Sunday, December 27, 2015

Hugo Chavez: “Por Ahora”

Venezuelans who went to sleep on February 3, 1992, woke up with the news of an extraordinary military coup on the next day. Only the conspirators knew the exact details. The government of Carlos Andres Perez knew something was up due to a ‘leak’. But that was all.

In reality, a group of military officers led by Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chavez had organized a military takeover of the Venezuelan regime. Chavez’s hero was “the liberator” Simon Bolivar and he hoped to realize Bolivar’s dream for South America.
Hugo Chavez (Agencia Brasil)

In the very late hours of February 3, the coup was launched and soon the conspirators had control of important places in the country, except Caracas. Partly due to the leak and party due to their own shortcomings, the coup failed in the capital. Carlos Andres Perez, who had fled from the presidential palace to avoid capture, appeared on television early morning on February 4, to declare that there had been a coup but things were now under control. As far as Caracas was concerned, he was correct.

Hugo Chavez knew that the coup would fail without the capture of the capital. He decided to surrender to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. If his followers did not surrender in the peripheries, it would have resulted in a bloodbath in which many loyal followers would die for nothing. The negotiations were conducted through the mediation of General Ramon Santeliz Ruiz, a friend of Chavez. After 7 a.m. Chavez surrendered in the face of threats of aerial bombardment of his positions.

By 10 a.m. he was at the ministry of defense with Santeliz and heard that some of his followers were surrendering after hearing the news of the failure. But Jesus Hernandez Urdaneta, who was leading the rebels in Maracay, was still not willing to give up. The military was contemplating an aerial bombardment on Maracay.

It was at this juncture that Hugo Chavez suggested that he would directly talk to his men in Maracay. Yet, the telephone lines were cut. Then he suggested the radio. By an extraordinary piece of luck, the military officers suggested television. Defense minister Ochoa Antich agreed and he checked with the president. Perez wanted Chavez to be handcuffed as a prisoner and also to write down what he would tell in advance. Chavez, a shrewd politician as well as a military man, would have none of it. He did not want to appear a defeated man, although he was utterly destroyed within his mind. With no time to lose, the military men agreed to his terms.

Chavez washed his face, put on the red paratrooper beret and straightened his uniform. He will appear with dignity in front of the television cameras and therefore, in front of his nation. He walked into a room full of reporters and for the next seventy two seconds, he spoke with dignity and clarity, in real military fashion.

“First of all, I want to say good morning to all the people of Venezuela. This Bolivarian message is directed to all the courageous soldiers who are in the paratrooper regiment in Aragua and the tank regiment in Valencia. Comrades: unfortunately, for now [por ahora] the objectives we set ourselves were not achieved in the capital city. That is, those of us here in Caracas did not seize power. Where you are, you performed very well, but now is the time to reflect. New opportunities will arise and the country has to head definitely towards a better future.

So, listen to what I have to say. Listen to the Comandante Chavez, who is sending you this message. Please, reflect and put down your arms, because in truth, the objectives that we set for ourselves at a national level are not within our grasp. Comrades, listen to this message of solidarity: I am grateful for your loyalty, for your courage, for your selfless generosity. Before the country and before you, I accept responsibility for this Bolivarian military movement. Thank you very much.”

The country was stunned. Here was the leader of the coup which had surprised them, appearing live on national television and accepting responsibility for the failure of the coup. Venezuelans had never seen a politician accept responsibility for something that went wrong in their country where many things were going wrong. Then, here appears a young military officer, accepting full responsibility for a failure.

Hugo Chavez was depressed as he has had to lead a fiasco and then had to ask for others to surrender. It was then as he says that Santeliz came to him, shook his hand and said, “That was great man, what you said!” Chavez replied, “What do you mean good, if I called for surrendering?” Santeliz replied, “You said, for now.” Chavez had uttered the two defining words of the speech without realizing it. These two words “Por Ahora!” would become an important slogan of Chavez in his later campaign for presidency. In December 1998, he was swept in at the presidential polls with 56.2% of the popular vote and he was sworn in on February 2, 1999, just two days before the seventh anniversary of the coup in which he had exploded into national politics. He set out in attempting to realize his dream of a new Venezuela based on the dreams of the old hero, Simon Bolivar. The rest, as they say, is history.

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