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By Alexandra Beech,

Edging closer to a resolution of the electoral crisis, Venezuela’s National Elections Council today announced dates and conditions for the verification of the signatures under review for recall referenda. Bloomberg News reports that “Venezuela's National Electoral Council said signers of petitions seeking a recall vote on President Hugo Chavez will have from May 20 to May 24 to affirm 1 million signatures that are under dispute.” Opposition leaders said that they would study the conditions before accepting them. Moreover, Bloomberg reports that 2,659 centers would be set up to handle the process. (see Local News Review)

To activate a recall referendum against Chavez, the opposition would have to “confirm more than 600,000 disputed signatures, officials have said,.” 2.496.798 valid signatures, or 20% of voters registered in the electoral registry are required to activate a recall referendum. The opposition submitted 3.4 million signatures in December. Currently, electoral authorities consider 1.827.017 signatures valid, while 1.327.000 are under review, despite a ruling by the Supreme Court’s electoral chamber which called on electoral authorities to accept them. In addition, the electoral authorities announced the dates for referenda on lawmakers. “The verification of disputed signatures seeking recalls on government and opposition legislators will take place May 13 though May 17, Council Board Member Jorge Rodriguez said,” according to Bloomberg News.

In other news, US government representatives denied allegations by Chavez and his supporters that the US government planned and financed the events that led to Chavez’s temporary ouster on April 11-12, 2002. “The U.S. government dismissed allegations by President Hugo Chavez that it was behind a failed 2002 coup and accused him of making the charges in order to distract attention from Venezuela's political crisis,” according to the Associated Press. In a statement released late Wednesday, the US Embassy said: "It's clearly another attempt to distract attention from the efforts of the Venezuelan people to overcome their political polarization and reach a constitutional, peaceful, democratic and electoral solution to the impasse." In addition, Dow Jones and the New York Times report that “[a] U.S. State Department official criticized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's recent spate of accusations against the U.S...Roger Noriega, assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, said Wednesday that ‘negative examples’ from Chavez were mounting.”


On Thursday, many news sites (including the New York Times and Washington Post) around the world presented a Reuters story titled “U.S. Funding for Foes Enrages Venezuela's Chavez” in which Eva Golinger, a Brooklyn-based lawyer visiting President Chavez in Venezuela, “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.” In addition, Golinger “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.” This is just the type of story that the conspiracy-minded media loves, since it highlights two favorite elements: it portrays the US government in an unfavorable light, and it promotes the notion that the US secretly overthrows defenseless regimes around the world, with the aid of Congress. However, only studying how these sleuths obtained the “2000 documents” demonstrates the transparency that is present in the United States and so lacking in other countries. Ms. Golinger and her colleague Jeremy Bigwood, (a “journalist” who introduced himself to me in Washington as a freelancer “working on a story for UPI” – now there’s transparency!) obtained the “2,000 documents” because they are available to anyone who wants them through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The following is information published by the Department of Justice on its website:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which can be found in Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, (1) was enacted in 1966 and generally provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the Executive Branch of the United States Government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request for them, except for those records (or portions of them) that are protected from disclosure by the nine exemptions and three exclusions of the FOIA. This right of access is enforceable in court. The FOIA does not, however, provide access to records held by state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local government records; state agencies should be consulted for further information about them.

There was no snooping around, nor was this spy work, though no one would guess that from the Associated Press, who describes Golinger as “a U.S. lawyer who helped unearth the evidence.” What unearthing is it referring to, when what took place was simple research? Furthermore, the National Endowment for Democracy, “a private, nonprofit organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts,” also provides information online.

The NED has supported democratic organizations in Venezuela since 1993. In recent years in Venezuela the trade unions have been threatened with dissolution, journalists have been put at risk with their freedom curtailed and democratic institutions and processes have been manipulated and undermined. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reports that the conditions in Venezuela "demonstrate a clear weakness in the fundamental pillars that must support the rule of law in a democratic system, consistent with the American Convention on Human Rights and other international instruments." NED has increased its funding over the past two years for programs in Venezuela that help groups defend basic democratic rights. The objective of the NED's programs in Venezuela, as in all such countries where democratic rights are threatened, has been and remains to support groups and individuals struggling to strengthen democratic processes, rights, and values, irrespective of their political or partisan affiliations. All of these groups represent the most moderate, and democratic elements in what has become an extremely polarized situation.

Reviewing the groups that the NED has funded, one does not find black helicopters, tanks, night vision goggles, parachutes, or any of the other instruments which Chavez used in 1992 in his attempt to overthrow the government of democratically elected Carlos Andres Perez. On the NED list, one finds, for instance, Sumate, a smart group of nerdy professionals with computer savvy who have been instrumental in planning and executing the signature drives which Chavez has wholeheartedly rejected. One finds Instituto de Prensa y Sociedad - Venezuela (Press and Society Institute - Venezuela), which “works to protect journalists through an alert network and improve their investigative reporting skills.” Another grantee is Justicia Alternativa, which “uses NED support to conduct training on conflict resolution, human rights, and police-community relations in the state of Aragua.” The Center for Justice and International Law “monitors the human rights situation in Venezuela and is training local human rights groups and journalists on how to prepare cases for the Inter-American system to defend freedom of expression,” while Acción para el Desarrollo organizes “civic education workshops on democratic values and conflict resolution for presidents of neighborhood associations.” What a bunch of conspirators!

What the Associated Press article fails to mention is who is financing Ms. Golinger’s trip in Venezuela, or why the pro-Chavez site she writes for is registered with the same data as, a government-funded website with an office in the presidential palace. Venezuelans do not have access to that information because unlike the United States, (which she seems to vilify while holding residence here), does not have a Freedom of Information Act. If the Venezuelan government fired over 18,000 workers oil workers who went on strike to protest its policies, and others who signed a democratic petition for a recall referendum, does anyone think that it would fund opposition efforts within the country? A democracy is rule by the people for the people, and my guess is that the same 54 percent who “would vote to recall Chavez” (according to Bloomberg) would also welcome funds from anywhere that promoted civic organizations, plurality, education, human rights, and above all, democracy.

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