Solidarity Center Funding Skyrockets for Venezuela and Colombia

by James Patrick Jordan

originally published in the Orinoco Tribune

The Solidarity Center’s activities in Venezuela and Colombia skyrocketed last year. Funding from the mis-named National Endowment for Democracy (NED) soared to almost 60% over the previous year’s awards. The 2020 funding, alone, represents over 40% of the total for similar grants for the last five years on record ($3,617,000). In 2020, the Solidarity Center’s Bogotá office received $1,470,000 in regional NED funding. That is up over $626,000 in 2019. Additionally, the NED gave a $50,000 award for “a survey of labor rights violations” but did not specify to whom the grant was given.

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What is the AFLCIO’s Solidarity Center up to in Venezuela?

The Solidarity Center works closely with long-time partners, the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV, for Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela  ), as well as the Labor Solidarity Movement (MSL for Movimiento de Solidridad Laboral), which includes current and former CTV officials in its leadership, as well as Orlando Chirino, who was a candidate for president of Venezuela against Hugo Chávez in 2012. According to Tim Gill,

“In its 2010 program description, the SC [Solidarity Center] bluntly states that it helped form the coordinating body [for the MSL], which was ‘launched in an [SC]-supported national conference in July 2009’….”

The CTV is a right-wing labor movement known for its collaboration with Venezuela’s Chamber of Commerce (FEDECAMARAS) during the April 2002 coup attempt against Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. These days CTV leaders are allied with opposition leader, Juan Guaidó. Guaidó, after consulting with Trump Administration officials, declared himself president of Venezuela in January 2019, despite not being elected. President Biden continues to back Guaido’s spurious claim.

Democracy activists who monitor foreign election interference are concerned that the elevated NED funding could signal a repeat of the events of April 2002 when a similar spike preceded that failed coup attempt. The Solidarity Center channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the CTV and then, one month before the attempt, relocated from Caracas to Bogotá where they continue to oversee activities in Venezuela and Colombia to the present day.

Dan Kovalik is the author of the book, The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela, a professor of International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and former counsel for the United Steelworkers (USW). When asked about the Solidarity Center’s funding, he responded,

“The huge increase of NED monies to the Solidarity Center’s work in Venezuela and surrounding countries is disturbing. The US government and its regime-change body known as the NED are openly bent on overthrowing the sovereign government of Venezuela. They are not throwing money at the SC without expecting it to pursue that end in one manner or the other. The fact that they are increasing monies now to the SC necessarily means that it is complying with this purpose. I fear that the AFL-CIA is not a thing of the past but is alive and well today.”

The Solidarity Center is both the international relations bureau of the AFLCIO, and one of the four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), along with the Chamber of Commerce affiliated Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Republican Institute, and the National Democratic Institute. The NED, founded in 1983, is a kind spin-off from the CIA. A co-founder, Allen Weinstein, once explained, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

The AFLCIO has a history of supporting coups in other countries that it has still not fully accounted for. An example is the involvement of the now-defunct AIFLD (American Institute for Free Labor Development) in the overthrow of Salvador Allende in 1973 in Chile. In 2004, the AFLCIO provided no support to unions being brutally repressed during and following the coup against Haiti’s elected government. Instead, as the International Republican Institute orchestrated the coup, the Solidarity Center funded the small organization, Batay Ouvriye, which, rather than defend their country’s democracy, called for the resignation of President Jean Bertrand Aristide even as the forces behind the coup were shedding workers’ blood in the streets.

The Solidarity Center, founded in 1997, was supposed to be a step away from AFLCIO collaboration with the CIA. The old “institutes” like AIFLD, which had functioned as fronts for US espionage, were closed as part of a new era of openness in international relations and a turn towards true solidarity.

However, one can hardly call the NED’s or the Solidarity Center’s activities open, particularly in regard to Venezuela. If one searches NED grant listings for Venezuela, the descriptions are notable only by their vagueness. Partners are unnamed, language is general, projects are described in the most non-descriptive terms possible. The Solidarity Center has routinely ignored calls for details about its work.

For one grant for $626,000, and for a supplemental grant of $199,000, or $825,000 in total, the description only says it is from the NED to the Solidarity Center (listing no on-the-ground partners in Venezuela or Colombia),

“To address the closing space for civil society and the growing repression of democratic freedoms in Venezuela. The center will strengthen the capacity of union partners to monitor and report rights violations and defend basic liberties and trade union autonomy. To maintain and defend recent gains in fundamental labor rights in Colombia, the center will build union capacity to advocate for improved access to justice through participation in wider civil society platforms and the use of national and international mechanisms.”

The final 2020 grant from the NED explicitly to the Solidarity Center for Venezuela-related activities is a $645,389 grant for projects with Venezuelan migrants,

“To promote the human and labor rights and the democratic participation of workers in Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru, the center will develop the capacity of its union partners to build relationships with Venezuelan migrant workers to collectively advocate for decent work and promote greater respect for labor rights.”

One might question how a grant applied towards support for Venezuelan migrants might contribute to destabilization of the elected government inside Venezuela. However, with an examination of the overall approach of the US towards Venezuela, one sees that addressing this situation is a key component to regime change plans. It is literally the US-enforced blockade of and sanctions against Venezuela that are at the foundation of economic disruptions, shortages, and poverty in the country today and, thus, the impetus behind the migration crisis.

In a report for the Center for Economic Policy Review (CEPR) titled Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela, published April 2019, Marc Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs write that,

“The sanctions reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. They exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths. All of these impacts disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans….

