Caracas, Venezuela, August 5, 2005 —Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued a communiqué yesterday in which it demanded that the U.S. government present proof of repeated allegations that Venezuela is funding “anti-democratic” groups in “Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere.” Earlier this week Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives (R-FL) released a letter from the U.S. State Department, in which State Department official Matthew Reynolds had made this allegation. State Department spokesperson Tom Casey confirmed the allegation again yesterday.
The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry’s communiqué stated, “Repeatedly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has insisted that North American spokespersons present some sort of evidence, no matter how minimal, as the failure to do so will expose the makers of this declaration, which is repeated over and over again, cyclically and without proof, to public discredit.”
The communiqué went on to point out that the Bush administration had distributed a dossier of opinion articles during the last OAS General Assembly in Ft. Lauderdale, to support its allegations of Venezuelan support for opposition groups in Latin America. Such articles, according to the communiqué, do not constitute evidence and only serve to embarrass the Bush Administration.
Bernardo Alvarez, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the U.S., also said, “There is no evidence whatsoever” “We have good relations with all of the countries of the region,” he added, mentioning Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and the Caribbean.
The State Department letter to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who has been a vocal opponent of the Chavez government and solicited the letter, stated, “The [Bush] administration has found mounting evidence that Venezuela is actively using its oil wealth to destabilize its democratic neighbors in the Americas by funding anti-democratic groups in Bolivia, Ecuador and elsewhere. We are working to bolster our democratic friends in this Hemisphere and to deter Venezuelan and Cuban meddling in the internal affairs of regional democracies.”
When asked explain what the evidence referred to in the letter consisted of, State Department spokesperson Tom Casey said that the Bush Administration is concerned “about the movement of illicit weapons, drugs, and people across Venezuela’s borders with Colombia.” Casey went on to say that Venezuela has not been, “willing to assert control over its 1400-mile border with Colombia and Colombia’s terrorist groups.”
Casey also mentioned the recent arms purchases Venezuela has made, such as 100,000 Russian-made Kalashnikov assault rifles, Russian helicopters, patrol boats from Spain, and patrol airplanes from Brazil. The Venezuelan government has argued, though, that these arms are specifically intended to strengthen Venezuela’s defense of its borders.
In response to a request to specifically explain what the “anti-democratic groups” Venezuela was supposedly funding are and what the evidence consists of, Casey replied that this is classified information, adding, “if you look at the public actions Venezuela has taken, some of its efforts to use revenues that it’s gotten through its oil industry to exercise influence or gain influence over some of its neighbors, you have at least some idea of some of the issues that have concerned us.”
Casey denied, though, that such alleged support was in any way comparable to the support the U.S. provides to groups in Venezuela. “Our funding to groups in Venezuela, as well as to groups throughout the hemisphere, as well as our standing policy worldwide, is to help support the development of democracy, the development of civil society, to help citizens in their own countries understand what their rights are, to support the process of free and fair elections,” said Casey.
The Venezuelan government has repeatedly protested to the U.S. that U.S. government funded organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy are funding opposition groups in Venezuela, including political parties, the oppositional union federation CTV, and the NGO Súmate, which helped organize the August 2004 recall referendum against President Chavez.
Responding to the U.S. government complaint that Venezuela is influencing Latin American nations with its oil wealth, Venezuela’s Ambassador Alvarez said, “We are using energy as way of promoting real integration of the continent.” Also, according to Alvarez, Venezuela is working towards a more balanced relationship between Latin America and the United States, to replace the “hegemonic” policies associated with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Alvarez was referring to the recent oil agreements Venezuela has signed with a wide variety of countries throughout Latin America.