Venezuela Information Office

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Venezuela Information Office (VIO)
Venezuela Information Office logo.png
Formation July 2003[1]
Type Lobbying
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
Owner Government of Venezuela
Executive Director
Olivia Goumbri
Key people
Deborah James (former Executive Director)
Parent organization
Embassy of Venezuela, Washington, D.C.
Budget
+$1 million (2007)[2]
Mission "To prevent US intervention in Venezuela."

The Venezuela Information Office (VIO) was a Washington, DC-based lobbying agency that stated to be seeking to "present a more accurate view of the current process in Venezuela for the US public, build strategic allies for the Venezuelan people, and prevent the US from intervening in the democratic process in Venezuela."[3] Created and financed by the government of Venezuela,[4] VIO was registered with the United States Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.[5] While operational, conservative and pro-opposition outlets accused the agency of being propaganda organization of the Venezuelan government and the Bolivarian Revolution.[6]

History[edit]

Hugo Chávez set up the VIO in 2003 in order to combat criticism from the United States.[6][7] In September 2003, VIO contacted Global Exchange in order to "ensure success" of their campaign while also discussing "ideas for strategizing on Venezuela" and "to begin conference calls of solidarity groups".[1][6] In February 2004, it closed and then suddenly reopened a month later with new staff and a budget of $660,000.[1][6] In 2005, the VIO received about $800,000 for the year.[8] By 2007, the funding received by the VIO had risen to over $1,000,000.[2] The VIO's "rethinkvenezuela.com" website has not been active since 2009.[9]

Work[edit]

The Venezuela Information Office (VIO) was located in The Toronto (pictured) in Washington, D.C.

According to the VIO, the agency sought "to present a more accurate view of the current process in Venezuela for the US public, build strategic allies for the Venezuelan people, and prevent the US government from intervening in the democratic process in Venezuela," using Congressional advocacy and grassroots public education and action.[3] In 2007, the VIO only contacted 8 offices of the United States Congress, though it had contacted hundreds of journalists, local officials, academics and students.[2]

Media[edit]

In addition to maintaining a public website and a blog, VIO promoted its views in the media in a number of ways, including issuing press releases, contributing articles (such as responses to the 2008 Human Rights Watch report[10] on Venezuela[11][12]), and being available for interviews. The VIO had also run a campaign of ads in the United States.[7]

The VIO also created a "rapid response" group that would counter articles critical of Hugo Chávez.[1] They would refute claims using e-mails, sending letters to the editor, writing articles, and using video documentaries such as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.[6] Journalist received emails "suggesting ideas for balanced reporting" and asked activists to "complain against alleged newspaper biases".[7] The VIO targeted newspapers that had alleged "biases" which included The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Denver Post and other organizations.[7] At protests, conventions and on college campuses, the VIO distributed books and played The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. They had also emailed multiple independent theaters to play The Revolution Will Not Be Televised year-round.[1]

Lobbying[edit]

In 2004, the VIO contracted public relations company Lumina Strategies, headed by former Global Exchange employee Michael Shellenberger, to help lobby for the Venezuelan government and improve the poor image of then President of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, in the United States.[1][13][14] Reporters that had questions for the VIO were directed to Lumina.[15] According to public records the VIO spent $379,000 on lobbying the US Congress in the years 2004 to 2007.[16]

Visits[edit]

The VIO helped organize trips to Venezuela for their activists in January 2004.[1]

Personnel[edit]

In 2004, Deborah James, a current employee of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) and board member of Global Exchange, became the Executive director of the VIO after the staff shake-up until Olivia Goumbri became the VIO's Executive Director as of 2009.[1] Another CEPR employee, Alexander Main, was an analyst for the VIO as well.[17][18][19][20] In 2007, the staff was paid between $30,000 to $60,000 annually.[2]

The VIO was also incorporated in the state of Florida under VIO Investments Corp., owned by Isaura and Evelio Gilmond.[1] Isaura Gilmond performed administrative and accounting services for the VIO.[1]

Reception[edit]

Douglas Schoen and Michael Rowan along with conservative journals have portrayed the VIO as one of Hugo Chávez's "modern propaganda techniques" and a part of a "propaganda operation in the United States".[15][21][22]

