April 16, 2007

Greg Wilpert says...

Dear Quico,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments on my coup article and for giving me the opportunity to reply to your letter.

First, indeed, it is a shame that there is no Chavista version of my account in Spanish, but I guess you could say the same about there not being an opposition version, unless you consider the La Fuente & Meza book to be an opposition version (which I basically do, but I thought you did not).

You say, "What a mess you're putting yourself into by telling the story this way, Greg!" As I have told you on several occasions before, I think you give Chavistas far less credit than they deserve. You seem to think that there is a monolithical Chavista thought-police out there that censors or banishes anyone who doesn't fall into the party line. You'd be surprised how much tolerance there is for dissent. Not from everyone, obviously, but the Chavista side is far more diverse than you seem to think. So, in a nutshell, I'm not worried at all about putting my side out there. As a matter of fact, I might even find a state institution that will be willing to translate it into Spanish.

Next, you say, "your problem is that the official version keeps changing." This too is a non-issue for me. My version only changes with new evidence that becomes available.

As for Chavez saying that those who died on April 11th died for him, you of course interpret this statement in the least favorable way. Which is, of course, your right and to be expected from an opposition commentator. Unsurprisingly, there are more favorable interpretations to that comment. That is, all Chavez was saying is that the battle on the streets was about him and that, therefore, all who died (opposition and Chavistas - he explicitly acknowledged both) died "for" him. The opposition supporters died for him in the extended sense that they were cannon fodder of the coup conspirators.

I don't know what Celia Flores said, but a few days ago, on the 13th, VTV showed the documentary "Claves de una massacre", which goes into excruciating detail just how far opposition marchers got on Avenida Baralt (about 350 m. from Puente Llaguno) (have you seen it? If not, you really should). The video has been highly praised by Chavistas, which clearly shows that Chavistas generally agree that they did reach Baralt, but just not close enough to be the targets of the Puente Llaguno shooters, as opposition mythology claims.

I find it pretty amazing that you seem to think that my glossing over Chavez's knowledge that the PDVSA board resigned is comparable to La Fuente & Meza's (and your) omission of the Otto Neutsaldt testimony. To me, there is just no comparison. True, I could have said something about Chavez knowing that about the board and not telling it (perhaps I will in an updated version), but I don't think it makes all that much of a difference for the overall development of the coup. In any case, it makes a hell of a lot less difference for our understanding of the coup than the Neustaldt testimony does, which you and La Fuente & Meza leave out.

As for Plan Colina and Chavez's so-called "admission" that he planned the coup and the PDVSA strike, this has become one of the cornerstones in opposition mythology of the Chavez era. It is awfully convenient for the opposition that Chavez takes full responsibility for these events. As many Chavistas say, it's probably one of the main reasons he's so popular in Venezuela - he's the only politician who will take responsibility for bad things that happen in Venezuela. So far practically no one in the opposition has taken responsibility for the coup (most are they are still denying that there even was one) or for the disastrous shutdown of the oil industry or for having lost the recall referendum (Rosales' taking responsibility for the loss of the presidential election was thus a milestone in opposition discourse).

However, you completely exaggerate and over-interpret Chavez's taking responsibility. Just because he admits (and perhaps exaggerates the extent of his foresight in the process) that he consciously contributed to these crises, does not mean that he bears more responsibility for these events than the opposition. I admit, though, a complete account should include this admission, but, as you can tell, I don't think it's as big a deal as you make it out to be (another addition for a future version). You are probably right that Chavez "let the coup roll" despite hi foreknowledge of it, precisely in order to flush his opponents out of the system. That strategy sounds quite smart, actually. Unfortunately, he clearly miscalculated. I don't think he knew that there were going to be people shooting from buildings into both demonstrations, which would cause the deaths of 19 people. Also, he clearly thought he could stop the full unfolding of the coup before it was too late, that is, before he was actually deposed. Part of the reason he underestimated the coup plotters here is because he did not know as much about the coup or the extent of the betrayal as he thought he did. I seriously doubt he imagined that Rosendo would be part of it. All indications were that he thought Rosendo would stick by his side and implement Plan Avila, which would have prevented him being held hostage the way he was. Chavez was visibly shaken afterwards by the extent of the betrayals against him.

I don't know why you seem to think that my conceding that Chavez contributed to the crisis is something too dangerous for me to do. After all, Chavez himself has "admitted" to having done so. The real question in my mind is, who had more responsibility - the coup plotters or the one who is trying to figure out how to outmaneuver the plotters?

At the time of the coup, I really thought Chavez could have done something to prevent the coup and that he should have done so back then (my articles from the time confirm this). However, what I have learned since then has convinced me that it is highly unlikely that the coup organizers would have shifted course. Besides, if preventing the coup had meant giving in to the opposition's demands, despite Chavez having a mandate to carry out radical changes in Venezuela, I now think that he should not have given in an inch. After all, by what right was this minority making demands? I guess you could say that the coup and the events that followed radicalized me just as much as they radicalized Chavez.

Finally, with regard to your gratefulness about my having presented an account of the coup based on evidence, all I can say here again is that you know Chavistas a lot less well than you think. Not only that, you also seem to think (or at least you imply) that your side is somehow immune to the problems of mythologizing the history of the Chavez presidency. Come on - has your horse gotten too high for you to get off? You used to be much more critical of the opposition than you have been ever since you re-started your blog.

Thanks again for providing me this opportunity to respond!

Best wishes,