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The NGOisation of Nicaragua

Ymgyrch Cefnogi Nicaragua Cymru – Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign

August 6, 2018

 

A woman sweeps the Cuba Plaza backdropped by a mural depicting Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro and Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, in Managua, Nicaragua. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

It looks like the worst of the violence in Nicaragua is over. It would seem that the self-declared aim of the opposition – to remove Daniel Ortega from power – has failed, at least for now. Though it is likely that there will be sporadic outbreaks of further violence, both sides will now examine the reasons why protests over pensions turned into violent confrontation which led to 300 dead, and what looks like a soft coup (see here for an on the spot account by a US human rights activist) .

After the initial protests and deaths, the opposition coalesced around the Alianza Civica. Many of the players in this unlikely alliance came from the business sector (previously happy to sit down with the Sandindistas); civil society; and students. Some of the organisations were directly funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. Others had decided the wind was now blowing against the Ortega Presidency, and it was time to jump ship. All were held together by the ‘mediation’ of the Catholic Church. Ironically, the church could be said to have sown the seeds of a lot of the discontent with the Sandinista government when they manoeuvred to get rid of the right to abortion three weeks before the Presidential election in 2006, which the FSLN won after 16 years out of power.

Contradictions in the Nicaraguan opposition

If you want to find out what the opposition hoped for, you can do no worse than read this by Azahálea Solís (who was part of the National Dialogue), written shortly after the National Dialogue talks broke down at the end of May. The reality is this was the high point in the opposition to the Ortega government, with a single demand for him to step down with elections to follow quickly.

This was explicit from the beginning. Miami-born student leader Lesther Aleman received widespread praise from some sections of the Nicaraguan and international press when he told Daniel Ortega in the first Dialogue meeting: “This is not a dialogue table, it is a table to negotiate your departure, and you know it very well because it is the people who have requested it!… Surrender before the entire population!”

By the end of the third meeting at the end of May opposition organisations were actively encouraging a military coup. On June 1 electoral observation organisation Etica y Transparencia called on “the corresponding authorities to ensure the appearance in the courts of these two (Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo) thus-far alleged criminals” and on the Army to “ensure implementation of the prompt and necessary arrests, as well as  a fair trial.” Etica y Transparenica have long received National Endowment for Democracy funding through the National Democratic Institute. In 2012 one of EyT’s leading lights made the jump in the other direction after 11 years with Etica y Transparencia. Abril Perez became a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she still works today.

Seen from two months on, it’s easy to see that if the opposition had not obsessed with removing Ortega here and now via a soft coup, instead of making changes to the electoral system and timetable (which was already being discussed with the Organisation of American States), then they would now be in a strong position. The OAS said that electoral reform proposals would be presented to the government in January 2019.

Instead, the Alianza went down the road of more road blocks, more confrontation, more economic pain. Or what Michael Healy, one of the business leaders in the National Dialogue, stated: “We are willing to pay the price [of continued street conflict] to see Ortega leave.” The reality was, of course, it wasn’t Healy and his fellow members of the Alianza who were paying the price on the streets. Their position is comprehensively taken apart here, describing the contradictions which existed within the Alianza.

Contradictions at home

Those same contradictions exist with those who having been supporting the opposition outside of Nicaragua – Wales and the UK included. At first glance their criticism of the FSLN governments since 2007 comes from the left. Ortega has betrayed Sandinismo, with Nicaragua’s neo-liberal ‘navigation of capitalist waters’ (as one journalist described it to us in February). It is curious then to see SOSNicaraguaUK re-tweeting messages from Florida Republican Congress members, some of the most reactionary in the US. Stranger still to see them re-tweeting Trump Vice President Mike Pence, who’s politics are straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. The VP for Gilead has called for the removal of a string of governments in Latin America.

Many of the opposition supporters in the UK have had long relationships with Nicaraguan NGOs. Many of the NGOs sprung up after the chaos that engulfed Nicaragua when the revolution ended in 1990. The huge experiment in participatory democracy in 1980s Nicaragua cleaved into two halves – a ‘professional’ NGO sector which attracted foreign funding, and grassroots organisations (‘GROs’, like the co-operatives, unions and the Movimiento Comunal) which were left to themselves. Their fates couldn’t have been more different. From 1990 to 2005 NGO numbers grew from 300 to 2,000, and their funding grew from $90 million in 2000 to $289 million in 2005. GROs fared less well. Trade union membership fell from 22% in 1989 to less than 8% in 2008. The number of co-operatives fell from 3,800 to 400 in 1999 (see here for an excellent analysis of the NGOisation of Nicaragua). The success of the NGOs were due to neo-liberal programmes emphasising the sector over governments, and many of the brigadistas during the 80s moving into positions within aid and funding agencies, and channelling funds to ‘trusted partners’ in Nicaragua.

