[Marxism] Venezuela subversion

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Aug 26 13:41:57 MDT 2006

August 26, 2006
U.S. Aid Stirring Suspicion in Venezuela

Filed at 3:08 p.m. ET

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- The U.S. government is spending millions of 
dollars in the name of democracy in Venezuela -- bankrolling human rights 
seminars, training emerging leaders, advising political parties and giving 
to charities. But the money is raising deep suspicions among supporters of 
President Hugo Chavez, in part because the U.S. has refused to name many of 
the groups it's supporting.

Details of the spending emerge in 1,600 pages of grant contracts obtained 
by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. The 
U.S. Agency for International Development released copies of 132 contracts 
in all, but whited out the names and other identifying details of nearly 
half the grantees.

U.S. officials insist the aid is aboveboard and politically neutral, and 
say the Chavez government would harass or prosecute the grant recipients if 
they were identified.

Chavez, however, believes the United States is campaigning -- overtly and 
covertly -- to undermine his leftist government, which has crusaded against 
U.S. influence in Latin America and elsewhere.

''The empire pays its lackeys, and it pays them well,'' he said recently, 
accusing some of his opponents of taking ''gringo money.''

While USAID oversees much of the public U.S. spending on Latin America, 
President Bush's government also has stepped up covert efforts in the 
region. This month, Washington named a career CIA agent as the ''mission 
manager'' to oversee U.S. intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela.

The Bush administration has an $80 million plan to hasten change in Cuba, 
where Chavez has sworn to help defend Fidel Castro's communist system. The 
U.S. also is spending millions on pro-democracy work in Bolivia, where Bush 
has warned of ''an erosion of democracy'' since a Chavez ally, socialist 
Evo Morales, was elected president in December.

Chavez makes no distinction between the programs supported by U.S. funds 
and the secret effort he claims the CIA is pursuing to destabilize his 
government. And it appears a crackdown on the U.S. aid is looming as Chavez 
runs for re-election in December.

Venezuelan prosecutors have brought conspiracy charges against the leaders 
of Sumate, a U.S.-backed group that frequently points out perceived flaws 
in the voting system. The pro-Chavez National Assembly is preparing to 
require nonprofit groups to reveal their funding sources. And Chavez has 
threatened to expel U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield, whom he accuses of 
stirring up trouble with USAID donations to youth baseball teams and 
day-care centers.

Much of the spending is overseen by USAID's Office of Transition 
Initiatives, which also works in such ''priority countries'' as Iraq, 
Afghanistan, Bolivia and Haiti.

OTI says it has overseen more than $26 million for programs in Venezuela 
since 2002, when it began work here after a failed coup against Chavez. 
Much of it has gone toward more than 220 small grants as part of USAID's 
''Venezuela Confidence Building Initiative.''

''It's a pro-democracy program to work with Venezuelans of any point of 
view,'' said Adolfo Franco, USAID's assistant administrator for Latin 
America and the Caribbean. ''It's without political bias.''

The USAID grants for 2004 and 2005 reviewed by AP include some charity 
projects -- like $19,543 for baseball equipment that Brownfield delivered 
to a pro-Chavez neighborhood and $23,189 for chickens and coops at a poor 

Others seem to promote good government, like $15,289 to publish a pocket 
guide on citizenship.

One recipient, the Development and Justice Consortium, held a workshop in a 
poor Caracas neighborhood on seeking accountability in local government. A 
neighborhood banner read ''Chavez Forever,'' but teacher Antonio Quintin 
reminded students that ''governments are only delegates.''

Most attendees had no idea U.S. money paid for the class, and even die-hard 
Chavez supporters saw nothing subversive in it. ''As long as it brings 
benefits, it doesn't matter where the funding comes from,'' said Ingrid 
Sanchez, 40, a member of a local planning council.

