The Revolution Will Not Be Destabilized: Canada’s “Democracy Promotion” in Venezuela

Part of the
'hidden wiring' of the US-Canada relationship is premised on the belief that
there is a role for Canada in places where the US carries a lot of
counter-productive baggage. New records obtained by The Dominion show just how
actively intertwined Canada's foreign policy is with the US-led 'democracy'
promotion project in Venezuela.

By Anthony Fenton – The Dominion

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Documents obtained by The Dominion show Canada's involvement in democracy promotion in Venezuela.
Documents obtained by The Dominion show Canada's involvement in democracy promotion in Venezuela.
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Canada's foreign
policy, as that country which is closer geographically, economically, and
militarily with the US than any other, has long been circumscribed by the whims
of the world's lone Superpower.

Part of the
'hidden wiring' of the US-Canada relationship is premised on the belief that
there is a role for Canada in places where the US carries a lot of
counter-productive baggage. New records obtained by The Dominion show just how
actively intertwined Canada's foreign policy is with the US-led 'democracy'
promotion project in Venezuela.

Successive
Canadian governments, beginning with Paul Martin's Liberals and increasing
under Harper's Tory minorities, have pushed full steam ahead with efforts to
expand Canada's democracy promotion efforts globally. Canadian leadership in
the regime change and military occupation of Haiti (2004-present) gave rise to
a renewed emphasis on the region as an emerging regional power, which carries
on under Harper.

Democracy
promotion is seldom discussed in the Canadian public sphere, even while it has
been the subject of a multitude of federal level conferences, reports, and
parliamentary hearings over the last five years. Over that same time, Canada
has increasingly been integrating its instruments of democracy promotion with
those of the US.

During his
presidential campaign, Barack Obama quietly pledged to increase funding for the
controversial National Endowment for Democracy (NED), despite scaling back the
rhetoric used to describe continuing US aims to promote global, Western-style
democracy. Obama has already fulfilled this pledge.

His Omnibus
Appropriations Act allocates $115 million for NED's operations, increasing by
$35 million the amount requested by Bush for 2009. All told, the requested 2009
budget for US democracy programs is the highest ever at $1.72 billion. By
contrast, Canada spent upwards of $650 million on democracy promotion in 2008.

The NED was
formed in 1983 as a new tool to advance US foreign policy and business
interests around the world. Nominally independent, NED receives the majority of
its budget from Congress, and each of its grants must be approved by the US
State Department.

"One of the
NED's first major successes...was helping to overthrow the Sandinista
government in Nicaragua," writes journalist Bart Jones in his authoritative
biography of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. According to Jones, a couple of
decades later "the NED was rapidly infiltrating [Venezuelan] society in a way
reminiscent of the Nicaragua experience." Channelling money and resources to
opposition NGOs has been a prime strategy of the NED in Venezuela.

Following a
short-lived coup d'etat against Chavez in April 2002, Venezuelan-American
attorney Eva Golinger and investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood obtained a
treasure trove of documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
These documents, released in conjunction with Golinger's 2004 book, The Chavez
Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, exposed NED's active role in the
attempted subversion of Venezuela's democracy.

One of several
Canadian NGOs whose activities are complementary to those of the NED is the
Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL). Established by the Mulroney
government in the 1990's, FOCAL is almost entirely dependent on government
funding and is accountable to Parliament.

A 2004
evaluation of FOCAL conducted by Department of Foreign Affairs and
International Trade Canada (DFAIT) and Canadian International Development
Agency (CIDA) wrote:

Stakeholders
from every sector and from the academic community in particular, indicated that
FOCAL is already perceived as 'the right arm of the government,' echoing the
perspective and beliefs of its funding bodies, rather than a truly independent,
non-governmental organization.

"The US has
been using Canadian and European foundations more frequently in recent years to
filter funding to Venezuelan and other NGOs and political parties that promote
their mutual interests," said Golinger, whose most recent book is The
Imperial Web: Encyclopedia of Interference and Subversion. "It's a way of
covering up US meddling and making the sources of foreign funding for political
objectives more difficult to detect. Canada has been a major ally of the US in
this respect, particularly in the case of Venezuela."

Negative
perceptions of the US indicate the necessity of "shifting responsibility for
the [democracy] campaign to more local actors or other Western allies," wrote
Raymond Gastil, one of the theoreticians behind the US shift to democracy
promotion, in 1988.

Although far
from the first such instance, Canada began to take on such "responsibility"
towards Venezuela in January 2005. DFAIT invited the head of a key opposition
group in Venezuela, Sumate's Maria Corina Machado, to meet Ottawa lawmakers and
officials, as well as to give a briefing on political rights in Venezuela.

Machado openly
supported the 2002 coup against Chavez. In 2004, she was charged with
conspiracy to commit treason for allegedly using NED funds to campaign against
Chavez in a recall referendum organized by the opposition.

According to
records obtained by The Dominion through Access to Information request FOCAL's
chairman John Graham joined Machado in Washington, D.C. for a high level
meeting in 2005. In attendance were former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice
and Roger Noriega. "An exchange of ideas as regards the relationships between
the civil society and the governments for the strengthening of democracy in the
region," was the stated purpose of the meeting.

Shortly after
Graham's meeting with Rice and Machado, the NED approved a $94,516 grant for
FOCAL to carry out democracy promotion work in and around Venezuela.

Using the NED
funds, FOCAL was to commission a series of papers and organize a number of
meetings in Ottawa, Venezuela and Ecuador "to discuss how to better
collaborate in promoting an informed civil society that can strengthen democracy
in the region."

But after
Stephen Harper's Conservatives took power in early 2006, FOCAL abruptly
cancelled the activities that were supposed to take place in Venezuela.