To a great extent this has been reversed since the FSLN regained power in 2007. Trade unions membership has grown considerably, and the number of co-operatives has passed 4,500. At the same time the funding of NGOs in Nicaragua has been squeezed, as donor countries have either chosen to prioritise other regions, or have refused to support an Ortega-led Nicaragua.

Accountable to whom?

What has all this got to do with the unrest? Many of Nicaragua’s NGOs have thrown in their lot with the opposition. Many of the grassroots organisations – like the ATC, the Co-operative sector, and the Movimiento Comunal – have continued to call for support for the National Dialogue. Unlike the trade unions, these three have no formal link with the FSLN. On many occasions they have challenged the government on their policies. But they still were quick to support the dialogue.

The difference between the NGOs and GROs is striking for a very important reason, one which was highlighted by the research above. The grassroots organisations are constituted from the ground up, accountable to their members, and speak on their behalf. The NGOs have no formal accountability to their beneficiaries (they rarely have members), and are more accountable to their donors than Nicaraguans. As we have noted elsewhere, many of the most vocal organisations in the opposition have received over $4 million from the National Endowment for Democracy over the past four years. Even more striking, USAID pumped $31 million into Nicaragua last year.

What is puzzling is that many of the supporters of SOSNicaraguaUK know this. Many have visited Nicaragua for decades, have long lasting friendships within the NGOs, but have also worked with the grassroots organisations.

So why have they decided to privilege the viewpoint of the NGO sector, whilst ignoring independent organisations in Nicaragua which are democratic and bottom-up, and who call for a National Dialogue as the best way to avoid further bloodshed in the country? Here are some of the views from Nicaragua they don’t share.

Extract from Statement by ATC, May 17 (Association de Trabajadores del Campo has 52,000 members, and is a member of Via Campesina)

Historically, the ATC has been a participant in the Sandinista struggle. In truth, we have not felt consulted or represented by the current FSLN government. The current coup attempt makes use of these historical contradictions and is trying to co-opt the symbols, slogans, poems and songs of Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, since of course the rightwing has none of its own. However we may feel about Daniel Ortega, the ATC would never contribute to making chaos and sowing violence in order to force the collapse of the democratically elected government in order to install a more docile, Washington-friendly neoliberal government. There are clearly real frustrations in sectors of the
population, especially youth, and if these sectors are unable to find popular organizing processes, they will end up being the cannon fodder for a war, which would be the worst possible situation for the Nicaraguan people.

Extract from statement by SOPPEXCCA, July 12 (SOPPEXCCA is a second tier co-operative with 15 co-operatives made up of 650 families. Similar statements have been issued by the co-operative sector body CONACOOP).

‘The UCA SOPPEXCCA, as an entity of organised small producers, promotes a culture of peace, harmony, respect for the law and democratic participation.

We therefore give our support to peaceful solutions and call for an end to the culture of violence generated in our country owing to the events that we are experiencing and which affect us both individually and collectively, since the peace that we enjoyed in our Nicaragua disappeared in the most abrupt and tempestuous fashion.

We feel the grief of many Nicaraguan families who have lost loved ones, tranquillity and have to face up to the consequences.

We, as Nicaraguans, will also face consequences as it is evident that there will be an economic slowdown that will affect the majority of our people, especially the poorest families, the majority.

Sadly, many dreams are being left behind as we wait for the shining light of peace to emerge again; reconciliation and work will be our standard bearers as we endeavour to lift our country out of the poverty levels we find ourselves in.

Capital-driven Civil Society

Capital-driven Civil Society

john-d-rockefeller

Originally published on State of Nature, May 19, 2008.

Republished by Michael Barker with additional links.

by Michael Barker

“It is the more subtle support that democracy manipulators provide to progressive activist organizations that are the most important yet least understood part of their activities.”

