May 22, 2004

Ripley's Believe it or Not...

This weekend, a number of Círculos Bolivarianos - pro-Chavez civilian neighborhood groups - are slated to organize a number of seminars to "train" volunteers to witness the opposition's reparos process against Chavez. The training courses will take place in Petare - a sprawling Caracas slum - today and tomorrow.

And where does the money come from? From the U.S. taxpayer, that's where! Word around the campfire is the American money is footing the bill...

It's true, folks...

May 21, 2004

Mandela sez...

from Long Walk to Freedom

Mandela is describing life in prison on Robben Island in the early 1970s, under a new Prison Comander, Colonel Piet Badenhorst, the most brutal prison administrator he met in 27 years on that island:

We felt the effects of Badenhorst's regime before we ever saw him. A number of the newer regulations regarding study and free time were immediately rescinded. It was obvious that he intended to roll back every privilege we had won over the years. Our old warders were transferred off the island and replaced by Badenhorst's handpicked guards. They were younger, coarser men who enforced every niggling regulation, whose job was to harass and demoralize us. Within days of Badenhorst's appointment, our cells were raided and searched, books and papers were confiscated, meals were suspended without warning and men were jostled on the way to the quary.

Badenhorst attempted to turn back the clock to the way the island was in the early 1960s. The answer to every question was always no. Prisoners who requested to see their lawyers were given solitary confinement instead. Complaints were completely ignored. Visits were cancelled without explanation. The food deteriorated. Censorship increased.

After several years of this, Badenhorst is reassigned to a different post...

A few days before Badenhorst's departure, I was called to the main office. General Steyn [Badenhorst's superior] was visiting the island and wanted to know if we had any complaints. Badenhorst was there as I went through a list of demands. When I had finished, Badenhorst spoke to me directly. He told me that he would be leaving the island, and added, "I just want to wish you people good luck." I do not know if I looked dumbfounded, but I was amazed. He spoke these words like a human being, and showed a side of himself we had never seen before. I thanked him for his good wishes, and wished him luck in his endeavours.

I thought about this moment for a long time afterwards. Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and barbaric commanding officer we had had on Robben Island. But that day in the office, he had revealed that there was another side to his nature, a side that had been obscured but that still existed. It was a useful reminder that all men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing. Ultimately, Badenhorst was not evil; his inhumanity had been foisted upon him by an inhuman system. He behaved like a brute because he was rewarded for brutish behavior.

May 20, 2004

Eva Golinger, Foreign Money, Double Standards and Jail

Isn't transparency a wondrous thing? First, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, we learned that the US National Endowment for Democracy - a 100% US government funded institution - has financed a number of anti-Chavez institutions in Venezuela.

Now, thanks to the US Department of Justice's Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), we learn that the Venezuelan-American pro-Chavez activist who first uncovered that fact herself receives foreign money - in fact, money from the very government she spends so much time defending in public fora.

Eva Golinger would like to be known as the Brooklyn-based lawyer who blew the lid on the US conspiracy to topple Chavez. It was Ms. Golinger who first exposed NED's funding of Sumate through her website:

First, the facts: On November 7th and November 9th, 2003, the Venezuela Information Office in Washington cut Ms. Golinger two checks to help pay for a conference on Media Reform in Madison, WI. Now, the Venezuelan taxpayer money that ended up in Ms. Golinger's bank account is hardly going to make her rich - less than $10,000 in all, from the FARA records Orlando Ochoa of El Universal and Quinto D%ED%E1, managed to dig up. Ms. Golinger - who is also a member of the editorial board - had not disclosed her financial ties with VIO.

The sums are small - nothing that will go very far in New York these days. Just far enough, it seems to me, to put Ms. Golinger into a conflict-of-interest at least as serious as the one she denounced regarding NED and Sumate.

