Venezuela's (Not So)Civil Society - Sumate
The most democratic woman in Venezuela, or just a US pawn?
According to the Miami Herald, the US Government is finalizing plans to double the spending of our money ($100,000) to a discredited, treasonous group operating under the guise of "democracy promotion" in Venezuela. Here is what I've learned about the group, with bits edited from here and here.
The group, called Sumate (or join-up), plans to use to the funds to "strengthen the democratic process in Venezuela." As it turns out, this would be laughable if the stakes weren't so high and opposite so apparent. For example, as one of her chief democracy strengthening activities, Sumate's leader Maria Corina Machado, signed a decree supporting the (just a wee bit) anti-democratic 2003 military coup and the corresponding attempt to dissolve the Constitution and the National Assemly. This support for a US-backed big-business directed dictatorship in the waiting has led the Venezuelan government to file legal charges against the group's leaders for treason - a trial that is looming ever larger.
According to Machado, who gained organizing experience trying to privitize homeless shelters, Súmate is "an objective non-partisan civil association." However, Súmate has worked exclusively with the Venezuelan opposition since its inception in 2002. Their controversial role conducting flawed exit polls during the referendum (specifically criticized by the Carter Center and OAS observation missions in Venezuela) and their subsequent rejection of the referendum results (though both the Carter Center and the OAS declared them to be free and fair) have cast doubt on Súmate's professed "neutrality" to say the least.
The funding also shines the light back on the US approach to Venezuela since Chavez has been in office, which is about everything BUT democracy building. Declassified records show the US quadrupled financing specifically to anti-Chávez groups, at the time that U.S. officials knew that the very same organizations and individuals clearly were planning a coup. This shows that they had the intention to support those activities. Since 2001, the total calculated amount of transparent (non CIA) US financing is a little over $27 million. And it's not just financing, it’s training and political support, and military support.
Some of you might be thinking, who cares about this one group? But this Sumate organization - and its trial that has not yet begun - are critical to the pressure that is elevating on Venezuela, from the US Government as well as human rights groups. When you hear that Chavez is "eroding democracy" from Sec. Rice, she is referring primarily to this group and their trial. So lets focus on the legality of taking money from foriegn governments to engage in political activity a bit more.
First off, the Venezuelan laws are more relaxed than our own in the US. In the US it is straight-up illegal for any political campaign to get money from a foreign government. In terms of a foreign government funding, say, an NGO or a PR group, they would have to be registered in the US with the Foreign Agent Registration Act under DOJ. They would have to report on their activities in a determined period and what is reported would have to correlate with actual actions, unlike in Sumate's case. Sumate was approved for "supervising the collection of recall election signatures," when we know they were far more involved in partisan politicking, propaganda dissemination and organizing during the recall. In Venezuuela, the law under consideration is whether Sumate tried to overthrow the Venezuelan government while receiving foriegn government money. Their appearance at the swearing-in ceremony for 2-day President Carmona and Mochado's signature on the decree that dissolved Consitution, would appear to be proof, but we'll see what the courts say.
Now of course, Chavez has held - and his supporters have won - more elections in his time in office than anyone else on the planet. Participation in elections has skyrocketed from the dismal US ranges to 90% for the referendum, where Chavez won with 60%. Participation in the affairs of the State at all levels is a guiding principle of Chavez's revolution. It was Chavez's idea to allow recall elections, lets remember. But still, the NED has us believing democracy is at risk in Venezuela and that they are supporting the "most moderate, and democratic elements." Yeah right.
We know the score, we've seen the US pull these tricks before in Nicaragua and the Phillipines. It coalesces a factured opposition, often with boatloads of undiscolsed cash, chooses its leaders from the elite of society, then chooses its moment to pounce.