National Endowment for Democracy
On The Offensive in Venezuela
by Eva Golinger
International Endowment for Democracy,
www.iefd.org/, November 14, 2004
On November 8, 2004 National Endowment
for Democracy ("NED") President Carl Gershman made a
historical visit to Venezuela with a very peculiar purpose. Gershman
traveled to the South American nation to request President Chávez
influence the outcome of a legal case brought against NED direct
grantee Súmate, currently in the hands of the independent
Attorney General's office. But much to Gershman's surprise, no
meetings had been authorized with the Venezuelan President or
cabinet members and therefore, he was unable to exert the weight
of the United States-backed NED over the popular head of state.
Gershman did meet with Attorney General Isaías Rodriguez
and President of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, Ivan Rincón.
However, both legal chiefs were unwilling to succumb to NED pressure
and instead, made very clear that Venezuela's judiciary is independent
of the executive and that international influence will not interfere
with or impede due process of law.
The case brought against NED-grantee Súmate
has caused uproar in the ranks of the U.S. State Department and
the quasi-governmental NED, which receives all of its financing
from the U.S. Congress and is obligated to report annually on
its activities and use of funds. On occasion, such as in Venezuela,
the State Department issues "special funds" to the NED
to finance its activities in nations of key interest. In April
2002, just days after the failed coup d'etat against Venezuela
President Hugo Chávez, the State Department gave the NED
a $1 million grant entitled "Special Venezuela Funds",
which was distributed to many of the very same groups that had
just led and participated in the coup. In fact, since President
Chávez's election to that nation's highest office in 1998,
the NED has consistently funded just one sector in Venezuela:
the opposition to President Chávez. Once George W. Bush
assumed the U.S. presidency in 2000, funding to opposition groups
in Venezuela was quadrupled. Those organizations receiving NED
funding, such as the Confederación de Trabajadores Venezolanos
(CTV), the Asamblea de Educación, Primero Justicia, Fedecámaras,
CEDICE, Súmate and others have used the millions in U.S.
taxpayer dollars to lead a coup against President Chávez,
devastate Venezuela's economy through a 64-day long illegal strike
and later lead a failed recall referendum attempt. All of the
NED-funded initiatives have shared just one goal: remove President
Chávez from power, be it through legal or illegal means.
The case against Súmate was brought
earlier this year by the Attorney General's office alleging violation
of Article 132 of the Penal Code, which makes it a crime to "conspire
to destroy the government" and to "solicit international
intervention in international politics" or to "incite
civil war or defame the President or diplomatic representatives
in the foreign press." The Attorney General alleges that
Súmate committed a crime by soliciting financing from the
NED, an arm of the U.S. Government, in order to campaign for and
lead a recall referendum against President Chávez. Furthermore,
the Chief Prosecutor alleges that Súmate violated the Constitution
by usurping functions of the Electoral Power through its creation
of a parallel Electoral Registry and database that it used to
collect and count signatures during stages of the referendum process.
Though charges have been filed with the court, and an arraignment
hearing to set a trial date and determine bail has yet to occur.
Due to a massive campaign in defense of
Súmate that has been launched by the U.S. State Department,
the case has experienced interesting delays. Gershman's visit
came one week after the arraignment hearing had been postponed
from November 2nd to November 24th, as a result of the resignation
of one of the defendant's attorneys. Subsequently, the case experienced
another development after U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, William
Brownfield, visited Supreme Court President Ivan Rincon and requested
he intervene to prevent the case from proceeding. Although Rincon
was clear in his respect for due process and the jurisdiction
of the Attorney General, a separate power, one of the other justices
in the Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court decided to review the
case for "clarity" and "merit" before allowing
it to continue.
But Gershman's visit, the first visit
by the NED president to a foreign nation to defend the organization's
interests, was an apparent "last chance" offer to the
Venezuelan government to stop the case or face the wrath of the
U.S. government. Even presidential candidate John Kerry got on
the Súmate defense bandwagon in the days prior to the U.S.
elections, criticizing Chávez for "political persecution"
and accusing him of heading towards a dictatorship. Other Súmate
defenders include U.S. Congress members Christopher Cox and Gregory
Meeks, both on the NED Board of Directors, and Senator John McCain
and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who chair the
NED core grantee organizations, the International Republican Institute
and the National Democratic Institute, respectively. The aforementioned
have all authored letters defending NED's work in Venezuela and
defending its grantees, despite their notorious unconstitutional
behavior during the coup and the strike.
