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Lucas Koerner, journalist in Caracas for discusses what he knows thus far about the foiled coup in Venezuela

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: This is The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela in a telecast last Thursday night unveiled an attempted coup plot that was being plotted by a Air Force general and 13 other people who were all accused of plotting to overthrow the government and bomb several buildings, including Miraflores (the presidential palace), the Ministry of Defense, and the teleSUR building itself. Now joining me to discuss what has been happening in Venezuela is Lucas Koerner. Lucas is a Caracas-based journalist with Thank you so much for joining us, Lucas. LUCAS KOERNER, JOURNALIST, VENEZUELANALYSIS.COM: Thank you so much for having me. PERIES: So, Lucas, let’s begin with President Maduro unveiled on Thursday night. KOERNER: Well, I guess, to begin, you have a small group of Air Force officials who developed a plan to use a Brazilian-manufactured Super Tucano aircraft to strike various tactical targets in Caracas on Thursday, including Miraflores Palace, the headquarters of military intelligence, Ministry of Defense, the teleSUR, the international media television station, so basically the vital military, political, and communications network of this government, so, clearly, you know, to deliver a paralyzing blow to the democratically elected government of President Nicolas Maduro. They actually–these Air Force officials dressed in uniforms with U.S.-issued AR-15s, which are assault rifles, which are not available in Venezuela, and paid with U.S. dollars. They recorded a video that was basically to announce a coup d’etat and thereby provoke a general uprising of the military. And this coup attempt has many echoes of the 2002 thwarted–really, defeated–coup effort in Venezuela, where there was also a prerecorded video that was released, and you also had efforts–successful efforts at first–to shut down pro-government or pro-Chavista affiliated media, in that case the state-owned media. PERIES: Lucas, what evidence did they provide on television during the telecast unraveling the coup plot? KOERNER: Well, the main evidence is this video that was discovered of these Air Force officers basically announcing their coup plot. We’ve also discovered the identity, the government’s discovered the identity of the aircraft to be used, which is a Super Tucano aircraft that actually reportedly is registered to Blackwater, U.S.A. It was sold by–the only aircraft its kind to be sold to Blackwater U.S.A. So, so far they’re claiming that it’s a foreign aircraft that was to be used. PERIES: Was there any evidence provided of that? KOERNER: So far, most of the evidence is on the basis of what the government has laid out. But the story’s still in development and the government’s releasing new evidence as we go. PERIES: Right. And what else did they unravel? KOERNER: They also unraveled that one of the, I think, barriers of the participants in the coup, at least one of them had a visa, a U.S. visa, stamped, I believe, February 4, meaning that he, in the event that the coup went awry, he could flee to the United States. We also see that there was–I think the biggest evidence was a opposition publication, a statement released by the three main leaders of one of the most radical leaders of Venezuela’s opposition, including María Corina Machado, Leopoldo López, and Antonio Ledesma, calling for a transition, a national transition, and a transition government, which is completely unconstitutional, that a government that is elected has to run its course unless the Supreme Court finds that the practices of the president are unethical and takes action. PERIES: And they found these recordings where? KOERNER: This statement came out the day before the coup. And what the authorities are claiming is that this statement was to be the signal for the coup efforts the next day, for this kind of media offensive that was to pave the way for the blow that was to come the next day. PERIES: And in what form did this statement appear? KOERNER: It was published in–it was circulated via various national newspapers. PERIES: And have you seen evidence of that? KOERNER: I’ve read the statement. PERIES: Okay. And this statement said exactly what? KOERNER: It called for a government of transition, and it stated that the transition was imminent, that the days of the government of Nicolás Maduro were numbered, and that very soon the government would have to give way to a new transition government that would rectify the policies of the Bolivarian Revolution. There was particular economic clauses talking about the returning–at least compensation of those whose enterprises have been nationalized, greater integration into international financial networks, including–you know, well, we can assume to mean the IMF and World Bank. I mean, these are–it’s important to note that these figures themselves all have links to Venezuelas oligarchy. For example, Leopoldo López is related to the Polar, the family which owns Polar, which is the largest producer of corn flour, which is basically the base of the Venezuelan diet. So you see very much the integration between these political and economic elites in Venezuela. PERIES: Lucas, this coup plot took place exactly on the anniversary of the student protests that took place last year. Is that a coincidence? KOERNER: It most definitely was not a coincidence any more than the publication of this opposition statement was a coincidence, that what we see, first of all, the opposition protests last year were known as the Guarimba. And, actually, this is–Guarimba, it goes back to 2004 as–it was basically invented as a kind of a tactic, a destabilization tactic that comes from 2004, the use of street mobilizations and media combined with right-wing media misinformation to create a condition of ungovernability in the country. And that’s what you saw from February 12 for several months throughout the country, that students or those posing as students, because it was many people who we would not consider students, who are paid and had been in university forever and actually come from various opposition or professional operators of right-wing oppositional organizations, set up barricades in cities throughout the country, which they subsequently refused to take down and actually led to the death of 43 people. Most of dead, while the international media attributes those dead to the government’s repression, the facts on the ground are that the majority of those died as result–ten at least were killed by opposition protesters at the barricades. Many more were killed as a result of, for example, ambulances not being able to arrive. So it was really–these were not any kind of democratic, peaceful protests, but they were very much, you know, just one more instance of the highly undemocratic, you know, you might even say fascist actions of an opposition that has never been loyal, that has never [incompr.] itself to participating in legal democratic processes. So part of this plan–this plan had four stages. And in this final stage, for Thursday, the idea was to have mass opposition protests on the anniversary of the Guarimba to that would