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Venezuela's coup d’état

By the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Addendum: please note that for the first time one can read in a report from an international body that Hugo Chavez indeed resigned from office at the request of the high military command. This single fact, undermines the whole parafernalia behind the coup. The report also affirms that Pedro Carmona Estanga resigned, ergo the hypothesis of the President 'having being rescued by the people' is in great doubt. There is ample evidence that the events did not resemble in the slightest the official version. The Editor.

85. Following the violence of April 11, military officials blamed the Government for the acts of violence that took place. At dawn on Friday April 12, President Hugo Chávez Frías was detained by a group of military personnel. The mass media communicated a message from Inspector General of the National Armed Forces (FAN), General-in-Chief Lucas Rincón which stated: "the President’s resignation was requested and he acceded."[56] The president was transferred to Fort Tiuna, a military detachment of the General Command of the Venezuelan Army.

86. The military sector that spoke out against the President of the Republic, along with a group of civilians, constituted the self-appointed "Government of Democratic Transition and National Unity,"[57] and in the face of the claimed vacancy of presidential authority, they proclaimed the principal representative of the Confederation of Chambers and Associations of Commerce (Fedecámaras), Mr. Pedro Carmona Estanga, Acting President of the Republic.[58] Attorney General of the Republic, Dr Isaías Rodríguez, announced to the media[59] that there was no proof of the President’s resignation. He thus characterized the events as a constitutional coup d’état.

87. In the afternoon of April 12, in an act signed at Miraflores, a decree was read to the Nation appointing the new Government, the branches of government were dissolved and control granted to the Acting President over all legally constituted institutions and authorities. In effect the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Justice were dissolved and the Constitution of 1999 repealed. In a press release, the Commission described this situation as a breach of constitutional order and urged Venezuela to a return to the rule of law and a democratic system of government that would ensure the full observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.[60]

88. The citizens began to demonstrate their condemnation of the institutional breakdown. A large mass of people gradually began to gather in the streets of Caracas, as well as in various cities of the interior. In the demonstrations, that began to grow in strength from April 13, protestors called for adherence to the Constitution and release of the President.[61] These gatherings ended in alarming circumstances; various acts of violence were witnessed in which Venezuelan citizens were killed. This renewed outbreak of violence claimed more than 40 lives.[62]

89. Some of the military units that did not support the Coup d’état began to proclaim their support for President Chávez. In the face of growing popular and military pressure, on the night of the April 13, Mr. Pedro Carmona Estanga resigned from the presidency. The President of the National Assembly, William Lara, accompanied by the representatives of the Citizen Power branch, the Attorney General of the Republic, the Comptroller General of the Republic and the Ombudsman, swore in Vice-President Diosdado Cabello as Interim President to cover the legal void until President Chávez, who had been released, returned to the power. At dawn on Sunday April 14, President Hugo Chávez Farías returned to the Miraflores Palace, transported by personnel of the army belonging to the airborne division, and resumed office.

90. Acts of vandalism continued throughout the day on April 14 in various areas of the capital, and it was only during the hours of the night that law and order were restored. The Commission has received information indicating that during April 12, 13 and 14, when institutional rupture occurred, there were a heightened number of raids of homes and irregular arrests of people and officials linked to the “Chavista movement”. Such is the case of Minister Rodríguez Chacín, who was arrested on the April 12 by the Municipal Police of Chacao and Baruta. Upon his arrest he was struck and insulted by residents of the area. Also notable is the case of Tarek Wiliam Saab, a National Assemblyman of the Fifth Republic Movement Party, who was arrested by the political police (DISIP) without a warrant and was rescued by the Municipal Police of Hatillo after a group of people, presumably from the opposition, surrounded his residence threatening his personal safety.

91. The Preliminary Report of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman indicates that at this time various security groups carried out raids and arrests of officials of the overthrown government, citizens loyal to the government and community mass media. In addition, in the states of Anzoátegui, Miranda, Portuguesa, Nueva Esparta, Vargas, Táchira, Mérida and Barinas, groups presumably in opposition to the deposed government conducted demonstrations demanding the resignation of governors and mayors associated with that government, also causing acts of violence.[63]

92. Specifically, during this period the NGO Provea recorded 82 complaints from groups and individuals of violations of the right to personal integrity (206 victims). It also reported that of the total number of reports 35% were of cases of cruel or degrading treatment or punishment (72 victims), 22% (46 victims) of physical injury and 2% cases of torture (5). In addition, 19 cases of raids affecting 34 persons (17%) and 18 complaints of threats or harassment affecting 49 people (24%) were recorded.

