US in bid to oust Chávez?

The United States government has been accused of trying to undermine the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela by funding anonymous groups via its main international aid agency.

Millions of dollars have been provided in a ‘pro-democracy programme’’ that Chávez supporters claim is a covert attempt to bankroll an opposition to defeat the government.

The money is being provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAid) through its Office of Transition Initiatives. The row follows the recent announcement that the US had made $80-million available for groups seeking to bring about change in Cuba, whose leader, Fidel Castro, is a close ally of Chávez.

Information about the grants has been obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Associated Press. USAid released copies of 132 contracts, but obscured the names and other identifying details of nearly half the organisations.

The Office of Transition Initiatives, which also works in such ‘priority countries” as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bolivia and Haiti, has overseen more than $26-million in grants to groups in Venezuela since 2002.

Among the grants detailed are: one for $47 459 for a ‘democratic leadership campaign’‘; $37 614 for citizen meetings to discuss a ‘shared vision” for society; and one of $56 124 to analyse Venezuela’s new Constitution.

‘What this indicates is that there is a great deal of money, a great deal of concern to oust or neutralise Chávez,’’ said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington.
‘The US is waging diplomatic warfare against Venezuela.’‘

He said that while the US had accused Chávez of destabilising Latin American countries, the term ‘destabilisation’’ more aptly applied to what the US was trying to do to Chávez.

‘It’s trying to implement regime change,’’ Eva Golinger, a Venezuelan­American­ lawyer who wrote The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, told AP. ‘There’s no doubt about it. I think the US government tries to mask it by saying it’s a noble mission. It’s too suspicious to have such a high level of secrecy.’‘

Chávez has also accused groups of taking American money and predicted that the US will seek to use its influence in Venezuela’s December polls.

USAid officials denied any suggestion that the money had any political aim and said the reason for anonymity for some groups was to protect them from potential harassment.

‘The goal of the programme is to strengthen democracy, which is consistent with President Bush’s ‘Freedom Agenda’,’’ a USAid official said this week. ‘A strong civil society is a critical part of any healthy democracy, just as it is in the United States, England or anywhere else in the world.’‘

The official said the money was used to pay for ‘a wide range of seminars, educational programmes and even public service TV commercials aimed at promoting dialogue between pro- and anti-Chávez camps. Other projects include workshops on conflict resolution, efforts to promote human rights, and training for positive citizen involvement in their communities.’‘

USAid also supports programmes such as day-care centres for the poor, improvement for schools and junior sports teams, the official said, adding that the sums being spent in Venezuela were much smaller than those allocated this year elsewhere in Latin America, with USAid budgeting $3,8-million for Venezuela compared with $84,8-million for Bolivia and $85,1-million for Peru.

The row comes just as China has agreed to invest $5-billion in energy projects in Venezuela, including the building of 13 oil rigs and 18 oil tankers.

Last week, Chávez announced that China was endorsing Venezuela’s bid for the rotating Latin America seat on the 15-member security council, a candidacy strongly opposed by the US. The commercial arrangements with Beijing are seen as part of the Chávez government’s strategy of establishing new links so as to lessen the country’s dependence on US trade.

As a symbol of the friendly relations established between Chávez and London mayor Ken Livingstone there will be a festival of Latin-American music with a Caracas theme in Trafalgar Square on Friday evening. The two men met earlier this year when the president was a guest at an event hosted by the mayor.—

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