Washington, DC – IRI notes with interest that Sarah Hamburger’s article about the Institute being the “Bridge” to the April 2002 Venezuela coup attempt has been picked up by Havana’s Granma, voice of the Cuban dictatorship. Cuba’s absence of any press freedom absolves Granma from any interest in facts, which likely explains why it chose to publish Hamburger’s piece.

Hamburger’s proposition that IRI was central to the 2002 events in Venezuela is riddled with factual errors (among them that IRI gives funding to political parties) and omissions (among them that IRI’s current President has repeatedly disowned and apologized for his predecessor’s statement, and that the State Department’s OIG concluded that there was “no reason to believe that, despite its controversial statement, IRI played any role in removing President Chavez”).  A “Research Associate” at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), Hamburger clearly needs a research assistant.

To carry off her line of argument she conveniently sources only briefly the most extensive investigation of the U.S. government’s actions during this episode.  The report of the Department of State’s Office Inspector General (OIG) also reviewed all relevant activities of U.S. private institutions receiving public funds for democracy programming in Venezuela, including the entire National Endowment for Democracy (NED) family of organizations, not just IRI.

Unfortunately for Hamburger, an unbiased reading of the OIG report draws a dramatically different view of IRIs role.

Fact: Hamburger conveniently omits the following key statement: “Based on its review, OIG has no reason to believe that, despite its controversial statement, IRI played any role in removing President Chavez or that the statement was intended as an endorsement of unconstitutional actions to remove him.”

Hamburger not only cherry picks aspects the OIG study but relies on Eva Golinger’s period piece (The Chavez Code) or a purportedly reliable “former IRI staff member.”  The danger of second-hand sources is that they omit contact with the actors that Hamburger claims to know much about – IRI for example.

Fact: Hamburger suggests that IRI gave direct “funding” to political parties.  False. Neither NED nor the U.S. Agency for International Development funding guidelines allow this.

Fact: Hamburger suggests that on the eve of the April 11 episode IRI might have benefited from additional support, “perhaps increasing such funding.”  False. Nothing like that ever occurred.  Hamburger obviously did not check public records on this account.

Fact: She quotes a “former” staff member’s claim that Senator John McCain and the Board of IRI play an “active role in coordinating IRI activities.”  False. Coordination of programs is the responsibility of IRIs senior management, suggesting this former staffer learned little about the workings of the Institute.

Finally, assigning to IRI a role that it did not have in the April 2002 episode leads Hamburger to sail unconsciously past other aspects of the story.

Fact: IRI continued to do political party programming in Venezuela, some of it with NED funding, for several years after 2002.  How is that possible if Hamburger’s version of events is true?  It is quite simple: the Institute’s programming at the time was commendable and explains in part why IRI presently also works in 71 countries.

Fact: The timing of this COHA report coincided with the announcement of presidential decrees, issued at the end of 18 months of emergency rule by Hugo Chavez during which the Venezuelan Congress was on a paid sabbatical of sorts.  Hamburger’s defense of Chavez’ democratic credentials as a “popularly elected leader who heads a government with a Congress that theoretically has the power to keep him in check,” is undermined by her own use of the qualifier “theoretically” and by events on the grounds in Venezuela.  No wonder COHA’s article won favor with Granma.

Clearly, Hamburger has some catching up to do, notably any claim that she understands U.S. policy and mechanisms for “promoting democracy abroad” – which she reluctantly accepts as a “noble goal.” 

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