On April 11, 2002, a massive peaceful opposition march in downtown Caracas suddenly veered from its authorized route and headed toward the presidential palace. In response, as Nelson painstakingly documents, government gunmen opened fire. Fearing further bloodshed, the military high command deposed President Hugo Chávez. But the improvised civilian government blundered while key generals vacillated -- allowing Chávez's more decisive military and civilian loyalists to quickly engineer his dramatic return. Nelson's minute-by-minute reporting vividly re-creates the infectious excitement of mass participation, and his well-sketched mini-portraits illuminate the deeper currents of Venezuela's polarized politics. Was the United States involved in the coup? On the contrary, concludes Nelson, the U.S. embassy was caught off-guard and was ineffective -- there was a "complete lack of U.S. policy toward Venezuela." Once the smoke cleared, the big winner was Chávez, who rewrote the history of the march as a skirmish between two equally matched groups of armed extremists. He seized the opportunity to purge opponents from the military and the metropolitan police and consolidate his grip over other national institutions.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Western Hemisphere From This Issue