According to, the once progressive, now neo-conservative commentator, David Horowitz, Professor Stephen Zunes is a member of a select group of leftist activists that he refers to as The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America (2006). Horowitz is infamous for co-founding the Center for the Study of Popular Culture – which has been ominously renamed as the David Horowitz Freedom Center. More recently though, in 2005, this Center launched DiscoverTheNetworks, an online project that has been accurately referred to as “Horowitz’s Smear Portal”. The relevance of this background is found in the fact that I have also assessed Zunes’ connections to the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (where he chairs the board of academic advisors). While both I and Horowitz have criticised Zunes’ background and affiliations, needless to say Horowitz’s “Smear Portal” attacks Zunes for very different reasons than my own. [1] Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that DiscoverTheNetworks approach to investigating Zunes is very similar to my own, as it identifies the “individuals and organizations that make up the left and also the institutions that fund and sustain it”. The crucial difference, between these two parallel analyses, however, is that I criticise the Left in an attempt to strengthen it by causing it to reflect on the elite manipulation and co-option of civil society, while DiscoverTheNetworks simply aims to undermine the Left. [2]

FLASHBACK 2007 | Hijacking Human Rights | Human Rights Watch

human rights watch logo

August 03, 2007

ZCommunications

by Michael Barker

In our increasingly public relations-driven world, it is of little surprise that cynical political elites regularly use the rhetoric of democracy, peace, and human rights to disguise their overtly anti-humanist policies. Why should we expect less of our leaders in a world where the corporate media wages a relentless war to manufacture our consent for ruling demagogues? Thus it seems a logical assumption that budding mind managers will attempt to pervert the very concepts that their voters/targets hold most dearly. That this doublespeak is rendered invisible in the mainstream media is a given, but the lack of debate about this process in the alternative media is more worrisome.

THE NEXT PUPPETS: How NGOs are Indoctrinating Young African Politicians to Serve Western Interests

E.Africa

10 May 2012

“In the three module-training of one week each conducted in some of the best hotels in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, participants are introduced to western ways of thinking and living. Like the media propaganda that was called Development Communication, this indoctrination is not called by its real name; it is described using innocent phrases like capacity building, value-based leadership, gender mainstreaming, and others.”


Image: East African political youth leaders pose for a photo after attending a workshop organized in 2009 by NDI and KIC at Kunduchi Beach Resort in Dar-es-Salaam.

By YAHYA SSEREMBA

In a 2010 science fiction action film, Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio plays an exceptional thief whose specialty is to extract valuable commercial information from the minds of tycoons. Like a hacker who penetrates computer systems and secretly accesses data, DiCaprio enters into the subconscious of his targets and digs out their secrets as they dream. His excellent espionage skill prompts a wealthy businessman to use him to bring down the business empire of a competitor.

Thus DiCaprio embarks on his toughest mission ever, this time not to steal an idea, but to plant one in the mind of the competitor that should drive the target to destroy his own business empire. In real life and in Africa particularly, western organizations are busy playing DiCaprio by indoctrinating whoever they expect to gain political influence sooner or later. Their goal is to make the next generation of African leaders receptive to western whims and caprice.

Prominent among such organizations is the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, Christian Democratic International Center, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. These organizations, ideologically dissimilar as they may claim to be, have a common agenda of entrenching and perpetuating western subjugation of Africa.

Their capacity to posture as innocent apostles of good governance, democracy and human rights – concepts that the West defines and twists according to its interests – makes them the least suspected of Euro-American strategies for global dominance.

The quest by the West and the rest for dominating Africa is not new. Through the millennia of known history Africa has suffered intrusion after intrusion, invasion after invasion, occupation after occupation. This recurrent violation of the continent’s self-determination was once perpetrated by races claiming biological superiority that granted them the right to rule over “biologically inferior” Africans.  It is this illusion that the Blacks are intrinsically inferior that motivated Europeans to enslave Africans en masse – first in the New World and later in Africa during colonialism.

The politics of charity

Aid is not designed to bring the wretched of the earth out of poverty but to pacify unrest in the donor country’s domestic sphere

Sreeram Chaulia | The Asian Age

Feb 22, 2012

Foreign aid is both a sop to the liberal conscience of the donor state’s domestic society as well as an instrument of indirect control over recipient states. The motivations and effects of aid are frequently ulterior and detrimental, notwithstanding the altruistic rhetoric. These ugly realities were reified recently by two prominent cases, one in post-revolutionary Egypt and the other in economically growing India.

Egypt’s military-dominated interim regime is prosecuting 19 American citizens working for “pro-democracy” NGOs linked to the two main US political parties. They are facing charges for taking unauthorised foreign aid and undermining Egyptian sovereignty by funding street protests, which have become ubiquitous since Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011.

The three American NGOs in the line of fire — the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House — have a reputation of channelling partisan US government aid to alter internal political processes of countries that receive aid. Since they are organisations serving American strategic interests in the name of advancing human rights and civil liberties, the Egyptian authorities have a valid reason in investigating their activities.

