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Well, stripe me pink and call me a peppermint stick...

...because the Chavez-and-Castro-hating Miami Herald appears to have had a moment of mournful truth!

Less than five months before a December presidential election, Venezuela's fractured opposition still has no clear candidate to square off against President Hugo Chávez, a charismatic leftist seeking a new six-year mandate.

None of the potential contenders individually is a match for Chávez, whose support stands at about 55 percent in opinion polls. Although there is broad consensus on the need for a united candidacy, there is controversy over the selection method -- and even over whether to take part in the December balloting at all.

On Aug. 13, nine opposition hopefuls will submit themselves to a primary election, organized by the independent electoral pressure group Súmate. But that is unlikely to resolve the issue.

Eight months ago, the opposition boycotted legislative elections, alleging they were rigged. The result was that the government won all the seats in the National Assembly. Many believe that tactic should be repeated, so as not to lend legitimacy to a Chávez reelection.

Participants in the primaries are ''like drunks fighting over an empty bottle,'' said Henry Ramos Allup of the once-powerful Democratic Action Party, a prominent supporter of boycotting the vote.

Meanwhile, Teodoro Petkoff, a leading candidate, former planning minister and editor of Tal Cual newspaper who is a critic of the abstention movement, has refused to participate in the primaries.

Political matters ''should be resolved by politicians and not technicians,'' Petkoff said earlier this month as he rejected what he called an unacceptable ''ultimatum'' by Súmate to agree on a primary.

The organization, which was instrumental in pushing for a 2004 recall referendum against Chávez, is allegedly seeking to oblige any candidates to withdraw from the December election if the government does not meet certain conditions for a fair vote.

''This is all a big comedy,'' said political analyst Fausto Masó. ``Who's going to bother to vote if it's simply to choose a candidate who will ultimately pull out of the election?''

LOL--amazing...not a single piece of bullshit so far! Who slipped them the antivenom, I wonder?

Let's hope the truth serum holds...

Súmate spokesman Alejandro Plaz denies the allegation.

''Once the candidate is chosen, what power do we have over them? It's their decision,'' he told The Miami Herald.

Critics say Petkoff's rejection of a primary reflects his deficit in the polls. He trails the two leading opposition candidates -- Manuel Rosales, governor of the populous western state of Zulia, and Julio Borges of the center-right Justice First Party -- both of whom have agreed to take part.

Petkoff has said that he will step down if it becomes obvious that his candidacy has insufficient support. Some say that decision may be imminent. But he's still warning that a primary could backfire on the opposition if, for example, the turnout is very low.

Well, now that makes a few more damning bits of truth. One, that Sumate is politically lame, lacking the power to even control its chosen candidate and make him run, win or lose. Two, that even the prominent Petkoff, considered by some to be the closest thing Chavez has to a rival, is suffering from a "deficit in the polls" (translation: he doesn't stand a snowball's chance.) And then, of course, the danger of a low turnout for the opposition primary--intimating that these people aren't interested in voting for anyone (so much for their claims to "democracy"!)

Onwards...

Chávez says he will defeat the opposition candidate, whoever it is. He insists he will get 10 million votes, four million more than in the 2004 referendum. And the government says it has no interest in the decision over a primary.

''President Chávez's government does not in any way interfere with opposition politics,'' Vice President José Vicente Rangel said at a news conference Thursday.

What--no opposition cries of "interference" to "balance" that statement? They just let it sit there? Well, I'll be buggered! This is a new departure for the Herald, which usually never misses a chance to slam Chavez and his supporters.

Oh wait, maybe I spoke too soon?

But a group of pro-Chávez legislators has alleged that Súmate is violating the constitution by ''usurping'' the role of the National Electoral Council. They are calling for Súmate's finances to be investigated, alleging it is using U.S. government money to fund the primaries.

José Albornoz, secretary general of the Fatherland for All Party, a Chávez ally and one of those behind the complaint, said they wanted to ''remove the veil'' from Súmate and oblige it to ``assume its role as a political party.''

Venezuelan law bans foreign funding for political parties. Several Súmate leaders are being prosecuted on charges of seeking to undermine Venezuela's institutions, after receiving a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funded by the U.S. Congress.

Albornoz says the primaries will cost $12.5 million -- not the $600,000 that Súmate claims -- and alleges that money has been smuggled into the country to pay for them.

''The ballot papers alone will cost almost $650,000,'' he told The Miami Herald.

Súmate denies the allegation, saying that friendly suppliers have offered special deals. Plaz said its finances are an open book, available via the organization's website, www.sumate.org.

"Friendly suppliers" and "special deals"? That smells strange to me. Anywhere else, that sort of thing is referred to as "influence-buying".

