(current events):(something fishy's going on)

The National Endowment for Democracy

Established on November 13, 1983 (under the Reagan administration) by the "National Endowment for Democracy Act" (a fitting title), the NED is a non-profit, private organization established to further the proliferation of democratic ideology throughout the globe, particularly to countries hostile to such ideology, such as Cuba and China.

The purposes of this organization, according to U.S. code (22 USC Sec. 4411), are:

(1) to encourage free and democratic institutions throughout the world through private sector initiatives, including activities which promote the individual rights and freedoms (including internationally recognized human rights) which are essential to the functioning of democratic institutions;

(2) to facilitate exchanges between United States private sector groups (especially the two major American political parties, labor, and business) and democratic groups abroad;

(3) to promote United States nongovernmental participation (especially through the two major American political parties, labor, business, and other private sector groups) in democratic training programs and democratic institution-building abroad;

(4) to strengthen democratic electoral processes abroad through timely measures in cooperation with indigenous democratic forces;

(5) to support the participation of the two major American political parties, labor, business, and other United States private sector groups in fostering cooperation with those abroad dedicated to the cultural values, institutions, and organizations of democratic pluralism; and

(6) to encourage the establishment and growth of democratic development in a manner consistent both with the broad concerns of United States national interests (emphasis mine) and with the specific requirements of the democratic groups in other countries which are aided by programs funded by the Endowment.

The NED is a product, in many ways, of Cold War politics, and finds its roots in the democracy-building activities of the United States after the Second World War. The politics of the Cold War would not allow the U.S. to fund oppositionist democratic parties and newspapers overtly, so such aid was given covertly until the late 1960's, when it was revealed that some American private and volunteer organizations had received funding secretly from the CIA. President Lyndon Johnson ceased such funding, and it would be some years before the idea would resurge, the second time around as a non-governmental organization.

The NED is a private but government-sponsored program

The Endowment is primarily funded by a yearly contribution from Congress and must pass its overseas grants by the Department of State. Perhaps for these reasons it is also bound by the Freedom of Information Act, even though it is not a governmental organization. At one point in its history it was suggested that it should provide matching funds privately for the public contribution to its coffers -- an amendment to that effect was defeated; to date more than half of the Endowment's funds come from the government.

The NED works by awarding grants primarily to a core set of institutes

In its first years, the Endowment met with some controversy and would not uncommonly find its funding cut from budgets. This is due to its organizational structure.

The NED works, like a typical endowment, by awarding grants to applicants of the organizational variety. However, the NED favors four primary institutes, which reflect in their specific fields four specific areas that the NED views as essential to the establishment of solid, balanced democracies. They are:

The American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), a group specializing in the education and establishment of unionized labor;

The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the "business" element of the core institutes, which is responsible for teaching and promoting effective managerial and enterpeneurial practices in budding democratic economies;

The International Republican Institute (IRI) focuses on teaching target populations notions like civic responsibility while instilling effective party-building and -organizing skills; and

The National Democratic Institute (NDI), whose goals closely mirror the IRI's, though they seem to focus also on transparency and accountability of new democratic governments.

This organizational structure caused problems because -- and this is stating the obvious -- the grant-giving is biased toward these specific organizations. Moreover, some of these organizations might tilt toward one party or the other (CIPE, for example, seems more likely to be "rightist," while the ACILS would more likely be to the left). There was thus a lingering concern about conflicts of interest, a concern which was resolved in an amendment to the NED Act, barring anyone in a leadership position of a grantee organization from serving on the board of the NED.

The primary raison d'être of the NED is to do what the U.S. government cannot

Another charge sometimes levied against the continued funding of the NED is that its existence is redundant. And, with respect to nations that already have relatively open and democratic governments (such governments can and do receive aid through the NED), that charge is somewhat valid. It also misses the point.

The NED was created as a private, non-profit organization so that it can infiltrate barriers which would be prohibitive to direct U.S. involvement. The NED can and does fund programs in Cuba, China, North Korea, and Iraq. It also funds programs in Venezuela, which is how this particular shell game came to my attention.

The strike in Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and possible U.S. collusion

As of this writing, Venezuela and its democratically-elected president, Hugo Chávez, are in a bit of a crisis. Oil workers and management of the state-owned Petrólos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA) have been on strike for over a month, delivering a blow the already shaky economy of Venezuela. Just recently, bank workers went on a 2-day strike to demonstrate solidarity. It first of all must be noted that this is not a strike for higher health benefits or some other quaintly-American-type union goal; this is a strike specifically intended to force the resignation of Chávez, or at least a referendum on his rule, which technically (constitutionally) should come no earlier than August of this year. Moreover, this is not the first time this has happened to Chávez; he was briefly overthrown in April 2002 through a similar procedure.

Now, as then, the oppositionist groups are supported by big business and are well-funded, the Venezuelan airwaves being littered with commercial propaganda depicting the democratically-elected President Cháavez as a Cuban-style dictator.

The Bush Administration supported the April coup, though they quickly recanted their statements when it became clear that the newly-appointed president, businessman Pedro Carmona, would soon be ousted by a dissatisfied populace.

Did the Bush Administration have a direct hand in the April coup, and does it have a hand in what's happening in Venezuela now? To borrow the words of U.N. Inspector Blix, there are no "smoking guns," but just because the guns are hidden doesn't mean there's no smoke (to paraphrase Ari Fleischer). What is known:

Existing opposition groups in Venezuela have recieved funding from the IRI.

Prior to the April coup, opposition leaders, including Mr. Carmona, were known to have been received by Otto Reich, who was then the secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs

There is also the matter of the quick acceptance of a forcefully-installed president, in April, and the matter now of complicit non-involvement today. The official position on the current situation has shifted over the past few weeks; at first, the Bush Administration called for elections, but has shifted to stating that either new elections or a referendum would be acceptable (neither of which is constitutional).

What would explain the U.S.'s contradictory stance on this issue? Why would the U.S. fund opposition groups to a democratically-elected leader? Why would they support a forcefully-installed president? Why would they so openly disregard the constitution of a sovereign state?

It is possible that the U.S. supports a referendum now -- as opposed to in August -- because the highly-anticipated war with Iraq (you'd think it were the next installment of Star Wars, watching MSNBC or CNN) would be expected to drive up oil prices. The U.S. currently receives over thirteen percent of its oil from Venezuela; a price boost no doubt will help give Venezuela an economic boost, thus removing some of the impetus for a regime change. Why the U.S. is lukewarm to Chávez in the first place is unclear to me; it may be nothing more than his leftist tendencies.

This situation is rendered even more suspicious when we consider that the opposition in Venezuela seems to be an upper-class affair, driven by upper-class interests. One of the big names concerned with Chávez's rule? McDonald's. And while I would hesitate to point the finger at the world's largest purveyor of junk food as an overthrower of states, I think it should give us some pause. Chávez has popular support; he has already weathered one coup, and may very well weather this one as well. He wouldn't have been able to do this if he were the Cuban-style dictator we are being told he is.

I can't say that I have all the answers. But we should be asking questions.

sources of interest:
The U.S. Code