1999, when the US-led bombing campaign in Serbia didn't get rid of Slobodan Milosevic, Washington changed its strategy. US intelligence organized a $77 million effort to oust Milosovic through the ballot box. They sent in CIA front organizations funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Instead of guns and bombs, these US forces were armed with fax machines, computers, and perhaps most importantly, sophisticated surveys done by the Washington-based polling firm Penn, Schoen & Berland.(1) Their mission: to take down Milosevic by strengthening opposition groups.
Milosevic is now long gone, as the US effort to mobilize the opposition and produce mass protests was successful in unseating him in the 2000 elections. This victory was a landmark for US intelligence agencies. They had developed a new way to overthrow unfriendly regimes, and it was much easier than a violent overthrow, or a messy invasion. Penn, Schoen & Berland played an important role; so important that the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright commended them, saying: "This may be one of the first instances where polling has played such an important role in setting and securing foreign policy objectives."(2) They did, indeed, secure their foreign policy objectives. Milosovic was out, and the US-backed opposition took power.
Since 2000, this smooth new strategy to influence elections and topple regimes has been implemented in many other countries. Dubbed as the "post-modern coup" by Jonathan Mowat, the same brilliant techniques were used in Belarus in 2001, in Georgia in 2003, and in the Ukraine in 2004, to name a few. Although it ultimately failed in Belarus, in Georgia the US effort produced the "Rose Revolution" which overthrew President Eduard Shevardnadze. In the Ukraine it was the "Orange Revolution" that installed Victor Yushchenko in 2004.(3) Each time, groups financed by the NED, and USAID worked inside the country to build popular support for the opposition candidate. Each time they constructed an appealing campaign image using the modern marketing tactics that they have perfected along the way. And each time, they used Penn, Schoen & Berland election "polls" to shape the public's perception.
In his article, "Coup D'Etat in Disguise," Jonathan Mowat described how these "polls" work:
"Penn, Schoen and Berland (PSB) has played a pioneering role in the use of polling operations, especially "exit polls," in facilitating coups. Its primary mission is to shape the perception that the group installed into power in a targeted country has broad popular support...the deployment of 'polling agencies' 'exit polls' broadcast on international television...give the false impression of massive vote-fraud by the ruling party, to put targeted states on the defensive."(4)
That is, the goal is to either get enough support to sway the election in their favor, or, if that isn't possible, to give the impression that the elections were fraudulent and encourage the population to overturn them. The strategy has been so successful in overthrowing regimes or installing the regimes that the US prefers, that the operation has evolved into a blueprint to be used in countries around the world. Ian Traynor described it in the Guardian in November 2004 as follows:
"[T]he campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavory regimes...The operation - engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience - is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections."(5)
Manufacturing a "Ukrainian" in Venezuela
These days the US has a new arch nemesis; Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Surely Washington would be delighted to get rid of him in the same fashion as all the rest. But there is one small problem: Hugo Chavez is no Slobodan Milosevic. He is immensely popular among the masses in Venezuela and throughout Latin America. Pro-Chavez parties have continued to win democratic elections over the last 8 years, and will most certainly win again in the December 3rd presidential contest. This time US forces have their work cut out for them. They know that it is basically impossible to beat Chavez at the ballot box; he's too popular. It looks like they will have to go to plan B: a coup d'etat.
The US has already set up camp in Venezuela, and all the original cast members are here. We've got NED, USAID, and yes, once again, Penn, Schoen & Berland. Just like in Serbia, or Ukraine, the objective of the US forces is to remove Chavez from power. Therefore they have teamed up with major opposition groups to map out and implement their strategy. The strategy in Venezuela takes from many of the important lessons that they first learned in Serbia, and have since been carried to many other nations. The goal is to create a situation like in Ukraine in 2004: huge protests against the elections and against the government in order to cause chaos and instability. Basically, the strategy comes in three stages.
First, they need to build up popular support for the opposition candidate, Manuel Rosales, by designing an attractive campaign. This has already been accomplished, in part, but according to most polls Rosales only has about 20 to 30 percent voter intention, compared to Chavez who hovers between 50 and 60 percent.(6) However, it appears support for Rosales has grown a few percentage points in the latest polls as the candidate has crossed the country giving speeches and making promises over the last few months. All of the major media, of course, give his campaign nightly coverage, and repeat all of his campaign messages.
The campaign is US-designed and uses modern marketing techniques, and catchy slogans. As shown in the 2005 documentary movie "Our Brand Is Crisis," a US team designed the campaign of their favored candidate in Bolivia. These brilliant campaigns use sophisticated methods to create exactly the image they need for their candidate. They tend to target youth and often include youth movements as they have with Primero Justica (Justice First) in Venezuela. The branding of the campaign with a color and a one-word slogan is an important part of the US-designed campaigns. In Serbia the slogan was "Otpor" meaning resistance. In Georgia it was "Kmara" (Enough!). In Ukraine, it was "Pora," meaning "It's Time!", and now, in Venezuela, the brand is "Atrevete," roughly translated as "Be bold!"
