may run for president for life, and closed an opposition television station that had backed the coup against him. A populist president who tramples the law in furtherance of his reign inches closer to a dictatorship (see Fidel Castro). The book is still open on President Chavez. I pray he does right by Venezuela.

One final thought on Hugo Chavez: a betting man would have to wager that the CIA is not done with him. They tried an Iranian style coup d'etat. It failed. There are two other options in the CIA playbook: (a) invasion and (b) assassination. The CIA has failed with proxy invasions in Cuba and Nicaragua. I doubt they try one in Venezuela. My money is on assassination (just after the US election, probably early 2009). Venezuela is the third largest exporter of oil to the United States. It's a big prize the CIA is sure to come back for.

11-4-2007 (updated 7-25-09)
(Political Commentary)

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