April 11, 2002 — Venezuela changed forever following the events of this day. For the country’s right-wing opposition, it was a day of celebration, given that they temporarily removed President Hugo Chavez in a U.S.-backed coup. For the country’s poor and oppressed, it was a day of struggle in defense of their Bolivarian Revolution and all of its hard-earned social gains.
Today, as right-wing demonstrators continue to attack the revolution 15 years later, Afro-Venezuelan activist and feminist Maria Emilia Duran reflects on the class nature of the opposition and its protests.
“It’s a white, bourgeois, classist, racist and sexist elite that has no patriotism,” Duran told teleSUR during an interview. “They want a Venezuela where only they exist, not Black, Indigenous and poor people.”
For over two weeks, violent anti-government demonstrations have repeatedly been held in Caracas. For Duran, those protesting today against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro represent the same social class as those who helped plan and execute the violent 2002 coup.
Over fifteen years ago, as Chavez began restructuring the country’s state-owned Petroleum of Venezuela company as well as putting into law a land reform, wealthy elites connected to private multinational energy companies and rich landowners began calling for his ouster.
Chavez, committed to lifting millions out of poverty, sought to bring the PDVSA under more government control and redistribute its profits for the country’s poor. The recently-elected leader’s plans to fully nationalize the PDVSA presented a threat to the ruling elites who previously raked in millions by selling the country’s oil to multinational corporations like Exxon Mobil and Standard Oil.
Tensions reached a boiling point on April 7, 2002, when Chavez fired pro-market PDVSA president Guaicaipuro Lameda Montero and replaced him with a former leader of Venezuela’s Communist Party who favored nationalization.
That’s when Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, connected to multinational oil companies, called for national strikes protesting the Bolivarian Revolution. Opposition leaders, claiming that Chavez was a “dictator” who wanted to “make Venezuela into another Cuba,” ordered sectors of the country’s armed forces to arrest him and installed wealthy oil businessman Pedro Carmona as president.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I was a young girl in another country,” said Duran, who was enrolled in a student exchange program in Washington D.C. when the failed coup took place.
“It was the first time I heard my father crying when they said they kidnapped him (Chavez). It was a very difficult time.”
Carmona, a right-wing politician backed by the U.S., sought to undo all of the actions taken by the revolution. But the Afro-descendant, Indigenous and working class masses who supported the revolution immediately responded to his ouster, holding large protests outside the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas calling for his return.
“I had two teachers who were former members of the Black Panther Party and supported Chavez who told me ‘he’s going to come back,’” Duran said.
“That night my family called me and said Chavez returned to Miraflores. I turned on Univision and they, a bourgeois media outlet, were forced to admit he returned.”
Sectors of Venezuela’s armed forces loyal to Chavez teamed up with grassroots community collectives known as Bolivarian Circles to retake Miraflores, allowing Chavez to be reinstalled on April 13, 2002.
Duran said the attempted coup forever changed her country, “raising the level of consciousness in Venezuela to a very high level.” She also said the political event strengthened the Bolivarian Revolution, preparing it for forthcoming attacks by the country’s U.S.-backed right-wing opposition.
“The capitalist threats are still present and we see them in these protests that are allegedly for freedom and democracy,” Duran said.
“Today we see the same thing we saw back then: multinational elites attacking a small country like Venezuela, using media campaigns that try to delegitimize our participatory and democratic movement.”
Duran was active in feminist and Afro-Venezuelan cultural organizations in Venezuela that supported Chavez’s administration and continue to support the Bolivarian Revolution today.