Opinion and Analysis: International
Analysis of Four USAID Contracts with Republican and Democratic Party Foundations in Venezuela
Part 3: below
2. AID/OTI Contract with the International Republican Institute (IRI) to Organize and Train Political Party Poll Watchers to Monitor the Recall Referendum and the Possible Elections Afterwards.
This contract, dated September 15, 2003, resulted from the May 2003 agreement between the government and the opposition to hold a recall referendum and new elections if the opposition won. The value was $284,989 for the period of September 2003 to September 2004, and IRI was obligated to report to OTI on finances and progress every three months.
In the introduction to this 25-page document, OTI recognizes that the activities covered by the contract are “extraordinary” and that “the current political situation in Venezuela is very unique and requires unprecedented coordination.” Therefore “close collaboration and joint participation” of IRI with the OTI representative in the Embassy will be essential for the success of the program. It adds that OTI will be working through several institutions “to accomplish its objective of supporting a peaceful, democratic, and electoral solution to the crisis in Venezuela.” It also adds that “to avoid duplication of efforts among grantees and to navigate in the sensitive political waters in Venezuela,” AID will establish a coordinating committee in Washington. These same paragraphs are found in the three additional contracts that follow below: 3) OTI/IRI; 4) OTI/NDI and 5) another OTI/NDI contract, all of which establish programs related to the referendum and the possible elections afterwards.
According to the project description submitted by IRI’s headquarters in Washington and included in the contract, the IRI office in Caracas agreed to establish an organization and training program for voluntary poll watchers belonging to the different political parties. The need for the project was based on doubts about the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral system: "With controversy and tensions rising, it is clear that proper checks and balances need to be in place for the eventual referendum and possible elections to help ensure the integrity of the vote. Party poll watchers (fiscales) will play a key role in guaranteeing the transparency and integrity of the processes."
It goes on to say, “Key to both ballot security and public confidence in the veracity of the ballot are political party poll watchers. IRI’s experience throughout the region and the world has shown that party representatives at the polling stations are the best check against fraud.”
The contract finances training courses for poll watchers that will be organized by IRI along with “a local non-governmental organization (NGO)” that significantly is not named but has already been “approved by the CTO” of AID/OTI in Washington, Mr. Russell Porter. (The unnamed NGO probably is the anti-Chavez civic organization Súmate, created by NED, that was the major force in promoting the recall vote.) This NGO, according to the contract, will contact all of the Venezuelan political parties to recruit paid volunteers to be trained as trainers of others. The weeklong workshops will instruct about 50 volunteers each. These new volunteer instructors will be assigned to Caracas and the capitals of the states of Zulia, Carabobo, Tachira and Anzoátegui where they will prepare other volunteers who will be assigned to voting stations on the day of the referendum and, if the opposition wins, on the day of the new elections.
The contract requires that the Foreign National Program Coordinator, who will direct the project, and each voluntary trainer receive prior approval of their employment from the CTO of OTI in Washington. Prior approval by the CTO is also necessary for IRI to distribute money under subcontracts with Venezuelan organizations. Additionally the contract requires IRI to submit a report on finances and progress every three months and immediate reports on problems that may affect the project.
The role of the poll watchers in the referendum will be to observe closely the voting procedure in order to discover, identify, and report any irregularity. The system of reporting irregularities is the most interesting part of the contract. Each volunteer will have the duty to report irregularities only to the NGO partner of IRI and not to his/her party or to the electoral authorities. The NGO will transmit the details to IRI in Caracas, which in turn will report, in English, the details witnessed by the volunteers to OTI’s CTO in Washington. The CTO then will have the power to decide what information is to be announced and how, and it will advise the IRI in Caracas in this regard. The IRI, only after approval by the CTO, will permit its partner NGO to notify one of the political parties for publication of the information. Obviously this contract gives total control of the operation to OTI/AID in Washington which, doubtless in coordination with the Department of State, will decide on the use of the information gathered by the network of voluntary observers excluding, if it wishes, the National Electoral Commission.
