Sumate not a 'political party'
June 2, 2005
Maria Corina Machado, one of the founders of the nonprofit voter rights group Sumate, denied on Thursday that her meeting with US President George W Bush had any pretense in launching a presidential campaign.
"I want to ignore that because it distorts the battle taken up by non-governmental organizations in Venezuela and in the world," Machado told Agence France Presse (AFP).
The Sumate director was responding to comments made on Wednesday by Venezuelan foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez Araque, who called the civil association a "disguised political party."
Rodriguez Araque called the meeting between Bush and Machado "a provocation," and added that the encounter revealed that Sumate was "an agency of the United States of America in Venezuela."
Sumate was one of the principal organizations that helped to organize last year's recall referendum on President Hugo Chavez' mandate.
Machado insisted that Sumate was not a political party, saying she visited the White House on Tuesday to discuss concerns about anti-democratic practices in Venezuela, rather than to plot against the Venezuelan government.
"The government has evidenced its intolerance for people who think differently in Venezuela," Machado told AFP from North Carolina. "The criticisms against me show the international community that there exists a government that does not accept dissidence."
The District Attorney's Office accused Machado and fellow Sumate director Alejandro Plaz of treason last September after Sumate received a $31,000 grant from the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), whose mission is to promote democracy worldwide. The divorced mother of three faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted.
Alfonso Marquina, deputy for the opposition party Accion Democratica (AD), on Thursday called the government's response to the White House meeting "a type of jealousy on the part of Mr. Ch·vez, who has been asking for Bush to listen to him for five years and he still has not let him."
Rosalio Castillo Lara, Venezuela's only cardinal, called government criticism "laughable," Union Radio reported.
"Maria Corina Machado has all the right to put forward her ideas where ever she wants and that is not treason," said Castillo Lara. "When I heard the (government) reaction, it surprised me, as well as the harsh words that several representatives of the people have said, even asking to take away her citizenship."
JENS ERIK GOULD
Jens Erik Gould is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News.