Joe Biden carefully avoided publicly supporting or condemning the brief April 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Senior Bush administration officials had met with some of the Venezuelan coup plotters before the attempted putsch, refused to condemn the removal of a democratically elected government, and falsely claimed that Chávez had resigned. Despite these revelations, Biden equivocated on the coup during an appearance on CNN. “Let me choose my words here,” Biden said, describing the administration as “somewhat inept” and calling the meeting with the coup leaders “maybe premature. And beyond that, I’d rather not comment.” The coup was quickly reversed, and Chávez returned to power with his elected term slated to run through 2007.
In December 2002, just months after the coup, Biden joined Republican lawmakers in calling for direct U.S. involvement in forcing early elections in Venezuela. “We have to ratchet this up,” Biden said. “We need someone of significant stature in that position.” With Chávez still in power in 2006 and threatening to cut off U.S. oil shipments in response to ongoing coup plots and threats of U.S. sanctions, Biden denounced what he called an “axis of oil” that bestowed undue influence on anti-democratic governments. “Oil money makes Hugo Chávez believe he can take Fidel Castro’s place as the prime anti-American troublemaker,” Biden declared.