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CARACAS, April 20 AFP|Published: Sunday April 21, 12:17 PM
As questions remain over whether the United States had a role in Venezuela's recent coup, an official investigation shows some of the plotters believed they had a green light from Washington and at least one changed his mind after consulting US officials, a source close to the probe said today.
The source, who declined to be identified, said the investigation has shed light on the events surrounding the military's April 12 ouster of Chavez and his return to power two days later. Results of the investigation have not been made public.
Chavez, for his part, has refused to publicly address concerns over US involvement in the coup, saying he would not conduct "microphone diplomacy". '); document.write(' '); document.write(''); document.write('
The source said US Army Lieutenant Colonel James Rodgers, an aide to the US military attache "was present on the fifth floor of the military command" before Chavez was brought to that installation, Fort Tiuna in Caracas, and remained there until the self-proclaimed provisional government fell apart.
Some Venezuelan military officers interpreted Rodgers' presence as a green light from Washington to unseat Chavez, the source said.
"In the course of the investigation, several Venezuelan officers implicated in the coup mentioned the presence of the US soldier," the source said.
"They were assured that the movement had the full support of the United States and that was why they participated."
Washington has consistently denied any involvement in the coup, and a US embassy spokesman today repeated previous State Department denials that Rodgers was at Fort Tiuna during that time.
"No member of our embassy's defence attache's office or any other US official visited Fort Tiuna during the period between April 11 and the 13," the days that Chavez was placed under military detention, released and returned to office, State Department spokesman Chip Barclay said yesterday in Washington.
The coup began to unravel after businessman Pedro Carmona, the interim president, suspended the National Assembly and the Supreme Court and moved against other elected bodies as well.
Carmona's actions prompted army commander General Efrain Vasquez - one of the first to turn against Chavez in the coup - to withdraw his support for Carmona, who quickly resigned.
The source said the investigation revealed Vasquez was "aided by American advice" in his decision.
US officials have worked to dispel persistent reports that Washington knew of the coup through its contacts with the Venezuelan opposition, but have been burdened by a failure to explicitly reject the provisional government and a history of US support for military regimes in Latin America.
Washington - which had consistently opposed any coup in Venezuela - at first refused to call Chavez's ouster a coup, and said he had brought it on himself by ordering his troops to fire on demonstrators and by shutting down some television stations.
Later, in a joint statement with Spain, the White House urged a return to democracy in Venezuela and supported a call for the Organisation of American States to invoke a charter requiring sanctions against a member which abandons democracy.
It took until Thursday, four days after Chavez returned to the presidential palace, for US Secretary of State Colin Powell to condemn "the blows to constitutional order that Venezuela has suffered" and to call for plotters to be punished.
"This is going to cost to the United States, because it has lost a certain moral and political credibility in the continent, and (it) also makes relations with Venezuela difficult," said Arturo Valenzuela, a former Bill Clinton White House official and current director of the Centre for Latin American Studies at Georgetown University.
"(US officials) wanted it both ways. They did want to influence the outcome so that Chavez would no longer be a thorn in their side and yet be seen in alliance with the OAS as backers of democracy," added Carol Wise, professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.
Chavez, a 47-year-old ex-paratrooper who sports a trademark red beret, is one of two Latin American presidents whose policies have irritated Washington officials.
The other is his hero and occasional baseball opponent, Fidel Castro.
By Ken Dermota
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