NED [National Endowment for
by Bill Berkowitz
Z magazine, May 2004
For more than two years, Venezuelan government
officials have been hurling accusations at the Bush administration
charging that it was involved in the aborted April 2002 coup which
overthrew, albeit for only a short time, the country's democratically
elected president, Hugo Chavez. Facing the possibility of being
recalled, President Chavez recently said he had evidence proving
that U.S. officials "met with rebel military officers [and]
U.S. military officers acted in the coup." Chavez also pointed
out that "the U.S. ambassador was at the Presidential Palace
after the coup to applaud the dictator [Pedro Carmona]. The government
of the United States must answer before the world about the deaths
that occurred here in April of 2002. "
The State Department's Richard Boucher
dismissed Chavez's charges, saying that the accusations were meant
to "to divert attention" from the referendum process
currently underway in Venezuela, Venezuelanalysis. com reported.
Boucher, however, acknowledged that the Bush administration is
providing "funding to groups that promote democracy and strengthen
civil society in Venezuela and around the globe." Boucher
claimed that the funds "are for the benefit of democracy,
not to support any particular political faction. "
One of the recipients of U.S. taxpayer
money is a Venezuelan company called Sumate, the organization
that provided much of the logistical support for the signature
collection process in the current recall campaign. Between September
2003 and September 2004, Sumate received more than $50,000 from
the U. S. -based National Endowment for Democracy.
The "NED Report to the U.S. Dept.
of State on Special Venezuela Funds" documents that the organization
received a million dollars in April 2002 and, since June of that
year, it awarded more than $800,000 to organizations working in
Venezuela, according to VenezuelaFOIA.info This non-profit website,
sponsored by the Venezuela Solidarity Committee/National Venezuela
Solidarity Network, found that among the organizations receiving
funds were the Center for International Private Enterprise, the
American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the International
Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute for
NED is no stranger to Venezuelan politics.
According to the New York Times, the organization "funneled
more than $877,000 into Venezuela opposition groups in the weeks
and months before the recently aborted coup attempt." More
than $150,000 went to "a Venezuelan labor union that led
the opposition work stoppages and worked closely with Pedro Carmona
Estanga, the businessman who led the coup."
At its website, the National Endowment
for Democracy modestly describes itself as a "private, nonprofit,
grant-making organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic
institutions around the world." But the NED, over the years,
has actively destabilized governments in Central America and Eastern
Europe. According to William Blum's book, Rogue State: A Guide
to the World's Only Superpower, the NED "played an important
role in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, funding key components
of Oliver North's shadowy Project Democracy network, which privatized
U.S. foreign policy, waged war, ran arms and drugs, and engaged
in other equally charming activities." For years the NED
supported the Cuban exile community in south Florida, contributing
$250,000 between 1990 and 1992 to the right-wing Cuban-American
In 1997, NED president Carl Gershman told
Congress that the group's "four affiliated institutes, the
International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic
Institutte for International Affairs (NDI), the Center for International
Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Free Trade Union Institute
(FTUI) ...operate a host of programs that strengthen political
parties, promote open markets, advocate the rights of workers,
and many related activities. "
NED functions as a full-service infrastructure-building
clearinghouse. It provides money, technical support, supplies,
training programs, media know-how, public relations assistance,
and state-of-the art equipment to select political groups, civic
organizations, labor unions, dissident movements, student groups,
book publishers, newspapers, and other media. The organization's
aim is to destabilize progressive movements, particularly those
with a socialist or democratic-socialist bent.
Chavez's well-funded opposition also appears
to be receiving the tacit stamp of approval from Henry Kissinger
and his international consulting firm, Kissinger and Associates.
In late January, while the national elections council was preparing
to evaluate the authenticity of the over two million petition
signatures handed in by the opposition, former Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger was presenting an award to Venezuelan billionaire,
Gustavo Cisneros, chair & CEO of the Cisneros Group of Companies.
According to the Green Left Weekly, Cisneros has been "identified
by Newsweek and Venezuelan publications as one of the protagonists
and financiers of the April 11, 2002, coup against Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez."
In a December 2003 press release announcing
the upcoming awards ceremony, the IAEC described Cisneros as someone
who "consistently sought to create an environment where business
and government can work together in meaningful ways for the betterment
of society." It went on: "The council seeks to create
a forum in which effective policy making is made by the public
and private sectors working together. Cisneros' life's work parallels
the council's mission."
According to the Green Left Weekly, however,
Cisneros is "credited with being a driving force behind the
December 2002 nationwide lock-out and sabotage of the oil industry,
which drove the Venezuelan economy into the ground by causing
a historical drop of 27 percent in the country's GDP in the first
trimester of 2003." The U.S.-based NGO Global Strike for
Women condemned the IAEC's decision to give Cisneros the award,
charging that he was a leader of the lock out "aimed at forcing
President Chavez from office" and that "he played a
similar role in the more recent oil lock out orchestrated by the
CIA and aimed at paralyzing the whole country."
Cisneros owns one of the largest privately
held media, entertainment, technology, and consumer products organizations
in the world. His holdings include Univision Communications, Inc.,
AOL Latin America, DIRECTV Latin America, Claxson Interactive
Group, Venevision (Venezuela's largest television network), Los
Leones del Caracas, Regional Brewing Company, Backus & Johnston
Brewing Company, and Pueblo International, LLC.
It should be remembered that two days
after the aborted coup, Kissinger partner Thomas "Mack"
McLarty, vice chair of Kissinger McLarty Associates and former
President Clinton's top adviser on Latin America, penned an op-ed
piece that issued a stern warning to Brazilian leftist Luiz Igacio
Lula da Silva: "[W]hat happened in Venezuela could be perceived
as a sign that messianic solutions, as opposed to genuine reform
measures, lead to disaster. It bodes well for those in the region
who advocate for open markets in the region. I don't think this
is a net positive for Lula's candidacy." Despite the warning,
six months later Lula was overwhelmingly elected president of
As for the current referendum campaign,
Sumate admitted "that there were instances where people signed
the petition who were not supposed to or who did so incorrectly,"
Gregory Wilpert recently reported. But the company maintains that
although the invalid signatures number around 265,000, there are
still some 3.2 million valid signatures, "which would be
more than enough for a presidential recall referendum, which requires
over 2.4 million signatures (20 percent of the registered electorate).
In early March, the national elections
council (CNE) said only 1.8 million signatures had been verified,
which fell some 500,000 short of the needed number for the recall.
According to BBC News, the opposition could "still reach"
the target because the council will "publish lists of the
disputed signatures and set up posts where people who find themselves
on these listings can go and validate their entry." The opposition
however, declared it would "not accept the electoral commission's
plans for voters to confirm their signatures, complaining this
was not included in the initial rules for the referendum."
According to Wilpert, international observers from the Carter
Center, and the OAS will judge whether the CNE is doing an evenhanded
job. If the CNE changes its ruling, Chavez could appeal it to
the Supreme Court, thus delaying the recall election until after
August which would then allow Chavez's vice president to succeed
him should the election be held and he is defeated.
In President Bush's 2004 State of the
Union address, he pledged to double the budget of the National
Endowment for Democracy. When former Minnesota Republican Congressperson
Vin Weber, a close ally of then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich,
took over as chair of NED's board in July 2001, he made it clear
that the organization was interested in once again playing a more
muscular role shaping and supporting U.S. foreign policy objectives.
That's exactly what it appears to be doing in Venezuela.
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer regularly
covering conservative movements.