According to The New York Times, VIO activists would not only "spiff up Venezuela's image" but also "doggedly unearth damaging evidence of Bush administration ties to opposition groups".[23] In a 2005 article, El Universal—at the time, a pro-opposition newspaper[24]—characterized the agency as using "alleged journalists and political analysts to disseminate positive information on the [Bolivarian] revolution in the US media and among politicians" while working to deny alleged "lies" that were supposedly published by the international and Venezuelan media.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bogardus, Kevin. "Venezuela head polishes image with oil dollars". Center for Public Integrity. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d Bachelet, Pablo (22 January 2008). "Venezuelan leader works to improve image in U.S.". The McClatchy Company. McClatchy Newspapers. Retrieved 3 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "FARA US Department of Justice" (PDF). US Department of Justice. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  4. ^ Melia, Michael (30 January 2006). "Venezuelan oil marks Chavez's latest bid to win over U.S.". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-09. [dead link]
  5. ^ Foreign Agents Registration Act - Venezuela Information Office - FARA fillings 29.08.04
  6. ^ a b c d e f Garcia Nevett, Isabel (26 March 2005). "The revolution hires opinion makers to clear its image: Fees are in Dollars". El Universal. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d Adams, David (8 August 2005). "Latin America's balanced/biased voice". Times Publishing Co. Tampa Bay Times. 
  8. ^ Bachelet, Pablo (21 November 2005). "Chávez builds base with grass-roots circles in U.S.". The Miami Herald. Retrieved 2 April 2015. 
  9. ^ "Home". Venezuela Information Office. Retrieved 4 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Holland, Alisha; Brett, S.; Taraciuk, T.; Wilkinson, D.; Fillippini, L.; Loxton, J. (22 September 2008). "A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2009-03-13. 
  11. ^ Venezuela Information Office, Monthly Review, 22 September 2008, The Truth Suffers in Human Rights Watch Report on Venezuela
  12. ^ Carroll, Rori (9 September 2008). "Human Rights Watch condemns Chávez's decade in power". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  13. ^ "Lumina Strategies' filing to US DoJ Foreign Agent Registration Unit" (PDF). United States Department of Justice. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  14. ^ Collier, Robert (21 August 2004). "Venezuelan politics suit Bay Area activists' talents". Hearst Communications Inc., Hearst Newspapers Division. San Francisco Chronicle. 
  15. ^ a b Miller, John J. (27 December 2004). "Friends of Hugo". National Review 56 (24): 36–37. 
  16. ^ opensecrets.org, Venezuela Information Office entry
  17. ^ Goumbri, Olivia (24 January 2009). "Letter to Editor: Improving conditions". Washington Times. Retrieved 2009-02-20. 
  18. ^ "Deborah James". Global Exchange. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  19. ^ CEPR website, Staff Listing, accessed 27 September 2012
  20. ^ Daza Tapia, Andrea (20 October 2009). "Agentes recargan fuerzas para batallar por la "revolución"" (PDF). El Mundo. Retrieved 15 September 2014. 
  21. ^ Schoen, Douglas; Rowan, Michael (2009). The threat closer to home : Hugo Chávez and the war against America (Free Press hardcover ed.). New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1416594772. 
  22. ^ Ortiz, Ana Maria; Vadum, Matthew. "Marxist Hugo Chavez Calls on Friends in America". Human Events 64 (10). 
  23. ^ Forero, Juan (30 September 2004). "Venezuela's government seeks to show that its oil riches are well spent". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-09. 
  24. ^ Caselli, Irene. "High stakes in Venezuela's municipal elections". BBC.com. Retrieved 1 April 2015. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Miller, John J. (27 December 2004). "Friends of Hugo". National Review 56 (24): 36–37. 
  • Ortiz, Ana Maria; Vadum, Matthew. "Marxist Hugo Chavez Calls on Friends in America". Human Events 64 (10). 
  • Schoen, Douglas; Rowan, Michael (2009). The threat closer to home : Hugo Chávez and the war against America (Free Press hardcover ed.). New York: Free Press. ISBN 978-1416594772. 

External links[edit]