U.S. Says Funding of Groups in Venezuela is to “Promote Democracy”

U.S. spokesman Richard Boucher dismissed accusations made by Venezuelan President Chavez about U.S. financing of groups seeking to oust him, and about U.S. involvement in the 2002 coup d'etat

Washington DC. Feb. 19, 2004 (Venezuelanalysis.com).- U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher dismissed recent accusations made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez about U.S. aid to groups in Venezuela trying to oust him, and U.S. participation in the April 2002 coup d’etat that briefly toppled him.

“Well, it’s not the first time he’s made accusations, but I have to say, they’re not serious ones. They’re statements and accusations that are just plain not true and we categorically reject them,” said Boucher.

Boucher said that Chavez’s accusations are made “to divert attention” away from the referendum process currently underway in Venezuela. The Venezuelan National Electoral Council is validating and counting signatures collected by foes of Chavez, for a possible recall referendum on his mandate. Hundreds of thousands of the petition forms reviewed by the Council so far, show irregularities, and could be disqualified. A final decision is expected by mid March.

Boucher said that the U.S. provides “funding to groups that promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Venezuela and around the globe.” He argued that the funds are for the benefit of democracy, not to support any particular political faction. Recently declassified documents show the extent of the U.S. government aid to numerous opposition groups in Venezuela, including Sumate, the company that organized the recall referendum campaign against Chavez.

Refuses to name pro-Chavez groups receiving US funds

According to Boucher, dozens of pro-Venezuelan government political party members and over half a dozen Venezuelan parliamentarians have benefited directly from U.S.-funded training and visitors program. “I don’t have a list with me now. We’ll try to get that for you, if we can,” said Boucher when asked to name those pro-government groups. Boucher later refused to provide such list to a journalist for Venezuela’s National Public Radio. President Chavez said yesterday that no group who supports him would accept money from the U.S. government.

Boucher added that the goal of the U.S. government through the “Group of [countries] Friends of Venezuela” is to “see that the constitutional rights of signatories to the petitions are respected.”

Boucher asked people to respect the validation and counting process and to respect the people involved in it.

When asked about whether U.S. officials have discussed with other countries in the “Group of Friends of Venezuela” Chavez’s recent comments about the US, Boucher said “I don’t think anybody takes them seriously.”

U.S. media outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Times have commented on the U.S. government possible involvement in the April 2002 coup against Chavez, who for more than a year remained silent on the issue until recently. The presence at the presidential palace, of the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, to visit the dictator that briefly replaced Chavez after the coup, was well covered by the local media.