Refuting the Deceptive Claims of the National Endowment for Democracy Regarding their Activities in Venezuela

After evidence of US funding for groups opposed to Venezuelan President Chavez was revealed to the public, the National Endowment for Democracy is trying to discredit that evidence.

On April 20, 2004, the Chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy (“NED”), Vin Weber, along with US political heavyweights Madeleine Albright and Senator John McCain, sent a letter to the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (“OAS”), Cesar Gaviria, in an attempt to discredit the recent discovery of the NED’s undemocratic activities in Venezuela. The letter, which included a Memorandum rebutting charges made by Venezuelan Ambassador to the OAS, Jorge Valero, on March 31, 2004 in an OAS Permanent Council meeting, attempted to reinforce the NED’s noble goal of promoting democracy and protection of human rights in the hemisphere.  However, despite the NED’s effort to drape its presence in Venezuela in the realm of democracy, documents recently obtained from the NED through the Freedom of Information Act clearly evidence their integral role in financing and politically supporting undemocratic activities over the past several years in Venezuela.

The NED insists that there exists no connection between their organization and the coup d’etat of April 2002. As support for this claim, the NED cites the U.S. Inspector General’s Office report on the NED’s core grantees and discretionary grant recipients’ respective roles during the April 2002 coup, which concluded that these groups “…were carrying out programs in a manner consistent with NED grant policies and guidelines and were adhering to US laws and policies.” Such a conclusion leads to the question of whether it is NED policy to provide financing and political support to groups that openly and notoriously participated in the April 2002 coup. Despite claims of no relation to the April 2002 coup against President Chávez, the NED’s own documents provide evidence to the contrary. Concrete examples include:

Numerous NED grantees in Venezuela signed the “Carmona Decree” during the brief coup-imposed “government” that dissolved all of Venezuela’s democratic institutions, including the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and Public Defender, and an overwhelming number of laws and constitutional rights implemented during the Chávez Administration. Some of these NED grantees and beneficiaries include: Rocio Guijarra, Director of CEDICE (a present NED grantee); Maria Corina Machado of Súmate (a present NED grantee); Leopoldo López and Leopoldo Martinez (also named Minister of Finances by the coup government) of Primero Justicia, which receives training and support from the International Republican Institute, a direct NED grantee; and Maxim Ross and Domingo Alberto Rangel, both principal Committee Members on a major CIPE-CEDICE project funded by NED, the “Consensus to Build a National Agenda” taking place this year.[i]

The Director of the Asamblea de Educación, Leonardo Carvajal, was named “Minister of Education” by the coup government in April 2002, and he also signed a Civil Society Document recognizing the legitimacy of the coup government on April 12, 2002. Mr. Carvajal’s organization continued to receive direct NED funding through 2003, well after the coup, and he himself received a direct salary from the NED as part of this funding.[ii]

Oscar Garcia Mendoza, Director of NED grantee Asociación Civil Liderazgo y Visión, authored two Official Communications published in national media in Venezuela on April 13, 2004, that not only recognized the legitimacy of the Carmona coup government, but also celebrated its coming to power. This organization continues to receive NED funding to date.[iii]

Other individuals such as Cipriano Heredia of Visión Emergente, Tomás Páez of Red Universitaria and Elías Santana of Alianza Cívica signed the Civil Society Document recognizing the legitimacy of Carmona’s coup government on April 13, 2002 and were recently chosen to spearhead a CIPE-CEDICE project, “Consensus to Build a National Agenda”, funded by the NED.[iv]

NED Core Grantee American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) has worked intimately with the Confederación de Trabajadores (“CTV”), the Venezuelan labor union that was notoriously involved in the preparations and execution of the April 2002 coup d’etat and subsequent destabilization campaign. Its President during that period, Carlos Ortega, is a fugitive from justice in Venezuela who recently was stripped of his political asylum in Costa Rica. The ACILS continues to receive grants in excess of $100,000 annually for its work with the CTV.[v]

The International Republican Institute, one of the NED’s core grantees, issued the following laudatory statement in support of the coup against President Chávez on April 12, 2002, in which they also admit their key role in the coup as the “bridge” between Venezuela’s political parties and civil society to “forge a new democratic future.” Subsequent to this insightful declaration in support of an undemocratic and unconstitutional ouster of a democratically elected President through a violent coup d’etat, the IRI not only has continued to receive approximately $300,000 annually from the NED for its work in Venezuela, but also has continued to work primarily with the Primero Justicia party, whose leaders, as mentioned above, signed the Carmona Decree and were intimately involved in the coup and the subsequent Carmona-imposed government. At no time has IRI acknowledged this fact. The statement follows:


IRI President Folsom Praises Venezuelan Civil Society’s Defense of Democracy

George A. Folsom, President of the International Republican Institute (IRI) praised the Venezuelan people in their efforts to bring democracy to the country. The following is a statement from President Folsom concerning last night’s events.

