Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Dec 15/04 - Article "Friends of Hugo Chavez (Venezuela Information Office in D.C.)" by John J. Miller

Friends of Hugo Chavez (Venezuela Information Office in D.C.)

By John J. Miller | National Review Online

December 15, 2004 | When staffers at the National Endowment for Democracy opened a letter asking about their programs in Venezuela last year, they never expected their response to trigger the persecution of democratic activists in that troubled country. Yet that's exactly what has happened, as Latin America's most ambitious strongman, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, has joined forces with American leftists to crack down on grassroots organizations that merely seek to promote free elections.

The story begins with Jeremy Bigwood, a self-described journalist with a history of left-wing activism in Central America. He wanted to take a look at just about every scrap of paper the NED had produced in recent years on its involvement with civic groups in Venezuela. On November 14, 2003, he invoked the Freedom of Information Act in requesting a series of documents from the NED, a nonprofit agency that is funded almost entirely by Congress to promote democracy abroad. Several weeks later, the NED sent Bigwood a thick package of grant approvals, financial reports, and staff evaluations of grant recipients. Much of the basic information was already in the public domain and available in the NED's annual report and other publications. In 2003, for instance, the NED spent nearly $46 million on its activities, with a little more than $1 million going to 15 Venezuelan organizations that focus on education, human rights, and freedom of the press. Bigwood believed that in obtaining this information, he had scored a major coup.

And indeed he had — not because the documents themselves contained anything explosive, but because of what happened to them next. Bigwood shared them with Eva Golinger, a Brooklyn immigration lawyer who enjoys strong ties to Chávez. She sent the papers to her friends in Caracas. They ultimately wound up in the hands of Chávez himself. On February 8, Chávez denounced them on his weekly television show, Hello, President! He told listeners that they proved the Bush administration was out to destroy his government and said they'd soon be available on the Internet. Two days later, Golinger posted them on a pro-Chávez website. She added to their allure by calling them "declassified documents," even though they hadn't been classified in the first place.

One of the documents described Grant Number 2003-548, which had been approved the previous September. There was nothing particularly significant about it. The funds were to be spent on typical NED-sponsored activities: the creation of "voter mobilization materials" and training for "people from local organizations on how to monitor the collection of signatures." The grant wasn't especially big: $53,400.

But it was earmarked for Sumate, a grassroots organization that Chávez and his minions view as a threat to their rule — a rule that very nearly came to an end this summer in an unprecedented recall election. Chávez survived that challenge, but has shown no sign of letting up on the persecution of Sumate. In fact, his ongoing courtship of leftists in the United States puts him in position to become the next Fidel Castro — the Western Hemisphere's leading tyrant and irritant.

AN AGGRESSIVE COURTSHIP

Oil wealth makes Chávez an especially menacing foe. Venezuela actually overtook Saudi Arabia as America's top foreign producer in the late 1990s. It has since lost this distinction, but the country still exports more than a million barrels of crude per day to the United States, making it our fourth-largest foreign supplier. One of the main factors leading to Chávez's election as president in 1998 — he ran on a platform that attacked "savage capitalism" — was a dip in the price of oil.

The American Left initially treated Chávez with suspicion. "El Comandante" first gained notoriety as an Army officer who led a failed government takeover in 1992. This action landed him in prison, but it also made him something of a folk hero and he was pardoned in 1994. As president, Chávez has quickly consolidated his power by rewriting the constitution, threatening critics, and turning the military into an extension of his political party. On the diplomatic front, he became the first foreign leader to visit Saddam Hussein in the wake of the Gulf War, and he refused to let American planes tracking drug smugglers enter Venezuelan airspace. He has let Colombian rebels find refuge within his borders and appears to have had a hand in the exiling last year of Bolivia's pro-American president, Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada.

