President Hugo Chavez convened a high-level meeting at Miraflores, exactly seven years ago today on 7 April, 2002, to discuss final details of his plan to crush the political opposition.
Chavez knew that an immense opposition protest march was likely to occur within days. In fact, Chavez was counting on it, and was doing everything he could to stoke a confrontation he expected to win easily.
The president called his plan “Operation Knockout.”
Its objective was to decapitate and demoralize the political opposition in one crushing blow that very likely would result in the death and maiming of hundreds of Venezuelan civilians in downtown Caracas.
This plan had several components – military, civilian and communications.
Only a handful of the president’s closest associates, including then Vice President Diosdado Cabello, then-Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel and then-Interior & Justice Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, were fully aware of all the plan’s elements and details. All three were present at this 7 April meeting.
Then-Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, then-Pdvsa President Gastón Parra, and then-Education Minister Aristobulo Isturiz also were present at the entire meeting.
Chavez chaired the meeting, which was held in two parts.
The first half of the president’s meeting on 7 April, 2002 was with the armed forces high command, a group which included then-Army Commander, Division General Efraín Vásquez Velazco and then-Unified Armed Forces (Cufan) Commander, Division General Manuel Rosendo.
Vice Admiral Bernabé Carrero Cubero, then-commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the FAN, presented to President Chavez the military’s plans to prevent massive protest marches by the opposition from erupting into potetially destabilizing violence.
Carrero Cubero’s presentation outlined an aggressive FAN response to maintain public order, which not all of the generals present at the meeting– including Vasquez Velasco and Rosendo – were in agreement with.
However, Chavez approved the military’s plan, which included the deployment of light tanks from fort Tiuna into downtown Caracas to restore public order if protests started to escalate out of control.
Carrero Cubero and other senior officers at the meeting were still discussing details of their security plan with President Chavez when a group of civilians arrived.
The civilians included then-National Assembly Deputy Nicolás Maduro (currently Foreign Minister), National Assembly Deputy Cilia Flores (now President of the National Assembly), then-Táchira Governor Ronald Blanco La Cruz, then-Sucre Governor Ramón Martínez, and National Assembly Deputy Ismael García of Podemos.
Today García is a disaffected chavista who says Chavez is making himself a dictator-for-life, but on 7 April 2002 García was deeply involved in the civilian component of Chavez’s “Operation Knockout.” In fact, García made the official presentation of the civilian component of Chavez’s grand plan to snuff out his opponents.
Chavez urged his generals to continue discussing their security plans, but even the most obeisant officers clammed up in front of the civilians because some aspects of the military’s plans were classified.
However, Chavez had no qualms about discussing the civilian component of Operation Knockout in front of his generals and admirals, and what the president said horrified officers like Vasquez Velazco and Rosendo.
Vásquez Velazco has testified publicly under oath that on 7 April at the meeting in Miraflores, the civilians who formed part of a so-called ‘Comité Político de la Revolución’ (CPR) were assigned the following tasks:
*The CPR would control all Bolivarian Circles and unions. However, the direct execution of the CPR’s explicitly assigned tasks would be the responsibility of a Political Joint Staff Chiefs group which President Chavez indicated would include Vice President Cabello, then-Libertador Mayor Freddy Bernal, and the then-Governors of Vargas and Aragua states.
*The Bolivarian Unions were ordered to surround Miraflores presidential palace and Pdvsa’s headquarters with thousands of members, many of which would be armed and prepared to “defend” the revolution.
*Regional committees of the CPR would supply vehicles to transport Bolivarian Circle members to their assigned objectives.
*Regional committees of the CPR also were ordered to conduct psychological warfare actions like spilling motor oil and nails in the streets at strategic locations which Chavez felt the opposition could use to move protesters quickly into downtown Caracas.
*The CPR also was ordered to deploy passenger vehicles and trucks massively between 6-9 a.m. on the day of the expected confrontation between the opposition and President Chavez.
Moreover, the president reaffirmed several times at the 7 April 2002 meeting that the anticipated clash with the opposition would occur within days.
“They’re going to launch a coup attempt against me, but we know their plans and are ready to stop them.” Chavez reportedly said, according to several sources who were present that day.
During the meeting, Vasquez Velasco also testified, Maduro made a brief presentation revealing that he had negotiated the payment of Bs. 10 billion to Pdvsa’s workers to keep them from going on strike.
General Rosendo, also testifying under sworn oath before the kangaroo National Assembly Commission created to whitewash what really happened on 11-14 April, 2002, confirmed everything said by General Vasquez Velasco.
For example, Rosendo testified that Chavez approved a proposal by then-Education Minister Isturiz, who urged the president to deploy armed members of the Bolivarian Circles to take control of the streets and hold the streets at all costs, including the use of lethal force to halt opposition protesters.
Chavez confirmed at the meeting that National Guard units would be deployed alongside armed Bolivarian Circle members, to confront opposition protesters.
The FAN commanders were alarmed, but none of them dared to challenge the president’s decision to deploy thousands of armed civilian chavistas to attack opposition protesters.
Attorney General Rodriguez also said nothing.
However, it was painfully obvious to the generals and admirals that the strategies and tactics Chavez had ordered his civilian supporters to execute were patently unconstitutional, illegal and criminal.
The core elements of “Operation Knockout,” as described to the military and civilian groups by President Chavez on 7 April 2002, consisted of the following tactical phases:
*Several hundreds of National Guard troops from CORE 5 in Caracas would be deployed around Miraflores palace.
*Armed Bolivarian Circle members also would be deployed at Miraflores, but behind the National Guard picket lines.
*The National Guard troops would be used as buffers between the anti-Chavez protesters and the Bolivarian Circles. However, the National Guard troops would be under explicit orders to confront only the opposition protesters that were expected to march towards Miraflores.
*Armed Bolivarian Circle members also would be deployed at strategic intersections to harass opposition protesters and contain any march into downtown Caracas within narrow corridors which Chavez felt could be defended easily.
*Violent clashes certainly would happen. In fact, the Bolivarian Circles were under orders to attack the opposition physically with an array of weapons including rocks, clubs and firearms. President Chavez fully expected the presence of armed opposition groups. He was certain of this because for months Chavez had clandestinely fostered opposition conspiracies against himself.
*At the height of the anticipated violence in downtown Caracas, President Chavez would give General Rosendo orders to deploy the FAN’s security plan, deploying at least three army infantry battalions and some two- to three-dozen light tanks into downtown Caracas to crush the “coup” which Chavez would announce was under way.
*Chavez then would decree a state of exception/martial law, suspending economic and individual constitutional guarantees, which would allow the Chavez regime to arrest anyone it wished on suspicion of conspiring to overthrow the democratically elected president.
Had this plan succeeded, the slaughter likely would have been horrendous. However, President Chavez expected to defend himself against international criticism by insisting that his regime has countered a violent anti-democratic right-wing military coup.
“Operation Knockout” might have succeeded if not for the separate efforts of Rosendo and Vasquez Velasco to prevent a massacre, and if not for Chavez’s own pathological cowardice, which compelled him to start seeking his surrender before the sun set on 11 April, 2002.
All this is public record, but of course it doesn’t form part of the official Bolivarian “history” of 11 April, 2002.