In reference to the upcoming recall referendum vote on President Hugo Chávez, a July 30th editorial by the Washington Post titled “Monitoring Venezuela” alleges the Venezuelan opposition group Súmate is leading the charge for democracy in Venezuela.
“The vote itself will have a greater chance of being staged and judged fairly thanks to Sumate…” says the Post. In fact, Súmate is a partisan group in opposition to the government whose sole mission since being founded in 2002 has been to collect signatures and promote a referendum to unseat the president. The more than one million dollars the NED in 2003 funneled to Venezuela went overwhelmingly to opposition groups.
The editorial condemns the Venezuelan government for investigating—or as the editorial calls it organizing “an ugly campaign”—the activities and funding sources of Súmate. Indeed, Venezuela’s state prosecutor is investigating four Súmate members for receiving 52,400 dollars in 2003 from the congressionally funded U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The Post describes the NED as an institution that “supports democratic movements around the world.” History, much of it recent, indicates this is a gross mischaracterization of the NED’s work. In the 1990 presidential election in Nicaragua the NED distorted the electoral process by funding opposition groups in the guise of promoting democracy. And more recently in Haiti, the NED contributed to the destabilization of the government of a democratically elected leader. The organization funded the minority opposition that openly condoned the bloody February rebellion leading to the ouster under murky circumstances of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.
The editorial asks: “Why would it be treasonous to accept U.S. funds in an effort to organize a fair election?” Well, how about a little thing called sovereignty? And the integrity of a democratic process? How would the Post’s editorial board members respond if the Iranian government gave money to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign in an effort to ensure a “fair election” this November? For groups involved in electoral politics to receive foreign funding is illegal in Venezuela, as it is in many countries, including the U.S.
The editorial goes on to assert that “Sumate does not advocate Mr. Chavez’s removal but only the resolution of the country’s conflict by constitutional means.” This is a gross misrepresentation. Súmate may not officially admit that it wants Chávez out, but all its work indicates its intentions are to oust the twice-democratically elected leader.
In closing, the Post declares: “If [the Sumate leaders] are prosecuted or jailed, the world will know that Venezuela’s referendum is tainted.” In any case, convicting and jailing the Súmate leaders is up to the Venezuelan justice system, and beyond Chavez´s control. And if they broke the law, they should have to pay the consequences of their actions just like in any democratic country. Considering the NED’s track record of meddling with democracies in Latin America, an investigation could shed important light on its questionable intentions.
The Post should carefully consider its words when writing on matters of democracy and government malfeasance. And it should hold its own government to the same set of standards it seems to find so lacking in Venezuela.