Project Report:Assessing Democracy AssistanceMay 2010
ﬂuctuation in many civil society organisations. These problems can be attributed to the intimidation of thegovernment and internal weaknesses. There is a broad consensus among the international community thatit is extremely difﬁcult or impossible to work with the government; a certain frustration about the lack of ademocratic culture on both sides; and the perception of an increasingly political polarisation. Responses tothis difﬁcult environment vary: while some just resigned themselves and ‘gave up’, others (like US agencies)increased funds for civil society, and a third group has decided to maintain a low-level proﬁle.
Main donor proﬁles
With annual funds of approximately USD 6 million in 2010,
the US is the largest donor of democracyassistance in Venezuela. Nonetheless, due to its political tensions with the Chávez government and in order to protect its partners, the US has a low visibility and presence in the country. Apart from the EuropeanCommission, which occupies a prominent position due to the ‘low-proﬁle’ policy of US entities, there are noother large or medium-size donors from abroad operating in Venezuela. Although Norway, the Netherlands,Denmark, France and the UK ﬁnance some human rights and democracy related activities, the principalgroup of donors in Venezuela is made up of the United States, the European Commission, various Germanpolitical foundations, Canada and Spain.Until very recently, the United States did not have a prominent role in democracy assistance to Venezuela.When US engagement initially began under the Chávez government, its political proﬁle consisted of supporting democratic NGOs and opposition parties. In 2002, USAID’s ofﬁce of transition initiatives launchedits ﬁrst programme to provide assistance to NGOs, human rights activists and political parties. Politicaltensions between both governments began when Chávez accused the former Bush administration of havingsupported the coup attempt in April 2002. Even though the US Ambassador returned to Caracas (after aten-month diplomatic conﬂict with the former Bush administration), Washington currently has no high-levelgovernment contacts and has decided to maintain diplomatic relations at a low proﬁle. Nonetheless, sincethen, the Chávez administration has begun to criminalise the receipt of US funds and to create an externalenemy to justify increasing authoritarianism and to threaten its adversaries. Members of the local NGOSúmate, who received (rather limited) NED funds for a project on electoral observance, were accused of conspiracy and betrayal. The trial against them, which was initiated in 2003, is still pending. As a responseto the ‘Súmate case’, US agencies decided to lower their proﬁle in Venezuela and as such provide very littleinformation on projects, partners and outcome of projects and programmes.According to the information available, the last seven years have seen the US spend an annual amount of approximately USD 3–6 million on small projects with political parties and NGOs. US funds are provided byDevelopment Alternatives, Inc. (DAI);
the Pan American Development Foundation PADF (since 2005); theInternational Republican Institute IRI (since 2003); the National Democratic Institute NDI (since 2002); andFreedom House (since 2004). As US agencies do not have local ofﬁces in Venezuela, projects are mainlychannelled through the US Embassy. Due to high political risk, most donors and beneﬁciaries do not providedetailed information on democracy assistance. This also explains the low visibility of US projects, comparedto the resources spent. Some concrete examples of US-funded projects are:Since 2002, Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) has been implementing a small-grant programme(mainly technical assistance) for public debates and campaigns on democracy, conﬁdence-building,young leader training and social issues. DAI does not offer any public information on projects inVenezuela.The NDI offers technical assistance to different political parties, supports local electoral observanceand (non-chavista) municipal governance. It provided initial funding for the local NGO ‘Ojo Electoral’created in 2002 as a joint effort by chavistas, representatives of the opposition and neutral actors. Todayhowever, the organisation does not receive any funds from NDI and is, due to the lack of core-funding,one of the ‘ONGs de maletín’ clearly under-staffed and without a permanent ofﬁce.The International Republican Institute (IRI) provides technical assistance (training, campaigning,electoral observation) to the COPEI and other conservative parties in Venezuela. In 2009, IRI started agood governance programme at the municipal level.•••
In 2010, USAID spend 1 million through its Ofﬁce of Transition Initiatives and 3,9 million USD through the Economic Support Fund (ESF) – bothinitially foreseen for countries in democratic transition.
Recently, DAI decided to close its ofﬁce in Venezuela.