Chavez: Los muchachos me han atendido de maravilla desde que llegué, son unos tremendos soldados, seres humanos que me han dado incluso su conversación. Acabo de trotar un rato y estaba…
Coronel: si bueno, me contenta mucho...
Chavez: yo le estaba diciendo al capitán que salió, Sosa, yo hasta ahora no he preguntado ningún abogado, me encomendé a Dios y dije ojalá que un rayo de buen juicio les llegue a los que están tomando decisiones, me voy dejé mi fusil y mi pistola...no he preguntado...no he hablado ni con mi mamá, ni con mi esposa, estoy incomunicado, pedí un abogado, me dijeron que no, solo aquí me vieron toda la noche... bueno lo cierto es que yo, llegó un momento que yo necesito que me digan a donde voy a ir sino yo no salgo de aquí.
Coronel: si..mire..yo estoy comisionado primero para brindarle la custodia, en todo lo posible, la seguridad y las intenciones son llevarlo a La Orchila para su posible posterior traslado al exterior del país, precisamente …esa son las órdenes que me dieron…
Chavez: ahora coronel, fíjate una cosa, yo estoy incomunicado...y tengo un temor…yo si me voy a Cuba, o a donde yo decida, no puede ser obligado, Cuba sería una posibilidad que yo he estado evaluando antenoche, pero no hubo capacidad de oir a nadie, el ansia de poder se adueñó de todo y creyeron que, ya llegamos y Chávez está listo, pero aquí mucha gente no sabe todavía ,no entendió nunca que yo no soy uno... esa Constitución 82% y eso lo patearon, y yo incluso, para que tu sepas, propuse esa noche, lo decidí, el general Raul Baduel me dijo ´no te rindas´ y todo el alto mando me traicionó, ¡cobardes y desleales!, yo ordené en la mañana aplicar el Plan Avila, yo tengo potestad para hacerlo, cuando me enteré por órganos inteligencia de las mismas Fuerzas Armadas y la DISIP, de la Fuerza Armada, de que el plan insurreccional estaba en marcha y que el general Medina Gómez, el agregado de Venezuela en Washington estaba aquí y trajo armas…de toda esa vaina me entere yo…y ordené, ante tantas evidencias, ¡Plan Avila general Rosendo!, pero el general Rosendo no quiso…se me desapareció…¡Lucas, Plan Avila!…"presidente no se que, vamos a pensarlo"… ¿qué vamos a estar pensando?, Plan Avila"…"bueno voy al Fuerte Tiuna"…"bueno está bien vete al Fuerte Tiuna pues" …entonces allá…"no que, no es conveniente"…entonces agarré un radio que yo tenía y empiezo a buscar la red y agarro a García Carneiro comandante de la brigada…le digo "García Carneiro qué está pasando?"…"coño mi comandante no se, a mi me están buscando para meterme preso"…"¿quién chico""…" los generales"..."¿cómo que preso, qué pasa?"…"bueno que hay una insurrección militar"…entonces le digo, "bueno mira, entonces yo estoy al mando, mándame los tanques para acá, vamos a hacer Plan Avila"… trancaron la autopista, los Próceres, trataron de evitar, sin embargo los tanque salieron.
Si ellos hubieran cumplido…mire la historia señalará responsables…si el alto mando militar hubiera cumplido con la orden que yo di de aplicar el Plan Avila en la mañana de ese día, que ya yo tenía todo y ellos también, de que veía ese plan insurreccional…lo que pasa es que algunos de ellos estaban comprometidos con el general Vásquez Velasco ¡traidor! Ese se escondió…lo mandé a llamar a Miraflores y se escondió…lo mandé a llamar con el capitán, el ayudante, y me dijo "mi comandante el general no se, se metió en la habitación y no responde" ¡es un cobarde!…y ese es el que tienen ustedes de jefe.
Coronel: Mire… yo como soldado…primeramente déjeme cumplir la misión de darle la protección que como ciudadano venezolano merece, para eso estoy acompañado de un grupo de oficiales que usted conoce para trasladarlo hasta La Orchila…
Chávez. Te entiendo, te entiendo chico, perdóname mis comentarios…porque fíjate a estas alturas yo pudiera negarme a irme ¿por qué? porque constitucionalmente yo soy el presidente de este país… entonces sencillamente déjame aquí sentado… yo almuerzo, yo voy a meditar un poco después que almuerce para tomar una decisión…pero si estoy preso, bueno está bien, yo sigo preso aquí, no estoy obligado a irme…la noche de antenoche sí…yo para evitar eso que yo sabía que iba a ocurrir…Un comandante de un batallón de tanques me llamó DE Maracaibo "mi comandante ordéneme y me voy con los tanques a Maracaibo" y le dije "¡no, quédese ahí!"… "tenemos 8 batallones que no vamos a cumplir con esa orden del comandante del ejército"… y le dije "¡no espérese!" pero yo quería hablar con ellos …yo le dije a esa gente "permítanme a hablarle al país porque yo soy un presidente"… todo eso se desconoció y se me trajo…incomunicado
“The boys have taken marvelous care of me since I arrived!” Chávez said with a big smile. “They are tremendous soldiers, good people who have given me all that I need, including good conversation. I just finished jogging for a little bit and I was…” As he spoke, he shook the men’s hands, patted them on the shoulder. He was trying to keep up the smile as best he could, to play the role of the president, the commander-in-chief, but it seemed forced, not quite right. All the soldiers were in uniform except Chávez who was wearing shorts and a white t-shirt. Even in dress, Chávez seemed out of place.
