- It was long-rumored that Fidel Castro played a role in the effort to
secure Hugo Chavez’ release during the two days he was held captive and
the same two days that Pedro Carmona was getting sized for the crown he
hoped to wear as Venezuela’s next president. But, as soon as Chavez
supporters heard that he had not resigned, they raced to Miraflores and
scared the bejeebers out of Carmona, his white cabinet and all those
blonde women that were roaming around the palace dreaming of soirees.
But it was not be. Carmona’s 48 hour “government” was over, a
million Chavez supporters were thronging at the palace gates, and all
that was needed was for Chavez to alight from a helicopter and the
Bolivarian revoution could proceed. And that he did in the wee hours of
But the nagging question has always been “what happened to Chavez during those two days?” Fidel provides some answers.
Fidel Ordered Chavez “Rescue”
“They attempted to execute Chavez but the firing squad refused to shoot.”
By Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet – April 22, 2006
In the book
“Fidel Castro, a two-voiced biography,” published by the Debate
Publishing House, the Cuban president told Ignacio Ramonet information
not previously released about the events of April 2002 in Venezuela.
that he phoned Miraflores Palace before Chávez surrendered and told
him: “Don’t kill yourself, Hugo. Don’t do like Allende, who was a man
alone. You have most of the Army on your side. Don’t quit, don’t
directed Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque, to fly to Caracas
in one of two planes to pick up Chávez and fly him to safety.
“a general who sided with [Chávez]” to tell him that the world knew the
president had not resigned and to ask the general to send troops to
rescue the president.
Fidel Castro, who
delivers so many speeches, has granted very few interviews. Only four
long conversations with him have been published in the past 50 years.
The fifth such interview, with the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique,
Ignacio Ramonet, has become the book “Fidel Castro, a two-voiced
biography,” a summary of the life and thoughts of the Cuban chief of
state, distilled from 100 hours of conversation. The first interview
was held in late January 2003; the final one, in December 2005.
these pages is an excerpt from the interview in which Castro talks
about the Venezuelan conflict that occurred on April 11, 2002. As the
Comandante says, he will remain in office “as long as the National
Assembly, in the name of the Cuba people, wishes.” The book, soon to
appear, is published by the Debate Publishing House.
Progreso Weekly is pleased to translate and reproduce excerpts from the interview, published in Koeyú Latinoamericano.
Ignacio Ramonet (IR): You have said you feel a great admiration for Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela.
(FC): Well, yes. There we have another Indian, Hugo Chávez, a new
Indian who is, as he himself says, “an Indian mixture,” mestizo, with a
little white, he says. But you look at Chávez and you see an
autochthonous son of Venezuela, the son of a Venezuela that itself is a
mixture. But he has all those noble features and an exceptional, truly
I make it a point
to listen to his speeches. He feels proud of his humble origin, of his
mixed ethnic background, which has a little of everything, mainly of
those who were autochthonous people or slaves brought from Africa, with
a mixture of Indian origin. That’s the impression. Maybe he has some
white genes, and that’s not bad. The combination always is good, it
enriches humanity, the combination of the so-called ethnic backgrounds.
IR: Have you
followed closely the evolution of the situation in Venezuela,
particularly the attempts to destabilize President Chávez?
FC: Yes, we have
followed events with great attention. Chávez visited us after being
released from prison before the 1998 elections. He was very brave,
because he was much reproached for traveling to Cuba. He came here and
we talked. We discovered an educated, intelligent man, very
progressive, an authentic Bolivarian. Later he won the elections
several times. He changed the Constitution. He had the formidable
support of the people, of the humblest people. His adversaries have
tried to asphyxiate him economically.
In the 40 famous
years of “democracy” that preceded Chávez, I estimate that about $200
billion fled from the country. Venezuela could be more industrialized
than Sweden and enjoy Sweden’s levels of education, if in truth there
had been a distributive democracy, if those mechanisms had worked, if
there had been some truth and credibility in all that demagoguery and
all that publicity.
From the time
that Chávez took office until currency controls were established in
January 2003, I estimate that about $30 billion flew out of the country
— capital flight. So, as we maintain, all those phenomena make the
order of things unsustainable in our hemisphere.
IR: On April 11, 2002, there was a coup d’état against Chávez in Caracas.
