Washington's silent war on Venezuela and Bolivia


The United States government has almost perfected a method of intervention that is able to penetrate and infiltrate all sectors of civil society in countries that it deems to be of economic and strategic interest. In the case of oil-rich Venezuela — in the middle of a process of transformation led by socialist President Hugo Chavez that is adversely affecting the interests of US corporations — this strategy began to take form in 2002.

In that year the financing of opposition sectors via the US Congress-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) increased, and an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was opened in Caracas. These efforts helped achieve the consolidation of an opposition movement that, despite the failure of a US-backed coup it organised in April 2002, was able to cause severe damage to the economy just months later via sabotage of the oil industry and a "stoppage" by business owners.

With the opposition divided after its attempts to overthrow Chavez failed, the principal focus of US intervention reoriented towards poor communities, the media and the interior of the country. The US embassy in Caracas opened up a series of "satellite consulates" in five states across the country — without the authorisation of Venezuela's foreign ministry. These states — Anzotegui, Bolivar, Lara, Monagas and Margarita — are rich in oil and other natural resources that the US is seeking to control.

The work of USAID and its OTI in Venezuela has led to a deepening of counter-revolutionary subversion in the country. By June 2007, more than 360 "scholarships" had been granted to social organisations, political parties, communities and political projects in Venezuela through Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), a company contracted by USAID that opened an office in Caracas in 2002. DAI/USAID has given more than US$11,575,509 to these groups.

USAID-OTI has also funded opposition political parties, such as Justice First, A New Time (of which the main opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential elections is a member), Democratic Action, COPEI, and Movement Towards Socialism among others. Since 2002, more than $7 million has been invested as "technical assistance" to opposition parties in Venezuela by USAID.

So-called "human rights defenders" and non-government organisations in Venezuela receive a large portion of their funding through Freedom House, another group contracted by USAID-OTI. Freedom House has sponsored events such as "The threats to freedom of expression in the 21st century", which involved Marcel Granier, president of the coup-plotting television station RCTV, as well as representatives of the US government. Its president during 2003-05 was ex-CIA director James Woolsey, and its current president, Peter Ackerman, is a multimillionaire banker who has sponsored "regime changes" in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia.

Another company contracted by USAID in Venezuela is the Foundation of Pan-American Development (PADF), whose mission is to "support civil society". The PADF has granted $937,079 to 14 Venezuelan NGOs since the end of 2006. The names of these groups are currently unknown.

The latest USAID public reports point out that in August it organised a conference with 50 mayors from all over the country to cover the issue of "decentralisation" and the "popular networks". This sounds very similar to the project that Leopoldo Lopez, opposition mayor of Chacao, is currently promoting. The USAID program in Venezuela promises to continue in its efforts to "strengthen civil society and political parties", "promote decentralisation and municipal councils" and "train up human rights defenders". The US Congress has already approved $3.6 million for this office in Venezuela for the year 2007-08, which indicates that this subversion will continue increasing.

Venezuela is not the only target of US subversion and intervention via USAID and its funding of opposition movements. In March 2004, USAID opened an OTI in Bolivia, to supposedly help "reduce tensions in zones of social conflict and help the country with preparations for electoral events". Bolivia has been the scene of powerful popular movements, largely based on the indigenous majority, that are struggling to refound the nation on the basis of social justice. In 2005, indigenous leader Evo Morales was elected president and the following May carried out his campaign promise to nationalise Bolivia's gas reserves, the second largest in the region.

USAID contracted the US company Casals & Associates, Inc. (C&A) to manage the more than $13.3 million that they had already granted to 379 organisations, political parties and projects in Bolivia. C&A plays the role in Bolivia that the DAI does in Venezuela. Like the DAI, C&A is a company with large contracts with the US military, energy department, Broadcasting Board of Governance, Voice of America, the Office for Transmissions to Cuba, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department and many more. C&A has worked on executing interventionist programs for different Washington agencies in more than 40 countries across the world.

In Bolivia, USAID-OTI has focused its efforts on the separatist movements in regions rich in natural resources, such as Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. The majority of the $13.3 million has been given to organisations and programs working towards "reinforcing regional governments", with the intention of weakening the national Morales government, "creating links between indigenous groups and democratic structures", "offering economic opportunities and communitarian development", "civic education for emergent leaders" and "the spreading of information".

Such noble-sounding themes indicate that Washington is seeking to suffocate the national government, infiltrate the indigenous communities — which constitute the majority of the country, promote the capitalist model and have influence over the mass media, promoting pro-US, pro-capitalist and anti-socialist propaganda.

The USAID-OTI program in Bolivia is openly supporting the autonomy of certain resource-rich regions, and therefore promoting the destabilisation of the country and the Morales government. The NED is also funding groups in regions, such as Santa Cruz, which fight for separatism. The current US ambassador in Bolivia, Philip Goldberg, is an expert in issues of separatism, having been the head of the US mission in the former-Yugoslavia that divided into two countries, Bosnia and Serbia, with US "help".

The Morales government has publicly denounced this subversion, giving notice to the US government that it must obey the laws of the country or choose to leave.

Nevertheless, this network of intervention and subversion will not be easily eradicated. Chavez has proposed a change to article 67 of Venezuela's constitution that would prohibit the funding of groups with political aims by public or private foreign entities. It is essential to define the concept of "political aims", because in many cases NGOs and other "human rights groups" attempt to evade being classified as organisations with "political" motives. However, no one can deny that human rights is fundamentally a political issue, and it is the terrain, more than any other, where today Washington's subversion hides, using NGOs as a cover.

What is clear is the urgent necessity of developing strategies to stop this subversion in Venezuela, Bolivia and all our sister countries that are today in the sights of the US empire, and which are fighting to express their own will and sovereignty.

[Translated by Federico Fuentes, editor of BoliviaRising.blogspot.com. Golinger is the author of Bush vs Chavez: Washington's War on Venezuela, and will be a featured guest at the Latin American Asia Pacific International Solidarity Forum to be held in Melbourne, October 11-14. The conference will feature more than 30 representatives of progressive organisations and campaigns from 22 countries. To register, or for more details, visit http://solidarityforum2007.]