Cablegate: Update On the Usaid/Oti Venezuela Program

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) began
its Venezuela program in August 2002 to support a democratic
solution to Venezuela's political crisis as part of an
overall USG strategy. USAID's overall goal in Venezuela is
to support a political process that is democratic,
constitutional, electoral and peaceful. Specifically the
program focuses on: support to electoral processes, support
of a favorable electoral environment, facilitating
opportunities for dialogue between government and opposition
supporters, public civic education, and human rights. To
support this program, USAID is funding the following partner
organizations: The National Democratic Institute for
International Affairs, the International Republican
Institute, the Carter Center, Development Alternatives,
Inc., and a large number of Venezuelan civil society
organizations. The program is scheduled to run through FY
2005. End Summary.
2. (U) Since the failure of the national strike more than a
year ago, the opposition has chosen a path for political
change based on the constitutional right of citizens to
recall elected public officials half-way through their terms
of office. This strategy resulted in a signature-gathering
exercise November 28 to December 1, 2003 to recall President
Chavez. The opposition announced that it had collected 3.4
million signatures, significantly more than the 2.4 million
3. (U) The National Electoral Board (CNE), the government
institution responsible for overseeing electoral events -
including verifying the validity of the signatures - is
widely believed to be composed of three government
supporters and two opposition supporters, a split that has
affected CNE decisions on the long and contentiously
convoluted signature collection and validation process. In
late April, 2004, the CNE announced that of the 3.4 million
signatures collected, 1.9 million were valid, 300,000 were
invalid, and 1.2 million needed to be "repaired" - that is,
reconfirmed in a separate process which was carried out May
29 - 31. At the end of this process, the CNE found that the
opposition had collected more than the 2.4 million valid
signatures required for a referendum against President
Chavez. The referendum was subsequently scheduled for
August 15. If President Chavez were recalled, a
presidential election would be held a month later. This
would be followed by elections for governors and mayors in
late September. These electoral events will almost
certainly be carried out in an atmosphere of mutual distrust
and accusations by the government and the opposition.
4. (U) The working environment for USAID is affected by the
continued accusations of the GoV that the U.S. Government is
directly involved in efforts to overthrow the Chavez
government. President Chavez frequently alleges that
President Bush is personally heading this effort, and that
one of the mechanisms utilized is working through the
National Endowment for Democracy (NED). These accusations
are frequently coupled with threats to cut off oil shipments
to the United States. Thus far, the GoV has not made any
statements regarding USAID's involvement in "Venezuela's
internal affairs". At minimum, the ongoing attacks on NED
grantees have made clear to local NGOs that accepting USG
funding carries with it great risk, including the
possibility of jail.
USAID Support
5. (U) USAID is supporting two cooperative agreements with
the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
(NDI). The first agreement provides $770,000 to work with
civil society to help ensure the transparency and integrity
of electoral processes through domestic observation. This
project will be implemented through a consortium of
individuals and groups affiliated with both the government
and the opposition. Specifically the consortium will focus
on observing: political/civil/human rights, the quality of
the electoral process, and the implementation of a quick
count. Progress on this project has been much slower than
anticipated due to the ongoing attacks of President Chavez
on organizations that have received USG funding. This has
resulted in the reluctance of individuals and organizations
affiliated with this project to accept USG funding (albeit
via NDI) out of concern that this could potentially
compromise the perceived neutrality of the observation
effort. For months NDI has been working with numerous
embassies in an attempt to secure non-USG funding for the
project, with limited success to date beyond promises. This
funding issue is coupled with the slowness and caution with
which the project's board of directors has been operating in
Venezuela's highly politicized environment. NDI, however,
remains confident that the conditions for electoral
observation efforts - including the quick count - will be in