"After
discussing this project with various people...[we] came to the conclusion that
it was not in anybody's interests to organize such an activity while being
financially associated with the NED," reads a heavily-censored memo sent by
DFAIT official Flavie Major in July of 2006.

"[S]ince
the project was originally drafted the internal context in Venezuela has
shifted, as has the domestic context in Canada, which could potentially alter
the priority and focus of Canada's engagement in Venezuela," indicates a
separate document obtained through a US FOIA request.

An example of
the changing political context in Venezuela is the 2006 draft Law on
International Cooperation, which was to have limited the ability of local NGOs
to receive funding from foreign governments. Although the law has yet to be
enacted, Western-backed NGOs and their donors have launched a campaign to "push
back" against what they describe as a "backlash" against democracy promoters in
the region.

By late 2006,
the Conservatives proclaimed that democracy promotion was a "fundamental part"
of Canadian foreign policy objectives, and "an eminently worthy and
intrinsically Canadian endeavour." One indication of the Conservative's
commitment was through the appointment of a former NED board member as a top
advisor to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

In late 2007,
the Canadian government gave the NED $198,168 to produce a major report, titled
"Defending Civil Society: A Report of the World Movement for
Democracy." The report attacks Venezuela for its efforts to limit Western-funded
manipulation of its internal politics:

Venezuela's
would-be caudillo Hugo Chavez has a peculiar notion of democracy. His
‘Bolivarian revolution' appears to be based on Chavista [sic] monopolizing the
country's political institutions, from an absence of parliamentary opposition
to a hand-picked judiciary. In these circumstances...civil society provides the
only countervailing power to the Chavista state and to Chavez's Castroite
aspirations.

DFAIT seems to
have based their own talking points on Venezuela around the NED's line.
"Hugo Chavez has a history of weakening democratic institutions. Minister
Kent is committed to furthering the Government's Americas strategy which is
dedicated to promoting and enhancing democracy, freedom and the rule of law,"
wrote a spokesperson for Canadian Minister of State for Latin America, Peter
Kent, in an e-mail statement to The Dominion.

"Hugo
Chavez has a history of concentrating power in the Executive which has
undermined democratic institutions in Venezuela. Since taking office a decade
ago, we've seen the politicization of the judiciary and harassment by
government officials of the state controlled media and NGOs," wrote Kent's
spokesperson when asked to substantiate her claim about Chavez' anti-democratic
tendencies.

One of the ways
that Canada has tried to avoid drawing attention to its support for the
Venezuelan opposition and collaboration with the NED is by carrying out
activities outside of Venezuela and coordinating them through embassies.
Indeed, such methods have a theoretical basis that Canada helped design.

In conjunction
with the NED-linked Council for a Community of Democracies and the US State
Department, DFAIT contributed $70,000 in financing to the publication of A
Diplomat's Handbook for Democracy Development Support, in April 2008.

Canada has one
of the few foreign services that train its diplomats in democracy promotion.
The US Foreign Service Institute has already ordered at least 400 copies of the
Handbook, which aims to provide diplomats with "encouragement, counsel, and a
greater capacity to support democrats everywhere."

"We have over
many, many years and will continue to work with the United States in this
regard in advancing our common goals, certainly to the benefit of both
countries and to the benefit of the world in general," Canada's Consul-General
in New York, Dan Sullivan, said during a launch event for the Handbook in early
2008.

One example of
the Handbook in action is Canada's funding of the Venezuelan NGO Justice and
Development Consortium (Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia). This
group, which also receives funding from the NED, has made a name for itself by
working to unite reactionary opposition movements throughout Latin America.

In November
2007, DFAIT gave the Justice and Development Consortium $94,580 "to
consolidate and expand the democracy network in Latin America and the
Caribbean" at an assembly held in Panama City in the spring of 2008. This
meeting, co-hosted by the Canadian Embassy in Panama and the NED, attracted
prominent members of (often NED funded) opposition movements in Venezuela,
Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador. It was convened in response to "the usher[ing]
in [of] a new era of populism and authoritarianism in Latin America."

Flying in the
face of the North American read of Venezuelan democracy is the latest report by
the non-partisan Chilean Latinobarometro, which shows that 79 per cent of
Venezuelans polled are satisfied with their democracy.

"Venezuela
has a poor image in the rest of the world... but the perception of Venezuelans
is positive," states the report. "They say they like their democracy as it is
now or, at least, much more than the citizens of other countries like their
democracies which, by contrast, are not criticized by the outside world for
lack of freedom and harassment of institutions."

Colombia, Peru,
Mexico, and Chile are considered Canada's strongest allies in the region, and
are also countries where people's support for their government tends to be
lower than it is in Venezuela. The subversion of Venezuelan democracy and the
laissez faire attitude towards the regimes of Felipe Caldéron in Mexico, Alan
Garcia in Peru and Álvaro Uribe in Colombia demonstrates that building popular
democracies is not the sought after end result of democracy promotion
activities.

The governments
of Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Chile have already entered into Free-Trade deals
with Canada, and each receives high levels of Canadian outward foreign direct
investment, particularly in the extractive sector.

Canadian trade
with Venezuela is second only to trade with Brazil in South and Central
America. Venezuela is the tenth-largest provider of Canada's considerable
foreign oil needs. In 2008, Canada imported $1.36 billion worth of Venezuelan
crude. The North Atlantic Refinery in Newfoundland, home of Premier Danny "Chavez"
Williams, refines the oil.


Anthony Fenton
is an independent researcher and journalist based in British Columbia, who has
traveled to Venezuela several times. Some material in this article is drawn
from a forthcoming book on Canadian foreign policy. He can be reached at
fentona[at]shaw.ca.