The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (search) knew dissident military officers were planning a coup in 2002 against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (search), according to purported U.S. intelligence documents posted on the Internet.
Citing the documents, Chavez lashed out at U.S. officials on Thursday, saying they knew a coup was brewing but failed to tip off Venezuela's government.
"The CIA knew that a coup was coming ... the government of George Bush knew," said Chavez, whose so-called "peaceful revolution" for the poor and close ties to Cuban leader Fidel Castro (search) have often put him at odds with U.S. policies.
The apparent declassified CIA documents are posted on the pro-Chavez Web site www.venezuelafoia.info, which contains links to other requests for U.S. documents by freelance investigative reporter Jeremy Bigwood.
An April 6 senior intelligence executive brief — just five days before a coup that briefly ousted Chavez — said "disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chavez, possibly as early as this month."
As early as March 11, another brief noted "increased signs that Venezuelan business leaders and military officers are becoming dissatisfied with President Chavez" and said if the situation were to further deteriorate "the military may move to overthrow him."
The authenticity of the documents could not be immediately confirmed, though the scanned briefs, with certain portions whited out, appeared to be formerly top secret documents that are regularly circulated among top officials in the Bush administration.
A 2002 State Department review of U.S. policy, however, said the U.S. government did warn Chavez of impending plots.
In his speech broadcast on state-run television Thursday, Chavez said documents showing U.S. involvement in the coup "are emerging" and "will continue to surface."
"Having a government of this type in the United States is a threat to the world," added Chavez, who accused the Bush administration of actively supporting the short-lived coup.
U.S. officials have repeatedly denied U.S. involvement in the coup of April 11, 2002, which was spurred by the killing of 19 people during a massive opposition-led protest.
Loyalists in the military returned Chavez to power after interim president Pedro Carmona dissolved the constitution and vowed to hold elections within a year.
Relations between Caracas and Washington have been strained in recent years, but diplomats from both nations have made efforts to improve ties.
William Brownsfield, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, said differences between the two countries can be resolved, according to a report published by the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on Thursday.
The newspaper also said he rejected allegations that U.S. officials backed Venezuelan coup leaders or endorsed Carmona's interim government, saying Washington considers the events in April 2002 "a closed chapter."
"We are willing to work with the Venezuelan government to improve relations," Brownfield was quoted as saying.
The State Department in July 2002 released a review of its policy and the U.S. Embassy's actions in Venezuela from November 2001 to April 2002, in which it confirms knowledge of plots to oust Chavez.
But it says that "far from working to foment his overthrow, the United States alerted President Chavez to coup plots and warned him of an assassination threat that was deemed to be credible."