CARACAS, Venezuela — The second military revolt in less than a year against Venezuela's democratic government failed because of a lack of popular support, a communications breakdown and several misplaced assumptions by the coup's leaders, diplomats and military officials said Sunday.
Unlike the first failed coup last Feb. 4, which was led by disaffected army officers, Friday's revolt was carried out mostly by air force units abetted by small groups of marines and, allegedly, by a few members of radical leftist groups, the sources said.
Diplomats and intelligence experts also said that while the army stood by the government of President Carlos Andres Perez this time and was responsible for crushing the two-day rebellion, several army officers had been involved in the coup plotting.
"They backed away when they realized government agents had infiltrated their plot," one intelligence source said, "but they weren't able to get the word through to the others in time to call off the coup."
One diplomat added that the coup leaders also assumed that once they began their attacks in the early hours Friday, the army would join in. He pointed out that a major reason for the February coup's failure had been the air force's refusal to take part.
"So it was natural for the air force to think that if they went ahead this time, the army would support them. Obviously, they were wrong," the diplomat said.
Venezuela's defense minister, Gen. Ivan Dario Jimenez, indirectly confirmed these assessments when he said that the coup originally had been set for last Tuesday and then for today and then reset for last Friday because of worry over government infiltrators.
When the rebels decided it was still too dangerous, Jimenez said in a telephone interview, they tried to change yet again, "but they weren't able to abort the operation in time."
Another erroneous assumption, the sources said, was the belief that the public, which has been clearly dissatisfied with the Perez government for the past year, would take to the streets in overwhelming numbers in support of the coup.
"Another perceived reason for the (February) failure was the failure to take over radio and television," the intelligence official said. "Many of the coup leaders thought that was one of the biggest mistakes the first time, so this time they made them early targets."
Even though the rebels captured most of the nation's TV networks and transmission towers, the public for the most part ignored their constant pleas for a huge popular demonstration.
One fugitive rebel leader who identified himself as "Commander Chacon" told the British news agency Reuters in a telephone interview from his hiding place that "there were errors and that is why we lost. I don't understand what's going on with these people. They complain, they protest . . . (but) they didn't take to the streets."
Random interviews in working-class and slum neighborhoods of this capital indicated Sunday that even a perception of misery wasn't enough to overcome what has become a three-decade habit of democracy in Venezuela.
"I hate those bastards," Ariel Gaspar, an unemployed metalworker, said of the government. "They're corrupt, and life has just gotten worse. But I don't see what the military would do that would be better."
Standing near a bomb-damaged wall of the presidential palace, 32-year-old beautician Maria Santarosa said the violence of the coup kept her from going into the streets. "When I heard about the brutality (of the rebels), I couldn't follow them," she said.
She was particularly put off, she said, by an incident in which coup followers shot an aged, unarmed security guard at the government television station even after he knelt and begged for his life.
"That was nothing more than murder," she said.
As one diplomat based here put it: "People just weren't ready to get killed in the streets. Things are bad, but not that bad."
Matching the admission of mistakes by coup leaders was a confession of error Sunday from Perez, who said in a televised speech that he and other government leaders have made many mistakes since taking office in 1989.
But those errors do not justify a violent rebellion, Perez said, adding that he won't be pressured into resigning by either coups or continued public displeasure--which was reflected in a recent poll showing him with a popular approval rating of only 9%.
"There is no question of a process of reducing the presidential term," he said in the speech, or of the president's resigning, which he said would only cause "chaos and tragedy."
"This is something I have never been ready to do and am not prepared to do."
Sunday was calm, with the return to normality disturbed only by the occasional sound of the army's detonation of bombs that had fallen without exploding during the previous two days of fighting.