US intervention in Venezuelan is experiencing a bit of blowback.
A Venezuelan opposition figure who was received by President Bush will go on trial with three colleagues accused of conspiring to change the government using U.S. funds, a judge ruled on Thursday.
Maria Corina Machado and three other members of her Sumate group, which helped organize a referendum against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez nearly a year ago, are being charged with “conspiracy to change Venezuela’s republican system.”
Chavez has called Machado a traitor after her Sumate group received funding from the U.S. Congress. Chavez won the August recall referendum organized by Sumate, which said the vote was plagued by irregularities and held under conditions that favored the president.
Judge Norma Sandoval ordered that Machado, Alejandro Plaz, Luis Enrique Palacios and Ricardo Estevez should be tried in court but did not set a date. She ruled they could remain at liberty until the trial took place.
One of Venezuela’s best-known opposition figures, Machado met Bush at the White House on May 31. The heavily publicized meeting further strained already tense ties between Venezuela and its biggest energy client, the United States.
U.S. officials praise Machado as a pro-democracy campaigner. She has been the only Venezuelan political figure to be formally received by Bush.
Venezuela’s government said the meeting showed Sumate was an “agency” of the Bush administration, which Chavez accuses of plotting to topple or kill him.
Sumate says it received a $31,000 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, a U.S. group that is allocated funds by the U.S. Congress to promote democracy worldwide. Sumate leaders say they used the funds to organize courses for voters about their electoral rights.
Chavez says the National Endowment for Democracy is a CIA front spearheading U.S. efforts to end his rule over the world’s No. 5 oil exporter. The U.S. government and leaders of the National Endowment for Democracy deny his accusation.