Inside Venezuela, Chávez became an incredibly divisive figure, adored in the slums but detested just about everywhere else. In 2002, half a million protesters gathered in Caracas to demand his resignation. Gunfire broke out, leaving as many as 18 people dead. In a series of events that even now remain poorly understood, Chávez seems to have lost power for nearly two days — until military loyalists restored his rule. In the aftermath, Chávez's hatred for the Bush administration boiled over, in no small part because the White House didn't exactly condemn his temporary removal.

The incident played right into his hands. Chávez positioned himself as the victim of elites who lacked his commitment to Venezuela's poor. If American leftists didn't exactly become pro-Chávez, many of them grew to be anti-anti-Chávez.

Chávez, of course, would like to win them over entirely. And so he has begun an aggressive courtship. In 2003, his government created the Venezuela Information Office, headquartered in Washington, D.C. From the outset, VIO has worked closely with Global Exchange, a catch-all group of leftists who protest everything from the Iraq War to biotech food. Five years ago, Global Exchange played a role in fomenting riots during the World Trade Organization's Seattle confab. Deborah James, a former Global Exchange employee, was VIO's executive director until recently. Reporters with questions are directed to Lumina Strategies, a public-affairs shop whose clients include Global Exchange as well as Americans United for Affirmative Action, the Ford Foundation, and the Sierra Club. The Chávez regime clearly believes that this crowd can help it establish a public-relations beachhead on the American left.

The VIO has taken up its task with verve. It has distributed pro-Chávez flyers at anti-globalization rallies, arranged for delegations of activists to embark on "reality tours" of Venezuela, and encouraged art-house theaters to show a propaganda movie on Chávez called The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. The VIO also coordinates a media response team which contacts the press about its coverage of Venezuela. Its members are a pastiche of radicals such as Golinger as well as representatives from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the Nicaragua Network, and United Students Against Sweatshops. This rag-tag operation has obvious limits, and so Venezuela also has retained the costly services of Patton Boggs, one of Washington's top lobbying firms. In a memo from last February, subsequently obtained by an anti-Chávez group called the International Venezuelan Council for Democracy, Patton Boggs blamed Chávez's low reputation on "the opposition controlled Venezuelan media" and "the political right in the U.S., Colombia, and elsewhere." The firm helped the Chávez government craft a positive message and arranged briefings on Capitol Hill. Since the summer of 2003, the Venezuelans have spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

One unlikely helper who isn't on the lobbyist payroll is Jack Kemp, the former GOP vice-presidential candidate. More than a year ago, Kemp joined the board of Free Market Petroleum, a company with a contract to purchase Venezuelan oil. Since then, Kemp has worked with Venezuelan ambassador Bernardo Alvarez on trying to improve perceptions of the Chávez government in the United States. But a visit last year with the Wall Street Journal editorial board to discuss the paper's position on Chávez went disastrously and since then Kemp has kept a lower profile.

The most interesting element of Venezuela's public-relations campaign may be its advertising blitz in the top-drawer media, such as The Economist, The New Yorker, and Roll Call. Instead of emphasizing pristine beaches for tourists or favorable business opportunities for investors — the normal messages in ads sponsored by foreign governments — the Chávez regime is trying to demonstrate its commitment to social uplift. "In the past, Venezuela's oil wealth benefited a few. Today, it benefits a few million," says one of these ads, which also encourages readers to visit the VIO website. The campaign was developed by Underground Advertising, a San Francisco-based firm boasting a left-wing clientele that includes the ACLU of Northern California, Friends of the Earth, and the Rainforest Action Network.

TIPPING TOWARD DICTATORSHIP

Whatever gains Chávez has made, however, are now threatened by his harassment of Sumate, the NED's small-time grant recipient. Ever since Bigwood and Golinger passed on their documents, Sumate has been the target of an investigation that only highlights Chávez's authoritarian streak. The intimidation became so great that Sumate even canceled the final portion of its grant, at a cost of more than $20,000. One of Sumate's leaders, Maria Corina Machado, claims that a government prosecutor has tapped her phones, reads her e-mail, and reviews her personal bank statements. She and several others involved with Sumate are on the verge of being charged with crimes that could result in jail terms of up to 16 years. Their real offense is having participated in events that led to last August's recall referendum. In February 2003, Venezuelan opposition groups collected more than 3 million signatures in an attempt to initiate the election. Six months later, however, an election board controlled by Chavistas ruled them illegal. Another effort began in the fall, and this time the groups gathered even more signatures. But once again, the government refused to validate them. Sumate's role in all this was simply to monitor the signature gathering. It did not formally take sides in the contest, though its leaders were widely known to harbor anti-Chávez sympathies.

