A revealing report published in May 2010 by the FRIDE Institute, a Spanish think tank, prepared with funding from the World Movement for Democracy (a project of the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED), has disclosed that international agencies are funding the Venezuelan opposition with a whopping $40-50 million USD annually.
This exorbitant amount of financing well exceeds the approximately $15 million USD previously believed to have been channeled to Venezuelan opposition groups via the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the NED.
According to the FRIDE report, which analyzes the impact of this funding in Venezuela, and concludes that more donations are necessary to support the “democratic opposition” to President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the multi-million dollar funds are exclusively directed towards political activities in the polarized South American nation. A large majority of the $40-50 million USD, donated by US and European agencies and foundations, is given to the right wing opposition political parties, Primero Justicia (First Justice), Un Nuevo Tiempo (A New Time) and COPEI (Christian Democrat ultra-conservative party), as well as to a dozen or so NGOs, student groups and media organizations.
In the FRIDE report, the Venezuelan government is classified as “semi-authoritarian,” which is a term used frequently by the NED and another US donor to Venezuelan opposition groups, Freedom House, to describe the Chavez administration. The report even goes so far as to indicate that in Venezuela, “Elections are the main link between democracy and dictatorship.” As a result, the international funds provided to political groups in Venezuela are destined to fight against the government of Hugo Chavez in order to “restore representative democracy” and return a more US-friendly government to power.
The authors of the revealing report recognize that “international assistance” for political groups in Venezuela did not begin until 2002, after the Chavez government began implementing a series of major reforms. “The presence of large international donors engaged in democracy promotion, particularly the donors based in the US (including the Carter Center, the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the Open Society Institute (OSI), the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and multilateral institutions (OAS and EC) is closely linked to the Chavez presidency… Their political engagement began in the aftermath of the new Bolivarian Constitution, approved by popular consultation in 1999, which was the starting point of Chavez’s Revolution and Socialism of the 21st Century… Many civil society organizations emerged in 2002 – the year of the attempted coup…”
According to the FRIDE document, “Foreign democracy assistance is mainly channeled through 10-12 small institutions, all of them with offices in Caracas. New political actors, such as the students’ movement or other groups, have rather sporadically been addressed by donors, mainly from the US.” In recent years, an opposition movement has emerged from the universities, backed by Washington primarily, but also by some European foundations, particularly from Spain. These student and youth groups have attempted to project a “fresh” image of the tarred traditional political parties that ruled the country throughout the latter half of the twentieth century and were largely viewed as corrupt and elitist.
But by receiving mass amounts of foreign funding and aid for their anti-Chavez political activities, the student and youth groups have demonstrated that their priorities and actions are directed by external forces, which in turn has caused for a loss of their credibility and has confirmed accusations that they are “agents” of the US government.
US: Main Donor
US agencies are the principal donors to political groups in Venezuela, with annual funds of about $6 million USD. The FRIDE report confirms that this multi-million dollar aid is a result of US efforts to undermine the Chavez presidency. “Until very recently, the United States did not have a prominent role in democracy assistance to Venezuela. When US engagement began under the Chavez government, its political profile consisted of supporting democratic NGOs and opposition parties.”
US funds are channeled to opposition groups in Venezuela through the following organizations: Development Alternatives, Inc DAI (since 2002), the Pan-American Development Foundation PADF (since 2005), the International Republican Institute IRI (since 2002), the National Democratic Institute NDI (since 2002), Freedom House (since 2004), USAID (since 2002), NED and the Open Society Institute (since 2006).
Declassified documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests regarding the activities of these agencies in Venezuela have revealed that their multi-million dollar funding has largely gone towards promoting anti-democratic activities, such as the April 2002 coup d’état against the Chavez government, and subsequent strikes, destabilization attempts and economic sabotage. The foreign funding has also gone to support the opposition electoral campaigns over the past eight years, including in-kind aid to train and strengthen political parties, help design elections and communications strategies and even to develop political platforms and agendas for opposition groups. This level of support goes well beyond mere donations and evidences a direct meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.
But, not only are US agencies providing the millions to keep the Venezuelan opposition alive and feed the political conflict in Venezuela. The FRIDE report reveals that the European Commission is channeling between 6-7 million Euros annually to opposition political parties and NGOs in the South American nation. Although some of the EC’s work is done with Venezuelan government entities on a local level (infrastructure development), the majority is going to “civil society organizations” and “human rights” NGOs.
Additionally, the FRIDE report exposes the EC for serving as a “channel” for the “triangularization” of US funding to groups in Venezuela, in order to avoid the stain of Washington on the Venezuelan organizations receiving foreign aid for political activities.
Several German foundations, including the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) and Friedrich Ebert Foundation (ILDIS-FES) are providing direct funding to political parties in Venezuela. Konrad Adenauer invests about 500,000 Euros annually in projects with the right-wing parties COPEI and Primero Justicia, and has a 70,000 Euros annual commitment to fund programs at the conservative Catholic University Andrés Bello (UCAB), a hotbed of opposition student groups.
The governments of Canada and Spain are also funding political opposition groups and programs in Venezuela, though with a much lower profile, so as not to affect diplomatic relations.
The FRIDE report, which admits that a majority of the NGOs receiving the multi-million dollar funding are actually “virtual organizations with no offices or staff,” also reveals that the international funders are evading and violating Venezuelan laws.
Because Venezuela has currency controls, so as to prevent large amounts of capital flight, there are restrictions on the flow of foreign currency in and out of the country. Additionally, the Venezuelan currency, the Bolívar, has a fixed rate set by the State, although a large parallel or “black market” exists for illegal trading. The FRIDE report confirms that several international agencies, particularly those from the US, are exchanging currency on the illegal market, in clear violation of Venezuelan law. “…An additional problem for civil society organizations has been the ‘double currency’: even after the devaluation of the Bolívar, the unofficial exchange rate is higher than the official one…Some donors have solved this problem by paying in hard currency, by using foreign bank accounts, or by applying a semi-official exchange rate…”
The FRIDE report, titled, “Assessing Democracy Assistance: Venezuela,” is part of a series of studies conducted in 14 nations where international agencies are actively involved in funding political groups favorable to US policies. In addition to Venezuela, other case studies were conducted in Belarus, China, Georgia, Egypt, Ukraine, Nigeria, Bosnia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mysteriously, the report on Venezuela, and any evidence of its existence, disappeared from the FRIDE website after this author referred to it in a prior Spanish-language article. Nonetheless, it can now be viewed at: http://centrodealerta.org/documentos_desclasificados/fride_report_on_funding_in_.pdf
Eva Golinger, winner of Mexico’s 2009 International Journalism Award, is a Venezuela-based attorney and author. Her first book, The Chavez Code, which exposes US involvement in the 2002 coup in Venezuela, has been published in six languages and is currently being made into a feature film.