In the aftermath of the failed coup against populist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Bush administration officials have admitted that they "met several times in recent months" with leaders of the coup "and agreed with them that he should be removed from office." Those meetings, and the haste with which the White House proclaimed its support for the military-installed regime, have prompted suspicions that the U.S. helped instigate the coup. On the very day of the coup, the plotters were on the phone with U.S. assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs Otto Reich (one of several Bush administration retreads from the Reagan administration's covert disinformation campaign related to its war in Central America). An eyewitness account from Venezuela by sociologist Gregory Wilpert suggests that media coverage of the events surrounding the coup was carefully stage-managed to create the appearance of a popular uprising. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and other American officials quickly blamed the coup on Chavez and praised the Venezuelan military, saying we "look forward to working with all democratic forces in Venezuela to ensure the full exercise of democratic rights," even as the coup organizers were proceeding to abolish the legislature, the judiciary, the national electoral commission and the Constitution. Leading U.S. newspapers including the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsday and the Los Angeles Times followed the government's lead, hailing the coup as a pro-democratic move.
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