Washington-based NGO Freedom House made headlines recently with its 2017 “Freedom in the World” report that downgraded Venezuela to the dreaded category of “Not Free”.
“Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s combination of strong-arm rule and dire economic mismanagement pushed his country to a status of Not Free for the first time in 2016,” the organization warned.
In particular, Freedom House justified its move claiming that the Maduro government allegedly “responded to an opposition victory in recent legislative elections by stripping the legislature of meaningful power and blocking a presidential recall referendum, effectively cutting off the only route to an orderly change of leadership.”
For the moment, let’s bracket the well-documented evidence that the recall referendum was sabotaged by the Venezuelan opposition’s own internecine divisions (including 53,658 illegitimate signatures) and that the opposition-controlled parliament has shown more interest in ousting Maduro via constitutionally dubious means than in actually governing the country.
What we find buried in Freedom House’s statement is an extremely important, if inconvenient acknowledgement: Venezuela held elections in December 2015, which were overwhelmingly won by the opposition, yet the Maduro “regime” immediately recognized the results.
However, recognizing the outcome of free and fair elections is apparently not enough for Freedom House.
Or perhaps these stringent standards only apply to certain countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. These left-wing governments are the only democratic “problem children” deserving of rebuke in the eyes of the NGO.
Yet strangely missing from the report’s list of “trend arrows” for 2017 is Brazil.
The NGO seems largely unconcerned about the parliamentary coup that ousted elected center-left Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, which in no way altered the country’s ranking as “free” with a high score of 79 out of 100.
“However history may judge the impeachment itself, the process impeded government functions by absorbing executive and legislative attention for months, and it did little to resolve a broader corruption crisis,” reads the report’s description of the likely US-backed regime change operation.
Indeed, Freedom House is silent regarding the Temer regime’s criminalization of social movements and its 20-year freezing of social spending, which has been widely decried as a declaration of war on the poor.
Interestingly, both Honduras (46) and Haiti (39) are likewise ranked higher than Venezuela (30), despite widespread allegations of corruption, electoral fraud, and grave human rights violations under both the Hernández and Martelly-Privert governments.
Of course, Freedom House’s glaring double standards make perfect sense when you consider that the “independent watchdog organization” is itself financed via “grants from USAID [US Agency for International Development] and U.S. State Department”.
In other words, behind its seemingly complex methodology, the NGO is little more than a US government front that annually decides which non-Western countries should be banished to the sub-ontological hell of the “Not Free” based entirely on US geopolitical interests.
Temer, Martelly, and Hernández are, after all, close US allies, while Venezuela and other leftist Latin American governments have long been targeted for regime change by Washington.
Most recently, the outgoing Obama administration renewed for the second time an executive order labeling Venezuela an "unusual and extraordinary threat" to US national security. Organizations like Freedom House are hardly indifferent to such moves by their financial benefactor.
Moreover, Freedom House is far from a passive recipient of US funding, but is itself an important player in USAID-financed “democracy promotion” projects across the region. Between 2012 and 2015, the NGO received $2,160,000 in USAID grants for its activities in Venezuela alone, as revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request.
Leaked US State Department cables spell out what “democracy promotion” means in practice. In a 2006 cable, then US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the USAID agenda in the country:
The strategy's focus is: 1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez' Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.
In another cable from 2009 concerning violent anti-government protests held that year, a USAID contractor admitted, “all these people (organizing the protests) are our grantees.”
Freedom House Latin America Regional Director Carlos Ponce is himself no stranger to this world of Washington-backed “democracy promotion”.
Ponce is the former president of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy Inc., which in 2015 received $115,000 from the National Endowment for Democracy, another US entity with a pernicious record of financing regime change operations in Venezuela and across the continent. The Venezuelan national previously worked as a consultant for the private military contractor DynCorp in addition to serving as CEO of the shadowy Massachusetts-based CIAF International, which claims to provide “environmental, social, political, regulatory and economic technical assistance to at least 25 national and international nonprofits, government agencies and private companies throughout the Americas,” despite absolutely no information being available online.
All in all, Freedom House is poorly placed to objectively assess the state of freedom and democracy in Venezuela, or anywhere else for that matter, given that it is funded by the greatest purveyor of coups against democratically elected governments worldwide.
The NGO should instead consider taking its “democracy promotion” agenda back home where mass deportations, systemic police killings, wholesale voter disenfranchisement, and trickle up bank bailouts have cast large swaths of the US population among the “Not Free”.