The 2010 annual report of the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), a division of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), regarding its operations in Venezuela, evidences that at least $9.29 million USD was invested this year in efforts to “support US foreign policy objectives…and promote democracy” in the South American nation. This amount represents an increase of almost $2 million over last year’s $7.45 million distributed through this office to fund anti-Chávez political activities in the country.
The OTI is a department of USAID dedicated to “supporting US foreign policy objectives by helping local partners advance democracy in priority countries in crisis. OTI works on the ground to provide, fast, flexible short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilization needs”.
Although OTI is traditionally used as a “short-term” strategy to filter millions of dollars in liquid funds to political groups and activities that promote US agenda in strategically important nations, the case of Venezuela has been different. OTI opened its office in 2002, right after the failed coup d’etat against President Hugo Chavez – backed by Washington – and has remained ever since. The OTI in Venezuela is the longest standing office of this type in USAID’s history.
OTI’S Clandestine ops
In a confidencial memo dated January 22, 2002, Russell Porter, head of OTI, revealed how and why USAID set up shop in Venezuela. “OTI was asked to consider a program in Venezuela by the State Department’s Office of Andean Affairs on January 4…OTI was asked if it could offer programs and assistance in order to strengthen the democratic elements that are under increasing fire from the Chavez government”.
Porter visited Venezuela on January 18, 2002 and then commented, “For democracy to have any chance of being preserved, immediate support is needed for independent media and the civil society sector…One of the large weaknesses in Venezuela is the lack of a vibrant civil society…The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has a $900,000 program in Venezuela that works with NDI, IRI and the Solidarity Center to strengthen political parties and the Unions…This program is useful, but not nearly sufficient. It is not flexible enough, nor does it work with enough new or non-traditional groups. It also lacks a media component”.
Since then OTI has been present in Venezuela, channeling millions of dollars each year to feed the political conflict in the country. According to the 2010 annual report, OTI is now operating “out of the US Embassy and is part of a larger US diplomatic effort to promote democracy in Venezuela”.
The principal investment of the $9.29 million in US taxpayer dollars in 2010 went to the opposition’s campaign for the legislative elections, held last September 26 in Venezuela. “USAID works with several implementing partners drawn from the spectrum of civil society…offering technical assistance to political parties…and supporting efforts to strengthen civil society”.
In Venezuela, it’s widely known that the term “civil society” refers to the anti-Chavez opposition.
A Secret Flow of Funds
Despite revealing its overall budget, the actual flow of funds from USAID/OTI to groups in Venezuela remains secret. When OTI opened its offices in 2002, it contracted a private US company, Development Alternatives Inc (DAI), one of the State Department’s largest contractors worldwide. DAI ran an office out of El Rosal – the Wall Street of Caracas – distributing millions of dollars annually in “small grants of no more than $100,000” to hundreds of mainly unknown Venezuelan “organizations”.
From 2002 to 2010, more than 600 of these “small grants” were channeled out of DAI’s office to anti-Chavez groups, journalists and private, opposition media campaigns.
In December 2009, DAI began to have severe problems with its operations in Afghanistan, when five of its employees were killed by alleged Taliban militants during an attack on their office December 15 in Gardez. Just days earlier, another DAI “employee”, Alan Gross, had been detained in Cuba and accused of subversion for illegally distributing advanced satellite equipment to dissidents.
When an article written by this author titled “CIA Agents assassinated in Afghanistan worked for “contractor” active in Venezuela, Cuba”, published December 30, 2009 on the web, evidenced the link between DAI’s operations in Afghanistan, Cuba and Venezuela, and their suspicious nature, the CEO of DAI, Jim Boomgard, was alarmed. Days later, he attempted to coerce me into a private meeting in Washington to “discuss” my article. When I refused, he threatened me by claiming that my writing was “placing all DAI employees worldwide in danger”. In other words, if anything happened to DAI employees, I would be personalIy responsible.
But Boomgard, who claimed little knowledge of his company’s operations in Venezuela, understood that what DAI was doing in Venezuela was nowhere near as important (to his company) as what DAI was doing in Afghanistan and other countries in conflict. Weeks later, DAI abruptly closed its office in Caracas.
Nonetheless, OTI continues its operations in Venezuela, and although it has other US “partners” managing a portion of its annual multimillion-dollar budget, such as IRI, NDI, Freedom House and the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), there is zero transparency regarding funding to Venezuelan groups.
A report published in May 2010 by the Spanish think tank FRIDEassessing “democracy assistance” to Venezuela revealed that a significant part of the more than $50 million annually in political funding from international agencies to anti-Chavez groups in Venezuela was entering illicitly. According to the report, in order to avoid Venezuela’s strict “currency control laws”, US and European agencies bring the monies in dollars or euros into the country and then change them on the black market to increase value. This method also avoids leaving a financial record or trace of the funds coming in to illegally finance political activities.
If DAI is no longer operating in Venezuela and distributing “small grants” to Venezuelan groups, then how are USAID’s multimillion-dollar funds reaching their recipients? According to USAID, they now operate from the US Embassy. Is the US Embassy illegally dishing out funds directly to Venezuelans?
OTI’s 2010 report also reveals the agency’s ongoing intentions to continue supporting and funding Venezuelan counterparts. In the section marked “Upcoming Events”, OTI makes clear where energies will be directed, “December 2012 – Presidential elections”.
USAID isn’t the only US agency intervening in Venezuela’s affairs. In the Pentagon’s 2011 budget, a new request for a “psychological operations program” for the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), which coordinates all US military missions in Latin America, is included. Specifically, the request refers to the establishment of a “PSYOP voice program for USSOUTHCOM”.
PYSOP are, “planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups and individuals. The execution of PSYOP includes conducting research on various foreign audiences; developing, producing and disseminating products to influence these audiences; and conducting evaluations to determine the effectiveness of the PSYOP activities. These activities may include the management of various websites and monitoring print and electronic media”. Or, as the 2011 request indicates, running a radio or audio program into a foreign nation to promote US agenda.
USSOUTHCOM’s new PSYOP program in Latin America will complement a new State Department initiative run out of the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG), which manages US propaganda worldwide. BBG’s whopping 2011 budget of $768.8 million includes “a 30-minute, five-day-a-week VOA [Voice of America] Spanish television program for Venezuela”.
This increase in PSYOP and pro-US propaganda directed at Venezuela evidences an escalation in US aggression towards the region.
And the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is still running a special intelligence “mission” on Venezuela and Cuba, set up in 2006. Only four of these country-specific “mission management teams” exist: Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan/Pakistan, and Venezuela/Cuba. These “missions” receive an important part of DNI’s $80 billion annual budget and operate in complete secrecy.