Greg Palast talks about the April 2002 counter-coup in Venezuela
Access All Areas, London 2003-6-19


GREG PALAST: So, there was a panic in the US administration and clearly this signal that, "If you boys are gonna move, you better move now!" And they weren't prepared. Plus Chávez, being the chess-player that he is, got the information from Alí Rodríguez that obviously if Libya is about to move on an embargo, +this+ is when they're gonna get you. And so that's when Chávez, as his last line of defense, moved troops into the palace, Miraflores, the palace basement and corridors. And so that when the coup occurred, basically he invited in these people when it was clear that - he surrounded Miraflores with a tank battalion which turned out to be working with coup leaders. So he was sold out, but they didn't know that he had a second line of defense, which was the Miraflores guards hidden within the palace.

Where he made the big mistake was by saying he was gonna double the royalties on oil production. And the one thing I got from him, where I thought - and I don't want to say that I'm smarter than this guy or know more - but the one impression I got constantly from Chávez and the way he acts is that he doesn't have a strong - he knows Venezuela extremely well and he knows how the scene works there, but he doesn't have a good feel for outside of Venezuela. And I think he was very surprised when Bush went after him, because he thought of the United States as very monolithic, and he got along very well with Bill Clinton. And he convinced Clinton to go along with the concept of the oil band, in which oil prices would simply move between fifteen and twenty dollars a barrel - or like thirteen to eighteen dollars a barrel - and as long as it stayed in that band it wouldn't be too low, it wouldn't be too high, and the US and Venezuela would get along.

And he got along with Daddy Bush, Hugo Chávez, because Daddy Bush would go down there representing oil companies. Well, of course, because he's representing oil companies he's at least appearing to be your friend. And so he didn't understand that in fact this guy was treacherous, so when his son came in they didn't want to mess around. He didn't understand that this was gonna turn around on him, and he wasn't prepared for the viscous comedown from the United States. And so one thing he did, and that he wasn't prepared for, was when he announced he was going to double the royalties on US and British oil companies he didn't realise what type of fire that would bring down on his head. He thought it was a Venezuelan issue as opposed to an international issue. It was an international issue. If you're gonna take on BP and Exxon, you better be ready - you better have a big armed guard!

The other thing is he's terrible at making his case publicly to the international community. They're allowing a guy who was elected by a landslide to be portrayed as a dictator, whereas you've got guys like Musharraf, who's hired all these PR firms in Britain and the US to be portrayed as the new guy, bringing Pakistan to a transition to democracy. Wait, he overthrew the elected President! He's an armed, dangerous cut-throat, a madman with Weapons of Mass Destruction, right, and he's portrayed here like some goddamned progressive leader - you've got Tony Blair dancing the tango with him! It's absolutely amazing, whereas Hugo Chávez is portrayed as The Dictator, and he's elected. But again, Chávez is partly responsible in that he's done very little to make his case internationally.

Q: How about in Brazil, do you think the US State Department sees President Lula da Silva as a threat to the New World Order? Do you think they're gonna be doing anything to deal with him?

GREG PALAST: Well, let's see if he's a threat to the New World Order. Actually Lula had a lot of my stuff translated into Portuguese so he could read it, the past coupla years, especially some of my technical material. The question is how much maneuver room he has. He's a long-term survivor, he's sees what they did to Chávez and he's only gonna push so far. So the Left is very disappointed. He's moving slowly, he's picking his fights. It's not a very good time to be a progressive. So he's taking his time. Now is that smart? Is that disappointing? Is that a bad move? I don't know. I hate to second-guess a guy who's been in the game a very long time. He kept asking to meet with me when he was running, and I didn't bother going down because I said, "Ah, I'm not gonna fly down to Brazil to see some guy who's never gonna be elected!" So you have to be very careful about my prognostications!