Friday, November 26, 2004

Customizing Democracy 

Courtesy of our esteemed colleague Igor Volsky at Political Thought: In April of 2002, you will recall, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez was briefly deposed by a military coup. The coup collapsed two days later, returning Chávez to power and embarrassing the Bush administration, which had already extended its congratulations to the junta for toppling the "authoritarian," "radical," and (lest we forget) democratically-elected government of Chávez. It will perhaps not surprise you to learn that, according to CIA documents newly released under an FOIA request, we knew the coup was coming and Let It Happen On Purpose:
The U.S. government knew of an imminent plot to oust Venezuela's leftist president, Hugo Chávez, in the weeks prior to a 2002 military coup that briefly unseated him, newly released CIA documents show, despite White House claims to the contrary a week after the putsch.

Yet the United States, which depends on Venezuela for nearly one-sixth of its oil, never warned the Chávez government, Venezuelan officials said.

The Bush administration has denied it was involved in the coup or knew one was being planned. At a White House briefing on April 17, 2002, just days after the 47-hour coup, a senior administration official who did not want to be named said, "The United States did not know that there was going to be an attempt of this kind to overthrow - or to get Chávez out of power."

Yet based on the newly released CIA briefs, an analyst said yesterday that did not appear to be the case.

"This is substantive evidence that the CIA knew in advance about the coup, and it is clear that this intelligence was distributed to dozens of members of the Bush administration, giving them knowledge of coup plotting," said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington.

However, Kornbluh said that while the documents show U.S. officials knew a coup was coming, perhaps implying tacit approval, they do not constitute proof the United States was involved in ousting Chávez, Venezuela's elected leader. That is partly because the briefs are from the intelligence side of the CIA, not the operational side.

A CIA spokeswoman contended the agency played no role in the coup and was merely collecting information about political events in Venezuela for top U.S. officials. She said it was up to those officials and not the CIA to determine what to do with the information.
It is entirely possible that the CIA "played no role in the coup" (beyond collecting intelligence from our obviously well-placed assets); we have plenty of other outfits to handle that sort of thing. Joshua Kurlantzick of Mother Jones here reports on one of them -- the International Republican Institute (IRI), an organization that, in the guise of promoting "grassroots democratization," has abetted destabilization efforts in Venezuela, Cambodia, Haiti and elsewhere under the tacit imprimatur of our old friend Otto Reich:
IRI, by contrast, has increasingly come under attack for choosing sides. In Venezuela, the institute dramatically expanded its presence in 2001 and 2002 as President Hugo Chavez ratcheted up his anti-U.S. rhetoric. IRI’s Latin America program was led by Georges Fauriol, who had previously worked at a conservative Washington think tank alongside Otto Reich, who has been Bush’s closest adviser on Latin America policy. Reich, who according to Congress’ Government Accountability Office conducted “prohibited covert propaganda” on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s, is a former ambassador to Venezuela who had frequently denounced Chavez . . . .

At the time, all the major U.S. democracy-promotion groups were active in Venezuela, including both IRI and NDI. But documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that while NDI worked with parties across the political spectrum, IRI staffers spent much of their time cultivating the opposition. IRI worked closely with Acción Democrática, a group that, IRI’s own documents acknowledge, “refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Chavez presidency.” IRI also tutored opposition figures, including Caracas mayor Alfredo Peña, an outspoken Chavez critic, on how to create a political party. And despite a warning from the National Endowment for Democracy not to take sides in Venezuela, IRI also used its own money to bring opposition figures to Washington, where they met with top U.S. officials.

In April 2002, a group of military officers launched a coup against Chavez, and leaders of several parties trained by IRI joined the junta. When news of the coup emerged, democracy-promotion groups in Venezuela were holding a meeting to discuss ways of working together to avoid political violence; IRI representatives didn’t attend, saying that they were drafting a statement on Chavez’s overthrow. On April 12, the institute’s Venezuela office released a statement praising the “bravery” of the junta and “commending the patriotism of the Venezuelan military.”

That drew a sharply worded email from NED president Carl Gershman, a copy of which was obtained by Mother Jones. Gershman wrote: “By welcoming [the coup] -- indeed, without any apparent reservations—you unnecessarily interjected IRI into the sensitive internal politics of Venezuela.”

At roughly the same time that IRI issued its statement, Reich announced that Chavez had resigned -- though he had not -- and said the United States would support the new government in Venezuela. But within a day, Chavez was restored to power by popular demonstrations, the presidential guard, and segments of the army. At least 40 people were killed in the violence surrounding the coup.
Igor Volsky will interview Kurlantzick on Marist Radio a week from today, December 3, at 4 PM EST / 1 PM PST. You can listen to an internet feed of the broadcast through the Political Thought website here.

UPDATE (via our distinguished colleagues at Cursor): Ian Traynor of the Guardian dissects the Ukraine campaign:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked "chestnut revolution" are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes . . . .

The operation - engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience - is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections . . . .

Apart from the student movement and the united opposition, the other key element in the democracy template is what is known as the "parallel vote tabulation", a counter to the election-rigging tricks beloved of disreputable regimes.There are professional outside election monitors from bodies such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but the Ukrainian poll, like its predecessors, also featured thousands of local election monitors trained and paid by western groups.

Freedom House and the Democratic party's NDI helped fund and organise the "largest civil regional election monitoring effort" in Ukraine, involving more than 1,000 trained observers. They also organised exit polls. On Sunday night those polls gave Mr Yushchenko an 11-point lead and set the agenda for much of what has followed.

The exit polls are seen as critical because they seize the initiative in the propaganda battle with the regime, invariably appearing first, receiving wide media coverage and putting the onus on the authorities to respond.

The final stage in the US template concerns how to react when the incumbent tries to steal a lost election.

See also this.

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