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21 February 2008 Edition

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INTERNATIONAL : US millions fund anti-Venezuela groups

War on democracy


IN the years 2006-2007, the United States allocated some $16 million in public monies to fund the ousting – or overthrow, they’re not too fussy – of a democratically-elected head of state. There was no international outcry, no clamour, no calls regime change in Washington.
This year, that figure will doubtless be adjusted upwards for inflation. Indeed, it is unlikely that the threat of recession in the US will trim the sails of these eager coup-masters or soothe their increasingly intemperate fixation with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the man who has won more elections than the entire Bush dynasty combined.
And that figure of $16 million is simply what is in full public view – either it has been publicly announced or is available on the public record. Some of it has been – and continues to be – disbursed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which, despite the noble connotations of that title, is a rather grubby little outfit that has many years’ experience undermining genuinely democratic and progressive movements across Latin America.
The NED chanelled some $2.16 million to a plethora of Venezuelan organisations variously described as promoting the development of either ‘civil society’ or ‘human rights’. Meanwhile, USAID – the official US vehicle for providing aid to the Third World – enjoys a special budget line for ‘democracy promotion and transition’, which soaked up a further $3.6 million. (The Venezuelans can be thankful for some small mercies – Cuba has an entire arm of the US Government solely devoted to overseeing its own ‘transition’, although it is not thought the Cuban people have been consulted on this.)
And then there is the $10 million that the US Congress voted in 2007 in order to facilitate transmission of propaganda to Venezuela. Remember, because the US Congress certainly doesn’t seem to, that the bulk of the media in Venezuela in privately-owned and rabidly opposed to Chavez, that it daily plunges depths of bias and incitement so deep as to make Murdoch’s Fox News seem a bastion of reasoned calm and progressive values. Hard to see how all that expensive propaganda will be heard above the din.
So this is what planned destabilisation looks like. This is the bare, laid-out bones of a calculated plan to undo a popular, reforming government that has won ten successive elections and referenda and speedily accepted defeat on the one occasion it failed to win a majority. In this banal series of budget lines and Lewis Carroll-like  phrases, where undermining a thriving democracy becomes an exercise in civic duty, we see the anatomy of  a coup as practised in the 21st Century.

Remember also that the monies which fund this little caper are just what is on public view. Below the waterline some frantic activity is taking place, such that at the very least you could safely add a zero to the end of that $16 million. And then double or treble that figure to discover what Washington spends annually in this flourishing war on democracy.
US Navy submarines have developed a nasty habit of surfacing as close as 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Since 1999, the US has maintained an air force base on the Dutch-owned island of Curacao, a major shipping destination and Venezuela’s nearest neighbour in the Caribbean.
In 2006, the air base underwent a significant expansion and US military sea traffic saw a tenfold increase, according to some accounts. The expansion also seems to have triggered huge enthusiasm at senior levels for conducting naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea – exercises to respond to ‘terrorist threats’ or ‘humanitarian crises’. And this activity also appears to have been coupled with an increase in the puerile, anti-Chavez rhetoric emanating from Washington.
An interesting straw in the wind, perhaps, is the recent outbreak of hostilities between the Venezuelan authorities and US oil giant Exxon Mobil, following the latter’s refusal to accept new exploration terms drawn up by the government. Other oil companies signed new deals and accepted compensation, but Exxon Mobil alone refused.
Given the US dependence on Venezuelan oil, that might be taken, under the circumstances, to constitute slightly odd behaviour.
Having seen it all go disastrously, spectacularly and gloriously wrong in the failed 2001 coup – a gang of drunken teenagers would have been more coherent than the coup plotters  – it is unlikely the US will go down that route again, or at least not so obviously down that route.
But the campaign of destabilisation and the assault on democracy will continue for as long as one of the Bush gang remains in office. Would a Democratic Party president order a halt to this anti-democratic activity? It would be remarkable if that question was even posed to any of the current contenders.

WE CANNOT let the opportunity pass without sending congratulations and best wishes to Fidel Castro on the occasion of his retirement from active politics, just one year shy of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. He’s more than earned a rest but somehow we can’t see him swinging in a hammock and sipping a mojito.

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