State Dept. says 'transition" office in Caracas will urge "dialogue" with opposition

Fred Feldman ffeldman at
Sat Aug 10 15:16:26 MDT 2002

Subject: [CubaNews] U.S. Launches Office in Venezuela

U.S. Launches Office in Venezuela
CARACAS, Venezuela, Aug 10, 2002
(AP Online via COMTEX) --

What's in a name? Everything, it turns out, when the U.S.
government launches an "Office of Transition Initiatives" in
Venezuela. The Venezuelan government fears "transition"
means ousting their president.

U.S. diplomats say the two-year program, to begin this fall,
will promote democracy and stability in Venezuela, a top
U.S. oil supplier shaken by an April coup, which briefly
removed leftist President Hugo Chavez from power.

But Chavez, his top ministers, ruling party lawmakers and
the press seized upon the name. "Transition" is a "code
word" for those openly looking to topple Chavez, Foreign
Minister Roy Chaderton complained this week.

"There must be more effective and less controversial ways
for our American friends and partners to support democracy
in Venezuela," Chaderton said.

Relations between Chavez and Washington have been marked by
distrust since the then-army colonel led a failed 1992 coup.
For years afterward, Chavez was denied a U.S. visa.

Chavez has sparred with Washington over his relations with
Cuba and Iraq, his resistance to a Western Hemisphere free
trade treaty and his criticism of civilian casualties in the
U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

During the April 12-14 coup, the Bush administration
initially blamed Chavez for his own downfall. It accepted
claims by Venezuelan generals - false, it turned out - that
Chavez resigned.

After leaders worldwide, and especially in most of Latin
America, condemned the coup, the Bush administration denied
accusations that it had tacitly endorsed Chavez's overthrow.

Facing a budding public relations crisis, U.S. Ambassador
Charles Shapiro insisted the OTI initiative has nothing to
do with a Washington-sponsored change of government. The
nonpartisan OTI programs - details have yet to be released -
will promote dialogue between Chavez and the opposition,
Shapiro said.

"The goal is to support neither the opposition nor the
government but the democratic process," Shapiro said.
"The office here will not be an office for the transition of

Chavez appeared mollified after a meeting with Shapiro,
thanking the ambassador on Aug. 4 for clarifying
"irresponsible news reports that the United States was going
to install an office to support the transition, meaning
Chavez's ouster." No details of the meeting were released.

Misgivings about the USAID program persist.
Government-aligned politicians were cool after meeting with
Shapiro on Monday.

"We let the ambassador know that we are against any type of
intrusion in the country," said Jose Albornoz, leader of the
Fatherland for All party. "We're going to monitor that
office's activities."

USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives typically spends
two years in conflict-prone countries when it sees a chance
to restore stability.

In countries where international opinion is united against a
regime, OTI has taken sides - such as supporting opponents
of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Other initiatives are nonpartisan, like in Peru, where OTI
is promoting civic-military relations and the formation of a
truth committee to investigate rights abuses during former
President Alberto Fujimori's iron-fisted regime.

The office sometimes operates in countries USAID
traditionally considered too wealthy for involvement - like
Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the Western
Hemisphere. Despite its oil wealth, eight out of 10
Venezuelans are poor - the legacy of decades of corruption,
bloated bureaucracies and violent swings in international
oil prices.


On The Net:

U.S. Agency for International Development:

U.S. Embassy in Venezuela:

By ALEXANDRA OLSON Associated Press Writer

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