U.S. Funding for Foes Enrages Venezuela’s Chavez
by Pascal Fletcher
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Documents showing U.S. funding for Venezuelan opposition groups have prompted an increase in personal attacks by President Hugo Chávez against President Bush, according to a U.S. lawyer who helped unearth the evidence.
Eva Golinger, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based attorney who supports Chavez, said documents obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act showed that around $4 million in U.S. Congress-allocated funds had been channeled to the groups before and after a 2002 coup that briefly toppled Chavez.
“These groups are being financed by a foreign government, a U.S. government that has taken an open stance against the Chavez administration, that supported the coup … it’s major meddling,” Golinger told Reuters in an interview Wednesday.
Chavez has repeatedly cited the documents this year to make scathing attacks against Bush, accusing Washington of backing efforts to oust him from the presidency of a nation that is a major oil supplier to the United States.
In his latest anti-Bush onslaught Tuesday, the Venezuelan leader took the side of insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Iraq and blamed the U.S. president for the bloodshed there. He called him an “a**hole” in February.
U.S. officials deny any involvement in the 2002 coup or that Washington is trying to topple Chavez. But they say the Bush administration supports “pro-democracy” groups.
They say Chavez, elected in 1998, is trying to pick a fight with Bush to deflect international criticism and distract attention from an opposition bid to hold a constitutional referendum on his rule this year.
“PATTERN OF SUPPORT”
Golinger says the 2,000 documents she and a journalist colleague have unearthed since fall last year indicate a pattern of U.S. financial support for groups seeking to end Chavez’s rule. This has infuriated the Venezuelan leader.
“It’s definitely exacerbated the verbal war from the Chavez side,” she said. Golinger, who heads the pro-Chavez Venezuela Solidarity Committee in New York, does not hide her admiration for Chavez, calling him a “brilliant and charismatic” leader.
She said the National Endowment For Democracy (NED), a private body funded by Congress and supported by the State Department, has given up to $1 million a year since 2000 to anti-Chavez groups and individuals, including several who played a role in the 2002 coup.
“They know they participated in the coup, but they keep on giving them funding,” she said. She has posted the NED programs and their Venezuelan recipients on a Web site, www.venezuelafoia.info.
Rejecting a Venezuelan complaint in the Organization of American States (OAS), Bush administration officials have defended what they call NED support for “democracy-building” in the world’s No. 5 oil exporter.
“The U.S. government, including the Congress, is proud to support these and other such efforts,” Washington’s ambassador to the OAS John Maisto said on March 31.
Foes of Chavez, a former paratrooper who led a failed 1992 coup six years before winning elections, say he has adroitly managed to maintain a facade of democracy while consolidating near-dictatorial power over the country’s institutions.