“Last night, led by every sector of civil society, the Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country. Venezuelans were provoked into action as a result of systematic repression by the Government of Hugo Chávez. Several hundred thousand people filled the streets of Caracas to demand the resignation of Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez. Chávez responded with sharpshooters and his paramilitary Bolivarian circles killing more than 12 civilians and wounding more than 100 others. In contrast, IRI commends the patriotism of the Venezuelan military for their refusal to fire on their countrymen.

IRI also applauds the bravery of civil society leaders – members of the media, the Church, the nation’s educations and school administrators, political party leaders, labor unions and the business sector – who have put their very lives on the line in their struggle to restore genuine democracy to their country. IRI will remain engaged for the long term with political parties and our civil society partners to help rebuild Venezuela’s fractured political system and restore elected democracy to the country.

IRI has promoted the strengthening of democracy in Venezuela since 1994 and recognizes that Venezuela’s future is not a return to its pre-Chávez past, but instead the development of accountable, non-corrupt, and responsive government.

Today, the National Assembly is expected to meet to lay the groundwork for the transitional government to hold elections later this year. The Institute has served as a bridge between the nation’s political parties and all civil society groups to help Venezuelans forge a new democratic future, based on accountability, rule of law and sound democratic institutions. We stand ready to continue our partnership with the courageous Venezuelan people.

IRI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing democracy worldwide. IRI’s programs span the globe and include training on civic responsibility and the legislative process, and strategies for building political parties and election campaigns. IRI is a nonpartisan organization, federally funded through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as privately funded by donations from individuals, corporations and foundations.”[vi]

It would hamper the notion of democracy to accept the NED’s argument that it is working to promote democracy and “defend and protect human and political rights” in Venezuela, when in fact, its very own documents prove it has continued to support groups and organizations that unapologetically participated in the April 2002 coup d’etat. The NED argues that it supports projects that “promote and defend democratic processes and rights, irrespective of political orientation”, yet its own documents, grant approvals and quarterly reports from grantees show a clear bias and orientation towards those organizations that radically oppose Venezuela’s current government.

In fact, in an interview on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! on March 4, 2004, Christopher Sabatini, Senior Program Officer at NED for Latin America and the Caribbean, admitted to writing the grant proposals for the recipients in Venezuela. His comments verbatim were, “…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.”[vii]

It appears rather inappropriate that the organization approving the grants would be so intimately involved in the preparation of the actual grant applications. This type of aid demonstrates the NED’s clear intention of supporting these groups from the ground level on up. Furthermore, the English language documents submitted to the NED’s board all refer to President Chávez in a very negative light, justifying the need for the grants due to the threat of “authoritarianism”, “Castro-communism”, “revolutionary control” and “dictatorship” they allege the Chávez administration presents to Venezuelan society.  If, as the NED states, they support projects regardless of political orientation, how can groups supporting Chávez be eligible to receive such assistance when the NED itself has taken an open stance against the Chávez administration, by classifying it in the above-mentioned negative terms?[viii]

The NED also attempts to disprove Ambassador Valero’s allegation that they finance political parties in Venezuela, which would be a clear violation of the NED’s own regulations clearly setting forth a prohibition on funding “partisan politics.”[ix] However, despite the NED’s claim that their work to strengthen “democratic” political parties is conducted through two core grantees, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute,  the quarterly reports issued by these groups clearly evidences a level of intervention into Venezuela’s political system that well exceeds mere “training and technical assistance” and that is entirely limited to those parties opposing President Chávez. As a clarification, the NED’s assertion that parties supporting President Chávez have benefited from their programs in Venezuelacould only be humored if one considers assistance at an event or forum sponsored by the IRI or NDI as “benefiting.” However, the assistance and support to opposition political parties goes well beyond attendance at forums and events.

In fact, the most extreme opposition party to President Chávez, Primero Justicia, has been considered by the NED itself as “IRI’s primary counterpart in Venezuela.”[x] In the IRI quarterly reports from 2001-2003, it becomes clear that the Institute has been deeply involved in the formation, development and strategic grooming of Primero Justicia. For example, IRI reported subsequent to the April 2002, that they have been working “closely with Primero Justicia in developing the party’s platform.[xi] Again, it is important to note that during this period, the IRI had full knowledge of Primero Justicia’s participation in an illegal coup d’etat, as well as the party’s unapologetic support for an illegitimately imposed government during the brief ouster of President Chávez in April 2002. As a matter of fact, a few months preceding the coup, IRI brought former Republican Party Press Secretary Mike Collins to Venezuelato work on developing an effective communications strategy and image for Primero Justicia and Alfredo Peña, the opposition mayor of Caracaswho also played a key role in the April 2002 coup.[xii] The role of media and communications in the April 2002 coup against President Chávez was not only unprecedented, but also was in large part the reason for the success, though brief, of the undemocratic coup. It is interesting to note that IRI was responsible for training major opposition parties and figures in use of the media just a few months before the coup.

