Washington invested $585 million in promoting democracy across the globe in the past year, the US Department of State’s financial report for fiscal year 2016 revealed.
According to the paper, the State Department’s total assets equaled $93.8 billion in the last fiscal year, which concluded on September 30, increasing by $3.2 billion compared to 2015.
Of this amount, $585 million was spent by the State Department under the article ‘Democracy, human rights and governance’ – $70 million down on the 2015 figure.
The report didn’t specify the projects funded by the agency abroad, but Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in the preface that “we have supported important democratic gains in Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and Burma.”
Kerry also stressed that “in an era of diffuse and networked power, we (the US) are focusing on strengthening partnerships with civil society, citizen movements, faith leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and others to promote democracy and good governance and address gender-based violence.”
In later pages, the authors of the report explained that the State Department promotes democratic values because “stable democracies are less likely to pose a threat to their neighbors or to the US.”
Washington achieves its goals through leveraging trade agreements, pursuing meaningful sanctions, fostering people-to-people ties and encouraging responsible business conduct, which respects human and labor rights, the paper said.
According to the report, the State Department always back those who strive for justice and accountability in “post-conflict states.”
“Activists and organizations in authoritarian countries rely on our support as they work toward peaceful democratic reforms, democratic institutions, respect for minority rights, and dignity for all,” it stressed.
Prior to the Russian parliamentary election in September, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which works closely with the State Department, allocated $3 million to non-governmental organizations in Russia.
The investment was listed under the heading “For activity in Russia”, according to government website US Spending.
Since June, Russia has banned over a dozen NGOs from operating in the country as “undesirable” foreign groups.
The Soros Foundation, the US National Endowment for Democracy and Senator John McCain’s International Republican Institute were among the outlawed organizations.
“Today Russia faces its strongest attack in the past 25 years, targeting its national interests, values and institutes,” the Russian Senate said in its ruling.
“[The attack’s] main goal is to influence the internal political situation in the country, undermine the patriotic unity of our people, undermine the integration processes within the CIS space and force our country into geopolitical isolation,” the ruling added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also criticized Washington for its attempts to democratize foreign states via military or other means.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that you can’t change things from the outside, regarding political regimes, power change,” Putin said in September.
“I’m sure – and the events of the past decade add to this certainty – in particular the attempts of democratization in Iraq, Libya, we see what they led to: the destruction of the state system and the rise of terrorism,” the president said.
For the Southeast Asian state of Thailand, overcoming corruption could be one of several essential steps required to fully tap the human and natural resources this already influential ASEAN state has benefited from for centuries. However, to tackle corruption, the nation must first define what it is, and what it hopes to achieve by confronting and overcoming it.
Currently, the focus unfortunately appears to be on addressing Thailand’s score upon the so-called Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) put out by alleged nongovernmental organisation (NGO), Transparency International.
Despite describing itself as an NGO, Transparency International’s funding is dominated by the governments of the United States and the European Union.
More specifically, as listed on Transparency International’s own website, its funding comes specifically from the US State Department, the European Commission, the US State Department’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and controversial Open Society, chaired by convicted financial criminal George Soros.
Such funding presents an alarming conflict of interest, considering that these are the same interests who, in Thailand and across the rest of ASEAN, have worked actively to overthrow governments and undermine local institutions, seeking to overwrite them with organisations and institutions promoted by and serving foreign interests via NED and Open Society specifically.
Transparency International Leverages CPI as a Geopolitical Weapon
Thus, Thailand’s score on the CPI is more a result of politically-motivated interference in Thailand’s internal affairs than it is an honest appraisal of the nation’s corruption. Thailand’s low score and pressure placed upon it by the West to improve this score results not from genuine concern regarding corruption, but instead from the fact that the current government successfully ousted a regime sponsored by and working for Western special interests.
Attempting to “improve” Thailand’s score on a politically-motivated and thus illegitimate index is, to say the least, an exercise in futility.
Despite this glaring reality, there are some in the government who believe improving the nation’s standings on this index should still be a priority. They do so not because a better score will actually address corruption in Thailand in any meaningful manner, thus giving Thais greater confidence and trust in government institutions, but to instead impress foreign investors who a nation like Thailand should not be depending on to begin with.
It is an approach doomed to fail because it is an approach that fundamentally misdiagnoses the problem and thus prescribes the wrong solution.
In reality, corruption in Thailand cannot be defined or addressed by Transparency International’s politically-motivated, thus meaningless metrics. Instead, corruption in Thailand, if understood as unprofessionalism and impropriety among government institutions, hindering both the efficient administration of the nation as well as the government’s interaction with the people and local businesses, must be confronted by local interests for local interests.
The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) (website in Thai only), comprised of business leaders, local media and activists, seeks to confront corruption in Thailand not to improve the nation’s standings on a meaningless foreign-devised scale, but to improve the efficiency of government institutions to better facilitate their administration of the country, to make doing business easier and fairer as well as to improve faith and confidence across Thai society in the government institutions they depend on for the smooth functioning of society.