Checking their site, I find:

A PDF showing they accepted money from USAID, which is certainly no domestic organization, and

Another PDF showing they've also accepted money from the NED. Which is also no domestic organization.

Both of those PDFs are dated 2003. Nothing more recent on the site than that. Hmmm, kind of odd in light of the "open books" statement, for here's something that rather contradicts them:

In September 2005, the Miami Herald reported that NED approved a $107,000 grant to Sumate, "a Venezuelan citizens group whose leaders already face charges in Venezuela of using Washington's money to try to overthrow President Hugo Chavez's government. ... Súmate leaders could face prison sentences of up to 16 years if convicted of 'conspiracy to destroy the nation's republican form of government' by accepting $31,000 from NED in 2004. Súmate helped gather the signatures to force last year's recall referendum on Chávez, which the president won handily." The 2005 grant was to train up to 11,000 people on electoral rights, in small groups of 20 to 25.

Well, I'll be. Looks like the Herald occasionally pulls its nose out of the Miami Mafia's ass just long enough to get a whiff of truth. The big question is, why aren't they more critical and curious when it comes to Sumate's contradictory statements? These grants appear nowhere on the 2004 or 2005 statements of accounts, and I'm damned if I could find anything about them on Sumate's site!

In light of all that, the "friendly suppliers" and "special deals" vagueness raises more than a few red flags.

What's even more shocking--and painful to me--is the fact that Canada has also kicked in $16,000 (CDN) to this group as recently as last year. Haven't our feds anything better to spend taxpayer dollars on than undermining democracy elsewhere? Or did someone in Washington put them up to it in an effort to make it look legitimate? Whatever the answer, it's not; it's a crime for foreign governments to try to influence the Venezuelan elections, and it's hard to see how giving money to the aggressively anti-Chavez, openly antidemocratic Sumate could be anything else.

And in case you need anything else to convince you that Sumate has no democratic interests in mind, consider what Eva Golinger has found:

Curiously, Súmate has also received an unprecedented and almost inexplicable level of support from the U.S. Government, and not just financial support, but rather political support on a very public and international level. In November 2004, after an initial court date had been set for the case against the Súmate directors, NED President Carl Gershman, accompanied by Latin America Program Director Chris Sabatini, made a historic visit to Venezuela with the objective of convincing the government to drop the case. Gershman met separately with then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ivan Rincon and Attorney General Isaias Rodriguez, threatening both functionaries that if the case were to proceed against the Súmate members, relations between the two nations would worsen and a World Bank grant to Venezuela's Supreme Court for a judicial reform program would be cut. Days afterward, Gershman came through on his promises. The NED, surely with the powerful aid of its boss, the Department of State, had pulled its strings with the World Bank and cut the funding to Venezuela's judiciary, and just twenty-four hours after Gershman returned to U.S. soil, a well-crafted letter from "70 respected international democrats," all either board members of the NED or beneficiaries of NED-related programs, was released from NED's public relations office, condemning the case against Súmate and accusing the Venezuelan Government of political persecution and violation of democratic principles. And before Gershman parted from Venezuela, he revealingly declared to the press, in a fit of anger perhaps for not getting his way, that "Venezuela is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship but rather something in between." Clearly such a statement evidences NED's opposition to Venezuela's democratic government.

Just last month, Súmate director and defendant Maria Corina Machado received a surprise invitation to meet with President George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. Ms. Machado appeared in a fantastical photograph holding hands with President Bush in the Oval Office, smiling from ear to ear. Upon her exit from the momentous visit, Machado gave a press conference on the White House lawn, a place fit for prime ministers, presidents and high-level officials. She was the first Venezuelan during the Bush presidency to be invited and received in the White House, not a single member of the Chávez Government has received a similar invitation. On the contrary, the Bush Administration has participated in and supported a coup d'etat against President Chávez in 2002, a vicious oil industry sabotage that caused almost irreparable damages and an ongoing destabilization campaign, including an international media war intended to discredit the Venezuelan leader, that has polarized Venezuela and fomented violence, conflict and animosity.