place by August 15, although not of the scale initially
envisioned. This project is scheduled to end September
6. (U) The second cooperative agreement with NDI provides
$550,000 to strengthen political parties. This project got
off to a late start given that the project manager did not
assume his position until January, 2004. In his absence,
however, there were - and continue to be - periodic visits
by Latin American electoral specialists who have advised
political leadership, primarily from the opposition,
regarding strategy. In the remaining months of the project,
the two NDI in-country electoral specialists - in
conjunction with visits by international electoral
specialists - will continue to meet with party leadership,
in Caracas and in the provinces, to provide technical
assistance where possible and appropriate. Involvement of
government supporters in this project has been negligible
despite ongoing efforts by NDI to reach out to the
government. This project is scheduled to end September 29,
7. (U) USAID is also supporting two cooperative agreements
with the International Republican Institute (IRI). The
first, for $450,000, is to provide training to political
parties on the design, planning, and execution of electoral
campaigns. This is being done through "campaign training
schools" targeting campaign managers, emphasizing the
development of viable campaign strategies and effectively
communicating party platforms to voters. Divided into five
two-day modules, the training is being offered in five
regional centers which also accommodate surrounding states.
By the end of June, the first four modules will have been
completed in Caracas (including representatives from the
states of Vargas, Aragua, Guarico and Amazonas), Zulia
(Tachira, Falcon, Barinas, Merida, Trujillo and Apure),
Anzoategui (Amacuro, Monagas, Sucre, and Nueva Esparta)and
Carabobo (Lara, Cojedes, Guarico, and Yaracuy). Given that
a presidential referendum is now scheduled, the planned 5th
module - which was to focus on fund-raising - has been
revised to include efforts to encourage voter participation,
and public education regarding the difference between a
referendum and a normal electoral event. Participant
response continues to be uniformly enthusiastic - while
participation by government-leaning parties has been
insignificant despite IRI's efforts to encourage government
participation, including offering separate sessions for
government supporters. IRI is working with NDI to study the
possibility of offering training tailored to specific parts
of the country in the lead-up to the regional elections in
September. This project is scheduled to end September 17,
8. (U) The second cooperative agreement with IRI, for
$285,000, is to support the training of political parties in
the observation of electoral processes. Working through a
local NGO, Hagamos Democracia (HD), and in collaboration
with the CNE, IRI/HD have developed educational materials
for the training of poll watchers with the focus on
observation - per CNE norms - assessment, and reporting.
The strategy involves training-of-trainers affiliated with
participating political parties - who will then carry out
the actual training of the political party observers. An
important expected outcome of this project is the
establishment of a formal network of contacts and volunteer
trainers throughout the country. To date, Hagamos
Democracia has completed training the trainers of COPEI and
Bandera Roja. There is no participation of the government in
this project despite IRI/HD offering to hold separate
courses for government-affiliated parties - the last
invitation being in mid-January. USAID has requested that
IRI reinvigorate its efforts to reach out to government-
affiliated parties due to the importance of their
participation to the success of the overall project and the
referendum. This project is scheduled to end September 17,
9. (U) USAID has awarded five grants to the Carter Center
for both institutional support and observation efforts. The
grants total $1.4 million. USAID will also support Carter
Center observation of the presidential referendum, as well
as the regional elections (mayoral and gubernatorial) which
are to take place in late September. The institutional
support grant is scheduled to end December 31, 2004.
10. (U) With Development Alternatives, Inc. (DAI), USAID
Venezuela is implementing a program of small grants,
primarily in partnership with Venezuelan civil society. The
main focus has been to facilitate dialogue between segments
of society that would be unlikely to sit down together to
discuss issues of mutual interest. The 100 plus grants to
date have mostly supported workshops dedicated to specific
issues (e.g. family violence, municipal planning, conflict
resolution, and the role of the media in a democratic
society) which serve as fora for dialogue and bridge
11. (U) While providing venues for dialogue will continue
to be one of the objectives of the small grants program, DAI
is also working with a local partner to develop a national
agenda/vision for the future. Currently there are more than

