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Canada's "Democracy Promotion" in Venezuela PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Thursday, 09 April 2009 09:49

Canada's "Democracy Promotion" in Venezuela

PEJ News- Anthony Fenton- Canada's foreign policy, as that country which is closer geographically, economically, and militarily with the US than any other, has long been circumscribed by the whims of the world's lone Superpower.

Part of the 'hidden wiring' of the US-Canada relationship is premised on the belief that there is a role for Canada in places where the US carries a lot of counter-productive baggage. New records obtained by The Dominion show just how actively intertwined Canada's foreign policy is with the US-led 'democracy' promotion project in Venezuela.


Successive Canadian governments, beginning with Paul Martin's Liberals and increasing under Harper's Tory minorities, have pushed full steam ahead with efforts to expand Canada's democracy promotion efforts globally. Canadian leadership in the regime change and military occupation of Haiti (2004-present) gave rise to a renewed emphasis on the region as an emerging regional power, which carries on under Harper.

Democracy promotion is seldom discussed in the Canadian public sphere, even while it has been the subject of a multitude of federal level conferences, reports, and parliamentary hearings over the last five years. Over that same time, Canada has increasingly been integrating its instruments of democracy promotion with those of the US.

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama quietly pledged to increase funding for the controversial National Endowment for Democracy (NED), despite scaling back the rhetoric used to describe continuing US aims to promote global, Western-style democracy. Obama has already fulfilled this pledge.

His Omnibus Appropriations Act allocates $115 million for NED's operations, increasing by $35 million the amount requested by Bush for 2009. All told, the requested 2009 budget for US democracy programs is the highest ever at $1.72 billion. By contrast, Canada spent upwards of $650 million on democracy promotion in 2008.

The NED was formed in 1983 as a new tool to advance US foreign policy and business interests around the world. Nominally independent, NED receives the majority of its budget from Congress, and each of its grants must be approved by the US State Department.

"One of the NED's first major successes...was helping to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua," writes journalist Bart Jones in his authoritative biography of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. According to Jones, a couple of decades later "the NED was rapidly infiltrating [Venezuelan] society in a way reminiscent of the Nicaragua experience." Channelling money and resources to opposition NGOs has been a prime strategy of the NED in Venezuela.

Following a short-lived coup d'etat against Chavez in April 2002, Venezuelan-American attorney Eva Golinger and investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood obtained a treasure trove of documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. These documents, released in conjunction with Golinger's 2004 book, The Chavez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, exposed NED's active role in the attempted subversion of Venezuela's democracy.

One of several Canadian NGOs whose activities are complementary to those of the NED is the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL). Established by the Mulroney government in the 1990's, FOCAL is almost entirely dependent on government funding and is accountable to Parliament.

A 2004 evaluation of FOCAL conducted by Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) wrote:

Stakeholders from every sector and from the academic community in particular, indicated that FOCAL is already perceived as 'the right arm of the government,' echoing the perspective and beliefs of its funding bodies, rather than a truly independent, non-governmental organization.

"The US has been using Canadian and European foundations more frequently in recent years to filter funding to Venezuelan and other NGOs and political parties that promote their mutual interests," said Golinger, whose most recent book is The Imperial Web: Encyclopedia of Interference and Subversion. "It's a way of covering up US meddling and making the sources of foreign funding for political objectives more difficult to detect. Canada has been a major ally of the US in this respect, particularly in the case of Venezuela."

Negative perceptions of the US indicate the necessity of "shifting responsibility for the [democracy] campaign to more local actors or other Western allies," wrote Raymond Gastil, one of the theoreticians behind the US shift to democracy promotion, in 1988.

Although far from the first such instance, Canada began to take on such "responsibility" towards Venezuela in January 2005. DFAIT invited the head of a key opposition group in Venezuela, Sumate's Maria Corina Machado, to meet Ottawa lawmakers and officials, as well as to give a briefing on political rights in Venezuela.

Machado openly supported the 2002 coup against Chavez. In 2004, she was charged with conspiracy to commit treason for allegedly using NED funds to campaign against Chavez in a recall referendum organized by the opposition.

According to records obtained by The Dominion through Access to Information request FOCAL's chairman John Graham joined Machado in Washington, D.C. for a high level meeting in 2005. In attendance were former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Roger Noriega. "An exchange of ideas as regards the relationships between the civil society and the governments for the strengthening of democracy in the region," was the stated purpose of the meeting.

Shortly after Graham's meeting with Rice and Machado, the NED approved a $94,516 grant for FOCAL to carry out democracy promotion work in and around Venezuela.

Using the NED funds, FOCAL was to commission a series of papers and organize a number of meetings in Ottawa, Venezuela and Ecuador "to discuss how to better collaborate in promoting an informed civil society that can strengthen democracy in the region."

But after Stephen Harper's Conservatives took power in early 2006, FOCAL abruptly cancelled the activities that were supposed to take place in Venezuela.

"After discussing this project with various people...[we] came to the conclusion that it was not in anybody's interests to organize such an activity while being financially associated with the NED," reads a heavily-censored memo sent by DFAIT official Flavie Major in July of 2006.

"[S]ince the project was originally drafted the internal context in Venezuela has shifted, as has the domestic context in Canada, which could potentially alter the priority and focus of Canada's engagement in Venezuela," indicates a separate document obtained through a US FOIA request.

An example of the changing political context in Venezuela is the 2006 draft Law on International Cooperation, which was to have limited the ability of local NGOs to receive funding from foreign governments. Although the law has yet to be enacted, Western-backed NGOs and their donors have launched a campaign to "push back" against what they describe as a "backlash" against democracy promoters in the region.

By late 2006, the Conservatives proclaimed that democracy promotion was a "fundamental part" of Canadian foreign policy objectives, and "an eminently worthy and intrinsically Canadian endeavour." One indication of the Conservative's commitment was through the appointment of a former NED board member as a top advisor to Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay.

In late 2007, the Canadian government gave the NED $198,168 to produce a major report, titled "Defending Civil Society: A Report of the World Movement for Democracy." The report attacks Venezuela for its efforts to limit Western-funded manipulation of its internal politics:

Venezuela's would-be caudillo Hugo Chavez has a peculiar notion of democracy. His

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 April 2009 09:49

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