Yet Súmate and its members have received the royal treatment from the U.S. Government — Democrats and Republicans alike. Just recently, during a visit of several U.S. Congress members to Venezuela, it was declared that Súmate would receive "even more financing" from the NED and USAID. The day after the court decided to allow the case against Súmate to proceed on its merits, Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman for the U.S. Department of State issued a press release entitled "Súmate Trial Decision," expressing the U.S. Government's "disappointment" in the judge's decision to try the Súmate leaders and alleging the Venezuelan Government engages in "political persecution and continued threats to democratic rights and institutions." Once again, the U.S. Government failed to recognize that Venezuela too cherishes the doctrine of separation of powers. The case against Súmate now falls within the judicial power — and the prosecutor's office that is bringing the case falls within the moral power, a branch nonexistent in the U.S. Venezuela has five independent branches of government: executive, legislative, judicial, electoral and moral — neither controls nor influences the other. The U.S. Government has consistently attempted to pressure the Venezuelan executive into acting on the Súmate case, disrespecting outright the independent and separate nature of Venezuela's political system and trying to dominate and intimidate the Venezuelan Government.

So why is the U.S. Government so afraid of the case against Súmate? Most likely because the case exposes the nefarious and deceitful nature of the National Endowment for Democracy and other U.S. Government facades for civil society intervention. The NED is a U.S. Government agency, though often referred to as "quasi-governmental" because it insists on its status as "private," despite the fact that 99% of its funding comes from Congress (tax money) and it was established through Congressional legislation in 1983. The NED is also required to report to Congress annually on its activities and exercises its functions under direct supervision of the Department of State. In fact, each NED representative in the more than 75 nations where the organization operates is stationed usually in the U.S. Embassy, working under the supervision of the U.S. Ambassador.

In early 2001, NED quadrupled its financing to groups in Venezuela and increased the amount of grants it was dispensing, funding new social organizations and political parties that had emerged within the growing opposition to President Chávez. NED spokespersons have not denied the fact that all of the entities it finances in Venezuela fall within the anti-Chávez spectrum. Furthermore, after the April 2002 failed coup against President Chávez, the NED received a special $1 million grant from the Department of State for its work in Venezuela. Instead of cutting funding to those groups that had participated in the illegal coup that briefly deposed Venezuela's legitimate government, the NED actually increased such funding, rewarding those very same groups that had wreaked havoc on Venezuela's democracy.

The NED has been engaging in ongoing efforts to strengthen organizations and political parties working to overthrow the Chávez administration or eventually oust the President from power through electoral processes. Its work consistently undermines the objectives and missions of the Venezuelan people and their Government by funneling millions into groups working against the wishes of the majority and providing and resources aimed at building a solid opposition party capable of challenging the Venezuelan Government. While it is perfectly legitimate in democratic nations for diverse political parties and groups to co-exist, such efforts should never be funded by foreign governments, especially those governments with major self-interests in the nation and contrasting political positions.

The NED is one of the U.S. Government's most powerful tools to discretely and subtly promote its interests abroad and penetrate civil societies with the objective of influencing the internal affairs of nations to placate U.S. needs. Ethiopia recently expelled the NED and USAID and their affiliates, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and IFES for "meddling in domestic electoral affairs" (see The Daily Monitor, April 1, 2005, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). And in May, 2005, Russia's security chief, accused the U.S. Government of "using non-governmental organizations that promote democracy to spy on Russia and bring about political upheaval in former Soviet republics", referring specifically to the NED and USAID-funded International Republican Institute (see The Guardian).

The NED and USAID played key roles in recent elections in the Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and other Eastern European nations that all resulted in outcomes favorable to U.S. interests. In Venezuela, the case against Súmate is exposing the NED's dirty work and threatening its ongoing existence and success around the world, which is why it has provoked the involvement of the highest levels of the U.S. Government. This case may very well turn out to be the death of the National Endowment for Democracy, or at least the start of its slow descent into oblivion.

And we all know who would NOT want that to happen.

Yoohoo, Miami Herald--what's the matter? NED got your tongue?

Comments

Isn't it nice to know that even with schools in America struggling to get funding and the national debt heading into the stratosphere, we still find the money to give to foreign political parties that support the U.S.? I believe we all know how well that turned out for us in Iran. And if the 2002 coup d'etat had succeeded, another dictator like the Shaw would be running Venezuela now.

If the goal were to encourage democracy, wouldn't the donations be equal to all parties in Venezuela? That is the truth that the NED is so afraid will come out. You can't help democracy if you only fund one side.

This is a very rare article indeed, 'Bina. I would be watching my back now if I were Phil Gunson. He just helped expose some very powerful people and their criminal activity. How long it will be until the calls for the Miami Herald to be charged with treason begin, I wonder?

Oh, I fully anticipate that the Herald will soon return to its usual wall-to-wall anti-Chavez coverage. The mafia won't let them get away with honest reporting for long. Any day now, they'll be running editorials comparing Chavez to Hitler, whining, wagging and licking Maria Machado's Prada shoes again.

As for me, I'll be receiving these alerts in my inbox and looking as closely at what they DON'T say as at what they do.