Let’s set the record straight once and for all. There is no need to keep kidding ourselves into thinking that our U.S. taxpayer dollars are being used by this little known entity, the National Endowment for Democracy, to truly “promote democracy abroad”, as its mission proclaims. Since its founding in 1983 via Congressional legislation, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has come under severe criticism and scrutiny from Republicans, Democrats, and other concerned citizens, for its clear roots in Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) activities and its misdirected motives. And now, the NED is once again at the forefront of controversy and inquiry but this time in one of the Bush Administration’s latest areas of “focus,” the hemisphere’s largest oil-exporting nation, Venezuela.
On Thursday, July 7, 2005, a Venezuelan Judge determined the Federal Prosecutor had presented sufficient evidence to allow a case against four members of the opposition organization Súmate to proceed on its merits. The case against the two Súmate directors, Maria Corina Machado and Alejandro Plaz, and their accomplices, Ricardo Estévez and Luis Enrique Palacios, is based on the organization’s use of a $53,400 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy to “conspire against the government”. Súmate was co-founded in late 2002 by opposition activist Maria Corina Machado, a signer of the famous “Carmona Decree,” the mandate implemented during the April 2002 coup d’etat against President Hugo Chávez by “dictator for a day” Pedro Carmona that dissolved Venezuela’s judiciary, congress, constitution and all public powers. The organization’s initial mission was to “promote a recall referendum against President Chávez” based on Article 72 of Venezuela’s Constitution that permits recall referendums on any public official’s mandate after the midway point of the functionary’s term has been reached, hardly an apolitical objective.
Yet Súmate and its directive were prime players in the debilitating oil industry sabotage and strike that caused the nation billions of dollars in damages and set back oil production for almost a year. And at the tail end of the strike in early 2003, Súmate still couldn’t play by the rules. Instead of waiting for President Chávez to reach the midway point of his presidential term, in August 2003, the organization demanded a “consultative referendum” on the President’s mandate in February 2003, and protested to the international community (read “USA”) when it didn’t get its way despite the fact that its request was unconstitutional.
In September 2003, Súmate entered into a contract with the National Endowment for Democracy for a $53,400 grant destined to implement a program of non-partisan “elections education.” Yet the goal of the program itself, to “promote a recall referendum against President Chávez” and the language used to justify the grant, claiming “…Chávez’s revolutionary rhetoric, public disregard for democratic processes and institutions and vitriolic attacks on his opponents, escalated political and social tensions and hardened the opposition,” was clearly anti-Chávez. The concept of promoting a recall referendum against the President, though within the constitutional rights of all Venezuelans, is inherently a partisan act. Súmate was not pretending to educate or work with all Venezuelans on elections in general, but rather was specifically “promoting” and campaigning for a referendum against President Chávez, with the goal of prematurely terminating his mandate. And that is precisely what the organization worked towards, utilizing the funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, along with additional and larger grants from the United States Agency for International Development (“USAID”) and funds from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, both entities financed by NED and USAID. Day after day during a period of almost a year, Súmate launched an aggressive and manipulative campaign against President Chávez in the mass media, aided in intimidating voters by threatening job loss for failure to sign petitions in favor of the referendum and later engaged in mass fraud during and after the referendum was over. In fact, to this day, Súmate continues to promote a thesis of fraud regarding the recall referendum last August 15, 2004, which ratified President Chávez’s mandate with more than 60% of the vote – certified as transparent and legitimate by the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the U.S. Department of State.
Súmate continues to engage in an antagonistic campaign against the Venezuelan Government and its democratic institutions, including the National Elections Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral - CNE), responsible for conducting all electoral processes. Súmate, along with other opposition political parties, is now promoting a thesis of abstention and lack of confidence in the CNE and the upcoming congressional elections in Venezuela, hardly a position that encourages “participation in the electoral process”, or “elections education” and clearly not apolitical. In fact, Súmate has been deemed a political party by many analysts and spokespersons for the Venezuelan government.
Curiously, Súmate has also received an unprecedented and almost inexplicable level of support from the U.S. Government, and not just financial support, but rather political support on a very public and international level. In November 2004, after an initial court date had been set for the case against the Súmate directors, NED President Carl Gershman, accompanied by Latin America Program Director Chris Sabatini, made a historic visit to Venezuela with the objective of convincing the government to drop the case. Gershman met separately with then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ivan Rincon and Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, threatening both functionaries that if the case were to proceed against the Súmate members, relations between the two nations would worsen and a World Bank grant to Venezuela’s Supreme Court for a judicial reform program would be cut. Days afterward, Gershman came through on his promises. The NED, surely with the powerful aid of its boss, the Department of State, had pulled its strings with the World Bank and cut the funding to Venezuela’s judiciary, and just twenty-four hours after Gershman returned to U.S. soil, a well-crafted letter from “70 respected international democrats,” all either board members of the NED or beneficiaries of NED-related programs, was released from NED’s public relations office, condemning the case against Súmate and accusing the Venezuelan Government of political persecution and violation of democratic principles. And before Gershman parted from Venezuela, he revealingly declared to the press, in a fit of anger perhaps for not getting his way, that “Venezuela is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship but rather something in between.” Clearly such a statement evidences NED’s opposition to Venezuela’s democratic government.
