Summer Reading, Part 2: The (Un)Silence of Hugo Chávez

Continuing our slog through the end of August, I have just published a book review of The Silence and the Scorpion by Brian Nelson over on Huffington Post, which makes a pretty good case that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez should be standing trial for having ordered his militias to fire upon unarmed crowds of protesters in the April 11th, 2002 events.

But why should an event that happened seven years ago continue to be so important today?  As Nelson explained to me in an extensive interview via email (the full transcript of which is posted here on my blog), how we understand the 2002 coup is seen as the ultimate proof or disproof of the regime’s credibility.

“If you believe that the opposition initiated the violence; that they placed gunmen at the head of the march and wanted to cause deaths to spark a coup, then Hugo Chávez is a victim,” wrote Nelson in his email to me.  “But if you believe that the Chávez government initiated the violence; that the National Guard troops and loyalists opened fire on the march to keep it from surrounding the palace, then Hugo Chávez is not the victim, he is the aggressor.  (…) If this is what you believe, then Hugo Chávez has lost his legitimacy and he should, at the very least, be placed on trial.”

Nelson’s status as an outsider is exceptionally important in tellingthis story, as is his willingness to give voice to both sides (very fewjournalists in Venezuela are able to avoid being polarized into onecamp or the other, putting a sharp end to any diverse sources).  As heexplains in his prologue, he arrived in Venezuela to begin work on thisbook as a devout Chavista in 2002.  His conclusions, however, led tosome significant disagreements with the government’s portrayal of theevents.

His research did not show an equal level of violence among theopposition and chavista marchers, finding that most of the gunshotvictims arriving to the hospital first came from the opposition.  Thechaos on April 11th literally came down to the hours, beginning at2:30PM with the pro-Chávez gunmen shooting southward at unarmedopposition marchers, followed by the Metropolitan Police moving up thestreet to form a barrier between the two marches, with the gunfightculminating around 4:30PM as the police returned fire on the pro-Chávezgunmen.

One of the main conclusions of The Silence and the Scorpion contradictsthe government’s long standing claim that it was the victim of a wellplanned conspiracy fomented and encouraged by U.S. backing:  “…Theevidence suggests that it was a complex and confusing event that wasinfluenced by dozens of self-serving actors.  This was not a coup inthe classic sense.”

Continue reading the full book review here on The Huffington Post, and the interview transcript here.  More blogging and books reviews coming later this week.