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2004-03-04

Hugo Chavez Accuses U.S. of Spending Over $1 Million To Help Oust Him

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Newly publicized documents show how the National Endowment for Democracy has given over $1 million in projects related to an anti-Chavez referendum and opposition groups. [includes transcript]

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is accusing the United States of spending over $1 million in helping his opponents attempt to oust him from power.

In a recent speech Chavez said "The government of Washington is using the money of its people to support–not only opposition activities–but acts of conspiracy."

Chavez cited recently made public documents that detail how the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy has backed anti-Chavez projects and recall referendums in Venezuela. The documents were obtained by investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood through the Freedom of Information Act and have been posted on the site venezuelafoia.info run by the Venezuelan Solidarity Committee.

According to the Miami Herald all of the money is going to opposition groups determined to unseat Chavez.

One recipient was Sumate which organized the recall petition against Chavez. Documents show Sumate received just over $50,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is a private agency funded entirely by the U.S. government.

The State Department issued a statement two weeks categorically denying Chavez’s accusations. The U.S. government has also denied it played a role in the 2002 coup.

In the summer of 2002, the State Department’s Inspector General’s office also released a report that determined the National Endowment for Democracy or the U.S. government did not nothing to encourage the coup.

But the report did state the NED, the Pentagon and other US assistance programs "provided training, institution building and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved in the brief ouster of the Chavez government."

In Venezuela, the National Endowment for Democracy tripled its funding from about $250,000 to nearly $900,000 between 2000 and 2001 as opposition to Chavez intensified.

  • Eva Golinger, founder of the new website venezuelafoia.info that has posted documents connecting the National Endowment for Democracy to the Venezuelan opposition movement.
  • Chris Sabatini, senior program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy for Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Greg Wilpert, independent journalist in Venezuela who writes for the website venezuelanalysis.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re joined by a spokesperson for The National Endowment for Democracy, Chris Sabatini, a senior program officer there for Latin America and the Caribbean. We are also joined by Eva Golinger of The Venezuela Solidarity Committee running a new website venezuelafoia.info. You have posted Eva Golinger, N.E.D. documents that were recently made public. What do they say?

EVA GOLINGER: Yes, I have been working with investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood to uncover and declassify these documents. Basically to date, we have received hundreds and hundreds of documents from The National Endowment for Democracy that evidence an intricate and meticulous pattern of financing to the Venezuelan opposition that basically is penetrating all sectors of Venezuelan society. From the agricultural sector, to the education, to the legal, to the police and military, and also strengthening political parties, which seems to be one of the main agenda items of The National Endowment for Democracy. In April of 2002, right after the coup, the state department issued an additional special fund of a million dollars to The National Endowment for Democracy. Just for the use of Venezuela related projects. All of this money was dispensed to opposition groups. There’s actually no way for The National Endowment for Democracy to deny that all the funds were given and distributed to groups that participated in the coup, in the oil industry sabotage, and in the continued destabilization campaign against President Chavez. It’s evidenced in the documents themselves.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re joined on the phone by Chris Sabatini, a senior program officer at The National Endowment for Democracy. Your response.

CHRIS SABATINI: First of all, just a correction, these weren’t classified documents, Eva just said they were declassified, these are public documents. Mr. Chavez and people have been waving them around as if somehow these are secret documents. They’re not. They’re totally public and they just detail our grant relationship with a number of groups inside Venezuela, and it’s a complete misnomer to call them declassified documents because they were never secret nor classified. Second, we do maintain a grant program in Venezuela, and we have been working with a number of groups that are supporting human rights, and constitutional rights, and just one thing that’s mentionable, is a group of Venezuelan congressmen came up last week to request the U.S congress to investigate the N.E.D.'s activities and they were ridiculed by staffers on the hill. One of the documents they brought up was supposedly detailing according to them this sinister pattern of intervention. One of the things they mentioned was a grant to international human rights groups, with and I quote, "The alleged purpose of preparing and defending human rights cases in the Inter-American system." I just would like to know what's so sinister about defending human rights in the Inter-American system or under the international convention that they seem to think is so evil.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well Mr. Sabatini, I would agree with you that funding human rights monitoring activity is a perfectly desirable goal, but the question would be is it true that all of the funding has been going to opposition groups? Because if so, it would seem that The National Endowment for Democracy is in essence supporting particular political viewpoints in Venezuela, not simply pressing for greater democratic involvement.

CHRIS SABATINI: There are two answers to the question. First is most of the money is to partially support projects of proposals that we receive from groups that are seeking to promote and defend democratic processes and rights. We make those grants irrespective of their partisan or political affiliation or belief. The second is that there is a structural issue here, and that we respond to proposals that we receive from groups. We obviously cannot force groups to take money. They send those proposals and I have met with pro-Chavez groups, I have encouraged them to submit proposals, and they simply have not. There’s a de facto issue here, in their solicitation of grants.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined on the phone in Caracas by Greg Wilford, who is an independent journalist. I’m wondering what the response is there to the publicizing of these documents now. About where the N.E.D. is spending its money.

