NED meeting welcomes Bush, Oct. 6, 2005.

Photo: Reuters/Larry Downing

The history of U.S. intervention in Latin America is well documented. There have been scores of military invasions and covert operations in nearly every country on the continent since the 1823 Monroe Doctrine declared that Latin America would be the exclusive U.S. “sphere of influence.”

Less known are the countless ways that the U.S. government intervenes in the continent in non-military ways. Millions of dollars are given to media groups, political parties, business councils, trade unions, student and youth groups, civic groups, women’s groups, “human rights” groups and peasant leagues throughout Latin America.

Today, a main source of funding for these projects is the National Endowment for Democracy, an arm of the State Department. The NED finances civilian and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

These U.S.-funded NGOs have plagued Latin American countries for decades. On countless occasions, they aim to manipulate the population in favor of the capitalist ruling class of the given country.

A case in point is a “non-profit” organization in Venezuela known as Súmate—“join in.” Súmate claims that it exists simply as a vehicle to educate the masses on their rights as citizens. Súmate’s mission statement describes it as a group “to promote individual freedom, the expression of free thinking and the full exercise of constitutional rights and responsibilities in Venezuela.”

Sounds good. But Súmate’s “freedom” mirrors that of its imperialist sponsor: freedom of the capitalists to exploit and plunder. Its sole aim is to destabilize the Venezuelan revolutionary process in the hopes of overthrowing the Bolivarian government.

Because Súmate’s aims run counter to those of the vast majority of the masses, it has little internal support.

It can only exist with massive funding from the U.S. government. The Venezuelan government has the right to prosecute Súmate leaders for acting as foreign agents.

In July 2005, the Venezuelan government brought up formal charges against three of Súmate’s leading members. The charges were treason and “conspiracy to destroy the republican political form of the nation.” The charges stem from the recall referendum held in August 2004.

One of the accused is Súmate director María Corina Machado. Machado was one of the signers of the “Carmona Decree” formulated during the 2002 military coup attempt against the democratically elected president Hugo Chávez.

Súmate was one of the initiators of the 2004 recall referendum, a “legal” attempt to topple the Chávez government. In 2003, Súmate had submitted 3.2 million voter signatures to trigger a recall referendum of Chávez. That drive failed because of signature-collection fraud.

The NED’s financial backing enabled Súmate and other organizations to keep collecting and submitting petitions until the required 2.4 million threshold was met.

The efforts of Súmate and the pro-U.S. opposition were futile. The referendum overwhelmingly favored the Chávez government with a vote of 59.1 percent. Súmate received $107,200 from the NED in 2005.

This is not the only Venezuelan opposition group funded by the NED. Eva Golinger, a pro-Chavez activist, lawyer and author of “The Chavez Code,” told NPR on Dec. 30, 2004, that over a third of Venezuelan NED grantees “were directly involved in the coup against Chávez in April 2002.” Since 2000, the NED has given over $4 million to 15 “civil society” groups in Venezuela alone.

NED list reveals U.S. targets

A list of 2005 NED-funded projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, initially provided by Anthony Fenton of the organization “In the Name of Democracy,” offers a good sense of Washington’s interests in the region. According to the list, the NED granted $2,364,995 to projects inside Cuba—over one-fifth of the funds destined for the region.

University of California at Santa Barbara Latin American studies professor William I. Robinson notes the dramatic increase in the dispersal of NED-type funding worldwide by the U.S. and European Union governments. “In 1980, the United States and the European Union each spent $20 million on ‘democracy’-related foreign aid,” he notes. “By 2001 this had risen to $571 million and $392 million respectively. In 2003 the EU spent $3.5 billion while the United States is expected to spend a total of $2 billion for the 2006 fiscal year” for projects aimed at developing influence among “grassroots” organizations.

This increase in spending is aimed at trying to stem the leftward trends sweeping the masses throughout Latin America. Robinson highlights a recent statement by the State Department announcing that its “four priorities for democracy promotion [sic] in Latin America in 2006 are Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.”

Two tactics, one goal

The increase in spending also corresponds to a shift in official U.S. policy in Latin America in the past decades. Throughout the 1970s, the U.S. government threw its weight behind repressive dictatorships across the continent—Videla in Argentina, Pinochet in Chile, Somoza in Nicaragua and others. In a 1978 article called “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” right-wing commentator—and later U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan—Jeanne Kirkpatrick justified supporting “authoritarian” regimes in the fight against socialist movements and regimes.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. government began to shift toward a different mode of maintaining capitalist rule. With the loss of material and political support for the revolutionary and progressive movements, and the subsequent political disorientation of sectors of the left, Washington felt it could continue its subversion in a more respectable suit, under the labels of “free market” and “democracy.”

This represents two tactics aimed at a single, constant U.S. goal: providing political and material support for the exploitation of the continent’s wealth and labor.

The NED was initially set up in 1982 by the Reagan administration primarily to promote counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In the words of Allen Weinstein, a drafter of the legislation that established the NED, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” (Washington Post, Sept. 22, 1991)

The NED is an organization that has no partisan orientation except promoting capitalism and U.S. imperialist aims. Its money is primarily channeled through four organizations: the Democratic and Republican parties, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. The leadership of the AFL-CIO, one of the two U.S. labor federations, has long been dominated by pro-imperialist “labor statesmen.”

Democratic hypocrisy

The official propaganda for the NED is couched in terms of supporting fledgling grassroots organizations struggling to build democratic societies. Apart from its obvious hypocrisy, it reeks of imperial arrogance.

The U.S. domination over Latin America requires ideological whitewashing. The promotion of the U.S. government’s version of “democracy”—propagated like theology—provides that whitewashing.

With every mass mobilization and struggle, the organizations that genuinely represent the aspirations of the vast majority of Latin America’s people expose the reality behind the ideological campaign.

The mass movements that have swept Latin America have been models of democracy involving millions of poor and working people. Indigenous groups—long excluded from political life in Latin America—have become major factors in the political arena. These movements against neoliberal policies have sprung up without a dollar from the NED.

In 2000, the people of Bolivia organized against the granting of a 40-year privatization lease to a subsidiary of the Bechtel Corporation giving it effective ownership of water required for the survival of more than half a million people. The working class rose up, not accepting anything less than the return of the water to the people. Mass strikes and protests forced Bechtel to flee.

The Bolivarian Revolution of Venezuela, the people’s assemblies in Argentina and the protest organizations that ultimately laid the basis for Evo Morales’ election in Bolivia—all of these represent genuine, grassroots workers’ democracy. They are the greatest threat to U.S. imperialism in the region, and the real target of the National Endowment for “Democracy.”
Articles may be reprinted with credit to Socialism and Liberation magazine.