trigger, supposedly, a government response that could justify–a repressive government response that could justify a military coup. And what we see is that there actually was–I was at the Central University of Venezuela, which is arguably the heart of the right-wing student movement on Thursday, and there was barely maybe 100 people out protesting. It was very few people. And there was only scattered actions in the west of the country, violent attacks on the National Guard in San Christabel. So, I mean, that part completely failed as well. However, as I can elaborate on that, there were many other stages of this coup plot of a economic destabilization, an international mediada campaign, as well as political destabilization that had been months in the making. PERIES: Now, earlier, when you were speaking, you stated that there is some evidence that not all of these people that are protesting are students. What did you mean by that? And can you clarify how we know they’re not students? KOERNER: Well, what I refer to is that various members of the student–who claim to be leaders in the student movement have actually spent maybe 12 years at the university and are actually members of far-right political parties like, for example, Voluntad Popular, which is the Popular Will, which is the party of Leopoldo López, who is actually in jail right now for inciting violence. So, many–moreover, we also seen that there’s the various Colombian paramilitaries, there’s evidence that that they have participated in these protests. I mean, you saw a lot of deaths by snipers during this period, for example, snipe–in Merida, someone was killed by a sniper from a distance of [500] meters. I mean, there’s clear evidence that students don’t know how to shoot at that distance. So there’s definitely some professional military involvement that, you know, result in the death of a significant number of people, as well as you saw other instances during this period of the setting up of barbed wire, intentionally setting up barbed wire at a height that would decapitate motorcyclists, largely Chavista motorcyclists. And that was a very intentional act on the part of these protests. PERIES: And that actually happened. There was a lot of Chavistas who were actually beheaded during this action. KOERNER: There were very–yeah, I believe there was as many as ten beheadings. There was definitely several beheadings as a result of that. PERIES: Right. One of the things that the government is also alleging is that the United States, Canada, and U.K. were part of the plot. How did we know that? KOERNER: Well, I think that at this stage the government hasn’t released concrete evidence linking these actors, these governments to this action, but we do have some indicators. I think that–to begin, I think that we have to look at this is a multistate. This whole idea of this coup was a multistage process, where you had economic destabilization that–I mean, basically you’ve seen since Christmas a extreme scarcity of various basic goods that are very specific goods, like diapers, toilet paper, deodorant, that before–although were more available. So, I mean, there’s definitely indicators that there’s economic sabotage going on that potentially has links to external actors. But also you see that the United States has been completely involved in terms of the latest round of sanctions that were imposed on Venezuela, on various Venezuelan officials two weeks ago, who were accused of human rights abuses, yet there’s no evidence that they’ve–as I was saying, their abuse of–human rights abuses during these violent opposition protests. Yet there’s no evidence that the government–actually, the government, in all honesty, acted with incredible restraint vis-à-vis these violent, disruptive protests. PERIES: Now, these sanctions you’re referring to, these are sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Venezuela, on high-level officials who are associated with cracking down on the student protests. KOERNER: Exactly. These are, for example, travel bans on those who are accused of allegedly, as you say, cracking down protests. For example, the chief prosecutor cannot travel to the United States for this reason. She’s actually suing the State Department over these sanctions because they have no base. They have not provided any evidence of human rights abuses to justify these sanctions. I think that the other important evidence, the other important background to point out is that these opposition groups, for example, María Corina Machado, her group actually accepts funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is affiliated with U.S. government. So the National Endowment for Democracy has been channeling millions of dollars of funding into Venezuela for the training of opposition activists and all kinds of PR and a whole plethora of different tactics in order to, I would say, better their destabilization capacities. And, obviously, this is nothing new, that the opposition has been attempting to overthrow the Venezuelan government since it failed in 2002. This is not a new phenomenon. PERIES: Right. And one of the things that the Western mainstream media has done with the unraveling of this coup plot is really either silent or very superficial coverage, like in The New York Times, that just referred to what the opposition said and said that the opposition claims that the coup plot was something that the government was using as a tactic to camouflage what was really going on in Venezuela vis-à-vis the economic conditions. Is there any merit to that position? KOERNER: Well, I think that it’s important to understand that first, I mean, the claim that the image projected by the international media is that Venezuela is some kind of authoritarian society that does not have freedom of press, which is utterly absurd, because when you go to any newspaper stand, you’re going to see that the majority of the newspapers are of the opposition, and all the TV stations that have the most circulation belong to the opposition. So that’s completely–that claim is completely ludicrous. But I think that you’ve seen a coordinated misinformation campaign by the mainstream media in many–. I mean, in these past few weeks, past months, you’ve seen very aggressive op-eds in The New York Times against Venezuela. You’ve also seen the accusations against the president of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, accusing him of narco trafficking. So, I mean, there’s definitely an effort to discredit and to delegitimize the public face of the Venezuelan government, and the media has been complicit in this, and, I mean, lest we forget that in–the 2002 coup was a mediada coup, that the way the media presented the events of that day of April 11, 2002, that it presented killings by–the sniper killings by opposition snipers, it presented them as Chavistas killing innocent, supposedly innocent, peaceful opposition protesters who were quite the contrary. So I think we have to note that historic precedent. PERIES: Very well, Lucas. Thank you so much for joining us and shedding more light on what happened last week in Venezuela. Thank you. KOERNER: No problem. Thank you so much for having me. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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