<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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“Working Behind the Scenes”: The Details of U.S. Government Support for the Venezuelan Opposition

An Interview with Researcher and Attorney Eva Golinger


By Dan Feder
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

May 31, 2005

In April, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez canceled the long-running IMET (International Military Education and Training) program, which had seen Venezuelan soldiers traveling to the U.S. for training, as well as U.S. officers giving courses in Venezuela. Chávez’s announcement of the program’s cancellation grabbed headlines for several days, most media repeating the State Department’s assertion that the announcement was “unexpected” with “no explanation.” But the cancellation was the direct result of findings by a determined young Venezuelan-American attorney and journalist named Eva Golinger, who had discovered a direct connection between the program and coup-plotters in the Venezuelan military.


Photo: venezuelafoia.info
The 2002 coup d’état, in fact, bore all the hallmarks of past U.S. interventions in Latin America. A popular president, struggling to change the situation of social exclusion and poverty in his country, and reassert local sovereignty at the expense of U.S. political and economic interests, was forced out of office by high-ranking members of the military and representatives of the country’s oligarchy. Hours after it had taken control, the U.S. State Department praised the new regime, which proceeded to dissolve all democratic institutions and constitutional rights. Almost immediately after a popular revolt and rebellion of loyal military officers returned Chávez to office, Venezuelans and observers began to denounce the coup as having been “made in the U.S.A.”; a repeat of the 1973 coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende and countless others. For a time, such speculation remained just that. Both Washington and the Venezuelan opposition countered that no proof existed, and that such claims were the product of paranoid conspiracy freaks.

But the proof didn’t take long to come in. Behind much of the research that demonstrated U.S. complicity were the names Eva Golinger and independent journalist (and Narco News School of Authentic Journalism professor) Jeremy Bigwood. Last winter, Golinger and Bigwood revealed that millions of dollars had been funneled into anti-Chávez groups – including major participants in the 2002 coup – through such public agencies as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID. Other revelations followed. Much of their information came from documents revealed through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and released via the website venezuelafoia.info.

I first met Golinger in Caracas this April, where both of us were attending the events organized for the 3rd anniversary of the coup and countercoup of 2002. Golinger was something of a guest of honor at the event, sharing the stage with Chávez at the opening ceremonies and frantically running around the city to meetings, speaking engagements, and interviews with the Venezuelan media.

Golinger has recently released a book, The Chavez Code, a more in-depth look at the information she and Bigwood uncovered. After many failed attempts to work an interview into our packed schedules in Caracas, she spoke to Narco News last week by telephone from New York.

Narco News: To start with the basics, especially for those who may not know your work, did the United States have direct involvement in the April 2002 coup in Venezuela?

Eva Golinger: Well, my opinion, based on my research, is absolutely. It depends on what you call direct, but I would say, as I’ve said before and as I say in the book, that there was a combination of factors: the quadrupling in 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. To me, that’s direct enough. It’s not just financing, it’s training and political support, and military support.

Through their military training programs as well as infiltration into the Venezuelan armed forces, they were able to influence the action of the high-ranking military officers, many of whom played a direct role in the coup. The U.S. government generally isn’t the one to actually execute coups or those types of activities; they work from behind the scenes, and that’s precisely what they did in the case of Venezuela. There’s no way to deny that. They can say, oh, it wasn’t their intention, and that they said publicly that they wouldn’t support a coup, which is true. But behind the scenes they were financing and encouraging those same activities and actions.

Narco News: How much money is going into opposition groups every year from the U.S.?

Eva Golinger: This particular year, it’s around $6 million. That’s combined USAID and NED. We don’t have the figures yet, but it probably will go up for fiscal year 2006, The State Department has already stated that they’re going to increase it. President Bush, speaking before Congress in early February to justify the whole 2006 budget, actually specifically referred to the case of Venezuela and said he wanted to increase financing to political parties and civil society groups working for democracy – which is only the opposition in their eyes. But since 2001, the total calculated amount of financing is a little over $27 million. And that’s just NED and USAID; it’s not CIA.

Narco News: The NED part has been pretty well publicized. What is the USAID money going to?