3. AID/OTI Contract with the International Republican Institute (IRI) to Strengthen Political Parties for the Recall Referendum and the Possible Elections afterwards.
This contract, dated September 15, 2003, is to finance a program of the Caracas IRI office to teach Venezuelan political parties how to organize electoral campaigns. It too resulted from the agreement between the government and the opposition to hold a recall referendum and, if the opposition won, new elections. It provided $450,000 and was valid until September 2004. The contract required that IRI prepare quarterly progress and financial reports for OTI in Washington.
The project description, written by IRI and included in this 26-page document, observes that IRI has had a program in Venezuela since 1999 for the purpose of “strengthening” Venezuelan political parties. Without naming the parties, it says that the participating parties span the “political spectrum." The program is carried out not only in Caracas but also in the states of Zulia, Carabobo and Anzoátegui. The main focus of this already existent program, financed by NED and the State Department, is the development of a system of national surveys, political platforms, and internal democratization of the parties.
The new project covered by this contract, financed by AID/OTI instead of NED, is only dedicated to preparations for the referendum and the possible subsequent elections. The goal is to establish regional workshops with one-week political courses in Caracas, Zulia, Carabobo, Anzoátegui and Táchira in an effort to cover the whole country. Leaders and electoral campaign workers of all parties will be invited to participate, and the courses will have two phases. In the first, the instruction will focus on how to create a “strong party campaign organization, including preparing candidates for debates and public forums, the various stages of campaign development, and strategies to overcome party weaknesses and capitalize on party strengths."
In the second phase the instruction will be focused on political research through preparation and interpretation of surveys and studies of demographic, social and economic statistics in order to “better understand the political environment in which they must function effectively." The contract includes a list of 12 topics that can be included in the courses such as the organization and structure of a campaign; the recruitment and motivation of the campaign’s rank and file personnel; the use of voter registration lists; creating coalitions; development of a campaign schedule; identification and targeting of voter blocks; developing a campaign budget and fund raising; and organizing door to door surveys.
For this project IRI will hire a foreign expert, with previous approval of the CTO in Washington, as Foreign National Program Coordinator for the whole period of the contract throughout the referendum and the electoral campaign if it happens. This person will dedicate all of his/her time to the project working in the IRI office in Caracas and traveling throughout the country and maintaining contacts with political party leaders. IRI will also contract and bring to Venezuela experts in political campaigning from Latin America, Europe and the U.S. to teach the courses and perform follow up tasks after the courses. These are called International Party Training Experts and Advisors, and the hiring of each one also requires prior approval by the CTO in Washington.
In the “Conclusions” to this contract there is a comment that IRI has organized similar political and electoral training courses in other countries such as Guatemala, Peru, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Macedonia.
4. AID/OTI Contract with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to Foment a Coalition Among Political Parties of the Opposition and to Strengthen These Parties
This 32-page contract dated September 24, 2003 and valid until the end of September 2004 allotted $550,000 for an NDI program at its Caracas office in order to “build coalitions and to strengthen political parties." The program also resulted from the May 2003 agreement between the government and the opposition to hold a recall referendum and elections to follow if the recall was successful. The contract required that NDI report to AID/OTI every 3 months on the program’s finances and progress.
The objectives of the program were “to assist political parties in Venezuela to engage in coalition building and become more representative, inclusive, internally democratic, and ethical.” The need for this program is expressed in terms of the collapse of the old political system: “However, new political movements and the traditional political parties, suffering from internal rifts and lacking credibility and funds, have proven ineffective in offering convincing alternatives to Chávez’s leadership.” Thus: “In response NDI would continue to promote internal reform and renewal efforts by the main political parties and movements.”
