Do Foreign Governments Have a "Human Right" to Buy Venezuela Elections?

As court proceedings begin this month against four Venezuelans from an election campaign group that accepted donations from a foreign government – something that is indisputably a federal crime under both U.S. and Venezuelan law – it’s no surprise that members of the Bush administration in Washington cry that the sky is falling.

After all, it’s their money (well, on second thought, it is U.S. taxpayers’ money) that is at the root of the alleged criminal enterprise. And the upcoming trial of accused Venezuelan electoral delinquents, held in the public light of day, will shine yet more sunlight upon Washington’s secret recipes for meddling in the elections of other nations.

On Friday, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey and Jose Vivanco of Human Rights Watch – thirteen blocks from the White House and on the same day - chirped in harmony to spin this story as a case of “persecution” against “legitimate electoral activities.”

But as last year’s presidential campaign in the United States revealed, Yankee political parties and candidates are prohibited from accepting foreign contributions from any source, especially from other governments. As John Kerry found out the hard way, the corrupting practices that Bush and Vivanco condone in Venezuela are strictly verboten in the United States… Let’s take a short walk down amnesia lane: A little over a year ago, U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry found himself in a firestorm of (Bush campaign-generated) controversy over the acceptance of a mere $2,000 campaign check from a Korean citizen (not the South Korean government, just a citizen, mind you). Conservative news agency Newsmax, among others, reported that Kerry immediately returned the contribution, and that the foreign government under suspicion - South Korea - called its diplomat home:

“Kerry's presidential campaign also acknowledges that some of its fund-raisers met with a South Korean government official who was trying to organize a Korean-American political group. That official has been sent home amid questions he was involving himself in American politics.”

The gringos – just like the members of any other country’s political class - are understandably touchy about foreign meddling in U.S. political campaigns, especially about foreign money. Those U.S. debts, after all, to shining democracies like Saudi Arabia and China, could conceivably be utilized, if not expressly prohibited, to buy elections in the United States. The flap over a mere $2,000 check probably led to Kerry’s most decisive campaign moment of 2004: he sent the check back, disavowed it, distanced himself, and redoubled efforts to do “background checks” on all donors to his campaign.

Contrast Kerry’s response with that of the Venezuelan group Súmate – architects of last year’s presidential recall referendum in Venezuela – which pocketed not $2,000 but $31,000 (that's $66,557,000, yes, sixty-six million plus Venezuelan Bolivares) from the US-funded “National Endowment for Democracy.” This is the group that authored the August 15, 2004 referendum seeking to remove President Hugo Chávez, collected the signatures to place it on the ballot, hired Washington political consultants to front for its August 15 “exit poll,” and then screamed “fraud” when its dubious and poorly collected exit poll stood alone and opposite the results of all other polls, including the most important one: that of the ballot box.

That the Bush administration has a foreign policy based on double standards is hardly a shock to anyone. But when it comes to Venezuela, Bush counts with a reliable ally for his simulation campaigns to paint an imprimatur of “human rights” upon what are, in fact, violations of the human rights of a people to have clean elections uncorrupted by foreign funds.

Human Rights Watch fixer Vivanco’s decidedly anti-human rights double standard when it comes to Venezuela and his obsession with toppling the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chávez has been documented on these pages before, and before that.

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey, during a Friday press briefing, said: “we're very disappointed by the July 7 decision of a Venezuelan judge to try the four leaders of the civic nongovernmental organization Sumate on charges of conspiracy for accepting a $31,000 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy to carry out voter education activities.”

Of course, an administration that coddles and protects some violent terrorists while waging a so-called “war on terrorism” elsewhere, not surprisingly, speaks with forked tongue. Nobody really expects the government to tell the truth anymore. It’s the government. It's here to help you... yada yada. That’s why it needs a simulating “human rights” organization to “independently” back up its spin, and thus the beltway media circus that ensued yesterday.