Eva Golinger: That’s because the NED is more specific as to who they’re funding, whereas USAID – first of all, they censored out the names of all the recipients of the funding in the documents they gave me. But in general it’s going to the same organizations that receive NED funding, but even more groups. In the case of Venezuela, others that have received financing include the Carter Center and the OAS for all the referendum activities. The OAS got like $100,000, but they also have their own funding. The Carter Center got $1.75 million. Pretty much all their activities in Venezuela were funded by USAID. Which is interesting.

Narco News: I guess that wasn’t a very good investment on USAID’s part.

Eva Golinger: Yeah. And others: IRI, the International Republican Institute, and NDI, the National Democratic Institute, also receive aid funding for work in Venezuela, which they then are giving out – and this is in some of the documents – to Súmate, and the other political parties, like Primera Justicia and Proyecto Venezuela; the same groups that get NED funding. It’s not as though there are a ton of opposition groups. We know who they all are, and pretty much all of them receive U.S. funding or training or support.

Narco News: Would you say any of these groups are actually dependent on U.S. funding?

Eva Golinger: Absolutely. Probably a majority of them are. Obviously not all of them, there are some that existed before, but the smaller organizations. In fact, one group, Asemblea de Educación, which doesn’t get NED funding anymore, was dissolved, I believe. The director, Leonardo Carvajal, stated to a journalist in an interview that they existed completely on the NED funding. I have salary receipts for all the employees in the organization; they all got a direct salary from the NED. And what [Carvajal] said was that the NED had funded all the organizational and operational costs.

[Interviewer’s note: Carvajal was appointed education minister under the two-day coup regime of Pedro Carmona.]

Narco News: Why did they lose their funding?

Eva Golinger: I don’t know the reasons that NED stopped funding them. I mean, I would assume it has to do with the fact that they weren’t pursuing anything in the area of education; all they were doing was marching in the streets. Even in their own statements to NED, they were proud of that, and that’s what they would state. They weren’t really complying with the contractual agreement that they had made. So, there has to be at least some minimum effort to actually pursue the projects that the NED is funding them for. Even if the funds in the end result in “extracurricular activities,” still they have to be doing something, otherwise the funding will get cut.

Narco News: This kind of thing would never be tolerated in the United States, right?

Eva Golinger: Well, first of all it’s illegal for any political party or campaign to get money from a foreign government, so, definitely. In the case of a foreign government funding, say, an NGO or a PR group or something like that to work in their interests, they would have to be registered in the United States with the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which is with the Department of Justice. They would have to report on their activities in a determined period. Definitely it wouldn’t be permitted in the way that the NED is doing it or USAID is doing it in Venezuela. It is under the guise of one thing, when in actuality you’re doing something else.

Narco News: But is it legal in Venezuela then?

Eva Golinger: No, it’s not legal in Venezuela. There are a variety of different laws, though they don’t have a foreign agent registration act, at least yet – hopefully they will soon. But certainly it’s illegal for any organization to receive funding from a foreign government to try to overthrow the Venezuelan government. So in the case of all those organizations that receive U.S. government funding and participated in the coup, they’re all violating that law, and then political parties can’t receive funding from a foreign government either. As far as I understand, all those situations are being investigated. But the only one where there’s actually been a case brought is Súmate [the main political group behind the 2004 recall referendum].

Narco News: Where is that case at right now?

Eva Golinger: It’s pending. The preliminary hearing was scheduled for November 2, and it was postponed. The Supreme Court reviewed it in the penal chamber, despite the fact that the chief justice said that they wouldn’t review it, but the penal chamber reviewed it and decided that they need to have a preliminary hearing on whether or not there were even any merits in the case before they could go forward with the case. But the date hasn’t been set.

The Venezuelan government is not caving in to U.S. pressure, but the United States has made an incredible effort to get the case dropped. The president of the NED, Carl Gershman, went to Venezuela last November and threatened the attorney general and the chief justice of the Supreme Court that if they didn’t drop the case, there would be consequences. And many of those consequences have already been put into place. The World Bank cut funding to Venezuela’s Supreme Court for a juridical reform program, and that was one of the threats that Carl Gershman made to [Chief Justice] Ivan Rincon. And the other was that it would worsen relations between the two nations; that they would put the pressure on internationally. Now they’re saying that Venezuela is a country that engages in political persecution, and bringing out as much influence as they can. You know, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, all the different organizations, just trying to pressure Venezuela.