The description of the program contained in the contract, as written by NDI, begins with comments on the political situation. “The collapse of the party system remains one of the root causes of the political stalemate in Venezuela.” “In recent years Venezuelan society has split over the populist policies and authoritarian leadership of President Hugo Chávez.” “President Hugo Chávez has emerged as one of the most controversial and polarizing leaders in Venezuelan history.” In 1998, “Chávez was swept into power by an electorate deeply disillusioned with the nation’s traditional leaders.” “Once in office, President Chávez quickly moved to consolidate his power by abolishing the Senate, markedly increasing the power of the presidency, suspending public funding of political parties and traditional non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and creating his own set of 'Bolivarian' societal organizations. He pursued controversial land reform measures, politicized the judicial system, and attacked his critics in the media."
The contract continues with a list of proposed activities under this program:
a) Coalition-Building with Opposition Political Parties and Movements. As an example, says the document, NDI is considering an invitation by the President of Costa Rica to organize a strategic meeting of opposition representatives to discuss the formation of a coalition. The program in Venezuela will consist of: consultations to negotiate the formation of a coalition and the development of a common strategy; the design of a plan of communications among the parties; a plan to attract support for the coalition from other groups; the development of a common platform that unites the parties; the design of procedures for decisions about leadership of the coalition and its candidates in future elections; and a plan for the leadership of the coalition after the referendum.
For these consultations NDI will bring experts to Venezuela from its own team and also experts and political “practitioners” experienced in building coalitions in other countries such as Chile, Nicaragua, Poland and the Czech Republic.
b) Promoting Acceptance of the Referendum Process with the Chavez Coalition. “To help affirm support for the referendum within the Chavez government, NDI would seek out reformist elements of President Chávez's party, the MVR, and share lessons learned by practitioners or experts from countries where confidence-building measures were necessary such as: Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Portugal and Spain. These practitioners would underscore the importance of taking pro-active, public steps to remove doubt about President Chávez’s commitment to the process."
c) Building and Renewing Political Parties and Movements. This part of the program will be a continuation of the activities that NDI already has underway and that are financed by NED until September of 2003. They will consist of bringing “international practitioners” to Venezuela to assist political parties in areas such as outreach to “underrepresented” sectors like “youth, women, racial minorities, and the poor; strengthening state and local chapters; ethics and transparency; political negotiation; internal party communication; coalition-building; and relations between political parties and civil society.” The parties named for this program are AD, COPEI, MAS, Primero Justicia, Proyecto Venezuela, and the Chavez party, Movimiento Quinta República.
d) Public Opinion Analysis. In support of these activities with the parties, NDI will establish a new system for surveying public opinion, contracting the Argentine polling firm Romer and Associates with assistance from a Venezuelan firm like Consultores 21.
To carry out this program NDI will hire a National Director for its office in Caracas who has extensive experience with political parties and elections. A Project Assistant will also be hired. These appointments must be previously approved by the CTO of AID-OTI in Washington. The same approval is required for all the practitioners, experts, and advisers that NDI plans to bring to Venezuela from abroad. Finally NDI commits to coordinate the program closely with IRI and with the Carter Center in Atlanta.
5. AID/OTI Contract with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to Guarantee the Credibility of the Referendum and Possible Elections through a Group of Venezuelan NGO’s that will Monitor the Process
The period of this 34-page contract is from September 2003 to September 2004, and like the others that OTI/AID has with IRI and the NDI it followed the May 2003 agreement between the opposition and the government to carry out the referendum that could result in subsequent elections. The total value is $769,487 but NDI is obliged under the contract to seek additional funding from Venezuelan and international sources, which opens the door for the CIA to channel money to this project. The purpose is to establish, finance, train and direct a group of Venezuelan NGOs that will monitor the referendum process before, during and after the voting. The funds will also support this organization for the possible presidential elections in case the opposition wins the referendum, and even further to assure its long-term permanence. The Venezuelan NGOs that the contract mentions as possible participants in the program are Súmate (Join Up), Red de Veedores (Network of Monitors), Mirador Democrático (Democratic Observer), Queremos Elegir (We Want to Choose), and Ciudadanía Activa (Active Citizenry).