As ACT incrementally achieves these goals, it helps improve and strengthen Thailand, even if such efforts are not reflected on meaningless indexes like the CPI.
Their activities include exposing corruption using their ties to the media, holding events to raise public awareness regarding both their rights and how they are being violated by corruption and by working with the government to pass legislation to rein in corruption on various levels of society.
In the end, ACT is attempting to solve corruption for Thailand, with their “index score” determined by the improved efficiency of government institutions and the public’s trust in them.
ACT has so far proven itself impartial, calling out the previous government of Yingluck Shinawatra for its blatant and systemic corruption, as well as condemning impropriety and nepotism amid the current government. Unlike Transparency International and its CPI which only seeks to leverage “corruption perceptions” as a political weapon, ACT is fighting corruption for the sake of fighting corruption, because its membership is comprised of those directly affected by it, regardless of who heads the national government.
The current government should work (and is working) closely with groups like ACT to expose and rein in corruption toward very specific goals such as improving the efficiency of government institutions in the administration of their responsibilities and improving public trust in these institutions. Rather than citing the meaningless CPI devised by the politically-motivated Transparency International, Thailand should develop its own metrics for measuring both the level of corruption and gauge success in confronting it.
Thailand, and other developing nations, must also devise a means of communicating their progress in confronting corruption to the world in order to sidestep the “weaponisation” of indexes like Transparency International’s CPI.
By confronting corruption, nations strengthen themselves not only within by improving the efficiency with which resources are utilised toward the progress of their respective nations, they also strengthen themselves against foreign interests that would seek to exploit “corruption perceptions” and use it to seek leverage over them. In this sense, fighting corruption is not only good for business, it is essential for national security.
From Moscow to Myanmar, US-European funded organisations undermine the essential work of genuine NGOs
The New Atlas | August 9, 2016
A nongovernmental organisation (NGO) is described as a not-for-profit organisation independent from states and international governments. They are funded by donations and facilitated by volunteers drawn from the communities they serve.
Genuine NGOs fitting this description fulfil a vital role within the nations they work regarding issues including education, healthcare, the media, the environment, technology, and economic development.
They often perform their work in parallel with government organisations and may even cooperate with their national government. At other times, they provide a necessary but constructive check and balance to deficiencies present within a state.
However, NGOs can be abused. Foreign governments and financially motivated special interests can use the structure and appeal of NGOs as vectors to project unwarranted, coercive power and influence.
Funded not by the communities they claim to serve, but by these foreign interests, they often operate under the pretext of upholding the legitimate roles and responsibilities of genuine NGOs while in reality undermining a targeted nation’s government, its people, its institutions, and national peace and stability. Ironically, such organisations also undermine the perceived legitimacy and effectiveness of real NGOs.
Foreign interests seek to do this for a number of reasons including pressuring a targeted government to make concessions regarding bilateral relations, competing with and eventually overrunning state institutions, and even replacing a nation’s entire government.
How the US State Department Took Over Myanmar’s Ministry of Information
An extreme example of this can be seen in Southeast Asia’s Myanmar, where the Ministry of Information is now firmly under the control of Pe Myint, trained in “journalism” by a US government-funded organisation posing as an NGO, called the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation.
Pe Myint is also a member of a political party supported by a large collection of US and British funded organisations (National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Open Society, USAID, etc.), which in turn was propelled into power during recent elections also influenced heavily by organisations posing as NGOs funded by these same foreign interests.
Previously an independent institution of Myanmar, the Ministry of Information is now firmly under the influence of the US State Department. This may explain uncharacteristic comments regarding “substandard democracy” published by a national newspaper it controls directed at neighbouring Thailand ahead of the August 7, 2016 Thai referendum.
Henceforth, the Ministry has been made to serve the best interests of the United States, not Myanmar, indicated by the fact that its recent comments only risk jeopardising what would otherwise be constructive and beneficial bilateral relations with Thailand.
In this example, foreign-funded organisations not only pressured the government of Myanmar to accept the conditions in which a foreign-backed opposition came to power, but these foreign-funded organisations also helped create an entirely parallel government that are now overwriting Myanmar’s sovereignty.
Recognise the Threat
These foreign-funded organisations masquerading as NGOs are more than just foreign-funded “charities,” “rights advocates,” or “media platforms.” This can be discerned simply by examining the intermediary organisations providing these groups money and examining the special interests and agendas they in turn serve.
The United State National Endowment for Democracy (NED) for example, lists among its 2013 sponsors (.pdf) petrochemical giant Chevron, Wall Street’s Goldman Sachs, US State Department-connected and privacy usurping tech-giant Google and the US Chamber of Commerce which itself represents corporations ranging from defence contractors to oil companies to banks, as well as agricultural and pharmaceutical giants. Individual donors include pro-war Republican politicians including Frank Carlucci, Paula Dobriansky, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Zoellick.
|(It would be exponentially more difficult for foreign funded organisatons posing as NGOs to attract volunteers and local support if the true nature of their funding was transparently and repeatedly disclosed to the communities they allegedly serve.)|
NED’s board of directors represents a similar and troubling convergence of special interests who directly contradict the alleged purpose of both NED itself, and the many organisations it funds around the world.
