The key mistake made by most people who endorse conspiracy theories is assuming that discrepancies in different accounts of a single event point to deception or the existence of some hidden truth behind the maze of contradictions. The messiness and ambiguity of real-life events is what they don't figure on. Military men call it the fog of war. But the same concept applies to everyday life, particularly to its more hectic and confusing moments. Reality, you might say, tends to be rather over-determined.
The various accounts surfacing of the Venezuelan coup and the United States government's reaction to it brings this to mind. Yet there is still something odd and perplexing about the drifting accounts being provided by administration officials. Every day there's a new detail. Each new detail is provided to exonerate administration officials but as often as not they tend rather to inculpate them.
For instance, discussions at which US officials told Venezuela's future coup plotters that they would not support a coup. Well, how'd the topic come up exactly? Or Otto Reich's statement that he tried to prevent 'interim' President Carmona from dissolving the National Assembly. That sounds as much like coup-management as trying to support democracy.
I've never thought that the US was 'behind' this coup in a strong sense. But administration officials seem to be implicated in it in various small and -- let's just say it -- incompetent ways.
Let me point out another interesting discrepancy. Tomorrow's Washington Post has what strikes me as an extremely ingenuous article by Scott Wilson, based largely on an interview with 'interim' President Carmona. Wilson says Carmona only got the job because he was the only guy who didn't want it. Perhaps Wilson needs to read up on literary and political tropes -- I think that line warranted a touch more skepticism.
Much of the piece looks like it was dictated by Carmona's post-coup spin-doctor (you know, he's just a bespectacled economist, happened upon this coup thing...).
Anyway, let me point out this discrepancy that strikes me as important.
In Wilson's article Carmona says he visited Washington in November to meet with John Maisto, Bush's Latin America guy at NSC, Energy Secretary Spence Abraham and Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich.
Then Carmona said he "next spoke with U.S. officials Saturday morning at the presidential palace when he received the recently arrived U.S. ambassador, Charles Shapiro, and the Spanish ambassador."
But if Wilson or his editors would have read today's edition of an obscure metropolitan daily called The New York Times they might have noticed the following contradiction. The Times article quotes a State Department official saying that Assistant Secretary Reich placed an urgent call to Carmona on Friday, one day earlier. It's a pretty big difference since the coup took place in the overnight hours between Thursday and Friday.
Why wasn't this discrepancy pointed out in the interview or at least in the article? Good question.
As it happens, I just now notice that tomorrow the Times reports that the State Department has now changed its story -- 'revised' is the term they use. Reich didn't contact Carmona on Friday. He asked Ambassador Shapiro to talk to Carmona. And Shapiro talked to Carmona on Friday. First, that's a pretty big change in the story. Second, the discrepancy in the day when contact is made still stands, even though the personnel is different.
Then there's another strange thing that pops out from the apparently hastily written and indifferently copyedited Post story. Read these four grafs nestled more than half way down into the article ...
At least three people who landed key jobs within the provisional government have acknowledged that they met with U.S. officials in the past six months. One of them was Vice Adm. Carlos Molina, who said that he had a meeting with a U.S. official outside the U.S. Embassy within the past six weeks.
Hold on a second. They each got $100,000 from a bank account in Miami? What's that about? This really gives new meaning to the phrase 'burying your lede.' The article just drops it there and provides no explanation or discussion. But this seems like something well worth discussing, doesn't it? Two members of the Venezuelan military who later participated in the coup each got $100,000 from a bank account in the United States "for denouncing Chavez."
But U.S. officials say that although they were aware of the growing dissent, they sought to distance the United States from opposition figures that might be plotting a coup. In November, the U.S. ambassador at the time, Donna Hrinak, took the unusual step of ordering the embassy's military attache to stop meeting with a group of dissident officers, according to a U.S. official.
That group, according to a Western diplomat here, included Molina, Air Force Col. Pedro Soto and several other officers who in February publicly demand Chavez's removal. The U.S. diplomat said Soto and Molina each received $100,000 from a Miami bank account for denouncing Chavez.
Soto and Molina could not be reached for comment today. Molina is under arrest and was the subject of a military hearing today. Soto is among three officers seeking asylum in the Bolivian Embassy.
That's a bit of money. Whose was it? And how does this American diplomat know about it?
Also, let's be frank: Miami isn't just any American city. One of America's big beefs with Chavez is that he's close to Fidel Castro. So I think you can assume that the Cuban exiles in South Florida don't much care for him. And again, let's be frank, Otto Reich, the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America is himself a Cuban exile with close ties to the anti-Castro firebrands in South Florida. Not to put too fine a point on it, but whose money was that?
If a "U.S. Diplomat" -- a good catch-all phrase for someone who wants to remain both very anonymous and very credible -- knows that two of the key coup plotters got paid off for turning against Chavez, and that the money came from a US bank account, isn't this worth looking into?