U.S. Bankrolling Is Under Scrutiny for Ties to Chávez Ouster
The National Endowment for Democracy was founded in 1983 by the Reagan administration to channel U.S. government funds to groups in other nations who would support U.S. government policies. In this article from April 25, in the New York Times, reporter Christopher Marquis reveals that the Bush administration used the NED in an attempt to overthrow Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Ch?vez. This included channeling funds to the corrupt, company-controlled union CTV through the AFL-CIO.
April 25, 2002|
U.S. Bankrolling Is Under Scrutiny for Ties to Ch?vez Ouster
New York Times
WASHINGTON, April 24 - In the past year, the United States channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to American and Venezuelan groups opposed to President Hugo Ch?vez, including the labor group whose protests led to the Venezuelan president's brief ouster this month.
The funds were provided by the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit agency created and financed by Congress. As conditions deteriorated in Venezuela and Mr. Ch?vez clashed with various business, labor and media groups, the endowment stepped up its assistance, quadrupling its budget for Venezuela to more than $877,000.
While the endowment's expressed goal is to promote democracy around the world, the State Department's human rights bureau is examining whether one or more recipients of the money may have actively plotted against Mr. Ch?vez. The bureau has put a $1 million grant to the endowment on hold pending that review, an official said.
"We wanted to make certain that U.S. government resources were not going to underwrite the unconstitutional overthrow of the government of Venezuela," said the official, who occupies a midlevel job in the department and asked not to be identified. The deputy spokesman for the State Department, Philip Reeker, said he was unaware of the proposed grant.
Of particular concern is $154,377 given by the endowment to the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the international arm of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., to assist the main Venezuelan labor union in advancing labor rights.
The Venezuelan union, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, led the work stoppages that galvanized the opposition to Mr. Ch?vez. The union's leader, Carlos Ortega, worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who briefly took over from Mr. Ch?vez, in challenging the government.
The endowment also provided significant resources to the foreign policy wings of the Republican and Democratic parties for work in Venezuela, which sponsored trips to Washington by Ch?vez critics.
The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs was given a $210,500 grant to promote the accountability of local government. The International Republican Institute, which has an office in Venezuela, received a grant of $339,998 for political party building. On April 12, the day of the takeover, the group hailed Mr. Ch?vez's ouster. "The Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country," the institute's president, George A. Folsom, said in a statement. "Venezuelans were provoked into action as a result of systematic repression by the government of Hugo Ch?vez."
The statement drew a sharp rebuke from Carl Gershman, the endowment president, for the openly political stance, which he said would undercut the institute's work in Venezuela in the future.
The institute has close ties to the Bush administration, which had also embraced the short-lived takeover; Lorne Craner, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, is a former president of the organization.
In an interview, Mr. Folsom said discussions at the institute on Venezuela involved finding ways to remove Mr. Ch?vez by constitutional means only.
Chris Sabatini, the endowment's senior program officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, said his agency's funds went to specific projects to bolster the democratic opposition in Venezuela -- including training in civics, journalism and conflict resolution -- and did not contribute to the attempted ouster of Mr. Ch?vez.
"None of our funds in any way were used to support the coup," he said. Mr. Sabatini acknowledged that the endowment had hurriedly increased its outlays in Venezuela in the past year as Mr. Ch?vez and his supporters restricted press freedoms and sought to suppress growing dissent against his leftist policies. The goal was to create political space for opponents to Mr. Ch?vez, not to contribute to his ouster, he said.
"We were very explicit that we had no opinion of Ch?vez," but were responding to events, Mr. Sabatini said.
The Bush administration, which has made no secret of its disdain for Mr. Ch?vez -- and his warm relations with nations like Cuba and Iraq -- has turned to the endowment to help the opposition to Mr. Ch?vez.
With an annual budget of $33 million, the endowment disburses hundreds of grants each year to pro-democracy groups from Africa to Asia. Advocates say the agency's independent status enables the United States to support democratic actors in nations where American government aid might be cumbersome or unwelcome. Its supporters proudly cite critical assistance from the endowment to countries emerging from repressive systems like Poland and South Africa.
Jane Riley Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the endowment, said her agency scrupulously maintained its independence from the federal government and avoided foreign policy debates.
But critics say recipients of endowment aid do not have the same accountability that government programs require, which opens the door for rogue activities and freelancing. The agency overreached, those critics say, in Chile in 1988 and in Nicaragua in 1989, when endowment funds were used to sway the outcomes of elections.
Barbara Conry, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said the organizing philosophy behind the endowment was flawed.
"You ended up with the worst of both worlds," she said. "Everybody knew it was directly funded by Washington. That didn't fool too many people. But it wasn't really accountable."
Copyright (c) 2002 The New York Times. All rights reserved.
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