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Chávez celebrates failed coup that propelled him into office

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Miraflores Palace/Reuters

(Read caption) Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez (r.) greets supporters as he arrives at a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of his inauguration in Caracas on Thursday.

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"We have failed, for now," were the immortal words of Hugo Chávez back in 1992, a young lieutenant colonel announcing to his soldiers on live television that the coup he organized against President Carlos Andrés Peréz had failed.

Mr. Chávez was unable to create a regime change that year, but his concession left little doubt he would try again.

Today, Feb.4, marks the 20-year anniversary of Chávez’s now infamous address on state television. Though he failed in his coup that year, the speech propelled the young soldier into the nation's psyche. It both led him to prison for organizing the coup and, six years later, to Venezuela's presidential palace.  He won the presidency through free and fair elections, and has remained in office since.

The government has referred to the anniversary ­– abbreviated as 4F, for the date the coup took place – as “one of the most important sociopolitical events of contemporary history in Venezuela,” and huge celebrations are planned all over the country in honor of it.

His coup attempt in 1992 came at a time when there was much dissatisfaction with the Venezuelan government, mired by deadly riots over economic reform and broken campaign promises that reinforced the image of a corrupt government serving only the country’s elite.

As Chávez’s Socialist government plays up the inspiration his words instilled 20 years ago, buoying support today, opposition party candidates are preparing to choose a presidential candidate in next weekend’s primary election.  The winner will face Chávez, who has been in power for the past 13 years, in elections in October. The opponent expected to win the primaries is Henrique Capriles Radonski, a charismatic state governor who, for the first time in Chávez's long tenure, has unified the opposition to put up a good fight.

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