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Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

U.S. aware of Venezuelan coup plot in '02, CIA documents show

By Bart Jones and Letta Tayler

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The U.S. government knew of a plot to oust Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, in the weeks before a 2002 military coup that briefly unseated him, newly released CIA documents show, despite White House claims to the contrary a week after the coup .

Yet the United States, which depends on Venezuela for nearly one-sixth of its oil, never warned Chávez, Venezuelan officials said.

The Bush administration has denied it was involved in the coup or knew one was being planned.

"This is substantive evidence that the CIA knew in advance about the coup, and it is clear that this intelligence was distributed to dozens of members of the Bush administration, giving them knowledge of coup plotting," said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C.

However, he said that while the documents show U.S. officials knew a coup was coming, perhaps implying tacit approval, they do not constitute definitive proof the U.S. was involved in ousting Chávez.

The Bush administration and Chávez, a fiery former paratrooper, have clashed repeatedly, with Chávez accusing the United States of backing the coup against him.

The documents were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by Eva Golinger, a Long Island attorney and pro-Chávez activist who also is investigating U.S. funding of groups opposed to him.

Chávez was arrested and overthrown April 12, 2002, after military dissidents blamed him for violence at an opposition protest march that left 19 people dead and 300 wounded. He was returned to power two days later.

But the April 6, 2002, CIA document states that "dissident military factions, including some disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers, are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month."

While one government is not required to tell another government with which it has diplomatic relations that it may be facing a coup attempt, such an alert would be in keeping with the spirit of the Inter-American Democratic Charter of which both Washington and Venezuela are members, according to international-relations experts.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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