Friday, January 28, 2005

Chavez foe accused of treason with U.S. aid

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A leading organizer of last year's bid to unseat President Hugo Chavez has been charged with treason amid accusations that she accepted U.S. government funding from the National Endowment for Democracy.

As director of the civic group Sumate, Maria Corina Machado helped organize three petition drives to recall Mr. Chavez, leading to a failed referendum in August.

State prosecutors have invoked an 80-year-old law to charge Miss Machado and two other Sumate leaders with "conspiring to destroy the republican nature of the country," saying they received $31,000 from the endowment. A trial has not been scheduled, but is expected to begin in the next few weeks. Miss Machado faces 16 years in prison if convicted.

"The reason for [the endowment] giving all that money was to end the Chavez government," said legislator Nicolas Maduro. "If the Venezuelan government financed organizations to topple the Bush administration, I'm sure we would face life sentence in prison."

An official of the National Endowmewnt for Democracy who spoke off the record said that the U.S. government-funded group had no intention of overthrowing the government. "We thought we were buying her opinion, like Education did with Armstrong Williams," the spokesperson said. "But those foreigners tend to be, you know, cheaper."


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