1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempts

1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempts

The Venezuelan coup attempts of 1992 were an abortive coup d'état led by Hugo Chávez in February 1992, and a second attempted coup in November 1992, directed by others. The coups were directed against the Carlos Andrés Pérez government and its neoliberal policies. Despite its failure, the February coup attempt left a controversy that lasts to the present day, and rocketed Chávez to the national spotlight.


Through Chavez's early life, Venezuela had enjoyed a period of economic and democratic stability that was remarkable in South America at the time, although torture, ill-treatment, extrajudicial killings, political disappearances and corruption were widespread; the stability was based on the massive foreign exchange earnings from oil sales. However, when Saudi Arabia and other United States-aligned oil producers significantly raised their production output in an attempt to collapse the heavily oil-dependent Soviet economy, a glut ensued. Oil prices collapsed to historic lows, and Venezuelan oil earnings, and economic and social stability in general, were suddenly imperiled as per capita income fell to a fraction of its previous levels.Harvnb|Schuyler|2001|p= 10]

Responding to this, in 1989 the Carlos Andrés Pérez administration enacted widely unpopular IMF-inspired structural adjustment programs. The programs' backers sought to restore fiscal stability to Venezuela's ailing economy by way of neoliberal policies, such as curtailing social spending and releasing longstanding price controls on many goods. These policies resulted in many hardships for Venezuela's poor majority, and their resultant discontent erupted in the violent February 27, 1989 Caracazo riots—the most violent and destructive in Venezuelan history.

Ideological origins

Many conspirators were members in the 1970s of the Partido de la Revolución Venezolana created by former guerilla fighter Douglas Bravo who conceived the strategy of infiltrating the Venezuelan Armed Forces to reach power. [http://www.soberania.org/Articulos/articulo_1139.htm] Thus, plotting started more than ten years before Carlos Andrés Pérez became president of Venezuela.


The "Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario 200" (MBR-200) was founded by lieutenant colonels Hugo Chávez Frías, who was later joined by Francisco Arias Cárdenas. They used the Venezuelan revolutionary hero Simón Bolívar as their group's symbol. Their main complaint was the corruption of Carlos Andrés Pérez as well as Venezuela's ongoing economic difficulties and social turmoil. In the view of these two men, the entire political system had to be changed in order for social change to occur.

Coup unfolds

After an extended period of popular dissatisfaction and economic decline under the neoliberal administration of Carlos Andrés Pérez, Chávez made extensive preparations for a military-civilian coup d'état.Harvnb|Guillermoprieto|2005] Initially planned for December, Chávez delayed the MBR-200 coup until the early twilight hours of February 4, 1992. On that date, five army units under Chávez's command barreled into urban Caracas with the mission of assaulting and overwhelming key military and communications installations throughout the city, including the Miraflores presidential palace, the defense ministry, La Carlota military airport, and the Military Museum. Chávez's ultimate goal was to intercept and take custody of Pérez before he returned to Miraflores from an overseas trip.

Chávez held the loyalty of some 10% of Venezuela's military forces; [Harvnb|Gott|2005|p= 64] still, numerous betrayals, defections, errors, and other unforeseen circumstances soon left Chávez and a small group of other rebels completely cut off in the Historical Museum, without any means of conveying orders to their network of spies and collaborators spread throughout Venezuela. [Harvnb|Gott|2005|p=63.] Worse, Chávez's allies were unable to broadcast their prerecorded tapes on the national airwaves in which Chávez planned to issue a general call for a mass civilian uprising against Pérez. As the coup unfolded, Pérez eluded capture, and fourteen soldiers were killed, and 50 soldiers and some 80 civilians injured, in the ensuing violence. [Harvnb|Gott|2005|p=69.] Nevertheless, rebel forces in other parts of Venezuela made swift advances and were ultimately able to take control of such large cities as Valencia, Maracaibo, and Maracay with the help of spontaneous civilian aid. Chávez's forces, however, had failed to take Caracas as he remained inside the Military Museum. [Harvnb|Gott|2005|pp=66-67]

Chávez soon gave himself up to the government. He was then allowed to appear on national television to call for all remaining rebel detachments in Venezuela to cease hostilities. When he did so, Chávez famously quipped on national television that he had only failed "por ahora"—"for the moment".Harvnb|Gott|2005|p=67.]


Chávez was immediately catapulted into the national spotlight, with many poor Venezuelans seeing him as a figure who had stood up against government corruption and kleptocracy. [O'Keefe, Derrick. ("Z Communications", 09 Mar 2005). [http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=40&ItemID=7396 "Building a Democratic, Humanist Socialism: The Political Challenge of the 21st Century"] . Retrieved 11 Nov 2005.] Afterwards, Chávez was sent to Yare prison; meanwhile, Pérez, the coup's intended target, was impeached a year later.

A second coup attempt led by a few units of the Venezuelan Air Force also failed on November 27 1992, while Chávez was still in prison.


With Pérez's public image discredited by the unsuccessful neoliberal reforms and shattered by the coup attempts, other politicians began to challenge his authority, endangering the decades-old two-party "puntofijismo" system. The turmoil and failed coups were utilized by former president Rafael Caldera to comment on the gradual deterioration of Venezuelan democracy and the explosive conflation of poverty and corruption in the nation. Subsequent actions by intellectuals associated with Caldera resulted in Pérez's ousting from the presidency on May 20, 1993, on charges of corruption. Swift political maneuvering allowed Caldera to gain the presidency in 1993 with a heterogeneous and non-traditional group of small independent political parties.



*citation|year= 2005 |chapter= Profile: Hugo Chávez |title= BBC News |publisher= BBC |URL= http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3517106.stm |accessdate = January 21, 2006 .
*Coppedge, Michael. "Prospects for Democratic Governability in Venezuela". Journal of Latin American Studies and World Affairs. 36:2 (1994). 39-64.
*citation|last= Gott |first= Richard |year= 2005 |title= Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution |place= London |publisher= Verso |isbn= 1-84467-533-5 |url= http://www.versobooks.com/books/ghij/g-titles/gott_hugo_chavez.shtml |accessdate= January 21, 2006 .
*citation|last= Guillermoprieto |first= Alma |year= 2005 |title= Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela |journal= New York Review of Books |yate= October 6, 2005 |url= http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18302 |accessdate = January 21, 2006 .
*citation|last= Norden |first= Deborah L. |title= Democracy and Military Control in Venezuela: From Subordination to Insurrection |journal= Latin American Research Review |volume= 33 |issue= 2 |year= 1998 |pages= 143-165 .
*citation|last= Schuyler |first= George W. |url= http://www.ipsonet.org/papers/gws.pdf |chapter= Health and Neoliberalism: Venezuela and Cuba |year= 2001 |accessdate= 2005-10-18 .

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