19 February 2004
The National Endowment for Democracy that ‘celebrated’ its 20th anniversary this year has a long and less than illustrious past. It’s dead hand has descended on a number of countries over the past two decades including Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela (currently also on-going) and of course Haiti.
It’s role: to fund a variety of structures, some based in the US and the rest in the ‘target’ country. The NED is guided by:
“…the belief that freedom is a universal human aspiration that can be realized through the development of democratic institutions, procedures, and values. Governed by an independent, nonpartisan board of directors, the NED makes hundreds of grants each year to support prodemocracy groups in Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”
Noble aspirations indeed but the reality belies the rhetoric for not only does the NED fund the most anti-democratic forces, it has according to the rightwing CATO Institute:
“…a history of corruption and financial mismanagement, is superfluous at best and often destructive. Through the endowment, the American taxpayer has paid for special-interest groups to harass the duly elected governments of friendly countries, interfere in foreign elections, and foster the corruption of democratic movements.”
A statement virtually plucked at random from the first file I looked at as I compiled the research for this essay. The NED has been active in Haiti for the past two decades. In the 1980s:
“US money was…spent to weaken unions and the popular movements. Via the National Endowment for Democracy and the United States Agency for International Development, millions were allocated for so-called democracy enhancement.
“Through the NED, the two more conservative of Haiti’s three union federations received funding. USAID opposed a minimum wage increase to 50 cents per hour with the argument that it could “lead to capital-intensive, rather than labour-intensive responses to opening of markets”.
In 1986, the CIA set up the Haitian National Intelligence Service (NIS), supposedly to gather intelligence on narcotic trafficking. The New York Times, however, quoted a US embassy official that the organisation “never produced drug intelligence”.
Patrick Elie, a drug policy adviser to the Aristide government, said that the CIA training provided to NIS agents included training for “wet operations” — CIA jargon for political assassinations.
Last November, the New York Times revealed that many of the leaders of the coup against Aristide had been on CIA payrolls at least up until 1991.
The reality of course, is that the NED is an agent of the US government whose primary role is to make sure that firstly, the ‘target’ country has a government that’s friendly to US interests, that means friendly to US business. To this end, it funds a variety of organisations, some ‘indigenous’ eg, business organisations such as chambers of commerce and business alliances, rightwing trade unions and opposition political parties, some genuine, some created solely for the purpose of overthrowing governments hostile to US interests. In the US, it funds a variety of structures that have links with the indigenous organisations. In Venezuela for example:
“Between 1992 and 2001, the NED gave US$4,630,255 to [twelve] “Venezuelan” organizations that supposedly promote democracy. Of this, $2,797,970 (60%) had been granted during the period 1998-2001, and a substantial percentage was granted in the 2 years previous to 1998. (Chavez was elected at the end of 1998).”
Its other role is to actively participate in the creation of organisations friendly to US interests by ‘partnering’ them with a US structure. IRI: (International Republican Institute) is an example:
“[A] Washington-based “pro-democracy” organization promoting fundamental “[A]merican principles.” The IRI’s Venezuela base is: Fundacion Pensamiento y Accion, whose president is (according to their website) Eduardo Fernandez who also seems to be the president of Copei, one of Venezuela’s two major traditionally corrupt political parties, and anti-Chavez.”
The New York Times reported on April 24, 2002 that the NED had funnelled more than $877,000 into Venezuela opposition groups in the weeks and months before the recently aborted coup attempt.
“Specifically, the New York Times point to $154,000 given by the endowment to a Venezuelan labor union that led the opposition work stoppages and worked closely with Pedro Carmona Estanga, the businessman who led the coup.”
In Haiti there are a number of NED-funded organisations that have US ‘fronts’ such as CIPE, the Center for International Private Enterprise an adjunct of the US Chamber of Commerce. It’s role is the promotion of ‘free enterprise’ in Haiti. CIPE is actually a creation of yet another NED-linked organisation, Center for Free Enterprise and Democracy.