Though NED representatives and spokespersons
have time and again claimed their work in Venezuela as "impartial"
and only "promoting democracy", Gershman's declarations
to the Venezuelan press showed otherwise. After being snubbed
by the Executive, Gershman angrily declared to the Venezuelan
media that "Venezuela is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship
but rather something in between". In the same breath, Gershman
claimed that in Venezuela, the NED "only finances democratic
groups," which must imply that groups involved in coup d'etats
fit within the NED's view of democracy. He also tried to make
a weak comparison between the Venezuelan government and the Chilean
dictator Augustus Pinochet by claiming, "In the eighties,
we were attacked by the Pinochet government, which didn't like
the fact that we supported the groups that moved forward the democratic
transition in Chile."
Gershman's comparison between the Pinochet
dictatorship and Venezuela under Chávez, along with his
outright denial of Venezuela's democracy, despite the nine electoral
processes in the past five years that have reaffirmed Chávez'
overwhelming popular support, evidence the NED's biased position
against the Venezuelan Government. How could Gershman expect
a warm welcome from the Venezuelan Government after making such
declarations? Furthermore, Gershman's statements merely reaffirmed
that the NED's purpose in Venezuela is to remove President Chávez
from power. The NED-grantees were the ones chosen by the U.S.
government to "lead the democratic transition" post-Chávez,
just like in Chile. This has been was evidenced through NED-funded
projects in Venezuela to create "alternative government agendas"
and "transition government plans" for post-Chávez
Venezuela. But there is one major difference here: Chile under
Pinochet was a dictatorship, one in fact imposed by the U.S. government.
Venezuela under Chávez is the most participatory and popularly-support
democratic government in Venezuela's history. In fact, Chávez
just won a recall referendum promoted by the opposition with 60%
of the vote, a landslide victory that demonstrated the massive
support of his presidency to the world.
But the NED and the U.S. government just
don't appear to care about the majority that supports President
Chávez, or the nine democratic electoral processes that
have reaffirmed his administration, or the fact that more Venezuelans
today participate in the governance of the nation than ever before.
Instead of rectifying or apologizing for such blatantly offensive
and biased statements, NED President Carl Gershman followed through
on his threats to the Venezuelan Government to increase international
pressure in defense of the Súmate case and to attempt to
convert Chávez into an international "pariah"
and "human rights abuser." Just twenty-four hours after
Gershman's departure from Venezuela, a letter was released from
an alleged group of 70 "international democrats" demanding
the Venezuelan President intervene in the Súmate action
and prevent the Attorney General from proceeding with the case.
The letter, whose existence had been leaked
to the press more than one week ago, but was kept under the wraps
until needed, was obviously Gershman's attempt to exert international
pressure over the Venezuelan Government. But the letter is riddled
with misinformation and errors about Venezuela's legal system
and laws and strangely demands respect for democracy while asking
the Venezuelan President to violate the Constitutional separation
of powers in his nation by intervening in a case under the authority
of the Attorney General. The letter requests an abandonment of
the law and demands the Súmate directors be granted "above
the law" status, just because they are supported by 70 prominent
"international democrats" who state to share Súmate's
"view of democracy." Again, if the NED along with these
70 personalities believe democracy and rule of law can been averted
by those who have friends in high places, then Venezuela certainly
doesn't share the same vision.
Although the letter was intended to look
like an independent statement by 70 renowned "democrats",
its ties to the NED were all too obvious. In fact, the letter
was released to the public by the NED press department and of
the 70 signors, more than half are either on the NED Board of
Directors or are direct NED grantees. Clearly, their allegiance
is to the hand that feeds them.
The NED visit to Venezuela was also unsuccessful
in its efforts to attract pro-Chávez groups to accept financing.
NED President Gershman and his sidekick, Christopher Sabatini,
thought they could entice pro-Chávez organizations into
accepting their funding so they could then justify their claims
of non-partisanship. But no such groups were even the slightest
interested in establishing a relationship with a U.S. government
funded organization that has worked exclusively with coup leaders
and other hard line opposition groups in Venezuela. In fact, Christopher
Sabatini's claim in the Venezuelan press that the Boston Group,
a coalition of pro-Chávez and opposition-linked Assembly
Members in Venezuela and U.S. Congressional representatives, was
negotiating with the NED to receive financing was quickly refuted
the following day in El Nacional newspaper. Both opposition and
pro-Chávez Assembly Members in the Boston Group declared
to the press that they never met with the NED to discuss any potential
funding or future financing. Clearly, Sabatini had made a desperate
attempt to justify the NED's work in Venezuela, not realizing
that his error would be caught by savvy Venezuelans attuned to
the NED's deceptive ways.
Deception, manipulation, pressure, intimidation,
threat and constitutional violations seem to be the NED's tools
for "promoting democracy" around the world. Luckily,
Venezuelans are on to the trickery of this heavy-handed organization
and are unwilling to cede to its bully tactics.
To view documents evidencing the NED intervention
in Venezuela visit my web page at: www.venezuelafoia.info
National Endowment for Democracy (NED)