But what’s interesting here are the shrill cries that emanated from the US Congress in response to Egypt’s filing of legal suits against the NGO employees. Last week, there was an uproar on Capitol Hill exhorting the Barack Obama administration to deny vital military and development aid to Egypt, which is the fifth-largest recipient of American largesse. At stake is $1.6 billion of aid that Washington annually gifts to Cairo and which is now the lifeline for the transitional Egyptian state.

Egyptian civilians, who are disillusioned with the revolution and fear falling under a fourth successive military dictator since the 1950s, know that the US has leverage over Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt’s ruling military council, and his officer ranks owing to their dependence on Washington’s aid. As the anti-military sentiment has risen into a mass fervour on the streets, the fact that the US was not using the aid card to force the Army to hand over power to civilians had, despite the charade, been frustrating activists. But sadly for their cause, not even the NGO arrests have pushed the US executive away from pampering the Egyptian military.

In the last few days, US Senators and representatives who had earlier demanded an end to the harassment of American NGO staffers have toned down their stridency on retaliation for the arrests. The key to this turnaround has to do with Israel’s fears that shutting off the aid tap will push the Egyptian military to abandon its three-decade-old peace treaty with Tel Aviv.

Foreign aid from Washington to successive Egyptian regimes since the days of Anwar Sadat is actually a bribe to perpetuate their entente cordiale with Israel — anger on the streets in Egypt against a sell-out on the Palestinian cause had to be salved through this form of payment from the US to the Egyptian military. Sensing Israel’s fear and the US’ vulnerability, the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently dominates the Egyptian Parliament, has threatened to “review” relations with Israel if the aid stops flowing from Washington. The Brotherhood and Tantawi’s officer corps know that in an election year, Mr Obama would not dare to weaken Israel geopolitically.

The outcome of this sordid game over aid is that the people of Egypt who are desperately striving for civilian supremacy and de-politicisation of the Army, are being cheated by the strategic aid policy of the US, which is nothing but a guarantee for Israel’s security. The NGOs who claim to be helping to democratise Egypt are playing their parts as cogs in this structural vicious circle.

The India-UK row over foreign aid is equally convoluted. Some British MPs, angered by New Delhi’s award of a major fighter jet contract to a French defence manufacturer, pressured the David Cameron government to cancel the £280 million worth of annual development assistance to India. If development aid does not buy lucrative contracts to Britain’s military industrial complex, they argued, Britain should stop its charity pretentions and suspend aid deliveries to India.

Following this muscle-flexing, it emerged from leaked memos that India was anyway not clamouring for British development aid. India’s then foreign secretary, Nirupama Rao, is said to have recommended that Delhi stop accepting British aid due to the “negative publicity of Indian poverty” promoted by UK’s DFID (Department for International Development). India’s finance minister Pranab Mukherjee bluntly remarked in 2011 that Britain’s aid was “peanuts” and was not welcome.

Yet, as in the case of the US and Egypt, the British government has not withdrawn its unsolicited aid to India owing to domestic compulsions. The justification for this puzzling act of unwarranted benevolence is that British ministers had painstakingly sold the policy of foreign aid to their electorates and that pulling the plug now on India would cause “grave political embarrassment”.

In other words, the myth that Britain is still a liberal saviour of suffering people of the world has to be kept up for a domestic audience that is suffering under the weight of a prolonged economic downturn. Aid is, thus, not designed to bring the wretched of the earth out of poverty but to pacify unrest in the donor country’s domestic sphere. This has echoes from colonial times, when workers at home were kept under leash by means of the civilising mission and the “white man’s burden” overseas — the propaganda in Victorian England about the supposed uplifting nature of British colonialism was couched in humanitarian aid terms and was a means to cover up the Dickensian gloom of factory labour exploitation.

Last year, China surpassed the World Bank as the world’s biggest development lender. Apart from the political leverage, market penetration and energy security that Beijing gets in return from Africa and Latin America, Chinese aid investments also serve domestic purposes. Beijing’s “chequebook diplomacy” keeps internal dissent under check by peddling the vision of a benevolent state whose foreign policy is empowering the world’s underdogs.

Charity indeed begins at home, but in a rather murky way. Aid has never pitchforked receiving societies out of poverty, although donor states and their allies routinely benefit from developmental loans and grants thrust upon the wary. Egypt and India would fare better if liberated from foreign aid and its entwining strings.

The writer is vice-dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs and the author of the recent book, International Organizations and Civilian Protection: Power, Ideas and Humanitarian Aid in Conflict Zones

http://www.asianage.com/columnists/politics-charity-832

 

 

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