With this program NDI hoped to attract to the NGOs participating in this unnamed civic-electoral organization thousands of volunteers for training and assignment to diverse tasks that cover the entire referendum process. The goal is also to overcome a problem: "Venezuelans do not have confidence in the administration of a referendum or electoral process, expecting bias from the elections authorities and other state institutions, including manipulation of the voting and counting processes (on) elections day."
NDI writes in the description of the program that it has carried out similar election monitoring projects in 65 countries over 20 years. In Venezuela it has worked since 1995 “assisting Venezuelan civic groups with electoral reform and election observation initiatives.” It mentions the Escuela de Vecinos de Venezuela (School of Neighbors of Venezuela) and Queremos Elegir as two of its Venezuelan partners. NDI claims that this project’s objective is “to promote citizen confidence and participation in upcoming referendum and electoral processes.”
To carry out this program NDI will hire a Field Representative who will advise participating NGOs “on all the aspects of the program” on a daily basis. The Field Representative will also organize visits and schedules of NDI and foreign experts including Latin American members of an election observation network called El Acuerdo de Lima (The Lima Agreement). As in all AID/OTI contracts, prior approval by the CTO in Washington is necessary for recruiting the Field Representative and all the experts and consultants. Likewise prior approval by the CTO is required for all the subcontracts necessary to give money to the participating Venezuelan NGOs.
In the project description NDI enumerates the steps to take in forming the coalition of NGOs. These include the formation of a board directors of prominent and respected citizens such as civic activists, academics, business leaders and clerics. These should represent the various ethnic, religious, geographical and social sectors of Venezuelan society and give prestige and credibility to the NGO coalition. Another step is an agreement on the procedures for making decisions and choosing of spokespersons, as well as the assignment of such tasks as administration, control of funds, public relations and recruitment. It will also be necessary to make a work plan that includes a tasks time-table and a plan for connecting with government and electoral authorities, political parties, media, the delegations of international monitors, international organizations and the public in general. Finally, it will be necessary to organize a system to collect funds from national and international donors.
The description of the program then details in several pages the tasks to complete during the pre-electoral period and on election day as well as short and long term post-election tasks. Of special interest is the quick count method to calculate the probable results before the official count is completed. This system is based on the selection of voting stations from which probable results can be extrapolated before the official count is available. The purposes of the quick count, according to the document are “1) identify and expose electoral fraud when it occurs or to deter potential fraud from occurring; and 2) raise public confidence in the election results and reduce the potential for post-election conflict.” The uses of the quick count result can include its announcement “to provide an independent check on the official count.”
NDI attaches much importance to the continuance of this coalition of NGOs after its first election-monitoring event, that is to say the recall referendum. It emphasizes that the NGOs should retain the thousands of volunteers throughout the country active and interested between electoral processes through work evaluations, planning, and other civic activities. The contract doesn't say it, but obviously the possibility exists of transforming this civic coalition of NGOs into a political party itself as has happened in other countries.
D. Comments and Conclusions
The contracts analyzed here are only five among dozens agreed upon between U.S. government agencies and Venezuelan organizations of the political opposition, according to the declassified documentation published at http://www.venezuelafoia.info. However they reveal an extraordinary effort at penetration and manipulation of the Venezuelan political process by the Caracas offices of IRI, NDI and DAI under control of the U.S. Embassy and AID and the Department of State in Washington. The role played by the CIA has not been revealed, but one can be sure that the Agency takes part in clandestine funding and other support tasks. There is also a good possibility that the DAI operation in Venezuela is in fact a covert operation of the CIA.
The documents analyzed fail to reveal the criteria applied to decisions about which of the agencies should distribute support to the different activities and beneficiaries, that is, which funds should be channeled through NED and its foundations, which AID/OTI should channel to IRI or the NDI directly, and which funds should be channeled through DAI. In any case, these would be collective decisions made in Washington by the committee representing all of the agencies participating in the intervention, assigning responsibilities and trying to avoid duplications of tasks.
