US interference in Venezuela keeps growing

Sunday, August 8, 2010
A 2008 press conference for opposition group Sumate. The organisation has received funding from the US government's National Endowment for Democracy.

Despite US President Barack Obama’s promise to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that his administration wouldn’t interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs, the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is channelling millions to anti-Chavez groups.

Foreign intervention is not only executed through military force. The funding of “civil society” groups and media outlets is one of the more widely used mechanisms by the US government to achieve its strategic objectives.

In Venezuela, the US has been supporting anti-Chavez groups for more than eight years, including those that executed the coup d’etat against Chavez in April 2002.

Since then, the funding has increased substantially. A May 2010 report evaluating foreign assistance to political groups in Venezuela, commissioned by the NED, revealed that more than US$40 million annually is channelled to anti-Chavez groups, the majority from US agencies.

The NED was created by congressional legislation in 1982. Its mandate was anti-communist and anti-socialist and its first mission, ordered by then-President Ronald Reagan, was to support anti-Sandinista groups in Nicaragua to remove that government from power.

NED reached its goal after seven years and more than $1 billion in funding. It built an anti-Sandinista political coalition that achieved power.

Today, NED’s annual budget, allocated by the State Department, exceeds US$132 million. NED operates in over 70 countries worldwide. Allen Weinstein, one of NED’s original founders, said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

Venezuela stands out as the Latin American nation where NED invested most funding in 2009 — $1,818,473, more than double than the year before.

In an attempt to obscure the destination of funds in Venezuela, NED excluded the majority of names of Venezuelan groups receiving funds in its annual report.

Nonetheless, other official documents, such as NED’s tax declarations and internal memos obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, have disclosed the names of those receiving its funding in Venezuela.

Of the more than $2.6 million given by NED to Venezuelan groups during 2008-2009, a majority of funds have gone to organisations relatively unknown in Venezuela. With the exception of some more known groups, such as CEDICE, Sumate, Consorcio Justicia and CESAP, the organisations receiving more than $2 million in funding appear to be mere facades.

For example, an unknown entity, the Centre for Leadership Formation for Peace and Social Development, received $39,954 in 2008 and $39,955 in 2009 to “strengthen the capacity of community leaders to participate in local democratic processes”.

For several years, the civil association Kape Kape, unknown in Venezuela, received grants of $45,000 in 2008 and $56,875 in 2009 to “empower indigenous communities and strengthen their knowledge of human rights, democracy and the international organisations and mechanisms available to protect them”.

In a clear example of foreign interference, NED funds were used to “create a document detailing the human rights violations perpetrated against them and denounce them before international organisations”.

A large part of NED funds in Venezuela have been invested in “forming student movements” and “building democratic leadership amongst youth” — with US values. This includes programs that “strengthen the leadership capabilities of students and youth and enhance their ability to interact effectively in their communities and promote democratic values”.

Two Jesuit organisations have been the channels for this funding; Huellas (who received $49,950 in 2008 and $50,000 in 2009) and the Gumilla Centre Foundation ($63,000).

Others, such as the Miguel Otero Silva Cultural Foundation ($51,500 in 2008 and $60,900 in 2009) and the unknown Judicial Proposal Association ($30,300 in 2008), have used NED funds to “conduct communications campaigns via local newspapers, radio stations, text messaging, and Internet, and distribute posters and flyers”.

In the past three years, an opposition student/youth movement has been created with funding from various US and European agencies.

More than 32% of USAID funding has gone to “training youth and students in the use of innovative media technologies [such as on Twitter and Facebook] to spread political messages and campaigns”.

The Institute for Press and Society (IPyS) and Espacio Publico (Public Space) have got millions of dollars from NED, USAID, and the State Department in the past three years to “foster media freedom” in Venezuela.

The August 3 Washington Post published an article on USAID funding of media and journalists in Afghanistan, an echo of what US agencies are doing in Venezuela.

On August 3, statements made by US Ambassador-designate to Venezuela Larry Palmer were leaked to the press. Palmer, not yet confirmed by the Senate, showed a lack of diplomacy by claiming democracy in Venezuela was “under threat” and that Venezuela’s armed forces had “low morale”, implying a lack of loyalty to the Chavez administration.

He stated he had “deep concerns” about “freedom of the press” and “freedom of expression” in Venezuela and mentioned the legal cases of several corrupt businessmen and a judge, which Palmer claimed were signs of “political persecution”.

He questioned the credibility of Venezuela’s electoral system and said he would “closely monitor threats to human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

He stated that the unfounded and unsubstantiated claims made by Colombia of “terrorist training camps” in Venezuela were “serious” and obliged Venezuela to respond.

He affirmed he would “work closely to support civil society” groups in Venezuela. The US consistently refers to as “civil society”.

These statements are a clear example of interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs and an obvious sign that Obama has no intention of following through on his promises.

[Abridged from Chavez Code.]

From GLW issue 848