Did you follow those events.
FC: When we
learned that the demonstration by the opposition had changed direction
and was nearing Miraflores [Palace], that there were provocations,
shootings, victims, and that some high officials had mutinied and come
out publicly against the president, that the presidential guard had
withdrawn and that the army was on its way to arrest him, I phoned
Chávez because I knew that he was defenseless and that he was a man of
principle, and said to
him: “Don’t kill yourself, Hugo! Don’t do like Allende! Allende was a
man alone, he didn’t have a single soldier on his side. You have a
large part of the army. Don’t quit! Don’t resign!”
IR: You were encouraging him to resist, gun in hand?
FC: No, on the
contrary. That’s what Allende did, and he paid heroically with his
life. Chávez had three alternatives: To hunker down in Miraflores and
resist to death; to call on the people to rebel and unleash a civil
war; or to surrender without resigning, without quitting. We
recommended the third choice, which was what he also had decided to do.
Because history teaches us that every popular leader overthrown in
those circumstances, if he’s not killed the people claim him, and
sooner or later he returns to power.
IR: At that moment, did you try to help Chávez somehow?
FC: Well, we
could act only by using the resources of diplomacy. In the middle of
the night we summoned all the ambassadors accredited to Havana and we
proposed to them that they accompany Felipe [Pérez Roque], our Foreign
Minister, to Caracas to rescue Chávez, the legitimate president of
Venezuela. We proposed sending two planes to bring him here, in case
the putschists decided to send him into exile.
Chávez had been
imprisoned by the military putschists and his whereabouts were unknown.
The television repeatedly reported the news of his “resignation” to
demobilize his supporters, the people. But at one point, they allow
Chávez to make a phone call and he manages to talk to his daughter,
María Gabriela. And he tells her that he has not quit, that he has not
resigned. That he is “a president under arrest.” And he asks her to
spread that news.
The daughter then
has the bold idea to phone me and she informs me. She confirms to me
that her father has not resigned. We then decided to assume the defense
of the Venezuelan democracy, since we had proof that countries like the
United States and Spain — the government of José María Aznar — who talk
so much about democracy and criticize Cuba so much, were backing the
We asked María
Gabriela to repeat it and recorded the conversation she had with Randy
Alonso, the moderator of the Cuban TV program “Mesa Redonda”
[Round Table], which had great international repercussion. In addition,
we summoned the entire foreign news media accredited to Cuba — by then
it must have been 4 o’clock in the morning — we informed them and
played them the testimony of Chávez’s daughter. CNN broadcast it at
once and the news spread like a flash of gunpowder throughout Venezuela.
IR: And what was the consequence of that?
FC: Well, that
was heard by the military people faithful to Chávez, who had been
deceived by the lie about a resignation, and then there is a contact
with a general who is on Chávez’s side. I talk to him on the phone. I
confirm to him personally that what the daughter said is true and that
the entire world knows Chávez has not resigned.
I talk with him a
long time. He informs me about the military situation, about which
high-ranking officers are siding with Chávez and which are not.
I understand that nothing is lost, because the best units of the Armed
Forces, the most combative, the best trained, were in favor of Chávez.
I tell that officer that the most urgent task is to find out where
Chávez is being detained and to send loyal forces there to rescue him.
He then asks me
to talk to his superior officer and turns me over to him. I repeat what
Chávez’s daughter has said, and stress that he continues to be the
constitutional president. I remind him of the necessary loyalty, I talk
to him about Bolívar and the history of Venezuela. And that
high-ranking officer, in a gesture of patriotism and fidelity to the
Constitution, asserts to me that, if it’s true that Chávez has not
resigned, he continues to be faithful to the president under arrest.
IR: But even at that moment nobody knows where Chávez is, true?
Chávez has been taken to the island of La Orchila. He is incommunicado.
The Archbishop of Caracas goes to see him and counsels him to resign.
“To avoid a civil war,” he says. He commits humanitarian blackmail. He
asks [Chávez] to write a letter saying he is resigning.
know what’s happening in Caracas or the rest of the country. They’ve
already tried to execute him, but the men in the firing squad have
refused and threatened to mutiny. Many of the soldiers who guard Chávez
are ready to defend him and to prevent his assassination. Chávez tries
to gain time with the bishop. He writes drafts of a statement. He fears
that once he finishes the letter, [his captors] will arrange to
eliminate him. He has no intention of resigning. He declares that
they’ll have to kill him first. And that there will be no
constitutional solution then.