We find that the sanctions have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018; and that these sanctions would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory. They are also illegal under international law and treaties which the US has signed and would appear to violate US law as well.”

In a January 2019 article, journalist Michael Fox reports on the plight of

“300,000 people who are estimated to be at risk because of lack of access to medicines or treatment because of sanctions on the country. That includes 16,000 people who need dialysis, 16,000 cancer patients and roughly 80,000 people with HIV, according to a report published in April by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research….

The U.S. government has also frozen $5.5 billion of Venezuelan funds in international accounts in at least fifty banks and financial institutions. Even if Venezuela could get money abroad, the United States has long blocked international trade by threatening sanctions on foreign companies for doing business with the country.”

The US policy of sanctions and the blockade against Venezuela is an aggression against the nation’s people, and the massive displacement of Venezuela’s citizens is a direct result of that. It also has created problems and chaos for US allies in the region, especially for Colombia, Peru, Brazil, and Ecuador. Indeed, USAID announced on September 22, 2021, that it was making $336 million available for “humanitarian and development funding for the response to the Venezuela regional crisis.”

Ajamu Baraka, director for the Black Alliance for Peace, notes that,

“For the U.S. to pretend to be concerned for the rights and humanity of migrants is beyond a sad joke. It represents the incredible arrogance of the U.S. state to provide funding for migrant support while its policies create migrants and political refugees across the Americas. It is unpardonable opportunism to collaborate with imperialism under the guise of humanitarian concerns.”

The funding of services for Venezuelan migrants must also be examined in light of the militarization of the borders with Venezuela. US regime change strategy toward Venezuela employs the following major components:

  1. Economic strangulation via sanctions;
  2. isolation by encircling Venezuela’s border with a military build-up;
  3. direct threats against the Venezuelan government by paramilitaries and insurgents who are using Colombia as a base for training and incursions into Venezuelan territory;
  4. misinformation and disinformation designed to undermine international solidarity and justice mechanisms;
  5. massive civilian displacement and chaos due to the weaponization of hunger, deteriorated healthcare, etc.

The highest concentration of military troops in Colombia is on the border with Venezuela, and the US has provided funding, advice, and training for border militarization and immigration enforcement throughout Colombia’s military and police. In 2017, AMAZONLOG17 was the biggest military exercise ever in the region, involving the US, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru. It was an exercise in rapid deployment as an emergency response to a natural, political, or military crisis. The exercise, which took place in November 2017, happened just three months after Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and nine other countries in the region had formed the Group of Lima to advocate for regime change in Venezuela. (Under the new administration of President Pedro Castillo, Peru has pulled out of the group.) AMAZONLOG17 concentrated activities along the Venezuelan border and was considered by many observers to be an intentional warning and provocation aimed at Venezuela.

One must also question the supposedly altruistic motives for US aid to migrants of Venezuela or any Latin American country given recent disclosures that the Department of Homeland Security is building an “intelligence gathering” network to spy on migrants throughout Central and South America.

The award of this money for operations in both Venezuela and Colombia is no mistake. The NED and the Solidarity Center are correct to recognize the intimate links between the Venezuelan and Colombian people. Those who plan for regime change in Venezuela will want to highlight each and every flaw that country has, while at the same time diminishing the flaws to be found in Colombia. Venezuela is portrayed as a failure of socialism, while Colombia is presented as a top US ally and an economic and democratic success. One will hear little from the corporate media, the NED, or its core institutes about the extreme poverty to be found in La Guajira, Colombia (where at least 115 children have died of malnutrition since January); of the daily instances of political threats and violence; or the millions who have been displaced by that violence, both within and without Colombia. One has only to look at a map to see that Colombia and Venezuela are like bridges that link all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Therefore, it is perfectly logical that the Solidarity Center would have an office devoted to these countries that are twins in so many ways. The history of Solidarity Center activities in Colombia are likewise problematic and have included making plans with the US Embassy to support the passage of the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreements, which most union members in both countries opposed. The Solidarity Center has also advocated against solidarity with some of Colombia’s most persecuted labor organizations because they are perceived as being too Left. The reality is that the Solidarity Center is more beholden to US government policies and directives than to rank-and-file union members.

Truly, very little of the Solidarity Center’s activities can be said to represent rank-and-file labor in the US. According to the Solidarity Center’s 2020 Annual Report, the Solidarity Center had a budget of $39,657,855 in 2019. Of that sum,

  • $618,358 came from “Other revenues”;
  •  $1,306,477 came from “Other contributions”, including “unions, foundations, institutional donors, individuals”;
  • slightly, some $1,330,533 came from “In-kind contributions for federal awards”;
  • and $36,382,487 came directly from “Federal awards”.

In other words, $1,924,835 were from non-federal government sources, while $37,713,020 came from the federal government. The Solidarity Center was 95.14% funded by the federal government, and only 4.86% funded by all other sources, including actual unions and union members. That basic level of funding is repeated year after year. Simply put, the Solidarity Center does not serve nor express the international interests of US and North American workers. It serves the interests of the US government and global capitalism, no matter who is in the White House or Congress, be it Republicans or Democrats, Trump or Biden. Rather than the voice of Labor, the Solidarity Center is truly the voice of collaboration with the nation’s political and economic bosses

It is time for the Solidarity Center to speak for workers and to defend their interests internationally.

But if the AFLCIO and the Solidarity Center cannot open their books, wean themselves off US government funding, and once and for all disavow any and all activities related to regime change in other countries, then it should be disbanded.