U.S. taxes support Venezuelan right-wing opposition

In media accounts of last Sunday’s Venezuelan election, the loser, Henrique Capriles, is portrayed as an underdog with none of the resources of the incumbent and winner of the contest, Nicolás Maduro.


In the Guardian (4/14/2013), for example, Virginia Lopez reported Capriles’ complaint that Maduro had special advantages, including support from official news channels, use of presidential aircraft for the campaign, and “resources and personnel” from state owned enterprises. But she never mentioned the substantial support that the Venezuelan opposition receives from United States taxpayers.


Our tax dollars, funneled through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Department of Defense, and nominally “non-partisan” organizations like the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), have trained, supported and equipped members of the Venezuelan opposition, including Henrique Capriles, for at least a dozen years.


Take, for example, the National Endowment for Democracy, a “nonpartisan” foundation that spends 1.5 million tax dollars on projects with virtuous and wholesome goals like: “creation of a new generation of political leaders with a deeper understanding of democratic values” and “promote dialogue among Venezuelan youth on the importance of freedom of expression.”  One can imagine how a deeper understanding of democratic values is conveyed with pro-U.S. messages of allegiance toward the United States, and “freedom of expression” that doesn’t include expressing support for Hugo Chavez.   


Just how these programs actually work on the ground can be gleaned from other reports. Almost $400,000 of the NED’s budget went through the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which, in turn, invested in its “partner,” (as local organizations are referred to in contemporary development-aid-speak), the Center for Dissemination of Economic Knowledge (CEDICE), a Venezuelan “free-market think tank” which claims alliances with ultra-conservative organizations like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation and sponsors events with titles like “The Antidote to XXI Century Socialism – Overthrow is Constitutional.”   


CEDICE’s mission statement states clearly and openly its opposition to the government and programs of Hugo Chávez. In the pages of Forbes magazine, CEDICE’s vice president, Alejandro Chafuen, recommends allying with his organization and doing business with its affiliated companies as something that U.S. firms can do to undermine the programs begun by Hugo Chávez. Chafuen also remarks that his organization has had ties with Henrique Capriles since 1999.   


The International Republican Institute is chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and purports to “advance freedom and democracy worldwide.” It has been at work in Venezuela since 1994, seeking “to enhance healthy competition in Venezuelan politics” with “building assistance, technical training and organizational assistance to political parties.” Since 2009, according to its website, it has begun a program at the local level across Venezuelan municipalities, “encouraging citizen participation in the decision-making process.” The goals of the donor agencies, USAID and other government entities, have been so clearly anti-Chávez for so long that we can be sure that only certain forms of citizen participation are encouraged. Engagement on the municipal level is another strategy to gain audiences for their messages of discontent with Chávez and now, Maduro.


The virtuous mission statements promulgated by these organizations serve to conceal the U.S. connection with the decidedly anti-democratic outcomes that their programs cause. U.S.-affiliated agencies use extreme caution and circumspection when describing their own actions. When chaos or violence breaks out under their influence, American diplomats can disavow any connection and claim that they are completely innocent of any wrong-doing. In 2002, when a coup attempt against Hugo Chavez was launched by the “new generation of leaders” that U.S. tax dollars helped to train, the U.S. proclaimed that none of its agencies had broken any U.S. law.


Right now, the Venezuelan opposition doesn’t seem to know that the first characteristic of a democratic process is rule by the people. Instead, the U.S. hand-picked presidential candidate Henrique Capriles refuses to concede that he lost the election. How deep can his understanding of democratic values be if he cannot accept defeat at the polls?

Photo: Image depicts the “out of control” right-wing opposition, in some cases violent, and a thoughtful, calm young Bolivarian Revolution supporter.


Anita Waters
Anita Waters

Anita Waters is Professor Emerita of sociology at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and an organizer for the CPUSA in Ohio.