U.S. gave cash to anti-Chavez groups

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 to President Hugo Chávez.

One of the key groups collaborating with USAID is Súmate, the organization that promoted the unsuccessful recall referendum campaign against Chávez. Súmate has refused to recognize the referendum’s results. Despite its numerous undemocratic positions and actions, Súmate also received funds from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in 2003.

Although the documents were released under the FOIA, they have nonetheless been censored. 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 censorship indicates that USAID and the U.S. government clearly have something to hide regarding their collaborations with the Venezuelan opposition.

Founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, USAID has 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), which 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 titled “Venezuela: Initiative to Build Confidence,” DAI has awarded 67 grants to Venezuelan organizations in various sectors and areas of interest. These grants amounted to $2.3 million in 2003. In total, DAI’s program in Venezuela includes $10 million 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, none of the project grants or programs have been in collaboration with the Venezuelan government. Furthermore, many of the recipients of U.S. government funds through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) have also received USAID funding through DAI.

Despite the withholding of names on the USAID-DAI grants, one document apparently slipped through uncensored, 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, “A Dream for Venezuela,” 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.

One grant from USAID-DAI focused on the creation of anti-Chavez radio and television commercials during the December 2002-February 2003 strike imposed by the opposition, during which the private media dedicated its airwaves round-the-clock to opposition propaganda. The USAID-DAI grant shows funding originating from the U.S. government for some of these anti-Chávez commercials, in collaboration with former Fedecámaras President Carlos Fernandez, one of the leaders of the strike.

The documents are available for public viewing on www.venezuelafoia.info.

— Reprinted with permission from Venezuelanalysis.com.