The second step has been to use the mass media to create the perception that the elections are fraudulent. The NED has funded an organization, Sumate (a one-word slogan that means "join up"), with the expressed goal of "achieving a high level of citizen participation in Venezuelan elections."(7) Founded in 2002, Sumate organized the campaign for the recall referendum to revoke Chavez's presidential term. They lost the recall vote in August 2004 by a large margin, but went on to claim, with the help of Penn, Schoen, and Berland's "exit polls," that the election was fraudulent. Five other polls showed exactly the opposite and concurred with the official voting results in which Chavez won by a wide margin. PSB and Sumate, however, maintained that the opposition had won and that Chavez had committed "massive fraud" in spite of the fact that 5 of the 6 polls concurred with the official results, and both the Carter Center and the Organization of American States certified the voting process.(8) Consequently, Chavez's image as a democratically elected leader was damaged both nationally and internationally. The fraud claim resonated through the major media, and planted doubts about Chavez's legitimacy.
Since the recall referendum, the campaign has been non-stop. Sumate and other opposition groups continue to attack the electoral process in Venezuela, claiming it is not transparent and unfairly controlled by the Chavez government. The major media in Venezuela have wholeheartedly supported this campaign by giving coverage to Sumate, and their constant press releases denouncing problems with the electoral process. The idea is to deceive enough people into believing that the Chavez regime is not popularly supported, but is holding on to power through fraudulent elections. They have already been fairly successful in convincing a significant percentage of the population.
Finally, they must get enough people out into the streets in order to create a situation in which a transition of power could take place. Here is where Penn, Schoen & Berland comes in. In the recent months in the lead up to the December 2006 elections, Penn, Schoen & Berland has been instrumental in shaping public perception. In a series of election polls widely covered in the private media, the polling firm has consistently shown that Chavez's lead is shrinking and the opposition is gaining momentum, while all of the major surveys done over the last few months show that Chavez maintains a wide lead of between 20 and 30 percent.(9)
Last week, Mr. Schoen, of Penn, Schoen & Berland, released the findings of his latest survey on the Venezuelan evening news. As expected, Penn's survey showed that Chavez's opposition, Manuel Rosales, was nearly tied in the polls with Chavez. Chavez, it showed, had only 48% support, and his opponent Manuel Rosales had gained significantly up to 42%. This poll is now being reported across all the major Venezuelan media to a huge audience, showing that Rosales was gaining more and more everyday, and could possibly win. Mr. Schoen added his personal opinion, "The momentum is clearly with Rosales."(10)
With the help of the mainstream media, almost all of which is vehemently opposed to the popular president, these fake polls have reached a wide audience. All the newspapers, the major television channels, and internet news sites report the poll results as if they were true and valid findings. They don't mention the fact that these findings are not supported by any other polling agency. Again, although the reality is that Rosales has almost no chance of winning in the December elections, much of the population now believes he will. The reality doesn't seem to matter. All that really matters is what the populace believes. When their candidate loses by a large margin, it will be a difficult reality to deal with. If the opposition strategy works, it might be possible to produce large protests and even riots.
Two weeks ago on Globovision, one of the major private channels in Venezuela, opposition leader Rafael Poleo called on Venezuelans to do the "Ukrainian" on the day after the elections.(11) Claiming the elections will be fraudulent, Poleo, who was involved in the 2002 coup attempt, described in detail a plan to remove Chavez from power after the elections. Comparing it to the "Orange Revolution," the plan calls for Venezuelans to come out en masse to protest against the Chavez government and what they call "fraudulent elections." Poleo then made a call to the high military command to back this "movement," in what basically amounts to a call to overthrow the government.
We will see how it all plays out. Will the popular Chavez continue to rule as the president of the masses? Or, will the US-trained opposition be able to pull off a "Ukrainian" in Venezuela? The opposition's claims of fraud are totally baseless, and even from the most superficial observation, it is clear that Chavez maintains overwhelming support. But, the US-organized strategy seeks to produce mass protests and perhaps military rebellion to unseat their popular enemy. With the help of Penn, Schoen & Berland, they just might get enough people in the streets to cause some trouble. For the coup planners, that's exactly what they need.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Chris Carlson. All rights reserved.
(1) John Lancaster, "US Funds Help Milosevic's Foes in Election Fight," Washington Post, September 19, 2000.
(2) Jonathan Mowat, 'Coup d'État in Disguise: Washington's New World Order "Democratization" Template', Center for Research on Globalization, 9 February 2005, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MOW502A.html
(3) Michael Barker, "Regulating revolutions in Eastern Europe; Polyarchy and the National Endowment for Democracy"
(4) Jonathan Mowat, 'Coup d'État in Disguise: Washington's New World Order "Democratization" Template', Center for Research on Globalization, February 9, 2005, http://globalresearch.ca/articles/MOW502A.html
(5) Ian Traynor, "US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev" The Guardian, November 2004
Editor's addendum (12.4.06): Yesterday's successful re-election of Pres. Chavez, by the predicted margin, was overseen by a bevy of international election observers. In addition, the Chavez administration hired the US polling firm of Evans/McDonough to conduct exit polls to counter the efforts of PSB (described in this essay by Mr. Carlson). Any possibility for violence at the polls or on the streets was avoided with the mobilization of 125,000 troops to the polling places and, most importantly, the thousands of citizen activists who diligently manned the streets surrounding Miraflores, protecting their chosen president.