How It All Started: Hugo Chavez’s Rebellion and Revolution

by Eva Gollinger for Correo del Orinoco International

It all started on December 17, 1982. Hugo Chavez, then just a Lieutenant in the Venezuelan Army, invited three of his closest military academy companions, Felipe Acosta Carles, Raul Isaias Baduel and Jesus Urdaneta, to go for a late afternoon run. Arriving at a famous tree, named the Saman de Guere, near the military barracks in Maracay, Chavez had a revelation. It was said that Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela, had slept beneath that same tree with his troops just before the pivotal Battle of Carabobo in 1824, the last fight before achieving independence from the Spanish. Hours earlier, Chavez had given an enthusiastic speech at the military base commemorating Bolivar’s death and reviving his ideals and passion for justice.

There is Bolivar in the heavens of America, vigilant and frowning… because what he didn’t do, still has to be done today”, exclaimed Chavez, calling upon his fellow military officers to reclaim the dreams of Bolivar. The run to Saman de Guere was a way to release tensions, but there, under the mystical tree, Chavez proposed to create an organization to fight corruption and bring dignity to the Armed Forces, rescuing Bolivar’s dreams and ideals. The four officers took an oath to become part of this rebel organization, the Bolivarian Revolutionary Army-200 (EBR-200). The creation of this movement, later renamed Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement-200 (MBR-200), began to grow and expand and pave the way towards future revolution.

Over the years, the movement opened to civilians, and Chavez met frequently in clandestine locations with the leaders of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) and the Revolutionary Party of Venezuela (PRV). Together, they would conspire on ways to take power and implement a political and economic system focused on erradicating misery in a nation with 80% living below poverty level.

EL CARACAZO

In 1988, when known corrupt politician Carlos Andres Perez won the presidency for the second time, Chavez and his movement began to accelerate plans to take power. Then, on February 27, 1989, the stakes rose. Just weeks earlier, Perez had been inaugurated, and after running on a campaign against privatization, his first announcement was the implementation of the neoliberal model sweeping its way across the region. Panic broke in the South American nation. Fear of inflation led to price gauging and hoarding of products. The majority of those affected were the poor and working class. Hunger and anger grew, and a general rejection of the president’s privatization policies culminated in mass street riots and protests.

On February 27, 1989, all hell broke loose. The streets of Caracas were filled with protestors denouncing economic depravation and unjust policies. The government opted to stop the protests through blind repression. Statesecurity forces were sent out into the streets to open fire on demonstrators and take prisoner all those who resisted. More than 3,000 Caracas residents were killed that day. Amongst them was Felipe Acosta Carles, one of Chavez’s closest companions and a founding member of his movement.

Soon after the violent uprising and massacre, known as the “Caracazo”, plans to oust the criminal, corrupt and murderous government of Carlos Andres Perez were cconsolidated. Finally, the plan was launched in the early morning hours on February 4, 1992.

THE REBELLION

Members of the conspiracy had been strategically placed throughout the country at key spots in the military bases in Maracay, Maracaibo and Caracas. Chavez, then a Lieutenant Colonel was commanding a batallion in Caracas, with eyes on the presidential palace.

Fellow rebel Francisco Arias Cardenas, also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, led his batallion to take Maracaibo, the nation’s oil capital, shortly after 11pm on February 3, 1992.

But in Caracas, plans to intercept President Perez’s caravan, returning from the airport that evening, failed. The Caracas air base, La Carlota, was taken by rebelleader Josel Acosta Chirinos, and air traffic was under control. But by then, Defense Minister Ochoa Antich had received reports on the rebel activities and quickly moved to secure the president. The rebels, led by Major Ronald Blanco la Cruz, a close Chavez cohort, controlling tanks and military teams, honed in on the presidential palace, smashing through the gates and spraying the palace walls with bullets.

Despite the fact that the rebels made it inside the palace, the president was able to escape. His destination: the office of Gustavo Cisneros, the richest man in Venezuela, a close friend of then President George H.W. Bush, and the president of Venevision, the nation’s most-watched network.

At about 1:15am on February 4, 1992, President Carlos Andres Perez went live on air, telling the Venezuelan people that a coup attempt had been launched, but had failed, and he remained in charge of the country.

Meanwhile, Chavez had noted something wrong was when he arrived to his location at the Historic Military Museum on a hilltop overlooking the presidential palace. The soldiers under his command were not there, nor was the communications equipment needed to coordinate actions. Loyal soldiers to the goverment were occupying the museum and open fired on Chavez, but he deceived them and was able to take control by 2am. However, soon afterward, the rebels at the presidential palace surrendered, and Chavez was forced to make a decision: risk a blood bath, or accept defeat.

By 6am, the Defense Minister had ordered F-16 combat planes to fly over the museum and threaten Chavez with a bombing campaign. Analyzing the situation, Chavez perceived that “the plan wasn’t going anywhere. There was no contact with any unit.” By 7am, he surrendered, with the condition that the lives of the rebels and the people who had supported them would be respected.  

Chavez called on his men to lay down their arms.

FOR NOW, HOPE

As he was taken prisoner, Hugo Chavez spoke before the press. “Unfortunately, for now, the objectives we had set were not achieved…New opportunities will arise and the country has to head definitively toward a better future…Before the country, I accept responsibility for this Bolivarian military movement…” His actions, words and statements were supported and viewed by millions of Venezuelans who had never seen a political figure take responsibility for a failure and at the same time, give hope for the future. Chavez went to prison and was pardoned two years later by then president Rafael Caldera. A year after the rebellion, Carlos Andres Perez was impeached for corruption and later fled to Miami, where he has remained as a fugitive from justice.

February 4, 1992 is viewed as a starting point of the Bolivarian Revolution. A day in which patriotic soldiers, loyal to the principles of social and economic justice, rose their arms and voices to defend the ideals of Simon Bolivar and to open the path to equality and dignity.

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