Venezuela Accuses U.S. of Involvement in Election Pull-Out

A State Department spokesman said U.S. is not the hidden hand behind the decision of opposition parties to withdraw from the upcoming National Assembly Election. The opposition parties’ decision to withdraw came after the Venezuelan electoral council had conceded to many opposition demands, and OAS had announced that the “secrecy of the vote will not be violated.”

Caracas, Venezuela, December 1, 2005—The US has denied any role in the pullout of opposition political parties from Sunday’s National Assembly Elections in Venezuela.

“The answer is no,” said Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack, replying to a question of whether the United States was the “hidden hand behind the decision” of the pull-out of opposition parties.

Both the President and Vice-President of the South American nation have accused the US government of participation. “We’re heading toward an electoral strike of a subversive character… Behind it all, the US Embassy has been very active, extremely active,” said Vice-President Jose Vincent Rangel.

Rangel did not provide evidence of embassy involvement, but the International Republican Institute (IRI), which receives Congressional funding through the National Endowment for Democracy, has been actively training opposition parties.

According to the IRI’s 2004 annual report, “IRI operated a year-long campaign school in five Venezuelan states, training more than 500 members of 11 parties.” The organization’s website states that the school had been attended by among others members of Acción Democratica, COPEI, Proyecto Venezuela, and Primero Justicia, the four major opposition parties who have pulled out of the election, as well as Movimiento al Socialismo and the ruling Movimiento Quinta Republic, who are still participating.

At a Congressional hearing on democracy in Venezuela earlier this month, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs, Thomas Shannon, called for increased US involvement in Venezuela, saying, “I would be in favor of increased NED engagement and increased IRI and NDI engagement in Venezuela and elsewhere in the hemisphere.” 

NED funding had also been provided to organizations supportive of the 2002 coup.

While denying accusations of US involvement, McCormack echoed Shannon’s call for US involvement in the country. “We are concerned that [the right to free and fair elections] is increasingly in jeopardy and we will continue to support the Venezuelan peoples’ effort to advance transparent electoral processes and civil rights,” he said.

He also stated that concern for Venezuela’s ability to guarantee the secrecy of the vote was part of the reason for the opposition party’s withdrawal from the elections. The OAS spokesperson on Monday announced that in a meeting with opposition parties the party leaders had confirmed, “the secrecy of the vote in this process will not be violated.” According to the OAS statmeent, "The Mission is satisfied that the efforts of the political parties and the CNE produced important advances to generate confidence in the electoral process."

The Venezuelan Electoral Council had conceded to many opposition demands in the past week and a half, including removing fingerprint scanner in response to opposition concerns about voter anonymity, and opening 45% of the countries ballot boxes in response to opposition concerns about voter fraud.