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Medea Benjamin, Foreign Agent For Chavez?

Medea Benjamin ‘s organizations Code Pink and Global Exchange have enjoyed a long and peculiar relationship with both Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.

The question is, how peculiar? And specifically, is Ms. Benjamin working as a foreign agent as defined by the United States Code?

From the US Department of Justice, Foreign Agents Registration Act Q & A:

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United States Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

Q. What constitutes an agent?

A. An agent of a Foreign principal is any individual or organization which acts at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a foreign principal, or whose activities are directed by a foreign principal who:

1. engages in political activities, or

2. acts in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal, or

3. solicits or dispenses any thing of value within the United States for a foreign principal, or

4. who represents the interests of a foreign principal before any agency or official of the U.S. government.

The term "agent" does not include an American owned and operated newspaper meeting certain requirements.

From the Center for Public Integrity:

Venezuela Head Polishes Image With Oil Dollars

President Hugo Chavez takes his case to America’s streets

By Kevin Bogardus

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2004 — Using Venezuela’s oil wealth to fund his social programs, President Hugo Chavez has divided his country largely along class lines, resulting in protests, strikes, and even a coup since his 1998 election.

Yet Chavez not only secured enough support in his home country to win this past August’s recall election, but also found friends here in the United States—grassroots activists who have opposed the White House and now promote Chavez’s cause.

The Latin American nation’s welfare policies have reverberated with American organizers. "Venezuela, under Chavez, is using its oil resources to improve the lives of the poor," said Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Global Exchange, a San Francisco, Calif., international human rights organization. "We here are obviously very excited about that."

Chavez has spent more than $1.6 million from mid-2003 through June 2004 on lobbying the federal government in Washington. The country also created its own Washington mouthpiece called the Venezuela Information Office in July 2003 and soon after hired a top U.S. protest organizer as its executive director.

The VIO tapped into a major U.S. activist network by contacting Global Exchange in early September 2003. The group has helped organize some of the world’s largest protests, including demonstrations against Seattle’s 1999 World Trade Organization summit and the 2004 Republican National Convention.

"We have been very careful to make sure we remain separate in our work," said Deborah James, the VIO’s executive director, referring to Global Exchange. "I have not met with their people down there [in Venezuela]."

Yet the activist group and the VIO together posted an action alert online in May 2004 to voice concern over an editorial in The Washington Post.

"The Venezuela Information Office and Global Exchange is asking people to write publishable letters to the editor of The Washington Post, in order to provide factual information about recent events in Venezuela and point out the factual inaccuracies contained in the Post’s editorial,"

Global Exchange has been involved with Venezuela before. The group has also coordinated so-called "reality tours" of the Latin American country.

"We have been taking a lot of groups to visit Venezuela," said Benjamin. "They learn a lot about the social programs, which are run by the government."

Isn’t Code Pink acting "in a public relations capacity for a foreign principal"?

The Venezuela Information Office and Global Exchange is asking people to write publishable letters to the editor of The Washington Post, in order to provide factual information about recent events in Venezuela and point out the factual inaccuracies contained in the Post’s editorial.

Regarding Global Exchange’s "reality tours," here is an advertisement for the one currently underway. In fact, it is part and parcel of Code Pink’s organization of the "US Delegation" to Hugo Chavez’s "World Social" forum.

From Medea Benjamin’s site CommonDreams.org:

A Global Exchange Reality Tour to Venezuela, co-sponsored by CODEPINK

Friendship Delegation to Venezuela

Price (of $1350) Includes:

Double-room accommodations; two meals per day; transportation to and from all programmed activities; guides and translators; a qualified trip leader; all program activities; and reading materials.

NOT INCLUDED: International airfare, lunches, airport departure taxes, tips, and personal expenses are not included. Single rooms are available for an additional $200.

We must receive your application and a non-refundable deposit of $200 two months before departure. A late fee of $50 will be applied to late applications. Payments by Mastercard or Visa are welcome.

This trip will be as diverse as possible in terms of race, age and life experiences. We strongly urge people of color to apply. In some cases, a limited number of partial scholarships are available for low-income applicants.

Who are the other "co-sponsors" that the Code Pink advertisement mentions? Who is paying for the "scholarships" for low-income applicants?

Could it be Chavez’s government?

Many of these reports detailing Code Pink organizing the US Delegation to Venezuela included Benjamin’s close friend and client, Cindy Sheehan as among the group. (Mother Sheehan is one of Medea Benjamin’s stable of speakers for hire.)

But Cindy Sheehan has subsequently announced that her attendance at the forum was paid for by the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry.

Isn’t Code Pink "dispensing things of value? Such as subsidized trips to Venezuela? And not just to Mother Sheehan, but to others as well?

So how is it Medea Benjamin and her comrades at Code Pink and Global exchange are not foreign agents under the terms of the Foreign Agents Act?

This is significant because if Ms. Benjamin is a foreign agent and she has not registered as such, she is breaking the law. And the following portion of the US Code would apply:

Title 18 > Part I > Chapter 45 > § 951

§ 951. Agents of foreign governments

(a) Whoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General if required in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

(Much thanks to JohnX for his research on this.)

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Wednesday, January 25th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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