Chávez had a good reason for trying to prevent a recall election: As recently as last spring, the polls showed him losing. But then he suddenly reversed course, accepting an agreement brokered by Sumate and other groups that allowed the contest to go forward. Over the next few months, he used the Venezuelan army to register voters in neighborhoods where he is popular and spent at least $1.7 billion on pork projects and welfare programs for his most loyal constituencies. In the United States, the VIO persuaded Jesse Jackson, presidential wannabe Dennis Kucinich, and a few others to declare their "solidarity" with Chávez.

When the election came on August 15, Chávez carried 59 percent of the vote. Sumate and other observers immediately raised questions about abuses leading up to the election as well as irregularities on the day of the vote, but the possibility of what might have been a Ukraine-style blowback ended when Jimmy Carter's group endorsed the result — even though it had accepted restrictions on poll-watching that the European Union's election observers found so intolerable they refused to participate.

Despite Carter's imprimatur, the Chávez regime continues to suffer from international criticism, especially for its hounding of Sumate, which has questioned the results of the referendum. "We are appalled that this group is being singled out for punishment, a group whose deep commitment to democratic principles we share and applaud," said a recent letter signed by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former Czech president V·clav Havel, Sen. John McCain, and several dozen others. When NED president Carl Gershman visited Venezuela to deliver this letter and meet with officials in early November, he said that the country is "neither a democracy nor a dictatorship but rather somewhere in between." And it is clearly tipping the wrong way. Today, Chávez's grip on power is tighter than ever — and so he appears to be pressing his advantage. The trial of Machado and her colleagues is expected to begin soon. Other organizations say security personnel have targeted them. Prosecutors want to study the books of opposition groups. The pro-Chávez legislature is about to pass a law that will let the government shut down radio and television stations accused of behaving in ways "contrary to the security of the nation." And when Venezuelan prosecutor Danilo Anderson was murdered in November — perhaps by people with links to the anti-Chávez groups he was investigating — there was Eva Golinger, writing on her website about an assassination "conducted in a style reminiscent of CIA operations."

Is Chávez the next Castro? Time will tell. Whatever his destiny, the American Left is getting itself ready to do his bidding.


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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Dec 14/05 - On a disastrous Official visit to Moscow: what a way to treat your allies

PMB Comment: below you will find a fascinating account of Hugo
Chavez’s trip to Moscow. From various sources:

- The Russian Government sent a formal protest note to
the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry complaining about the
violation of Russian air space by two unauthorized planes
that accompanied Chavez’s Airbus. Jet fighters were
scrambled and requested permission to shot both of them just
minutes before a counter order was issued by a very upset
senior Ministry of Defense official. The fact that the
protest note was sent, after an in-personl dressing down,
indicates the gravity of this matter. No answer has been received.


- Many joint documents were not signed because they
had not been approved by the Russian counterparts.
Responsibility for this is borne by the Venezuelan
Ambassador in Moscow and Russia’s Ambassador to Caracas. It
is rumored the former has been fired, and the fact is that
the latter had already been “removed” from his post. The new
Russian Ambassador arrived this weekend in Caracas. He was
until now the Ambassador in Quito, and is considered a “less-
red, and very serious”…Ermakov, the just departed Ambassador was
perceived to be an over
enthusiastic “chavista”…with not much to
show for his enthusiasm.