Narco News: How exactly did the U.S. infiltrate the Venezuelan armed forces?

Eva Golinger: According to the documents I have that I’ve made public, this is mainly regarding the IMET (International Military Education and Training) program. It’s an international exchange program in which Venezuela had been a leading participant, although it’s not as though U.S. military officers are being trained in Venezuela. They go to Venezuela to and give courses and programs. That’s something that finally President Chavez just stopped, but at the time of the coup it was in action.

In documents that I obtained from the State Department regarding the program, they clearly stated that the objectives are to obtain influence in the high ranks of the Venezuelan military. They also stated that one of the requirements of the program is that when an officer or soldier is sent to the U.S. as part of the IMET program, the Venezuelan military has to guarantee on return the individual be given a high level or command position.

In one particular document, they give an example of one of the successes of the program: General Raul Salazar. General Raul Salazar was, at the time of the 1992 military rebellion that President Chávez led, actually a high ranking officer, and he suppressed Chávez and the other officers. But for some reason, he worked his way into the likes of Chávez, and became Chávez’s first minister of defense. At the time of the coup, he was the ambassador to Spain, and Spain was the other key country involved in the coup. Venezuelan opposition members like Pedro Carmona and others who were planning the coup itself took a trip to Spain in the weeks before. There’s that whole story about how Carmona made his presidential sash in Madrid.

Here in the documents they’re lauding the fact that, Raul Salazar is our best example here, and refer to him as somebody who promotes U.S. interests. That’s interesting because he happens to be one of the highest-level military officials that penetrated the Chávez government, actually becoming a key part of it, and then turned on it at the time of the coup. Because of that, it could be said that all along he was supporting U.S. interests, but for some reason Chavez believed and trusted in him enough to make him defense minister, and then an ambassador, while at the same time the U.S. government had maintained an influence and control over him.

Narco News: Was this research of yours specifically what led to Chávez canceling the IMET program in April?

Eva Golinger: Actually, yeah, that is why they ended it, because they know now that it cannot go on. [Before Chávez’s presidency], the program didn’t have the same impact, because the entire government was following U.S. orders or working in the interests of the U.S. But in this particular case, where you have a government that is not subservient to U.S. interests, and in fact threatens U.S. interests – and the U.S. has been very open and direct about that and hostile towards the government – you cannot have a program going on where your military personnel are being trained by the United States. Especially when you know the program’s goals and objectives are to obtain influence within the high ranks of your military. Then that’s dangerous. You’re letting the enemy in without even giving it a hard time, giving the U.S. just open reign over the Venezuelan armed forces.

That doesn’t mean that it’s all just going to stop. There is still a whole multitude of Venezuelan military officials that have already received training in the U.S. and already have direct contacts with the U.S. And of course the military attaches are still in Venezuela, but that’s a whole separate issue. That’s not the IMET program, and they engage in other activities that could be corrupting Venezuelan military officers. They will remain. It’s not like all U.S. military personnel will be forced to leave. It’s just the exchange program that has stopped, which means Venezuelan soldiers aren’t going to go to the U.S. to be trained, and U.S. military officers are no longer going to be allowed to instruct courses within Venezuela. Which is a good thing, for Venezuela.

Narco News: Can you describe how you go about researching these things?

Eva Golinger: I contract Jeremy Bigwood to actually submit the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, and I give him the information on what I’m interested in finding. And in some cases it’s very general – dates, or places, or people, or just issues. And then once any documents come back, I go through all them, and try to study and analyze them as much as possible to see what information, if any, can be used. Because in many cases they’re either heavily censored, or they’re useless. I mean, I don’t think any are useless, but, in many cases, they’re not worthy of any kind of media attention. Then in addition to that, I research public information; I read massive amounts of articles all the time as well, in all kinds of press. I read a lot of opposition information and media. And I always am conducting interviews with people to put this stuff into context.

But most of my research is based on the documents themselves. A lot of them are just informational reports from the state department, from the embassy, or from NED or USAID. And it’s really taking that all, studying that information, going back and researching the time – because some are two years old, some are three, some are one – and then putting it into the larger context of all the documents. They come separately, on separate issues, but they’re all interrelated.

Narco News: Is your work having any effect on the U.S. government so far?

