Implementing the Nicaragua Plan in Venezuela
International Republican Institute (“IRI”): A U.S. based non-governmental entity founded upon suggestion by former President Ronald Reagan, the IRI is a major recipient of NED funds for various projects around the world. In March 2002, just one month before the April 2002 coup d’etat, IRI received an impressive $300,000 grant from the NED for “Strengthening Political Parties” in Venezuela. IRI received an additional $116,000 in February 2003, at the culmination of the 64-day opposition imposed lockout that devastated the Venezuelan economy. One of the main political parties participating in both the coup and the lockout, Primero Justicia, is a major benefactor of IRI funds. IRI’s massive financing for its Venezuelan projects has almost exclusively been funneled into developing and strengthening political parties to oppose the Chávez Administration. IRI also maintains close contact with the U.S. Embassy, which has also been a backer of the opposition’s undemocratic tactics.
Implementing the Nicaragua Plan in Venezuela
Replay: Nicaragua,1990. Widespread shock at the outcome of the elections in Nicaragua was felt around the world. Hailed as a “victory for democracy” by the first Bush Administration, the Nicaraguan elections stood out as a historic precedent for a “peaceful transfer of power” by a revolutionary movement to a newly elected democratic government. Yet behind those apparently democratic and transparent elections was a sophisticated network of U.S. intervention, covertly and overtly operating through massive financing from the National Endowment for Democracy (“NED”) and the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) that reached approximately $100 million during the 1980s.[i]
The NED gained significant power and respect during the 1980s as a viable tool of U.S. intervention in foreign nations that could operate in an ‘open’ manner, shielded by its objective of providing “democratic, nonpartisan assistance” to governments and political parties around the world.[ii] However, the NED has proven itself to be far from “democratic” or “nonpartisan”. Although appearing to operate as an officially overt entity in theory, the NED functions through a complex system of intermediaries that makes it almost impossible to identify the final recipients of its substantial monetary grants and support. Furthermore, the NED maintains a network of “core groups” consisting of U.S. based organizations that receive regular annual funding and function as the NED’s international wings, ensuring that U.S. interests are cultivated in various sectors of nations worldwide.
The “core” NED groups include the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) (documents and analysis also available on this site), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), a branch of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Free Trade Union Institute, an international branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) (Note: the AFL-CIO have been major financiers and supports of the CTV in Venezuela). By utilizing these groups to funnel U.S. funds into organizations and political parties that work in the interests U.S., the NED has been able to legitimize “electoral assistance” that advances U.S. foreign policy. (Note that all of these groups are currently operating in Venezuela, supporting the opposition to Chávez).
While all of the above-mentioned groups were deeply involved in the Nicaraguan elections in various ways, the International Republican Institute played a key role in ensuring that the outcome of those historic elections was in line with U.S. interests. The IRI was founded in 1983 at the whim of former President Ronald Reagan, with the goal of “advancing democracy worldwide.” (see www.iri.org). Run by a Board of Directors that reads like a right-wing parade, IRI is headed by former National Security Advisors, Corporate Executives, State Department Officials, Former Ambassadors and Directors of conservative think-tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute (www.aei.org).
According to their own accounts, IRI has been working in Nicaragua since 1986 and played a key role in the 1990 elections. But their intense meddling in Nicaraguan affairs did not stop there. IRI has continued to work in Nicaragua to ensure that Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas would never take power again, even through democratic means. With funding from the U.S. State Department, in 2001, IRI “undertook an aggressive pre-election assessment [in Nicaragua]…and prepared a high-level international election observation delegation…[that] proved essential to bolstering voter confidence in the electoral process.” IRI has also heavily backed the opposition group “Hagamos Democracia” (HD) in Nicaragua, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of their efforts to advance U.S. interests and ensure endeavors such as “CAFTA” will pass with ease in Nicaragua’s legislature.
So, what’s the relationship between Nicaragua and Venezuela and the IRI? It’s a funny thing… Somehow, the documents provided to us from our FOIA requests on Venezuela were all mixed up with IRI’s reports on results in Nicaragua! Makes you wonder if someone was comparing and contrasting the results and efforts in these two Latin American nations to see if maybe IRI’s “electoral” success in Nicaragua could somehow guide their growing efforts in Venezuela. In fact, IRI received a whopping $300,000 grant from NED in March 2002 (just 1 month before the coup) for the shady purpose of “strengthening political parties” in Venezuela. Not quite one year later, IRI received another $113,000 for this same purpose. This time, the funds were given right smack in the middle of the 64-day oil industry and corporate lockout led by the opposition that crippled the Venezuelan economy during 2003 and failed in its second attempt to oust President Chávez.
The major beneficiary of IRI’s efforts in Venezuela has been the extremist opposition party, Primero Justicia, that not only participated in the coup and the lockout, but has also continuously encouraged undemocratic methods of removing President Chávez from office. Maybe IRI could justify their intervention in Nicaragua by “promoting democracy”, but such twisted logic doesn’t work in Venezuela. President Chávez has been twice elected in democratic, transparent elections and has directed his administration during the past 5 years strictly within solid constitutional limits. IRI, on the other hand, has thrown substantial financial and political support to organizations that have behaved indisputably beyond any notion of democracy.
For how much longer will U.S. taxpayers allow their hard-earned dollars to fund such illegitimate attempts to corrupt democratic governments?
[i] For an in-depth, excellent account of U.S. intervention and involvement in the Nicaraguan elections, please see William Robinson’s “A Faustian Bargain: U.S. Intervention in the Nicaraguan Elections and American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era”, available from Westview Press.
[ii] The NED was founded back in 1983 as a way to “promote democracy overseas” and to be used as a “vehicle for quasi-public/private funds” in order to fill a “key gap” in U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Congress formally incorporated the NED in November 1983 as an alleged “private” organization, yet it has continued to operate as a specialized branch of the U.S. government, wholly funded by the Department of State.