And so on Friday, as the State Department held a press briefing where it whined about “democratic rights” in Venezuela, Jose Vivanco of Human Rights Watch was a golf swing up Connecticut Avenue NW following orders from headquarters as a soldier in the war against authentic democracy.

Human Rights Watch issued a press release, charging:

“The (Venezuelan) court has given the government a green light to persecute its opponents. Prosecuting people for treason when they engage in legitimate electoral activities is utterly absurd.”

Vivanco did not elaborate about how receiving clandestine, unreported, contributions from foreign government groups for a national political campaign constituted "legitimate electoral activities."

Vivanco is not alone in having his panties all up in a bunch over the upcoming trial and what the public could learn from it.

The government of Spain – the first government to recognize that of Venezuelan dictator-for-a-day Pedro Carmona during the short-lived 2002 military coup there - also chimed in, announcing it would send observers to the trial. The American Bar Association has sent court observers, too. They’re all very welcome.

Yet what bothers the same governments that tolerated (and authorized) the 2002 bloody coup d’etat in Venezuela is not that the trial is taking place. It is that the trial is taking place under democratic norms, out in the open, and the information likely to surface during these public proceedings is what has them on edge from Washington to Madrid.

Another interesting contrast between the case of John Kerry’s $2,000 foreign check in the United States and Súmate’s $31,000 foreign check in Venezuela - both received in 2004 - is that the U.S. candidate reported the donation to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) as was his duty under the law.

But the political action group Sumate insists that it alone has the "human right" to hide the sources of its funding, and to engage in partisan political activity above the laws governing financing of political parties in Venezuela. Once again, upper class former oligarchs insist they have a "human right" to live above the law.

Sumate’s defense is based on two claims: One, that Sumate is not a political party, but, rather, a Nader-like citizen group (imagine what would happen to Ralph Nader if it were charged that he accepted contributions from, say, the government’s of Lebanon or Saudi Arabia… or for that matter from Venezuela, for his political organizations). Sumate’s second line of defense is that even if the facts show that Sumate behaves as a political party, and is thus subject to reasonable reporting requirements, that the US-government money given through the National Endowment for Democracy went only for “training sessions” for election poll watchers, and therefore that contribution did not need to be disclosed to the Venezuelan people.

The fact remains that Sumate is in this legal jam now because it chose, instead of disclosing that it was taking money from the Bush administration, to hide the existence of the corrupting funds. It was only the result of an investigation by Authentic Journalist Jeremy Bigwood inside the United States, utilizing the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that discovered that Sumate had been on the take in dollars.

Washington and Human Rights Watch do not want this trial to take place in open air. And if it does take place in public, they want to blow as much smoke as possible to distract from the facts that fly out of that courtroom.

It could be that Sumate and its leaders are innocent. Or it could be that they are guilty. That’s the point of a trial and due process of law. The beltway bandits don’t really care what happens to their own puppets in the end, that's not what their squawking is about: there’s always a new group of squalid marionettes available to take the Sumate leaders' place for a few dollars more.

What they want to stop is that the trial of the Sumate leaders for hiding a foreign government source of funding be held under the spotlight of public scrutiny. They’re all sending observers to the courtroom – and I say, welcome aboard! – because there are special interests very worried about what facts will come to light in the proceedings. They will be there with cell phones set to speed dial. And so will we in this horizontal network known as the Narco News Swarm. Won’t that be fun and informative for all? We'll serve the arepas, kids!

The facts that will come out in that trial about how the United States government meddles in foreign political campaigns – with practices that are decidedly illegal in the United States – are likely to be embarrassing to, say, the U.S. political consultants that collaborated with Sumate on cooking the books on a phony “exit poll.” Let’s get some witnesses on the stand to talk about Penn, Schoen & Berland and those Sumate “training sessions” for “poll watchers.” Let’s, finally, hear the participants questioned under oath about that and other imperial impositions that make a lie out of Washington’s claims to “promote democracy” in Latin America and elsewhere.

Let the trial begin. Let the facts come to light. And let the heavens fall.

Mmmmmm. Arepas.

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.