One of the main contentions of the NED involves their direct grantee Súmate, a Venezuelan organization dedicated to promoting and leading the recall referendum campaign against President Chávez. The NED continues to claim that Súmate received a grant of $53,400 in September 2003 to “observe” and “monitor” the signature collection process and not to participate or lead the process itself. However, the NED’s own documents easily disprove their attempts to classify Súmate as a mere observer or monitor in the recall referendum campaign. In their January 31, 2004 Report to the NED, Súmate explains their use of the project funds to “Train, capacitate and motivate the Municipal Coordinators to create a structural network and to utilize these Municipal Coordinators as instructors to provide technical training in the “Signature Drive” to those Responsible at the Centers of Signature Collection and/or the Signature Counters.”[xiii]

Additionally, the same Súmate report to the NED explains how they developed an “Operations Manual for the Signature Drive” that was “utilized as the foundation to support the design and production of educative material used by the functionaries and volunteers that participated in the collection of signatures at the official centers.”[xiv] It is hard to imagine that training the designated officials collecting signatures during the drive and providing technical operations manuals and materials to those functionaries in charge of the recall referendum signature drive is merely “observing and monitoring” the process. In fact, Súmate’s own materials clearly indicate that not only are they the primary actors in the recall referendum campaign, but in fact, they are the leaders of this movement.[xv]

The issue is not whether Súmate is acting within the democratic process, but rather the inappropriateness of the undeniable fact that U.S.government funds are financing the group leading a recall referendum campaign against President Chávez. Not only is this in violation of the NED’s own regulations which prohibit financing partisan politics, but also evidences a clear intention to support groups working to oust a democratically elected president. Furthermore, the NED’s continued negation of Súmate’s true role in the referendum campaign, as well as its outright refusal to recognize the documented fact that one of Súmate’s founders and directors, Maria Corina Machado, not only signed the Carmona Decree during the April 2002 coup against President Chávez, but also publicly lauded the coup itself, evidences the NED’s outright disregard for democratic processes and sovereignty of nations.

The NED also defends its financing of the Venezuelan organization, Acción Campesina, an organization working to prevent the successful implementation of the Land Reform and Agrarian Development Law in Venezuela. Again, the issue is not whether Acción Campesina itself is engaging in a democratic process, but rather whether the U.S.government should be funding a project seeking to annual, adjust and/or reform an internal law in Venezuela. This appears to be a clear violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty and an intervention into its legislative process.[xvi]

This same logic follows for human rights projects funded by NED in Venezuela. It is inappropriate and interventionist for the U.S.government to fund a project seeking to train human rights defenders to bring cases against the Venezuelan government in the Inter-American CourtSystem, as is the case with NEDgranteeCenterfor Justice and International Law (CEJIL).[xvii] This issue is not whether such activities should take place, but rather whether the U.S.government through the NED should fund such projects. Distinguished human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch refuse funding from any governmental entity purposefully to avoid any conflicts of interest. In the case of CEJIL, the documented number of cases brought before the Inter-American Legal system that circumvented Venezuelan courts increased substantially during the period of the NED grant.[xviii]

Finally, the NED continues to insist that the documents recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) were not “declassified” but rather public documents. This is merely a question of semantics. Were the documents entirely “public” as the NED claims, the process of submitting a FOIA request would not have been necessary. However, we did have to submit numerous FOIA requests, some of which have not yet been fulfilled to date, in order to receive those documents now available to the public at large on www.venezuelafoia.info. The documents posted on our website are not available to the public on the NED’s website, nor in the NED’s offices. Classified, declassified, public, not public; it’s really just about the wording, the issue remains the same.

[i]See “Los Documentos del Golpe”, Fundación Defensoría del Pueblo, 2004. See also,  http://www.venezuelafoia.info/NED/CIPE-CEDICE/CIPE-CEDICE-Con/pages/CIPE-CEDICE-consensus-01.htm

[v]http://www.venezuelafoia.info/NED/ACILS-CTV/ACILS-CTV-index.htm. See also, “Is AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center Serving as a Channel for Bush’s Plan for Regime Change in Venezuela?” available at http://www.laboreducator.org/aflven.htm

[vi]www.prnewswire.comCopyright 2002 PR Newswire Association, Inc.

[ix] U.S. Statutes at Large, First Session of the 99th Congress, Public Law 99-93, Aug. 16, 1985, Sec. 505. Requirements Relating to the Endowment and Its Grantees: (a) Partisan Politics. – (1) Funds may not be expended, either by the Endowment or by any of its grantees, to finance the campaigns of candidates for public office.”

[xv]See also www.sumate.org, where the organization explains their role in the “collection and processing of signatures for the recall referendum drive” and, a press release announcing Maria Corina Machado as “Referendum Leader”. Additionally, Súmate’s own grant proposal which was accepted by the NED indicates one of their project objectives as “promoting popular support for referenda.” This clearly differs from the role of “observing.”