All the analyzed programs have the goal of developing and strengthening the political parties opposed to the Bolivarian Revolution along with several civil, supposedly non-partisan, associations that are in fact also opposed to President Chávez's program. The activities are disguised as support for democracy, but several of the leaders of the recipient organizations signed the Carmona Decree that abolished democracy in Venezuela during the brief and unsuccessful coup of April 2002.
The contracts show disdain for President Chávez and his program, and they blame him for the “crisis” in Venezuela and for the polarization of the country. Likewise, they show distrust in the National Electoral Council, and they underline the necessity to watch over the electoral process closely to discover and denounce fraud. Prominent among the objectives of these programs is the formation of a coalition of opposition parties that is able to attract new members and new voters for the electoral campaigns. Although the contracts examined last one year, or two in the case of the DAI, they can be extended or new contracts can give continuation to the activities while allowing for adjustments demanded by a changing situation.
There is no doubt that these programs will continue as long as the current political process continues in Venezuela, since the United States will never accept the taking of power by popular forces in Latin America. Since the adoption of Project Democracy in 1983, the US has attempted to establish and strengthen, in various countries around the world, pro-US “democracies” controlled by elites who identify with the U.S. political class and who can take advantage of the “bought democracy” that the U.S. seeks to impose. In this way, the U.S. aims to eliminate the danger that a truly democratic government of working people would represent to its interests. Secretary of State Rice underlined these policies on January 18, 2005 in her hostile comments toward Venezuela and Cuba before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs. Two days later President Bush, in the inaugural speech of his second term, reaffirmed the great priority that the U.S. will continue giving to these foreign political interventions. Both of them and others continued during the following months to emphasize the “promotion of democracy” as a fundamental program of the administration. In Latin America, an increase in these programs should be expected in order to counteract the growth in recent years of electoral victories by popular forces.
President Chávez's coalition has two significant advantages working in its favor that the Frente Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s did not have. The first is a growing economy, thanks to oil revenues. This has assured the success of the social programs, the misiones, and the beginning of the redistribution of national income. The other advantage is the absence of an internal guerrilla war that terrorizes and massacres the population while it destroys the economy.
Nevertheless, large quantities of dollars continue to flow to the opposition, and in 2005 and 2006 these funds should increase considerably for the election campaigns. Only a 10% swing is needed in national voting, from the August 2004 referendum, to produce a dead heat between the Chávez coalition and the opposition. One should understand that for the U.S. the 2006 presidential campaign has already begun, and if they achieve a coalition of opposition parties, a kind of “union for national salvation,” it is not inconceivable that a great surprise could occur, as when very similar interventionist activities took place in Nicaragua in 1989/1990.
In the United States, it is a crime to request or to accept foreign funds destined to influence elections, and Venezuela has similar legislation. In 2004, the Venezuelan government reacted to U.S. intervention by initiating criminal proceedings against leaders of Súmate, which had received financing from NDI to promote the recall referendum against Chávez. This action naturally provoked expressions of support for Súmate from the U.S. Ambassador, NED, and members of Congress. But in July of 2005 a judge ruled that the case against the four leaders of Súmate could proceed. (For more information about the Súmate case see http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1500.)
The Venezuelan government always has the option of closing the offices of NDI, IRI and DAI and expelling the U.S. citizens and other foreigners working in these offices. Such an action, although completely justified, without a doubt would cause screams of outrage in Washington, although it would not put an end to the operations. The three offices would probably relocate to Miami where they would continue distributing money to their Venezuelan partners. However, it would make it much more difficult to direct the activities in Venezuela that they finance, and it would require constants trips between Miami and Caracas for meetings. In any event, U.S. interventionist policies to put an end to the Bolivarian Revolution and make possible the return to power of the old oligarchy will not change. They will continue as long as there is a government in Venezuela that gives priority to the interests of the poor, maintains strong relationships with the Cuban Revolution, and promotes regional integration without the United States.
Translated by Dawn Gable
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