Venezuela has proof Washington was behind failed coup, general
 Apr 17, 2003

CARACAS (AP) - A senior Venezuelan army general said the government of the South American country has proof the United States was involved in a short-lived coup against President Hugo Chavez last year.

Army Gen. Melvin Lopez, secretary of Venezuela's National Defence Council, said Tuesday "proof exists" the U.S. administration was involved in the mid-April putsch. He declined to give further details. "We have the evidence," Lopez said during an interview broadcast by Venezuela's state-run television channel.

Lopez said three U.S. military helicopters were on Venezuelan territory during the coup.

A spokesmen from the Pentagon declined comment on the allegation Tuesday night.

Dissident generals rose up against Chavez on April 11, 2002, several hours after 19 Venezuelans died and over 100 were wounded by gunfire as opposition marchers clashed with government supporters in downtown Caracas.

Loyalists in the military returned Chavez to power two days later.

Following his return, Chavez said "worrying details" had emerged suggesting a foreign country might have been involved in his temporary overthrow.

Chavez said a coastal radar installation had tracked a foreign military ship and helicopter operating over Venezuelan waters a day after his ouster. Chavez did not say which country had sent the ship and helicopter but governing party legislators have accused the United States of helping execute the coup.

The U.S. administration has repeatedly denied it was involved in the coup but acknowledged having held conversations with Venezuelan opposition leaders and military officers prior to the rebellion against Chavez.

A month after Chavez returned, the U.S. Embassy denied allegations U.S. military vessels were in Venezuelan territory.

The only U.S. vessels to approach Venezuelan waters during the coup attempt were two U.S. coast guard ships on a joint anti-narcotics mission with The Netherlands, the embassy said in a news release.

The embassy also rejected allegations by governing party legislators that two U.S. military officials who visited the Fuerte Tiuna military base in Caracas the day before Chavez's ouster were helping coup leaders.

The two officers spent two hours at the base April 11 to investigate information about troop movements, the embassy said. They left hours before Chavez was deposed. Two officers returned to the base April 13 for another evaluation of the situation.

Officials in Washington said they told opponents of Chavez they would not support any unconstitutional activity aimed at removing the leftist leader from power.

Chavez, who has irritated Washington by forging ties with Cuban President Fidel Castro, has criticized the United States for being too slow in condemning the coup when it occurred.

In contrast to most Latin American governments, the United States was sluggish to condemn the coup, initially blaming Chavez for his own overthrow. It later joined members of the Organization of American States in condemning the coup as unconstitutional.

Last week, Chavez commemorated the one-year anniversary of his dramatic return to power by inviting anti-globalization activists to a series of forums in Caracas.

Opposition leaders condemned the celebration, saying it was an insult to relatives of the victims who died in the violence that occurred prior to the military uprising.

The Canadian Press, 2003


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