- Kremlin officials qualified this a the “worst
official visit in the history of the USSR and of the Russian
Federation”…”the President contained his anger because
crisis in Ukraine was in his mind – he wanted to prod the
US - and he could not be bothered, but pay close attention
to the fact that Venezuela is not in his 2005 travel
schedule, while other Latin capitals are included”. This is
particularly telling because after three visits by Chavez
without a reciprocal visit by Putin most people – not
Chavez - would get the message. The visit by Putin has been
number one agenda issue in every bilateral meeting in the
last four years.

- A senior female protocol officer from the Russian Foreign Ministry
was roughed up by the out-of-control Chavez security guards. The
latter acted as if Chavez's life was in danger at every
moment during his Moscow stay.


- Clearly the Russians are trying to get as much as
they can from Chavez, giving him little in terms of eagerly
sought credibility. Gazprom, LukOil, Russian Aluminum, and a
series of arms factories are eager to get deals while Chavez
still believes that Putin is on his “camp”…Remember: Putin
needs to keep his own “oligarchs” fat and happy.


- As a final and lighter note, Chavez’s hour and a
half delay in laying a wreath in the Tomb of the Unknown
Soldier – described in detail below - was because the
Venezuelan Embassy forgot to procure a wreath.


Fascinating tidbits about another gaffe filled phase
of a farcical shopping trip to Spain, Lybia, Russia, Qatar and
Iran.
PMB


P.S. the source for the note below is said to be Jose
Vicente Rangel who is in a power grab within an
administration in disarray> He apparently identified a number of
business deals for his cronies during his own – better
planned and received – visit to Moscow in October.

Últimas Noticias | Domingo 12 de Diciembre de 2004

GIRA HASTA LA RÉPLICA DE LA ESPADA DEL LIBERTADOR ESTUVO
RETENIDA EN LA ADUANA DEL AEROPUERTO MOSCOVITA
Fallas como monte en visita de Chávez a Rusia
Hubo desorganización y errores en el protocolo
Comisión auditora investiga varias denuncias

SORAYA BORELLY PATIÑO

Caracas. Desorganización, ausencia de información y fallas
en el protocolo fueron tres factores que ocasionaron grandes
dolores de cabeza al presidente Hugo Chávez y su equipo
durante la reciente visita dispensada a Moscú.

Fuentes de Cancillería, ministerio de Información,
periodistas de los medios del Estado y comunicadores rusos
coincidieron en señalar que las fallas en el protocolo
fueron de tal calibre, que hubo casos en los que hubo que
suspender puntos de la agenda por total desconocimiento del
objetivo de la presencia del Presidente venezolano.

Tal fue el caso del acto organizado en el Instituto de
Petróleo y Gas de Moscú orden “Gupkin”, en donde nuestro
mandatario habría de recibir un título “honoris causa”. No
obstante, luego que el presidente Chávez ya había sacado de
la maleta la toga y el birrete, y se prep araba para repasar
el discurso preparado con semanas de antelación, hubo que
suspender el acto por cuanto se trataba tan sólo de un
certificado de visita a solicitud de la parte venezolana.

Cruce de información. En lo que a protocolo respecta, no
hubo cruce de información entre los seis protocolos que
habrían de coincidir: cuatro por la parte venezolana (Casa
Militar, Cancillería, Vicepresidencia y Presidencia), y dos
por la parte rusa (Presidencia y Relaciones Exteriores).
Ello provocó que la descoordinación reinara a la hora de
establecer credenciales únicas para el equipo venezolano y
que se le negara la entrada a representantes de la prensa
nacional a actos de relevante importancia.

No se salvó ni el personal de protocolo de Cancillería.

Miembros del gabinete venezolano también se vieron
afectados, por cuanto no aparec&i acute;an en la lista de
invitados a la cena ofrecida por el presidente Vladimir
Putin en el Kremlin.

Castro Soteldo, Guillermo García Ponce y el presidente de la
CVG figuraron entre quienes tuvieron que entrar “coleados”
al ágape.

Honores tardíos. Un hecho que marcó de manera negativa la
visita presidencial fue la llegada con hora ymedia de
retraso a la ofrenda floral ante la tumba del Soldado
Desconocido.

