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lunes, febrero 06, 2006

CSM on USAID's "democracy promotion" funds

The Christian Science Monitor just published an investigative article on U.S. government funding of the Venezuelan opposition, through USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives. Now, NED money flowing into Venezuela has received a lot of attention, but the CSM says:

Sumate's NED money is small change compared to the millions of dollars given to Venezuelan groups by a little-known branch of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) called the Office for Transition Initiatives (OTI). The Venezuelan government and some analysts question OTI's motives in Venezuela, since it is less transparent than other US aid agencies, more directly tied to US foreign policy interests, and has unusual budgetary flexibility. . . .

Yet unlike most USAID programs, OTI describes itself as "overtly political" and particularly tied to foreign-policy goals.

In order to issue grants quickly, OTI can spend money free from earmarks for specific programs that Congress often puts on regular USAID funds. . . .

OTI says on its website that transparency is one of its "strategic principles," but declined to release the names of its grantees and denied requests for any on-the-record interviews on its Venezuela program.

The US government did agree by phone to release to the Monitor descriptions of all 2005 OTI grants with most of the grantees' names blacked out. These documents have not yet been received.

What does this mean?

a) $4.5 million of US taxpayers' money thrown into a black hole
Yep, the OTI is even "less transparent" than the NED -- and that's saying a lot. OTI won't release the names of its grantees, and refused to even grant an interview to the CSM reporters.

Oh yeah, and it gets the cash for those grants from "disaster-assistance funding," i.e. our tax dollars. Don't we have a right to know where that money is going?

b)Blatant interference with democracy
$4.5 million is a whole lot of money to me, and probably to you. But it's a drop in the ocean compared to the whole federal budget. So why should we care how it's being spent?

OTI refused to release its grantees' names because it says they would be placed in danger of being investigated by the Venezuelan government. Maybe so. But if OTI isn't funding political activity, it should have little to fear from an investigation, right?

The problem is, everyone knows (unofficially) that it is funding anti-Chavez political activity, and even OTI "describes itself as 'overtly political'".

A foreign government putting money into another county's political campaigns is illegal in the US and illegal in Venezuela. Remember the big brouhaha when Clinton was accused of accepting campaign contributions from donors in China? OTI, like the NED, may try to finesse their work and say they're not supporting partisan electoral efforts, but no one's going to believe them.

That's not to say that some of the groups OTI supports might not be doing good work. And even if they're doing lousy work, domestic organizations have the right to do whatever they want, including electoral politics and street protests, as long as their acts are nonviolent and do not circumvent democratic decision-making. But when they start accepting funding and "assistance" from a foreign government, that's a different story.

Full article: Democracy's 'Special Forces' Face Heat

More info:

"Transitioning Venezuela" by Tom Barry at the International Relations Center: highly recommended, covers OTI and NED and gets a bit into the deeper question of what the US really means by "democratization"

OTI's description of its Venezuela program: Venezuela Fact Sheet October 2005

Philip Agee's article: informative details on OTI contracts, though I think he leans too much on "the CIA" as the invisible hand behind everything

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