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Venezuela FOIA, Eva Golinger, Foreign Money, Double Standards and Jail

Francisco Toro, Caracas Chronicles

Isn't public openness a wonderful 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 know that the Venezuelan-American pro-Chavez activist who first uncovered that fact herself receives money from the Venezuela Information Office - a 100% Venezuelan government funded institution.

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: Ms. Golinger - a member of the editorial board - had not disclosed her financial link with VIO.

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 Día, managed to dig up. 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 based on falsities 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, Maríá Corina Machado is in Caracas facing a criminal investigation and possible jail time on charges related to Ms. Golinger's alegations. And that, when you get right down to it, is the only difference between their situations...

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