Bogota, December 13 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – A small bureau at the US State Department donated almost $USD1 million dollars to the Atlantic Council think-tank in September to work with the Venezuelan opposition.
The USD$900,000 in taxpayers' money was donated to the organisation as part of the US State Department’s “Peace Process Support Network” programme in order to “promote non-violent conflict resolution” in the South American country. Venezuela is currently suffering from an acute economic crisis and political impasse between the national leftist government and the opposition, though a third phase of official dialogue between the two began at the beginning of December.
According to the Miami Herald, the State Department funds will finance a year-long project to “draw more international attention to the crisis, show the public what Venezuela could look like under new leadership and provide the opposition and other stakeholders the tools needed to work more cohesively together”.
Jason Marczak, Director of the Atlantic Council Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, has confirmed receiving the funds, and explained that the council is aiming to overcome division within the Venezuelan opposition through its new programme.
“What we’re trying to do is address the fractures within the opposition. That is then helpful for the opposition’s overall stance because what the [Venezuelan] government wants is a divided opposition,” he told the Miami Herald.
The Venezuelan opposition has been deeply divided since suffering a heavy defeat in regional elections in October, when the government won 18 out of 23 state governorships. Tensions between leading members came to a head immediately after, threatening to deal a fatal blow to the opposition alliance.
Historically the opposition leadership has lurched between participating in elections and boycotting the Venezuelan democratic system in favor of more direct means for unseating the government. Between March and July this year, the coalition backed violent street protests in a bid to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by force. Though ultimately unsuccessful, at least 120 people died in the unrest.
The large opposition parties took the decision to boycott mayoral elections on December 10 following their October defeat, leading to a massive government win in more than 90% of the country’s municipalities last Sunday.
The Atlantic Council
According to Alternet journalist Max Blumenthal, the Atlantic Council is “a pro-regime change think tank that is funded by Western governments and their allies” as well as by “Viktor Pinchuk, Ukrainian nationalist and longtime friend/donor of the Clintons”.
The council has pushed for arming Salafist militant groups against the Bashar Al'Assad regime in Syria and lobbied for more militaristic policies toward Russia. In Venezuela the organization is intimately linked to the pro-United States opposition.
Back in August 9, the think-tank published a report called Venezuela: What are the most effective US sanctions? listing five potential sanction routes for the US government, scaled from “least to most severe”.
In the document’s policy recommendations, Atlantic Council advises the White House to “impose or tighten sanctions gradually, from softer to harsher” and “extend the use of individual sanctions, and potentially some entity-focused sanctions, to fracture the regime soft-liners from the hard-liners”.
Later in August the Republican Donald Trump administration adopted the level-two economic sanctions outlined in the report, cutting-off the Venezuelan state and state-oil company PDVSA from the possibility of refinancing its debt with US companies and financial institutions.
Despite the council’s pro-interventionist record, hardliners in the Republican Party have allegedly complained that the donation is aimed at pursuing a “soft” regime-change option in Venezuela. They say that the funding grant was made quietly by US State Department bureaucrats in order to undermine Trump’s August sanctions.
"This is a waste of taxpayers' money because it will never really accomplish anything—and will only give the Maduro government yet another way to avoid more international pressure to enact democratic reforms," a congressional source allegedly told the Washington Free Beacon.
According to McClatchy DC Bureau, the donation has also caused concern amongst other US government institutions such as USAID, where policy-makers believe it is aimed at facilitating the negotiating process between the Venezuelan national government and opposition, in spite of Atlantic Council denying any participation in the dialogue.
McClatchy DC reported that USAID officials feel that “supporting dialogue between the government and the opposition was useless and that the money should have gone to support other efforts".
The USD$900,000 aid donation is the latest in a string of multi-million dollar payments made to pro-opposition think-tanks and NGOs in Venezuela over the past ten years. According to US-Venezuelan attorney Eva Golinger, the US government has channelled more than USD$45 million to pro-opposition groups in Venezuela since 2008.