What precisely the difference is between Sumate taking money from NED and Eva Golinger taking money from the VIO? In some ways, VIO money is even more politically tainted than NED money: the NED is a quasi-NGO, a bipartisan organization fully funded with public monies but not directly controlled by the US government. VIO, on the other hand, is an appendage of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, fully funded and fully controlled by chavistas. NED is at least bipartisan in nature, while VIO is strictly a pro-Chavez regime outfit.

It's unlikely Ms. Golinger will deny the facts - the FARA documents are there, they're public, and they're publicly accessible. She could claim that the sums involved are relatively modest, certainly, but then Sumate could claim that $53,400 is not really very much money either given the nationwide scale of their activities. Surely, Ms. Golinger is not really suggesting NED funded most or all of Sumate's activities, and neither am I alleging VIO funded most of hers.

I wonder if Ms. Golinger will have the presence of mind to understand the parallels between her situation and Maria Corina Machado's, Sumate's chief spokesperson.

Presumably Ms. Golinger went after Sumate because she thought accepting even a small sum of money from a foreign agent makes a political organization suspect - but then, why doesn't that reasoning apply to the small sums she has received from the Venezuelan government?

At this point, if she's reading this, I imagine Ms. Golinger will be feeling quite annoyed, peeved, even unfairly treated! "But I've done soooo much work on VenezuelaFOIA and all those other activities because I believe in it, damn it! What could be more unfair than to dismiss all the honest work I've done, on my beliefs, on the basis of two measly little checks from way back in November?"

...which, of course, is exactly what my sister says after she comes back, tired but proud, from a day of volunteering for Sumate together with dozens of other unpaid volunteers only to see chavista spokesmen on State TV slam the organization as a US puppet.

So I'm afraid Ms. Golinger is storing her rabo'e'paja in a big glass house. There are too many rocks around for that, and too many matches.

Y'know, what angers me the most about Ms. Golinger's VIO funding pecadillo is her unwillingness to just come clean about it. In email to the escualido blogosphere (Alek Boyd, Daniel Duquenal and yours truly) sent on May 7th, she closed with:

"Finally, I will reiterate again, published personal attacks basedfalsitesties fall outside the realm of protected speech and basic respect. Please, get it through your heads: I don't get paid to write or speak about Venezuela and I do not answer to absolutely anyone. Stop the madness boys! A little serenity would do you all well."

Eva Golinger is a lawyer, of course, and writes like one (i.e.: carefully.) Her little denial is both strictly speaking correct and obviously misleading. Her profession of impartiality obviously looks rather different in light of her VIO billing history.

Shouldn't we expect a crusader for openness on foreign funding of political activists to disclose that she is herself a political activist who receives foreign funding?

The question is when, exactly, Ms. Golinger was planning to disclose her financial ties with VIO. If Orlando Ochoa - a lawyer with years of experience on this - hadn't dug up VIO's FARA files, would we ever have heard of it? What's your guess?...

One final thought: Ms. Golinger will, I imagine (and intend) be embarrassed by this entry. She does not - thank God - face a prison sentence for what she's done. That is as it should be. Because only a despotic government would threaten to put someone in prison for something as minor as what she's done

Yet, while Ms. Golinger kicks back comfortably in NYC reading this, Maria Corina Machado is in Caracas facing a criminal investigation and possible jail time on charges related to Ms. Golinger's allegations. And that, when you get right down to it, is the only difference between their situations...

Eva Golinger replies

Thanks, Francisco. Then feel free to publish my response, as it would only be just, since I don't own your website or have all the media on my side able to "inform the world of the truth", small world that it is anyway who reads your (and my) websites. I'll include to you the letter I wrote to El Universal in response to their article entitled "Influencias Alquiladas". And, I will clarify that the only reason I remotely feel I should respond to your "blog" is because I did send you and those others mentioned in your note a letter reiterating that I am not financed and receive no financing from the Venezuelan government for my political activities. Nor am I
directed by the Venezuelan government in absoultely any way.