When US business interests are at stake the kinds of cash the US government can hand out have virtually no limit and there are dozens of such structures that exist either because they were created by one government arm or another, or they’re ‘private’ foundations that are joined at the hip to one or more US government agencies.
One way or the other, if there’s an unstable situation and a government hostile to US interests, you can be certain that the NED is involved either directly or indirectly. So for example, in Venezuela during the attempted coup against the Chavez government in 2002, whilst the NED was funding three anti-Chavez trade unions the DoD was supplying military assistance to the coup plotters.
In Nicaragua during the 1980s, whilst the CIA and the DoD were arming and financing the contras, the NED was funding opposition political parties as well as mounting a ‘black’ propaganda campaign consisting of funding/creating newspapers, radio and tv stations, publishing books, posters and other types of propaganda, much of which was disinformation eg, spreading rumours and making false accusations. The processes always work collaboratively.
In Haiti, one of the groups that acts as a front for the US government is the Democratic Convergence that poses as an alliance of anti-Aristide political parties.
“During their failed attempt to buy the last election, fueled by American dollars from the National Endowment for Democracy, the dominant formation was called Espace de Concertacion. The name changed, but many of the people are the same. All believe that in the shadows, behind the curtain of these “oppositions,” are macoutes and the U.S. Embassy’s Political Section, aka the CIA.
Many of the leaders of the so-called political opposition are convicted murderers and torturers of the former Duvalier dictatorships including one of the counter-revolutionary groups led by Louis Jodel Chamblain, a notorious former paramilitary leader who in:
“September 1995…was among seven senior military and paramilitary leaders convicted in absentia and sentenced to forced labour for life for involvement in the September 1993 extrajudicial execution of Antoine Izméry, a well-known pro-democracy activist. Chamblain had gone into exile to avoid prosecution.”
Aristide’s real problems started with the 1994 coup that saw the US government agree to Aristide’s reinstallation on the condition that he accept the crippling demands of the IMF for the ‘structural readjustment’ of the nation’s economy.
“The World Bank predicted in 1996 that up to 70 per cent of Haitians would be unlikely to survive bank-advocated free market measures in Haiti. According to a 2002 Guardian article, by the end of the 1990’s “Haiti’s rice production had halved and subsidized imports from the U.S. accounted for over half of local rice sales.”  As Haiti became the “star pupil” of IMF and World Bank, such policies “devastated” local farmers.””
Aristide is caught between two fires; on the one hand the aid embargo placed on the island’s economy by the US that blocks $500 million a year has led to an almost total collapse of the country’s economy and also wrought destruction on the ecology. Since 1995 when Aristide was restored to power, he has been forced to make one compromise after another. As Aristide put it in his book published in 2000 “Eyes of the Heart”:
“Either we enter a global economic system, in which we know we cannot survive, or, we refuse, and face death by slow starvation.”
Susan George (and who formerly worked for the IMF) and who now works with the Transnational Institute sums up the situation as follows:
“The economic policies imposed on debtors…caused untold human suffering and widespread environmental suffering while simultaneously emptying debtor countries of their resources.”
The local elite that comprises 1% of the population but owns 45% of the wealth works in conjunction with the US via NED-funded structures. Radio stations owned by the local elite have played a critical role in destabilising the situation in what is a replay of the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002. But unlike Chavez in Venezuela, lacking either an army or an effective police force, Aristide has been reluctant to appeal to the masses who brought him to power, fearing perhaps a civil war.
In the meantime, the Western media have pushed the line that its Aristide’s ‘gangs’ that are the cause of the violence when the reality is the complete opposite.
“US Congresswoman Maxine Waters issued a press release Feb. 11th…that called on the Bush administration to join her in condemning the “so-called opposition” and, specifically, Andre Apaid Jr., who is a “Duvalier supporter” that, along with his Group of 184, is “attempting to instigate a bloodbath in Haiti and then blame the government for the resulting disaster in the belief that the U.S. will aid the so-called protestors against President Aristide.”
And all the indications are that the US and its agencies are gearing up for the overthrow of the Aristide government and the restoration of a dictatorship led by former Duvalierists and those who took part in the 1994 coup.