Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)
July 24, 2007
Five years after U.S.-funded groups were associated with a failed coup against Venezuela's president Hugo ChÃ¡vez, the U.S. government continues to meddle in Venezuelan domestic politics with its political aid programs . A new focus of foreign "democracy builders" in Venezuela and around the world is support for nonviolent resistance by civil society organizations.
In the name of promoting democracy and freedom, Washington is currently funding scores of U.S. and Venezuelan organizations as part of its global democratization strategy—including at least one that publicly supported the April 2002 coup that briefly removed ChÃ¡vez from power.
When he first heard the news of the coup, the president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) praised those "who rose up to defend democracy," ignoring the fact that ChÃ¡vez was the twice-elected president of Venezuela. Despite this declared support for a coup against an elected president and for the opposition's blatant disregard for the rule of law, IRI still runs democratization programs in Venezuela that are underwritten by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
The International Republican Institute, a branch of the Republican Party established to channel U.S. democratization aid,1 is one of five U.S. nongovernmental organizations that channels funding from USAID to Venezuela organizations and political party programs. USAID also funds the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDIIA), which is the international branch of the Democratic Party, and two U.S. nongovernmental organizations: Freedom House and Pan-American Development Foundation, and Development Alternatives Inc., a private U.S. contractor.
The United States has supported democratization and human rights groups in Venezuela since the early 1990s. But funding for "democracy-building" soared after ChÃ¡vez was elected president in 1998. Both USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which funds the IRI and NDIIA, sharply increased their funding to business associations, the official labor confederation, human rights organizations, and political party coalitions.
USAID's Transition Initiative
Several months after the unsuccessful April 2002 coup, the State Department established an Office of Transition Initiatives in Caracas with funding from USAID. Operating out of the U.S. embassy, the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) has two stated objectives according to the agency: to "strengthen democratic institutions and promote space for democratic dialogue," and to "encourage citizen participation in the democratic process."
USAID established its OTI with the all-but-explicit intention of aiding efforts to oust President ChÃ¡vez. According to USAID, the new office would "provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key transition needs."
Although it did not spell out what would be the desired "transition," USAID warned that ChÃ¡vez "has been slowly hijacking the machinery of government and developing parallel non-democratic governance structures." In its 2001 job description for the new OTI director in Caracas, USAID stated that the director's responsibilities would include "formulating strategy and initiating the new OTI program in close coordination with U.S. political interests" and "developing an exit strategy and operational closeout plan."
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