Eva Golinger: Yes, absolutely. For one, certainly they never expected that this could possibly happen from the documents that they’ve been giving me, because otherwise they wouldn’t have given them. But I’ve been able to make the information used on a national level in Venezuela.

This information and this investigation have affected the way that the Bolivarian revolution has proceeded. I don’t mean to say that in any way to take credit, but it’s true. Before we had this information, it was just a rumor that the U.S. was involved in the coup. The whole discourse now on the opposition being financed by Washington is a result of this investigation. It didn’t exist before. And that has given Chávez the upper hand in pretty much everything in Venezuela. It has also attracted a lot of people who previously supported the opposition and don’t anymore, because they don’t want to support an opposition that’s financed by Washington.

In the case of the United States, it’s put them in a difficult position. This research has basically placed the NED’s existence in jeopardy, period. It’s an issue that Congress is discussing every day, or at least was last year. There have been a few hearings on it, but behind closed doors it’s something that’s talked about all the time. The NED has been freaking out, that’s why they’re trying to defend their interests desperately, and even USAID, everything’s sort of in jeopardy. All this intervention into civil society has been exposed, and so, you know, they’re freaking out.

Narco News: You said you don’t think the U.S. government would have given you the documents if it knew what was going to happen. Does that mean it’s getting harder for you to get documents?

Eva Golinger: Well, I got six documents from the CIA that were top secret, for the months involving the coup, and they were really sort of random. They were heavily censored. The CIA certainly would never give any type of information that they would think would actually be useful. Not so soon; it was just two and a half years after the coup when I got that. So obviously they thought, we’ll give her this, but she won’t be able to use it, she’ll just be able to say that she got something from the CIA.

But in fact I was able to get a sufficient amount of information out of there. Those are the most important documents that I have, because they show complicity in the coup, and knowledge. They must not have realized either that they left that in, or that I would actually be able to utilize it, to understand it, and put it into context, and make it public.

Even in the documents they send me today or yesterday, which they probably think I can’t use at all, I’m finding information and it’s useful. But it’s not necessarily stuff that I’m going to call the press about tomorrow, like in the case of the CIA or the NED material. It’s more sort of long-term analysis that will be useful for another book, or even just as historical background information or more evidence to accusations that we’ve already been making.

Narco News: Your work has been noticed a lot by the Venezuelan press. I also saw some nasty attacks on both you and Jeremy by Alex Boyd, who writes for VCrisis…

Eva Golinger: Oh, that… There have been some articles that are fairly ok; that aren’t great, but don’t consider me a bad person like the VCrisis guy, who thinks I’m some criminal. In general the Venezuelan opposition press thinks that I’m well intentioned, but I’m just confused. There was an article recently in Exceso, which is a very opposition magazine. I’m actually on the cover this month. It’s not a favorable article by any means. It’s also not completely unflattering… they could have gone to town if they wanted to, because there’s so much crap about me out there. They sort of make fun of me – that’s how they treat it, by making fun. No does a serious analysis of the information.

I happened to see it because when I left Venezuela, in the first few days of the month, when the article had just come out. So, it was all over the airport, and it was a little uncomfortable because everyone was just staring at me. They’re buying and looking at the magazine; I’m on the cover, and the title is “The Ugly American,” “La americana fea.” Which initially I took as, what are they talking about, because the picture wasn’t that bad. [Laughs] But it’s actually a saying that means, you know, the intrusive American.

It’s ironic. One, because I’m also Venezuelan. But also because for the opposition I am an intrusive outsider who’s exposing all of their wrongdoings, whereas for the rest of Venezuela, I’m more of an insider, someone on their side who is helping and participating, just like any of them, in the process of change.

Narco News: Are there any new issues or new questions that you’re looking into now since the book came out?

Eva Golinger: I’m always looking at new information, and actualizing it, in the sense of bringing everything up to date. Whatever has been happening recently I try to get information on.

The plan for the next book is to be more focused on the military aspects – on U.S. military presence in the region, tying it into issues of Colombia, and looking at the infiltration issues with the Venezuelan military.

The Chávez Code, published by Editorial Jose Marti in Cuba, is currently available through the website venezuelafoia.info, in both English and Spanish, as well as through Amazon.com. An international release of the English edition, by a U.S. publisher, is planned for the coming months.

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