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President Chavez
Warning to Venezuelan leader

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By Greg Palast
BBC Newsnight reporter

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had advance warning from Opec of last month's failed coup attempt against him.

The call from the organisation's secretary general, Ali Rodriguez - an old friend of Mr Chavez - was crucial in saving his government and probably his life.

Ali Rodriguez
Rodriguez gave the vital warning to Chavez
Mr Rodriguez told President Chavez that Opec had learned that some Arab countries were agitating for a new oil embargo against the US.

They were angry at the US stance following Israel's incursions into the Palestinian territories.

Rodriguez warned Chavez that if an oil embargo were to happen, the Bush administration would not tolerate Mr Chavez in control of Venezuela's oil production.

As the world's fourth largest oil exporter, Venezuela replaced Saudi Arabia as America's chief foreign source of oil during the last embargo in the 1970s.

In an exclusive interview for BBC's Newsnight programme, Mr Chavez accused the US of involvement in the coup.


He said: "I have written proof of the entries and exits of two military officers from the United States into the headquarters of the coup plotters.

"I have their names, whom they met with, what they said, proof on video and on still photographs."

Speaking of Ali Rodriguez's warning, Mr Chavez told Newsnight: "That call of alert helped me."

Chavez said that he had tried to avert a coup by sending a note to President Bush, assuring him that Venezuela would never join any oil boycott.

But coup leader Pedro Carmona moved on 12 April, the day after a general strike began, and four days after Iraq banned oil exports.

However, the Opec warning allowed Mr Chavez to position loyal troops in secret passageways in the presidential palace.

However, Mr Chavez's attempts to protect his offices with tanks failed and he was seized.

The 'stability' of Venezuela is very important for the US

Ali Rodriguez
But after just 48 hours in power, the coup leader Carmona was forced to resign to save his life after massive demonstrations by Chavez' supporters.

Opec's Ali Rodriguez, long ago a leftist guerrilla in Venezuela, told Newsnight, the coup was all about oil.

"The dependence of the US on oil is increasing progressively. And Venezuela is one of the most important suppliers of the US. And the 'stability' of Venezuela is very important for the US."

After his election in 1998, Mr Chavez worked with Mr Rodriguez to reinvigorate the OPEC cartel.

Mr Chavez slashed Venezuela's oil production, causing the world price of crude to more than double to over $20 per barrel.

Assassination attempts

Newsnight also has new allegations by 'Chavistas' that US funding is behind three plans to assassinate President Chavez.

Guillermo Garcia Ponce
Garcia Ponce: US gave financial assistance to plotters
Comandante Guillermo Garcia Ponce, leader of Chavez' political organisation said: "From the information we have gathered, credible information: there are three components to the [plots to] kill our president.

"One of them was through Colombian paramilitaries; the second was the financing coming from Miami and technical assistance in tracking our President wherever he goes; and [third] financial help to a Venezuelan plotter from North America."

Neither Mr Chavez nor Mr Garcia Ponce would provide evidence of any new documents backing their claims. They say the official investigation preclude public disclosure.

The US embassy refused Newsnight's request to respond to these allegations. but is has denied reports in the past that it had encouraged the brief ousting.

The BBC's Greg Palast
"The poor marched on the city centre"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Venezuela
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