New York, September 8, 2004—Documents recently obtained from the U.S. Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by www.venezuelafoia.info demonstrate that more than $5 million annually during the past two years was given by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to various organizations in Venezuela, many of which are aligned with the opposition. One of the key groups collaborating with USAID is Súmate, the organization that promoted the recall referendum campaign against President Hugo Chávez and is now rejecting the results that have been certified by the most credible international observers and even by the U.S. government. Súmate, despite its numerous undemocratic positions and actions, has also been a recipient of U.S. government funds from the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003.
However, these new documents obtained by Venezuelafoia.info have all been censored by the U.S. Government despite the use of the FOIA, which intends to ensure transparency in U.S. Government operations. The Department of State has withheld the names of the organizations receiving financing from USAID by misapplying a FOIA exemption that is intended to protect "personnel and medical files" of individuals. Such clear censorship indicates that USAID and the U.S. Government clearly have something to hide regarding their collaborations with the Venezuelan opposition. Despite USAID’s ongoing crusade to encourage transparency in foreign governments, the withholding of information that does not fall under any available exemptions clearly demonstrates a double standard applied by the U.S. Government in this case.
USAID is financed by the U.S. Congress and is controlled by the Department of State. Founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, USAID was established as a fund dedicated to humanitarian intervention around the world. Despite Kennedy’s humane intentions, USAID has more recently been used, in many instances, as a mechanism to promote the interests of the U.S. in strategically important countries around the world. In the case of Venezuela, USAID maintains a private contractor in Caracas monitoring and facilitating its projects and funds and also has a local operating center, the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) that was established in 2002, after the failed coup d’etat against President Chávez. The private contractor, Development Alternatives, inc. (DAI), manages and supervises grants approved by USAID to Venezuelan organizations.
Under a program entitled Venezuela: Initiative to Build Confidence, DAI has awarded 67 grants to Venezuelan organizations in various sectors and areas of interest. These grants equal $2.3 million, just during 2003. In total, DAI ‘s program in Venezuela counts on $10,000,000 in funding for the period August 2002 through August 2004 –$5 million annually to "focus on common goals for the future of Venezuela". According to the documents obtained under FOIA and DAI’s project description (available on www.dai.com) none of the project grants or programs have been in collaboration with the Venezuelan government.
In fact, many of the same recipients of U.S. government funds through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) have also received USAID funding through DAI. Despite the illegal withholding of names on the USAID-DAI grants, one document apparently was skipped, at least in part. The name, Súmate appears on a grant intended to encourage "electoral participation" in the recall referendum, citing $84,840 as the total grant amount. Combined with the NED grant of $53,400 given to Súmate in 2003-2004, the organization that is now crying fraud about the recall referendum against President Chávez, the results of which have been recognized as absolutely credible by the Carter Center and the U.S. Department of State, has received, at minimum, more than $200,000 in just one year for promoting its attempts to remove Venezuela’s President from office.
Other recipients of USAID funds through DAI which are apparent in the censored documents include the organization Liderazgo y Visión for its project, "Un Sueño para Venezuela", ("A Dream for Venezuela") a project created in 2002-2003 with the intent of offering an alternative vision and agenda for those opposing President Chávez’s administration. Liderazgo y Visión has also been a recipient of NED funds over the past few years. More than 6 organizations have been given funding for political and social formation and development in Petare, a poor neighborhood in the outskirts of Caracas, in the Miranda State. The work in Petare and the more than $200,000 that have been funneled into that neighborhood in the past year, appear to have been aimed at converting a community that was traditionally pro-Chávez, into one that supports the opposition. The recall referendum results from August 15, 2004 show the opposition gaining substantial numbers in Petare, and Miranda state was one of only two states in the entire nation that gave victory to the opposition in the referendum.
One grant from USAID/DAI focuses on the creation of radio and television commercials during the December 2002-February 2003 strike imposed by the opposition, during which the private media dedicated its airwaves 24-7 to opposition propaganda. One of the most striking aspects of the media’s dedication to the strike was the use of anti-Chávez commercials to indoctrinate viewers’ opinions on Venezuela’s political situation. The USAID/DAI grant shows funding originating from the U.S. government for some of these anti-Chávez commercials, collaborating with former Fedecámaras President Carlos Fernandez, who was one of the leaders of the strike, in the project.
These new documents from USAID provide evidence for a clear focus on two major projects in Venezuela: The Recall Referendum and the Formation of a National Agenda that would serve as a transitional government post-Chávez (assuming the referendum was won by the opposition).
The documents are available for public viewing on www.venezuelafoia.info