American Navy 'Helped Venezuelan Coup'
The United States had been considering a coup to overthrow the elected Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, since last June, a former US intelligence officer claimed yesterday.
It is also alleged that the US navy aided the abortive coup which took place in Venezuela on April 11 with intelligence from its vessels in the Caribbean. Evidence is also emerging of US financial backing for key participants in the coup.
Both sides in Venezuela have blamed the other for the violence surrounding the coup.
Wayne Madsen, a former intelligence officer with the US navy, told the Guardian yesterday that American military attaches had been in touch with members of the Venezuelan military to examine the possibility of a coup.
"I first heard of Lieutenant Colonel James Rogers [the assistant military attache now based at the US embassy in Caracas] going down there last June to set the ground," Mr Madsen, an intelligence analyst, said yesterday. "Some of our counter-narcotics agents were also involved."
He said that the navy was in the area for operations unconnected to the coup, but that he understood they had assisted with signals intelligence as the coup was played out.
Mr Madsen also said that the navy helped with communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military, focusing on communications to and from the diplomatic missions in Caracas belonging to Cuba, Libya, Iran and Iraq - the four countries which had expressed support for Mr Chavez.
Navy vessels on a training exercise in the area were supposedly put on stand-by in case evacuation of US citizens in Venezuela was required.
In Caracas, a congressman has accused the US ambassador to Venezuela, Charles Shapiro, and two US embassy military attaches of involvement in the coup.
Roger Rondon claimed that the military officers, whom he named as (James) Rogers and (Ronald) MacCammon, had been at the Fuerte Tiuna military headquarters with the coup leaders during the night of April 11-12.
And referring to Mr Shapiro, Mr Rondon said: "We saw him leaving Miraflores palace, all smiles and embraces, with the dictator Pedro Carmona Estanga [who was installed by the military for a day] ... [His] satisfaction was obvious. Shapiro's participation in the coup d'état in Venezuela is evident."
The US embassy dismissed the allegations as "ridiculous". Mr Shapiro admitted meeting Mr Carmona the day after the coup, but said he urged him to restore the national assembly, which had been dissolved.
Mr Carmona told the Guardian that no such advice was given, although he agreed that a meeting took place.
A US embassy spokesman said there were no US military personnel from the embassy at Fuerte Tiuna during the crucial periods from April 11 to 13, al though two members of the embassy's defence attache's office, one of them Lt Col Rogers, drove around the base on the afternoon of April 11 to check reports that it was closed.
Mr Rondon has also claimed that two foreign gunmen, one American and the other Salvadorean, were detained by security police during the anti-Chavez protest on April 11 in which around 19 people were killed, many by unidentified snipers firing from rooftops.
"They haven't appeared anywhere. We presume these two gentlemen were given some kind of safe-conduct and could have left the country," he said.
The members of the military who coordinated the coup have claimed that they did so because they feared that Mr Chavez was intending to attack the civilian protesters who opposed him.
Mr Chavez's opponents claim pro-Chavez gunmen shot protesters while his supporters say the shots were fired by agents provocateurs .
In the past year, the United States has channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to US and Venezuelan groups opposed to Mr Chavez, including the labour group whose protests sparked off the coup. The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency created and financed by the US Congress.
The state department's human rights bureau is now examining whether one or more recipients of the money may have actively plotted against Mr Chavez.
Officer Accused Of Involvement In Venezuelan Coup
A US officer has been accused of being involved with Venezuela's failed coup against President Hugo Chavez, a charismatic left-leaning populist.
A source close to the official investigation told journalists that US Army colonel Ronald MacCammon was with the military coup leaders who briefly managed to topple Chavez, only to have him return amid a swell of support fewer than 48 hours later, the source said.
US military and State Department officials swiftly denied MacCammon had anything to do with the failed ouster.
A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged MacCammon, the US army attaché in Caracas, and his deputy James Rodgers, had offices at Fort Tiuna, the military headquarters here, but denied they had anything to do with the failed overthrow.
Chavez, an ex-paratrooper, was ousted following three days of upheaval that included a nationwide joint labor-management strike.
The US State Department issued a communiqué that day, decrying "undemocratic actions committed or encouraged by the Chavez administration" that "provoked" the crisis.
Fewer than 48 hours later, the interim government of right-wing businessman Pedro Carmona buckled under intense pressure from other Latin American nations for dissolving Venezuela's National Assembly and Supreme Court, and Chavez was back in power after his supporters took to the streets.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a State Department official in Washington acknowledged the United States had a military group liason at Fort Tiuna until Thursday morning, but added that "at some point Thursday they were told by the Venezuelans to leave and they did, along with all the other foreign military officials."
Earlier, a military source told AFP in Caracas that US Army Lieutenant Colonel James Rodgers, an aide to the US military attache, was present at Fort Tiuna in Caracas before Chavez was brought to that installation after the coup, and remained there until the self-proclaimed provisional government fell apart.
Some Venezuelan military officers interpreted Rodgers' presence as a green light from Washington to unseat Chavez, the Caracas source said.