The head of the new officers, a colonel, tried to say something—“Well, I’m very glad…”—but Chávez kept talking.
“I was saying to the captain that just left, Sosa, that until now I haven’t been able to talk to a lawyer,” Chavez said. “I put my trust in God and I hope that a ray of good judgment reaches those who are making decisions.” Chávez was gesticulating energetically as he spoke (as usual) and here he saluted the Colonel as if to say, I hope you exercise good judgment. Don’t do anything you might regret. “I haven’t talked with my mamá,” he continued, “nor with my wife. I am incomunicado. I asked for a lawyer; they told me no.” His fingers touched the Colonel’s chest…a supplicating gesture that belied his tough tone. I need help. “Well, the only certain thing is that I...” Chávez paused not knowing what to say. He was visibly very nervous; a powerful man, now powerless. And now these men. Where did they intend to take him? Chávez looked at the Colonel sternly. “The moment has arrived where I need someone to tell me where I am going…if not, I am not leaving here.”
“Yes,” the colonel began, “look, first I have been commissioned to take over your custody in every regard—your security—and the intention is to take you to Orchila for your, uh, possible subsequent trip out of the country.” There was a pause. Chávez nodded, but it was plain he didn’t like what the Colonel was telling him. Orchila was another naval base, an island in the Caribbean about 150 miles off the coast, a place where the top naval brass liked to vacation. It was true that there was an airstrip there, so it was possible to take a flight to Cuba. But could he trust these men? Was it a trick? Maybe they would get him on the chopper, kill him, then throw his body into the ocean?
“Those are the orders that they gave me,” the colonel added.
Chávez brought the tips of his hands together, thinking. “Now Colonel,” Chávez said very slowly. “Fijate una cosa,” consider this, he said, “I am incomunicado. I have this fear. I...if I go to Cuba, or wherever I decide, because I can’t be forced to go...Cuba could be a possibility, [one] that I have been considering since the night before last, but I haven’t had the chance to talk to anyone. The thirst for power has taken control of them, and they thought, ‘We made it! Chávez is done!’ But there are a lot of people that still don’t know….They don’t know anything about me and...” Chávez paused, uncertain again. He changed direction and pointed to the table where he had a copy of the constitution. “That constitution, 82 percent of it, they have trampled on and I, myself, so that you know, I proposed that night, I decided [to turn myself in]. General Raúl Baduel said to me, ‘Don’t give up,’ and all of the high command betrayed me. Disloyal Cowards!” Chávez shouted, shaking his fist.
Suddenly, the words were coming fast as Chávez’s fears and frustrations began to pour out: “I ordered Plan Avila in the morning—I have the authority to do it—when I was informed by the intelligence community in the military and the DISIP that an insurrection was underway and that General Medina Gómez, Venezuela’s [military] attaché to Washington, was here and that he had brought weapons!
I found out about all that and I ordered—given all the evidence—‘Plan Avila, General Rosendo!’ But General Rosendo didn’t want to.” Chávez paused and looked the colonel straight in the eye, letting his words sink in. “He disappeared on me. ‘Lucas [Rincón], Plan Avila!’”
Chávez retold his conversation with General Rincón:
“‘Uh, Mister President, I don’t know,’ [he told me.] ‘Let’s think about it,’ or some such thing.
“What is there to think about? Plan Avila!
“‘Bueno, I am going to Fort Tiuna.’
“‘Okay, fine go to Fort Tiuna then.’ So once there [I called him].
“‘No, it’s that it’s not convenient.’
“So I grabbed a radio I had and I began to go through the network and I got hold of García Carneiro, commander of the brigade. I said to him, ‘García Carneiro, what is going on?’
“‘Coño, mi commandante, I don’t know. They are looking for me so they can arrest me.’
“‘Why are they going to arrest you? What is going on?’
“‘Well, it’s that there is a military uprising.’
“So I told him, ‘Okay then, look, I am in charge. Send the tanks here. We are going to activate Plan Avila.’ They shut down the highway, the important roads, they tried to stop them, but the tanks went out nevertheless.”
The Colonel tried to be patient as Chávez spoke. It was not his place to cut Chávez off nor did he want to upset him; he didn’t want to do anything that might make Chávez hesitate about getting on the chopper. As usual, once Chávez started talking, it wasn’t easy to get him to stop.