But other projects remain so vague as to raise concern among Chavistas, 
such as a $47,459 grant for a ''democratic leadership campaign,'' $37,614 
for citizen meetings to discuss a ''shared vision'' for society, or $56,124 
to analyze Venezuela's new constitution of 1999. All went to unidentified 

U.S. officials call the concerns baseless. They point to U.S.-funded 
programs meant to bridge the divide between Chavez's backers and opponents, 
such as conflict resolution workshops and public service announcements 
urging peaceful coexistence.

Much of the spending was for ''in kind'' aid -- anything from snacks to 
airfare, rather than cash. And every grant requires the inclusion of people 
from across the political spectrum.

Even some pro-Chavez groups got support, said Russell Porter, an OTI 
official for Latin America.

Still, USAID said revealing more of their identities would be an 
''unwarranted invasion of personal privacy'' that could endanger the 
recipients, saying some have been questioned for 12 hours at a time by the 
Venezuelan secret police.

''It's simply for the security of the recipient,'' Porter said. ''The only 
thing we've held back are the names of the groups.''

U.S. officials say they simply want to promote dialogue and strengthen 
Venezuela's ''fragile democratic institutions.''

But at the same time, Bush has repeatedly called Chavez a threat to 
democracy, and Chavez sympathizers find it hard to trust the U.S. 
government's motives.

''It's trying to implement regime change. There's no doubt about it. I 
think the U.S. government tries to mask it by saying it's a noble 
mission,'' said Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan-American lawyer who wrote ''The 
Chavez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela,'' a book that cites 
public documents to argue that Washington is systematically trying to 
overthrow Chavez.

Golinger sees parallels in past U.S. campaigns, partly covert, to aid 
government opponents in countries from Nicaragua to Ukraine. ''It's too 
suspicious to have such a high level of secrecy,'' she said.

The U.S. State Department also has supported electoral observer missions 
and training for human rights activists as part of the $26 million spent 
since 2002.

In addition, the government-funded National Endowment for Democracy has 
awarded $2.9 million in pro-democracy grants for Venezuela since 2002, and 
the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic 
Institute have provided technical training to help restructure various 
Venezuelan political parties and supported training of electoral observers.

''It isn't designed to favor one party or another,'' said the National 
Democratic Institute's president, Ken Wollack. ''All parties have 

But friction is mounting as Chavez seeks re-election. He holds a wide lead 
in the polls, and predicts the U.S. will try to discredit the December vote 
if he wins, with ammunition provided by U.S.-funded nonprofit groups.

Chavistas say their president has good reason to be concerned, given how 
quickly U.S. officials recognized his opponents during a short-lived coup 
in 2002. Immediately after Chavez was driven from power, the International 
Republican Institute's then president, George Folsom, issued a statement 
praising those who ''rose up to defend democracy.''

Chavez regained the presidency amid huge street protests, and the IRI's 
leadership later renounced Folsom's statement as contrary to the group's 
pro-democracy mission.

Still, all these efforts to influence another country's political process 
raise concerns outside Venezuela, too.

''It's very hard to accept an innocent directing of those funds,'' said 
Bill Monning, a law professor at the Monterey Institute of International 
Studies in California. ''We would scream bloody murder if any outside force 
were interfering in our internal political system.''

Sumate leader Maria Corina Machado, who met Bush at the White House last 
year, faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy for using 
$31,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy that she says went for 
voter education courses. Three other Sumate members also face charges.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan lawmakers recommended that Sumate be investigated for 
currency and tax law violations, and they've given initial approval, in a 
first reading, to a new law that would require non-governmental 
organizations to reveal their funding sources.

CIVICUS, a South Africa-based international group that supports citizen 
participation, says the proposed law will ''endanger the existence of an 
independent civil society.''

Russia adopted a similar law targeting human rights and pro-democracy 
groups this year after opposition leaders rose to power in the former 
Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Critics say 
Venezuela's law would bring heavy-handed tactics, but Chavez supporters say 
they need to keep tabs on U.S. spending.

''They're promoting a U.S. agenda,'' Golinger said, ''and that's the 
overall goal: to eventually get Chavez out of power.''

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