Declassified Documents Back Venezuelan President’s Claim of US Aid to Opposition Groups

On Monday, the US government denied giving funds to groups seeking to oust Venezuelan President Chavez. However, declassified documents prove that at least $800,000 of US taxpayers' money was given to opposition groups

Caracas, Venezuela. Feb 10, 2004 ( On his weekly live radio and television show, “Hello Mr. President”, Venezuelan head of state, Hugo Chávez, announced that his administration has obtained proof of direct funding from the United States government to virulent opposition groups in Venezuela seeking to oust him.

President Chavez declared that the proof of US financing of groups working to destabilize and overthrow his government through unconstitutional means is now “circulating on the Internet.” Specifically, Chavez confirmed the existence of documents indicating the opposition group Sumate, had received USD $53,400 from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy (“NED”). This is part of more than $800,000 distributed to various anti-Chavez organizations over the last two years.

The evidence referred to by the Venezuelan leader was made available to the public via the World Wide Web on the newly launched website, The site, funded by a private 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the United States, the Venezuela Solidarity Committee, contains hundreds of documents evidencing the direct chain of financial aid from various U.S. government departments to Venezuelan opposition groups. The documents on were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) by veteran investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood, an expert in FOIA requests. This act enables citizens to formally request access to classified U.S. government documents belonging to different agencies and departments. The respective government agency then analyzes the documents, and decides whether or not to release them to the solicitor. Often such documents are released, but certain sentences, names, or whole pages may be crossed-out with marker if determined in the interest of ‘national security.’

How the Freedom of Information Act has been used

The FOIA has been used to uncover US government involvement in the 1973 coup d’etat against President Salvador Allende, as well as numerous other US covert wars and interventions throughout the world. FOIA has also been used by U.S. citizens to uncover the brutal actions of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), the U.S. government’s domestic intelligence agency that destroyed entire social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers Party.  Once the intrusive, aggressive and unconstitutional tactics of former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Program) were revealed, public outcry forced the U.S. Congress to put the program to rest through denial of funding.

Document obtained through the Freedom of Information Act showing US support for the group that organized the recall against Chavez.

Money for recall against Chavez

The documents discovered through Bigwood’s FOIA requests on Venezuela reveal a consistent pattern of funding from various U.S. agencies and entities, such as the Department of State and the National Endowment for Democracy, to several known anti-Chávez groups in Venezuela. One of these groups, Sumate, received USD$53,400 for “Electoral Education” during the period September 2003 – September 2004.  The funds awarded to Sumate were, according to the NED grant, to “train citizens throughout Venezuela in the electoral process and to promote participation in a recall referendum.” Sumate is the organization that led an unapproved referendum drive back in February 2003, attempting to remove President Chavez before half of his term, which is not permitted by Venezuelan law. Sumate claimed to have collected “27 million signatures in one day”, yet it was later discovered that a majority of these signatures were gathered through fraudulent means, including photocopied from bank records and credit card receipts.

Other groups funded by the NED and the State Department that are included on include groups linked to Primero Justicia, an outspoken anti-Chávez right-wing party that has promoted undemocratic measures to oust the Venezuelan leader. Although they have acknowledged that it was wrong for them to have participated in the April 2002 coup and the lock-out of December 2002, Primero Justicia is presently refusing to accept a decision by Venezuela’s National Elections Council on the possibility of a constitutional recall referendum against President Chavez, if it is not in their favor.

A Continuous and Intimate Relationship Between the US and the Opposition includes pages and pages of internal memoranda and email communications between the NED and the State Department and the NED and the various Venezuelan opposition groups. These communications evidence a continuous intimate relationship between the parties that demonstrates a profound support coming out of the U.S. government for these groups. Numerous email communications between Chris Sabatini, Senior Program Director of NED’s Latin America and Caribbean Department, and the various NED benefactors in Venezuela express his concern for the political developments in Venezuela and his reinforcement of support for the grant recipients.

One memorandum between the State Department and the NED reveals a supplemental $1,000,000 awarded in April 2002, right after the failed coup d’etat against President Chávez, that was slighted for NED’s Venezuelan benefactors. The primary grant recipients include the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity and the Center for International Private Enterprise. Smaller grant recipients include Acción Campesina, Asociación Civil Asamblea de Educación, Fundación Momento de la Gente, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, Asociación Civil Liderazgo y Visión and Asociación Civil Consorcio Justicia, amongst others.

How the groups utilize the funds

Acción Campesina (“Farmer’s Action”) received a combination of over $80,000 to engage in efforts to hinder the passage and implementation of Venezuela’s new land reform law in 2002-2003. The Asamblea de Educacion group (“Assembly on Education”) received approximately $57,00 to monitor and distribute information on education policy issues, a respectable objective. Yet the director of this Association was to be named Minister of Education under the brief dictatorial regime of Pedro Carmona implemented after the coup d’etat of April 2002. U.S. possible involvement in the coup has been documented by Newsweek, the New York Times and other mainstream media outlets.

Asamblea de Educacion president Leonardo Carvajal, confirmed on Monday that they have received “international aid” , but said that the aid was cut six months ago. He declared that his group is a non-partisan organization, yet at the time he made these statements, he was at the headquarters of the opposition coalition, Coordinadora Democratica (Democratic Coordinator).

Along these lines, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity has donated several hundred thousand dollars of its funding to the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Venezuela (“CTV”), the corrupt pro-bosses labor union that participated in the coup against President Chávez in April 2002 and later co-led, along with the national chamber of commerce FEDECAMARAS, the economically devastating 64-day business lockout in December 2002 – February 2003 that caused 10 billion dollars in losses to the country.

Other NED major award recipients, such as the Center for International Private Enterprise, which received over $200,000 last year for Venezuela activities and the International Republican Institute, which was awarded almost $300,000 for its work during the past two years in Venezuela, have poured their financial aid into support for Fedecámaras, the radicalized business association at the forefront of the opposition movement and into the development and strengthening of political parties to successfully oppose Chávez in future elections.

US government’s weak response

After President Chávez brought the newly declassified documents to light on Sunday, the Bush Administration responded first thing Monday morning in a State Department daily briefing. Spokesperson Richard Boucher did not deny the funding of Venezuelan organizations and admitted the NED had awarded grants to groups that “promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Venezuela.” He also claimed that such funding falls clearly within U.S. policy to “strengthen democratic institutions around the world.” However, Boucher only mentioned U.S. government funding to two groups, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and failed to mention the more than $800,000 that has been funneled into specific opposition groups in Venezuela through those two groups and through others. 

Boucher also did not explain how the funds were aiding the promotion of democracy considering that a majority of grant benefactors have participated in and endorsed two unconstitutional attempts to remove President Chávez. Nor did Boucher explain why groups such as Sumate, that has utilized fraud to achieve its electoral goals, would receive funds intended to “promote democracy.”

Boucher added that pro-government groups have received U.S. funds in the past and that aid is available to them also.

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