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US refuses to reveal groups receiving funding in Venezuela

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September 27, 2006

US refuses to reveal groups receiving funding in Venezuela

Members of Venezuela's government are calling for full disclosure of US
funding to opposition groups in Venezuela. Documents acquired by the
Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act listed 132
contracts totalling in the millions of dollars, but more than half of the names
and other identifying information had been redacted, rendering the
recipients anonymous.

The programs, which are funded by the National Endowment for Democracy
(NED) and USAID's "Office of Transition Initiatives," are ostensibly
aimed at promoting democracy and human rights.

According to a USAID official, the funding will go to "a wide range of
seminars, educational programs and even public service TV commercials
aimed at promoting dialogue between pro- and anti-Chavez camps. Other
projects include workshops on conflict resolution, efforts to promote
human rights, and training for positive citizen involvement in their

Chavez supporters and some observers claim that funding for "democracy
promotion" is a way to channel funds to political groups that carry out a
political agenda set by the US. Through USAID and NED, the US government
has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to opposition groups and civil society
organizations in hundreds of countries. Notably, the programs have
achieved success in Serbia, Montenegro, Georgia, Haiti and Ukraine, among
others, where US-funded opposition groups have come to power, though not
always through elections.

"Can you imagine the Venezuelan government financing a project in the
US to evaluate the effectiveness of the US Constitution?" asked
journalist Eva Golinger, referring to one US-funded program in Venezuela.
"It's total intervention." The US government was among the first to
recognize a military coup that removed Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's elected
president, and provided funding to many of the groups that backed the coup.
The coup, however, was overturned by popular demonstrations and
diplomatic pressure.

One USAID official said, "We're happy to make known the types of
grants, the kinds of things that we're doing... All we've done is try to
withhold the names of the groups."

For Venezuelan lawmakers, that is not enough. "We want everything to
come out publicly," said congressman Jose Albornoz, "where those funds go
and what they're used for." The Venezuelan Congress has proposed
legislation aimed at cracking down on foreign funding of local organizations,
sparking criticism from some groups.

Kumi Naidoo of CIVICUS, an alliance of non-profit groups based in South
Africa, said the legislation could "endanger the existence of an
independent civil society." He added, however, that the US policy "reeks of
double standards" and is "giving ammunition" to the government, "an
excuse for a . . . broader-based intervention."

The US government has a multi-decade record of opposing democratically
elected governments in Latin America, and favouring military juntas,
dictators like Augusto Pinochet, and paramilitaries with foreign aid,
often in the form of military equipment and training. For example, according to
declassified documents, in 1975, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met
with heads of secret police from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and
Uruguay to co-ordinate "Operation Condor." According to some estimates,
50,000 people were murdered, 30,000 "disappeared" and 400,000 were
incarcerated during the seven-year "anti-communist" crackdown which officially
ended with the fall of the military junta in Argentina in 1983.

By many accounts, the NED is the heir to the CIA covert operations of the Cold War era. Writing in the New York Times, David K. Shipler noted that the NED's funding program "resembles the aid given by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s, 60s and 70s to bolster pro-American political groups." Speaking to the Washington Post, NED founder Allen Weinstein said that "a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."

Dru Oja Jay

» Associated Press: U.S. Aid Stirring Suspicion in Venezuela

» Guardian: US accused of bid to oust Chávez with secret funds

» Associated Press: Chavez allies say Venezuelan recipients of U.S. funding should be public, NGO agrees

» Al-Jazeera: Chavez suspicious of US aid

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