“If they had followed orders,” Chávez lamented. “Look, history will show who was responsible...if the high command had followed the order that I gave to implement Plan Avila on the morning of that day, given that I had all [the information] and they did too, that they saw this insurrection...what happened is that some of them were already tied up with General Vásquez Velasco—traitor! That one, he hid. I ordered him to call Miraflores and he hid. I ordered him to call, but the Captain, [his] aide, he told me, ‘Mi comandante, the general, I don’t know, he has put himself in his room and he won’t respond.’ He is a coward! And he is the one that you have as your boss.”
“Mira,” the colonel interjected, trying to calm him down, “I am a soldier. First, let me fulfill my mission to give you the protection that you, like any Venezuelan citizen, deserves. In order to do that I have been accompanied by a group of officers that you know so that we can take you to Orchila.”
Chávez clasped his hands in front of his waist. “Te entiendo, I understand chamo, forgive the commentary...but consider this: at this level I could refuse to go, okay? Why? Because according to the constitution I am the president of this country.” He placed his hand on the Colonel’s shoulder and was now speaking in an intense whisper to emphasize his point. More, Chávez was testing his limits, seeing how much he could influence these men.
“So just let me sit here, I’ll eat my lunch, after lunch I am going to meditate a little to help me make a decision.” The colonel nodded—letting the defunct president finish his lunch seemed a reasonable request. “But if I am under arrest, then fine,” Chávez went on, “then I will stay under arrest here. I am not obligated to go. The night before last, yes, in order to prevent what I knew would happen...this.” Chávez then told the Colonel how a tank commander in Maracaibo—10 hours from Caracas—had said he would help Chávez but that Chávez told him to stay put.
Again the Colonel reiterated that his mission was only to transport Chávez to the Orchila Naval base. “Please permit me to fulfill my mission,” he said. Then he went on to say that Chávez would be safe, even saying that he would protect Chávez’s life with his own if necessary.
“Yo te creo,” Chávez said. I believe you. And again he put his hand on the Colonel’s shoulder. “I believe you.”
Chávez would go with them. What else could he do?
* * *
Chávez, of course, had told the colonel that he needed extra time to finish his lunch so that he could finish his note. But in the end they didn’t leave him alone again, so the letter went unfinished, hidden in the trash. Chávez soon forgot about it. He didn’t really think it was likely that the corporal would be able to come and get it anyway. And even if the did, who would he give it to? Turiamo was a very isolated base. They didn’t even have telephones or fax machines.
After lunch Chávez changed into blue jeans and an olive drab tee shirt. Then the nurse gave him some medicine—some pills for his cholesterol, medicine for his upset stomach (acid reflux), and drops for his eyes. The rumble of the waiting helicopter could be heard outside.
People were coming in and out of the room now—the flight crew, other nurses, gawkers who wanted to catch a final glimpse of Chávez—the famous Hugo Chávez—before he left Venezuela forever. He made sure he greeted all of them. When one officer came to the door, Chávez greeted him with a wave and a shout. “Epa! What’s up?” Then half-heartedly Chávez said, “I haven’t resigned.” He said it with a smile and without conviction, as if it had become a joke and that no one was taking him seriously anymore.
Soon the colonel and his aide returned. They discussed the trip and when Chávez might leave Orchila for Cuba—tomorrow morning. Chávez nodded and asked a few questions. He was still trying to woo them and complimented the Colonel’s aide. “I should make this one my assistant,” he said pointing to the man and laughing. “He knows how to get things done, boom, boom, boom.” Chávez began to gather up his medication, then, oddly aware of how he was kissing up to them, he said, “I’m developing ‘prisoner’s syndrome,’” and went on to explain how captives often develop close relationships with their captors.
Finally, he put on a red windbreaker and began shaking hands as they prepared to go. “Muchas gracias, muchas gracias por todo. I hope that we can meet again someday under better conditions, and not this uncertainty that we are living through.”
Outside of the room, four soldiers stood waiting in a sort of receiving line to say goodbye. He shook their hands—clasping their outstretched hands in both of his. “Muchas gracias, hasta luego. May God watch over you.” Again, he repeated, “I hope that we can meet again someday under better conditions.”
Then he was out in the sunshine and quickly into the helicopter. Soon they were airborne. Despite the roar of the engine and the open doors, Chávez continued talking to the other men, chatting them up.
General Medina Goméz insists that he was not involved in a conspiracy against Chávez. The General has said that he was aware of a growing conspiracy in the military and that the Chávez administration was also aware of it. Like General Vásquez Velasco, Medina Goméz believed that Chávez was letting the conspiracy “run its course” so that he could use it as an excuse to purge the military of his opponents. See Meza and La Fuente, El acertijo de abril, P. 65.
“After being placed under arrest... extra time to finish his lunch.” This anecdote about the letter comes from two seperate tellings by Hugo Chávez: 1. Chávez, Hugo, “Entrevista Especial al Presidente Hugo Chávez Frías con Greg Palast,” VTV, Caracas, 15 May 2002. 2. Chávez, Hugo, “CADENA NATIONAL—RESTITUCIÓN DE PODERES” VTV. 14 Abril 2002.