Venezuelan judge Normal Sandoval ruled July 7 that four members of the Venezuelan NGO Sumate would be facing trial on at least two charges. Under Article 132 of Venezuela’s Penal Code they will be charged with “conspiracy to destroy the republican political form of the nation,” a charge approaching that of treason.

The Sumate leaders will be charged also under Article 25 of the Political Parties Act, which declares it a crime for a political party to accept money from foreign sources. Sumate is alleged to have used a $53,400 grant from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to help fund its campaign to defeat President Hugo Chavez in the recall vote August 15, 2004.

Maria Corina Machado, co-director of Sumate and one of those appearing in court, claims that Sumate is a “non-partisan civil association.” Yet Machado and other Sumate leaders have tried for years to unseat democratically elected President Chavez. She signed the “Carmona Decree” that emanated from the failed April 2002 coup attempt.
President Bush received Machado two months ago at the White House – a courtesy denied Venezuelan government leaders.

Washington is not taking the upcoming trial lightly. In November 2004, a group of academicians, think-tank politicos and NGO people affiliated with NED wrote a letter to Venezuelan leaders, demanding that they back off in their proceedings against Sumate.

Reacting to the July 7 court action, Human Rights Watch, reputed to follow the US line, placed on its website the claim that “The court has given the government a green light to persecute its opponents.”

The US State Department opined, “These judicial actions are a transparent part of the Venezuelan government’s campaign designed to intimidate members of civil society for exercising their democratic rights.”

For Venezuelan Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, the US comments represent a “grave interference in Venezuela’s judicial process.”

“Why is the US Government so afraid of the case against Sumate,” asks Venezuelan-American lawyer Eva Golinger. “ Most likely because the case exposes the nefarious and deceitful role of the NED.” She points out that 99 percent of NED funding comes from Congress.

The NED has special ties with Venezuela. In 2001, it quadrupled its funding of opposition groups there, paying them well ever since. After the failed April 2002 coup the US State Department awarded NED a $1 million bonus.

On learning last November that Sumate would be going to court, NED president Carl Gershman and associates headed off to Caracas to lean on judicial officials there, hopeful that they would forget about Sumate. Miffed by Venezuelan intransigence, Washington went on to pressure the World Bank to tighten up on funds to Venezuela.

The US labor movement also has a stake in the outcome of the Sumate case. California Union official Fred Hirsch has long been decrying the fact that the AFL-CIO’s American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the so-called “Solidarity Center,” takes NED money in order to buy labor’s support internationally for US foreign policy objectives.

Speaking at a Labor Assembly in Geneva, Hirsch condemned the Solidarity Center’s role in propping up the CTV, a Venezuelan Labor Federation now discredited for its history of employer collaboration. He had been invited to Geneva by the UNT, Venezuela’s new labor federation, one that supports the Bolivarian Revolution.