IR: Meanwhile, was it still your intention to send planes to rescue him and take him into exile?
FC: No, after
that conversation with the Venezuelan generals, we changed plans. We
shelved Felipe’s proposition to travel with the ambassadors to Caracas.
What’s more, shortly thereafter we hear a rumor that the putschists are
proposing to expel Chávez to Cuba. And we immediately announce that if
they send Chávez here, we shall send him back to Venezuela on the first
IR: How does Chávez return to power?
FC: Well, at one
point we again get in contact with the first general with whom I had
spoken and he informs me that they’ve located Chávez, that he’s on the
island of La Orchila. We talk about the best way to rescue him. With
great respect, I recommend three basic steps: discretion, efficacy and
overwhelming force. The parachutists from the base at Maracay, the best
unit of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, who are faithful to Chávez, carry
out the rescue.
Caracas, the people have mobilized, asking for Chávez’s return. The
presidential guard has reoccupied Miraflores [Palace] and also demands
the president’s return. It expels the putschists from the palace. Pedro
Carmona, president of the management association and very temporary
President-usurper of Venezuela, is almost arrested right there at the
Finally, at dawn
on April 14, 2002, rescued by the faithful soldiers, Chávez arrives in
Miraflores amid a popular apotheosis. I almost did not sleep the two
days of the Caracas coup, but it was worthwhile for me to see how a
people, and also patriotic soldiers, defended the law. The tragedy of
Chile in 1973 was not repeated.
IR: Chávez is a
representative of the progressive armed forces, but in Europe and Latin
America many progressives reproach him precisely because he is a
military man. What opinion do you have about that apparent
contradiction between progressiveness and the military?
FC: Look, in
Venezuela we have an army playing an important role in the Bolivarian
revolution. And Omar Torrijos, in Panama, was an example of a soldier
with conscience. Juan Velasco Alvarado, in Peru, also carried out some
notable acts of progress. Let’s not forget, for example, that among the
Brazilians, Luis Carlos Prestes was an officer who led a march in
1924-26 almost like the march led by Mao Zedong in 1934-35.
Jorge Amado wrote
about the march of Luis Carlos Prestes in a beautiful story, “The
Gentleman of Hope,” one of his magnificent novels. I had an opportunity
to read them all, and that march was something impressive. It lasted
more than two and a half years, covering enormous territories in his
country, and he never suffered defeat.
In other words,
there were prowesses that came from the military. Let’s say, I’m going
to cite a Mexican military man, Lázaro Cárdenas, a general of the
Mexican Revolution, who nationalized petroleum. He is very prominent,
carries out agrarian reform and gains the support of the people. When
one talks about affairs in Mexico, one mustn’t forget the roles played
by personalities like Lázaro Cárdenas. And Lázaro Cárdenas originated
in the military.
forget that the first people in Latin America to rise up in the 20th
Century, in the 1950s, were a group of youths who rebelled, young
Guatemalan officers, who gathered around Jacobo Arbenz and participated
in revolutionary activities. Well, you can’t say that’s a general
phenomenon but there are several cases of progressive military men.
Perón also came from military origins. You need to see the moment when
he emerges. In 1943, he was appointed Minister of Labor and drafted
such good laws that when he was taken to prison the people rescued him
— and he was a military chief. There was also a civilian who had
influence over the military men, he studied in Italy, where Perón also
had lived; he was Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and they were popular leaders.
Perón was an
embassy attaché. He worked in Rome in the 1930s during the Mussolini
period and was impressed by some of the forms and methods of mass
mobilization he witnessed. There was influence, including in some
processes, but in those cases where I mention that influence, Gaitán
and Perón used it in a positive sense, because the truth is that Perón
carried out social reform.
let us say, a mistake. He offends the Argentine oligarchy, humiliates
it, strips it of its symbolic theater and some symbolic institutions.
He worked with the nation’s reserves and resources and improved the
living conditions of the workers. And the workers were very grateful,
and Perón became an idol of the workers.
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