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Hugo Chavez and the 1992 Military Coup in Venezuela

On 3 February 1992 Hugo Chavez with his underground Bolivarian Revolutionary Army - 200 launched an attempted coup against the government of President Carlos Andres Perez.1 The plotters picked the evening that President Perez was returning from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The idea was to capture the President just after he landed at the airport.

El Presidente Perez

The government knew a few hours in advance that a coup was going to take place. However, the rebels quickly overwhelmed the loyal military forces. A Chavez compatriot, Francisco Cardenas took control of Maracaibo, and most of the other power centers fell quickly to the conspirators. However, it was the objective assigned to Lieutenant Colonel Chavez that proved most resistant. He loaded 460 troops on buses - buses that were supposed to take the troops on a training exercise. However, he quickly diverted the buses to Caracas, the capital and largest city in Venezuela.

The unit arrived at the military history museum which was to serve as the headquarters for taking over the President's mansion (Miraflores). However, things began to go wrong for the plotters when Ochoa arrived at the airport and warned the President that a coup was under way. Communications among the conspirators broke down when radio trouble developed and even Chavez's cell phone died, making coordination among the various units difficult.

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President Perez acted with a degree of calm, actually going into the "lion's den" by going to the presidential palace at Miraflores. He literally drove right through a rebel armored unit unrecognized. After Perez reached the palace, Chavez ordered it surrounded. Amazingly the episode at the palace was being shown live on television. Perez then left Miraflores, passing right by one of the rebel tanks. He arrived at the television station, Venevision. From here Perez announced that the coup had been put down. Soon rebel resistance began to crumble and loyal units began arresting the conspirators. Lieutenant Colonel Chavez was trapped with some of his men in the Military Museum.

In order to avoid further bloodshed, he consented to surrender, but only on condition that he could speak to the country on television. The speech he made would create for him a huge power base that would help to sweep him to democratically elected power in 1998. In his speech he used the phrase, "por ahora", which means, for now. The speech made clear that the failure of the coup was only a temporary setback for the "Bolivarian Revolution". He fully intended to come to power at some point, ostensibly to institute a socialist state that would look out for the needs of the people.2

After this speech, he was imprisoned.

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  1. 1992 Coup Attempts in Venzuela
  2. Hugo Chavez and Bolivar