GREG WILPERT: People have been quite upset here, especially people on the side that supports the government. They feel like the opposition is receiving funds from the U.S., obviously, and there have been some protests at the U.S. Embassy here and actually there was a major demonstration that was organized last Sunday by Chavez forces, which was one of the largest demonstrations in a long time, and it was basically a demonstration against U.S. intervention in Venezuela, it was one of the largest that I have seen since I have been here.

AMY GOODMAN: I remember seeing a sign of recent protests of an anti-Chavez demonstrator. He had a sign that said something like, "Aristide is out, Mr. Chavez, you are next."

GREG WILPERT: Yes. Actually, there are people on the opposition, clearly, who want the U.S. To be more involved. They want the U.S. Government to help them getting rid of Chavez. So, there’s clearly a dichotomy here between the two forces as to whether or not people want U.S. Involvement. But I think actually, a large part of the opposition is embarrassed by the support they have received from the U.S. Government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Eva, I saw you shaking your head a minute ago when Chris Sabitini was talking. Was there something that you wanted to say?

EVA GOLINGER: I wanted to point out that the involvement for The National Endowment for Democracy goes far beyond just an encouraging of groups to apply for grants. In fact if you take a look at the documents available on the website, you will see that almost every single grant was written by the same person. The language is all identical. It talks about how Chavez is anti-democratic and how the basic purpose of these grants and what these parties and organizations are going to do with them is to somehow remove him from office or use them to implement democracy in Venezuela. So I think what would be interesting would be for Mr. Sabatini to explain how it is that all of the grants are written in the same way, and seem to have been written by the same person, who is fluent in the English language.

CHRIS SABATINI: Well, I would be happy to answer. First of all, I never thought I would say this, but I encourage anyone to please look at the website. You will find that the truth is something far less sinister than Eva is trying to make you believe. In the grant documents, in trip memos, and in e-mails our overwhelming concern in the case of Venezuela is the level of political polarization that can result in violence. That’s not a partisan issue, but it’s problems about the overall deterioration of democratic institutions over time in Venezuela, even before president Chavez was elected and it has worsened and has to do with the level of polarization on both sides. Those sentiments are expressed very clearly in the documents that are on the website. Second of all, the grant documents that she refers to are actually legal documents that we present to the board for their approval and serve as the overall… It’s actually quite a boring issue. So what we do is when we receive grants, they’re often in Spanish, and we write them up so they can be presented to the board, which is a bipartisan board that includes Congressman Meeks, it includes a number of democratic congressmen, and retired democratic administration officials, so they can understand, because they don’t speak Spanish. What you are looking at there when you look at a grand document is an English language legal document that we’re presenting to our board.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’m sure that you would agree Mr. Sabatini that in terms of the press in Venezuela, while there may be some who criticize the Chavez government and its methods, the press in Venezuela has been remarkably robust and very oppositional to the government. Is there any concern in The National Endowment for Democracy that basically as you say has polarized society, most of the press with the exception of the government-owned station is basically utilizing its free press status to bash the government on a daily basis?

CHRIS SABATINI: That is a concern. After the coup of April, 2002, one of our grantees, the institute Demencia de Sociedad, organized a meeting where they brought in people from Colombia, people from Argentina, people from Peru to talk not just about freedom of expression and protection of journalists’ rights but also to talk about professionalization of the media. There is no doubt that when you go there and read the media that they have contributed to the polarization in Venezuela in very, very troubling ways. This group Demencia de Sociedad, has defended the rights of anti-Chavez people, the mainstream media journalists who have been attacked and received threats as well as pro-Chavez media. They issue an annual report on attacks and threats against journalists and attacks against freedom expression, and it includes attacks across the spectrum. There really needs to be, and that’s what the grants have been trying to do, is create some central base where these issues can be discussed seriously, irrespective of partisan concerns.

AMY GOODMAN: Eva Golinger.

EVA GOLINGER: Well, I think the important issue here is that these more than $1 million dollars of financing have gone in the past couple years, and when you talk about political polarization, I would question whether or not there would be such an extensive political polarization if they weren’t so heavily financed by The National Endowment for Democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: I have a question as an American citizen, how it works in this country, if, say, The Democratic Party, the Bush opposition, got $1 million from the Venezuelan government?

CHRIS SABATINI: First of all, we’re not funding political parties. All of our political party support and support to unions is through our core institutes. One of them is The National Democratic Institute, which is related to our Democratic Party. The other one is the International Republican Institute, which is linked to The Republican Party. The unions are through the American Center for International Solidarity.

AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.

CHRIS SABATINI: They conduct programs for political parties. So political parties in Venezuela are not receiving U.S. Taxpayer dollars.

AMY GOODMAN: Opposition, though.

CHRIS SABATINI: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: Opposition, funding the opposition groups that are aligned with the opposition. But I’m going to have to leave it there and we’ll pick it up another day. I want to thank you for being with us, Chris Sabatini of The National Endowment of Democracy and Eva Golinger, of The Organization of venezuelafoia.info, Venezuela Solidarity Committee. That does it for today’s program. Our website to get all of the latest developments on what’s going on in Haiti and Venezuela and other places is democracynow.org, there you can join our daily digest as well.

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