Se pudo conocer que el presidente Chávez retrasó el acto con
48 horas de antelación, pero la embajada no notificó a las
autoridades rusas.

La guardia de honor rusa estuvo esperando por hora y media,
a -12 grados bajo cero.

Cuando llegó el mandatario venezolano los soldados estaban
sangrando por la nariz a causa del intenso frío.

Cabe destacar que desde 1945 ningún mandatario había llegado
tarde a tan import ante ceremonia.

Rollos en aduana. El avión fletado por las autoridades
venezolanas para el transporte de los equipos de prensa y
los regalos del presidente Chávez para su par ruso, entre
los que figuraba la réplica de la espada del Libertador, fue
detenido en el aeropuerto moscovita por carecer de
permisología.

Al parecer la embajada tan sólo tramitó ante las autoridades
rusas la solicitud de entrada al país, pero no confirmó si
efectivamente dicha solicitud había sido aprobada.

Colegas rusos aseguran que la espada de nuestro Libertador
pudo ser liberada luego de pagar un soborno de 200 dólares
al funcionario de guardia.

Dicha cantidad también incluía la liberación de una daga que
le fue obsequiada al general García Carneiro durante su
permanencia en España.

El desconocimiento de la legalidad rusa con respec to al
control de divisas ocasionó que varios empresarios que
acompañaban al presidente Chávez les fueran decomisados
hasta 25 mil dólares a su salida del país, dinero que no les
fue devuelto.

Cero apoyo técnico. Trascendió además, que Casa Militar no
tuvo apoyo logístico para su personal, ello incidió en que
el empresario Rostislav Ordovskii Tanaevskii Blanco (hijo de
ruso con española, pero nacido en Venezuela) financiara la
alimentación del personal de apoyo y seguridad del
Presidente.

Por otra parte, un prestigioso hotel moscovita estuvo a
punto de desalojar de sus habitaciones a gente cercana al
general García Carneiro.

Investigación. A la larga lista de fallas que se presentaron
en la visita presidencial a Moscú, atribuidas por fuentes de
cancillería a la inoperancia de la emba jada venezolana, se
suma una investigación que en el mes de octubre abrió la
Contraloría Interna del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
sobre la gestión del embajador Carlos Mendoza Potellá.

Una comisión auditora integrada por la contralora interna,
Gioconda Yassely, la directora de personal diplomático y
consular, Laura Guevara, y las funcionarias Natalia
Portocarrero y Eloisa Mendoza, realizaron una inspección en
la misión diplomática atendiendo denuncias formuladas por
funcionarios de la misma, las cuales sostenían que se
estaban cometiendo algunas irregularidades administrativas..

Entre los hechos investigados se encuentra un préstamo
solicitado por el embajador Mendoza Potellá al Bbva de
Londres, por la suma de 20 mil dólares, para cubrir los
gastos de funcionamiento de la misión diplomática, debido
a “los problemas presupuestarios que e nfrenta el Ministerio
de Relaciones Exteriores”, según reza la solicitud.

Luego de la visita de la comisión auditora, según cartas
enviadas al presidente Chávez, varios funcionarios
denunciaron ser víctimas de despidos injustificados y
presiones por parte del embajador.

Fuentes de Cancillería sostienen que el resultado de la
investigación de la comisión auditora se dará a conocer en
una semana.



DERECHO A DEFENSA
El pasado mes de octubre el embajador Potellá estuvo en la
Cancillería, en donde entregó un informe en el que refutaba
las denuncias en su contra.

En conversación telefónica, el diplomático se defendió,
asegurando que la comisión auditora levantó “un informe
sesgado”, que formaba parte de “una serie de falacias que se
habían montado en su contra”.

Aseguró que en el documento no habían “acusaciones
concretas” que pudieran sustentar hechos de corrupción en su
actividad. Confirmó que ciertamente hubo algunos problemas
protocolares durante la visita, pero “no son de la monta que
se les quiere dar”, agregó.


© Copyright 2004.
Cadena Capriles C.A.
Todos los Derechos Reservados


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