93. In addition, the preliminary report of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman on the events of April reports 24 complaints of violations of personal integrity, including 10 cases of torture and 9 illegal raids. The Report indicates that at least 398 people were injured by firearms, pellets, etc. on April 11, 12, 13, and 14.[64]

94. The Commission notes that in the brief period in which a de facto government was in place not only were the branches of government dissolved but was of repression against military personnel loyal to the government of President Chávez were witnessed, as was the persecution of its ministers and close allies.

95. Once law and order were restored, President Chávez expressed that the events which had occurred required in-depth analysis and called for a national dialogue via the establishment of forums for dialogue. In addition, the National Assembly took the decision to form a Truth Commission, which would be charged with the investigation of the facts.

96. Thus the National Assembly approved the draft bill on the Truth Commission on May 14, 2002, during the first discussion, and conducted a budgetary study and appointed a Special Commission responsible for preparing a report for a second and final discussion. This Commission comprised three members of the pro-government parliamentary block, three members of the opposition and three members of the Liaison Commission. This Commission presented to the Secretariat of the National Assembly a report on the submission of a Truth Commission bill to a second debate in plenary session by the National Assembly.[65]

97. The IACHR has always supported Truth Commissions in the different countries of the hemisphere in which they have been created, insofar as they represent a suitable mechanism for assuring the right to the truth. As indicated previously, the Truth Commission can make a very important contribution to Venezuelan democracy in terms of guaranteeing that the investigation on the April events is conducted in such a manner that its conclusions be accepted by all, and that those responsible are punished accordingly.

98. Despite this, the IACHR reiterates that this or other Truth Commissions or investigations do not relieve the State of its obligation to investigate and prosecute the persons responsible for human rights violations. More than a year after the events, the Truth Commission is yet to become operational. In that connection, the IACHR has been informed that the parliamentary debates to establish the commission have been suspended after two proposals were hotly debated between May and September 2002 without arrival at definitive consensus.

99. With respect to the progress of investigations within the domestic legal jurisdiction, the Commission notes that at the time of the preparation of the present report, with exception of the cases of the deaths of Ruddy Alfonso Urbano and Erasmo Sánchez for which 8 officers of the Metropolitan Police were accused and charged, those responsible have not be condemned and investigations have had few results. More specifically, the Commission has been informed that up to April 12, 2003, 31 people had been held responsible for the acts that occurred from April 11 to 14, 2002 and 11 had been charged. Among those specifically accused in relation to events of April 11 are Henry Atencio and Rafael Cabrices, both leaders of the Fifth Republic Movement; Richard Peñalver, Councilman of the Fifth Republic Movement; Nicholás Creek, a Radio Perola host and journalist were, among others, accused of firing shots from the Llaguno Bridge. Hearings against these individuals began on June 25, 2003 in the Maracay courts. Since the Office of the Attorney General first took the case to the courts, eight judges have heard the case until the trial was eventually moved to the Fourth Magistrates Court of Maracay in the State of Aragua by order of the Criminal Division of the Court of Justice. Initially, the charge against these individuals was homicide by complicity, but that charge was opposed on grounds that there was no evidence linking the defendants’ weapons with the projectiles that caused the injuries and deaths on the April 11. On this basis, the four accused were charged by the Public Ministry with the commission of crimes of public intimidation and the illegal use of firearms. Richard Peñalver was also charged with the illegal use of military weapons. At the time of the preparation of the report, the Commission was informed that the Fourth Magistrates Court of Maracay had acquitted the defendants of the charges made against them in the Llaguno Bridge case I a judgment published on September 30, 2003. The Commission has not received information on other trials, investigations or progress related to the events of April 2002.

100. Finally, the IACHR stresses the necessity and urgency of an in-depth, unbiased, and independent investigation of the crimes committed and the establishment of responsibility and punishment for the events of April 2002. In particular, it is necessary to investigate the identities of those responsible for ordering, encouraging or allowing armed persons or civilian groups to join mass mobilizations, and of those who tried to cover up and cast a veil of silence on those acts of violence. In addition, all the victims of violence must be able to seek justice using the current procedural mechanisms. The pursuit of justice in these cases is an obligation of the holders of public office in Venezuela, not only to honor those victims, but also to demonstrate their commitment to continued institutional building and consolidation of the rule of law.

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