30 existing national agendas, an indication that there are a
significant number of individuals and organizations -
including the Coordenadora Democratica - who recognize the
pressing need to have a viable and attractive vision for the
future. This project is working with the authors of the
existing national agendas to develop a consensual vision
that will then be validated in a series of workshops held
throughout the country. The objectives are to increase
citizen participation in the development of a national
agenda - to encourage ownership, to involve key sectoral
stake-holders (e.g. media, business) in moving national
priorities beyond discussion - and to make a clear statement
to political leaders regarding expectations of the citizens
of Venezuela.
12. (U) Another DAI project is a nation-wide campaign to be
launched in late June - "Venezuela Convive" - which will
encourage the concept of peaceful coexistence between
individuals and organizations with strongly contrasting
opinions - a value that is strongly held by most
Venezuelans, and which is perceived as being under attack by
the current climate of political intolerance. This campaign
will include a media component (TV, radio and newspapers)
and strong support by civil society who will implement
numerous projects throughout the country in support of
"convivencia" - living together in peace. Reaction to the
project has been overwhelmingly positive - including strong
support by chavismo - a clear demonstration that Venezuelans
are tired of political and economic turmoil and want to move
13. (U) A complement to this project is a national effort
to work with 7,000 of the political party observers who
participated in last year's signature-gathering exercise and
this year's "repairing" process. The project is a series of
workshops focused on political tolerance as an essential
element of a healthy democracy. Observers from government
parties have been given authorization from Caracas to
participate in these workshops, which is a first for USAID
whose events are normally weighted towards participation by
opposition supporters despite strong outreach efforts to
government supporters. An interesting outcome of most of
these workshops has been requests by government-leaning
participants that the training be extended to government
supporters who are not electoral observers - a request
mirrored by the opposition participants, but intriguing
coming from government supporters given the GoV's ongoing
attacks on organizations that accept USG funding. This
demonstrates the hunger that Venezuelans have for concrete
actions that can help bridge the current political divide.
14. (U) Planned for the coming months will be a campaign of
civic education on the roles and responsibilities of
citizens in a democratic society. As a result of the events
of the past 18 months, Venezuela has been forced to mature
as a democratic society - the major lesson being that
democracy is the responsibility of each idividual; that
democracy is not something externl imposed on the
individual. Education regardin democratic values is
constantly cited by Venezulans as an area that needs
reinforcement. This poject will be carried out by a
consortium of NGO which specialize in civic education. As
a compement, continued emphasis will be placed on the roe
of the media in a democracy.
15. (U) Anothe sector receiving increased emphasis by
USAID is uman rights, in response to the human rights
abues of late February / early March, 2004. Two projects
have been recently unded through DAI with local human
rights organizations to support human rights education:
education on human rights working with the Catholic Church
and local NGO Ventana por la Libertad. (Note: The director
of Ventana por la Libertad recently received a visit from
three members of Venezuela's political police who questioned
him, among other things, about his organization's receiving
funding from the USG. End note.) Several more projects
with local human rights organizations are in the process of
being funded. In addition, USAID is studying the possibility
of funding projects with Freedom House and the Inter-
American Institute for Human Rights.
16. (U) Given the nature of the USAID Venezuela portfolio -
and the complicated and fluid nature of the Venezuelan
political landscape - USAID's measurable impact to date is
hard to assess. Certainly the USG is better engaged as a
result of project activities carefully coordinated in the
embassy in support of USG objectives. Funding for the
Carter Center continues to support critical activities,
which was especially evident during the reparos process. At
minimum, as a result of the DAI activities there has been
increased dialogue between groups that would not normally
interact - with very encouraging results. For example, the
head of the state tourism board in Anzoategui State recently
told the USAID Country Rep that at a meeting of the
municipal tourism boards in late June he wished he'd had a
camera to record the presence of representatives of all the
municipalities - something that he would have deemed
impossible before the USAID-funded dialogue project which
brought together municipal representation from both the
government and the opposition. In addition, there have been

a number of interesting initiatives that have come out of
the DAI activities.
Future Role
17. (U) USAID/OTI normally works in a country for two or
three years before handing off the program portfolio -
normally to the USAID Mission (which does not exist in
Venezuela), or to another donor organization. USAID/OTI is
currently anticipating handing over its activities in FY
2005. It is clear, however, that there will be a need for a
USAID/OTI-type program in Venezuela through FY 2006 as
Venezuela proceeds through the scheduled elections for
national legislators and the presidency.



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