(fwd from John Enyang) Venezuela: Support for Rightist opposition

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Thu Apr 25 14:37:43 MDT 2002

Washington channelled funds to groups that opposed Chavez

By Christopher Marquis in Washington
April 26 2002

In the past year the United States channelled hundreds of thousands of
dollars to bodies opposed to the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez,
including the labour group whose protests led to his brief removal this

The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a
non-profit agency created and financed by Congress. As conditions
deteriorated in Venezuela and Mr Chavez clashed with various business,
union and media groups, the endowment quadrupled its budget for the
country to more than $US877,000.

While the endowment's expressed goal is to promote democracy around the
world, the US State Department's human rights bureau is examining whether
any recipients of the money plotted against Mr Chavez. The bureau has put
a $US1million grant to the endowment on hold pending that review, an
official said.

A State Department spokesman, Philip Reeker, said he was unaware of the
proposed grant.

Of particular concern is $US154,377 given by the endowment to the American
Centre for International Labour Solidarity, the international arm ofthe
AFL-CIO, the US union umbrella body, to help the main Venezuelan trade
union advance labour rights.

The Venezuelan union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, led the
work stoppages that galvanised the opposition to Mr Chavez. The union's
leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the
businessman who briefly took over from Mr Chavez, in challenging the

The endowment also provided significant resources to the foreign-policy
wings of the Republican and Democratic parties for work in Venezuela,
which sponsored trips to  Washington by critics of Mr Chavez.

The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs was given a
$US210,500 grant to promote the accountability of local government. The
International Republican Institute, which has an office in Venezuela,
received a $US339,998 grant for political party building. Two weeks
ago, the day of the takeover, the group hailed Mr Chavez's removal.

"The Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country," the
institute's president, George Folsom, said. "Venezuelans were provoked
into action as a result of systematic repression by the government of Hugo

The statement drew a sharp rebuke from the endowment president, Carl
Gershman, for the openly political stance, which he said would undercut
the institute's work in Venezuela.

The institute has close ties to the Bush Administration, which also
embraced the short-lived takeover; Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary
of state for democracy, human rights and labour, is a former president of
the organisation.

The Bush Administration, which has made no secret of its disdain for Mr
Chavez - and his relations with countries such as Cuba and Iraq - has
turned to the endowment to help the opposition to Mr Chavez.

With an annual budget of $US33million, the endowment disburses hundreds of
grants each year to pro-democracy groups from Africa to Asia. Advocates
say the agency's independent status enables the US to support democracy
where government aid might be cumbersome or unwelcome.

But critics say recipients of endowment aid do not have the same
accountability that government programs require, which opens the door for
rogue activities and freelancing. They say endowment funds were used to
sway the outcomes of votes in Chile in Nicaragua in the late 1980s.

The New York Times

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