A fast-paced but disjointed debut about the 2002 coup against Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
On April 11, 2002, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans marched through the streets of Caracas in an attempt to coerce Chávez into resigning. Before they reached the presidential palace, gunmen opened fire on the demonstrators, setting off a chain of events that would lead to the downfall of Chávez, the abrupt fraying of the opposition and Chávez’s improbable resumption of the presidency only 72 hours later. Leaning heavily on interviews with participating social and political actors from both sides of the ideological spectrum, Nelson (Center for American and World Cultures/Miami Univ.) attempts to re-create the emotions and experiences of the three-day coup “through the eyes of the everyday Venezuelans who were there.” The author’s breakneck pace initially proves problematic. The introduction provides insufficient grounding not only in the origins and evolution of Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution but also in the sociopolitical conditions that instigated the coup. Moreover, the clipped chapters in the opening section ricochet rapidly among a wide cast of characters without taking time to develop their stories. It is only after Chávez relinquished power that Nelson’s narrative finds its bearing. In particular, the author paints a vivid portrait of Chávez in exile. Whisked away to a naval base on the northern coast, Chávez ran through a gamut of conflicting emotions, defiantly refusing to resign but also breaking down into tears at one point. Meanwhile, the opposition, spearheaded by the business and labor sectors, was quickly unraveling. When Pedro Carmona, a wealthy businessman and the interim president, decided to dissolve the legislative and judicial branches and revoke the Constitution, many Venezuelans feared that the country’s elites would enact revenge on Chávez loyalists. The military and labor unions abandoned the transitional government, and shortly thereafter, a stunned Chávez was flown back to the city. In a final twist, Nelson demonstrates that the coup actually rejuvenated Chávez’s presidency, allowing him to portray the opposition as untrustworthy conspirators.
Uneven but engaging.