Just last month, Súmate director and defendant Maria Corina Machado received a surprise invitation to meet with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. Ms. Machado appeared in a fantastical photograph holding hands with President Bush in the Oval Office, smiling from ear to ear. Upon her exit from the momentous visit, Machado gave a press conference on the White House lawn, a place fit for prime ministers, presidents and high-level officials. She was the first Venezuelan during the Bush presidency to be invited and received in the White House, not a single member of the Chávez Government has received a similar invitation. On the contrary, the Bush Administration has participated in and supported a coup d’etat against President Chávez in 2002, a vicious oil industry sabotage that caused almost irreparable damages and an ongoing destabilization campaign, including an international media war intended to discredit the Venezuelan leader, that has polarized Venezuela and fomented violence, conflict and animosity.
Yet Súmate and its members have received the royal treatment from the U.S. Government – democrats and republicans alike. Just recently, during a visit of several U.S. Congress members to Venezuela, it was declared that Súmate would receive “even more financing” from the NED and USAID. The day after the court decided to allow the case against Súmate to proceed on its merits, Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State issued a press release entitled “Súmate Trial Decision,” expressing the U.S. Government’s “disappointment” in the judge’s decision to try the Súmate leaders and alleging the Venezuelan Government engages in “political persecution and continued threats to democratic rights and institutions.” Once again, the U.S. Government failed to recognize that Venezuela too cherishes the doctrine of separation of powers. The case against Súmate now falls within the judicial power – and the prosecutor’s office that is bringing the case falls within the moral power, a branch nonexistent in the U.S. Venezuela has five independent branches of government: executive, legislative, judicial, electoral and moral – neither controls nor influences the other. The U.S. Government has consistently attempted to pressure the Venezuelan executive into acting on the Súmate case, disrespecting outright the independent and separate nature of Venezuela’s political system and trying to dominate and intimidate the Venezuelan Government.
So why is the U.S. Government so afraid of the case against Súmate? Most likely because the case exposes the nefarious and deceitful nature of the National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. Government facades for civil society intervention. The NED is a U.S. Government agency, though often referred to as “quasi-governmental” because it insists on its status as “private,” despite the fact that 99% of its funding comes from Congress (tax money) and it was established through Congressional legislation in 1983. The NED is also required to report to Congress annually on its activities and exercises its functions under direct supervision of the Department of State. In fact, each NED representative in the more than 75 nations where the organization operates is stationed usually in the U.S. Embassy, working under the supervision of the U.S. Ambassador.
In early 2001, NED quadrupled its financing to groups in Venezuela and increased the amount of grants it was dispensing, funding new social organizations and political parties that had emerged within the growing opposition to President Chávez. NED spokespersons have not denied the fact that all of the entities it finances in Venezuela fall within the anti-Chávez spectrum. Furthermore, after the April 2002 failed coup against President Chávez, the NED received a special $1 million grant from the Department of State for its work in Venezuela. Instead of cutting funding to those groups that had participated in the illegal coup that briefly deposed Venezuela’s legitimate government, the NED actually increased such funding, rewarding those very same groups that had wrecked havoc on Venezuela’s democracy.
The NED has been engaging in ongoing efforts to strengthen organizations and political parties working to overthrow the Chávez administration or eventually oust the President from power through electoral processes. Its work consistently undermines the objectives and missions of the Venezuelan people and their Government by funneling millions into groups working against the wishes of the majority and providing and resources aimed at building a solid opposition party capable of challenging the Venezuelan Government. While it is perfectly legitimate in democratic nations for diverse political parties and groups to co-exist, such efforts should never be funded by foreign governments, especially those governments with major self-interests in the nation and contrasting political positions.
The NED is one of the U.S. Government’s most powerful tools to discretely and subtly promote its interests abroad and penetrate civil societies with the objective of influencing the internal affairs of nations to placate U.S. needs. Ethiopia recently expelled the NED and USAID and their affiliates, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and IFES for “meddling in domestic electoral affairs” (see The Daily Monitor, April 1, 2005, Addis Abba, Ethiopia). And in May, 2005, Russia’s security chief, accused the U.S. Government of “using non-governmental organizations that promote democracy to spy on Russia and bring about political upheaval in former Soviet republics”, referring specifically to the NED and USAID-funded International Republic Institute (see The Guardian).
The NED and USAID played key roles in recent elections in the Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and other Eastern European nations that all resulted in outcomes favorable to U.S. interests. In Venezuela, the case against Súmate is exposing the NED’s dirty work and threatening its ongoing existence and success around the world, which is why it has provoked the involvement of the highest levels of the U.S. Government. This case may very well turn out to be the death of the National Endowment for Democracy, or at least the start of its slow descent into oblivion.**For more information about the National Endowment for Democracy and its violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty using U.S. taxpayer dollars, read “The Chávez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela” by Eva Golinger, available on www.venezuelafoia.info/codigo.html. Versions available in English and Spanish.