Certainly you don't think that I am not aware of the FARA regulations? Well, if you must know, the work I did for the Venezuela Information Office actually had to do with ensuring they were following the FARA regulations, writing contracts and providing legal assistance in the creation of their legal entity. As a lawyer, that is precisely the type of work I am capable of doing and, when possible, should be compensated for. There really is not much more to the work I did for that office, and, as you must know, the
quanity compensated was not very high. I can assure that my earning capacity is much higher than that as a result of my very successful private practice in which I've helped hundreds of artists, superstars and others come to the U.S. and pursue their "dreams." Some of your friends may be amongst them.

In any case, your comparison to Súmate is ridiculous. The funds that Súmate receives from the National Endowment for Democracy, an entity of the US government, not only are directed and controlled by the US government, but also are used for an entirely political purpose. Surely providing counsel on compling with US laws and drafting employment contracts cannot be a form of
work compared to being paid to mount a massive propaganda and political campaign to recall an elected president from office prematurely. I am not being paid to overthrow and destablize the US government, as Súmate is being subsidized to do with the Venezuelan government. Mr. Toro - you must be able to figure out that one on your own. You are really stretching far, Mr. Toro,
and obviously grasping at air - something that you and your colleagues are well full of.

Again, I have absolutely nothing to hide in my work or my finances. Say or write what you wish, but you will find no evidence of any financing of political activities that I have carried out - nor have I done any legal work for the Venezuela Information Office since the initiation of my investigation into the financing of various Venezuelan organizations and individuals. Not that there would be anything wrong if I were - after all, being paid for your expert services as a professional is vastly different from receiving funding from a foreign government to build a political movement intended to result in a regime change.

One of your colleagues pointed out something critical to me regarding your "blogs" - he made clear that what you all write is just merely opinion, with no legal weight and no evidentiary burden. You can freely be reckless and irresponsible in your essays with no legal repercussion because you are bound by no editorial policy or legal rules that obligate you to base your writings in fact.

I happen to be more ethical and responsible than that, Mr. Toro. I base my accusations in hard evidence and fact. But then again, I am a lawyer bound to professional responsibility regulations and you and your colleagues are just blogging away in cyberspace with no one to answer to.


Eva Golinger

May 19, 2004

Where's Janette when you need her?

I can't even blog today. The situation is too depressing. I'm headed for Cardinale-level despair. My major is in jail on bizarrely trumped up charges. Sumate's leaders are up next. Chavez wants to arm his supporters to the teeth and there's no way to stop him. The very notion of a recall referendum is starting to look like a sick joke. Crazy (seeming) rumors are flooding into my inbox - too far-fetched to repeat, but still worrying. I try to picture Venezuela on the morning of August 20th, 2004, and every version I can come up with is a horror story. Sorry folks, wish I was more inspired.

And as though all of that wasn't bad enough, Janette - our resident radical optimist - is awol...

May 18, 2004

Strictly for nerds

Why have I been blogging so sparingly? Cuz I've been working on my research proposal, that's why...

Conversation with Juan Forero

Date: January 2003. (During the paro.) Citing from memory...

JF: I just don't see why the opposition can't wait until the mid-way point in the guy's term and go for the revocatorio. It's the one constitutional option y'all have, and the only one you can imaginably get international support for.

FT: But Juan, see, you're treating Chavez like a normal politician again. If we wait that long, there's no guarantee at all that the country will still have institutions anywhere near independent enough to actually hold a referendum.

JF: But see? Attitudes like that are precisely the sort of thing that convince tons of people abroad that the opposition is just paranoid, or at least so short-termist that it can't be trusted...I mean, hardly a week goes by when Chavez doesn't mention the revocatorio as the logical, legal, sane way for the opposition to go about on earth is he going to then turn around and deny it?

FT: No somos suizos, Juan, and Chavez especially. Man, he's really, really not Swiss...the country can't hold out until the recall, or, the institutions can't...

JF: So then a coup is basically alright?

FT: I'm not saying that, I'm just saying that the opposition is not acting totally irrationally when it doubts the chances of a recall actually taking place...

JF: I dunno man, I don't see it...