Unfortunately, many people who work for foreign-funded organisations posing as NGOs are unaware of such facts. Senior leadership of these organisations often go through great lengths to conceal their foreign funding to avoid scrutiny and even in some cases, to avoid properly paying people who are led to believe no funds are available and thus are asked to “volunteer” to help. Those few who are aware of this funding, are usually unaware of who and what NED and other organisations like them truly represent.
To put it simply, any organisation or institution serves only the interests of those who support it. An NGO supported by local donations and volunteers serves its local community. A foreign-funded organisation posing as an NGO serves foreign interests.
And simpler still, an organisation funded by a foreign government cannot possibly be characterised as “nongovernmental.” Even at face value, this notion strains credibility.
Case Study: Prachatai, Thailand
After being caught concealing foreign funding, Bangkok-based media platform Prachatai disclosed several million baht in US State Department funding, Open Society grants and funds from several European governments.
Remarkably, Prachatai was (and still is) soliciting donations on their website. They also have categorically failed to update their foreign funding in English (since their first and only disclosure in 2011) and have never disclosed their foreign funding to their Thai readers.
|(US Ambassor Kristie Kenney in US State Department-funded Prachatai’s office in Bangkok, Thailand.)|
Independent journalists attempting to ascertain the true depth of Prachatai’s connections to the US State Department were told that Prachatai had none, and that the money was provided to them unconditionally.
In reality, as revealed by Wikileaks, Prachatai’s staff remains in constant contact with the US Embassy in Bangkok, with US ambassadors and political counsellors making regular visits to their office off of Ratchada Road, and with Prachatai’s director Chiranuch Premchaiporn making regular, lengthy and detailed reports about Thailand’s internal political affairs to US Embassy staff.
In the infamous Cablegate leak, the US Embassy in Bangkok sent off as many as 7 cables regarding or referencing Prachatai and its activities within the country and in particular its defence of agitators attempting to undermine the nation’s institutions and political stability.
For the US State Department, Prachatai exists as a state-funded asset — a constant pressure point to extort concessions from the Thai government with and to coerce from them the settings in which US-backed political forces might take power.
Under the guise of defending “free speech” and “human rights,” Prachatai networks deeply with US-backed political party Pheu Thai, its street front the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD or “red shirts”) and a large number of other US-funded organisations posing as NGOs and academic associations — many of which share the office building Prachatai is currently based in.
Additionally, Prachatai communicates and coordinates regularly with foreign media staff based in Thailand, particularly those who gravitate around the swank Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand clubhouse and bar in downtown Bangkok.
Together they stage public relations events aimed at portraying the current Thai government as overbearing, dictatorial and losing popularity and control. In reality, the events include the same handful of stand-ins and utilise intentionally deceptive methods to conflate the size and impact of each staged event.
By participating in such events, the foreign media betrays the principles it allegedly represent, creating the news rather than objectively covering it. For Prachatai, posing as an NGO but clearly functioning as an extension of US interests in Thailand, it too represents a betrayal of true, community-supported activism.
Ending the Charade
In all honesty Prachatai’s activities could easily be tolerated by the Thai government, if only for one concession — that Prachatai and other organisations like it fully and repeatedly disclosed in English and in Thai, their existence as foreign-funded government organisations rather than pose as a genuine NGO.
Since it has operated for years and failed to fulfil its own responsibilities toward transparency to the society it claims to serve, it may be time for Thailand to pass legislation to force foreign-funded organisations like Prachatai to come clean.
Other nations have adopted comprehensive legislation to help protect real NGOs from those with foreign funding merely posing as such.
(The graffiti reads, “foreign agent,” written in Russian..)
In Russia, legislation now requires foreign-funded organisations to declare on all written material and verbally declare before all audio statements, their relationship with foreign interests. Those that fail to register as foreign-funded organisations or fail to disclose all of their funding, face liquidation.
While the US and the myriad organisations it was running in Moscow predictably decried the legislation as “oppressive,” some might appreciate the irony of “pro-democracy activists” resisting calls for greater transparency, a fundamental prerequisite for a democratic society.
Foreign-funded organisations posing as NGOs are more than a mere nuisance, or even simply a means by foreign governments and special interests to apply coercive pressure on a nation’s government and institutions. They represent a patient, concerted effort to compete with and eventually fully replace a nation’s existing sovereign institutions. This threat should not be underestimated nor should it be tolerated.
And beyond a threat to national security, these foreign-funded organisations attract and squander a nation’s human resources, while undermining the very legitimate and essential work performed by honest, locally-supported NGOs.
Western media rejoiced over the meagre gains made in recent polls by what they described as “anti-China activists” of the “localist” movement, political groups in Hong Kong who advocate “independence” from China.
In the UK, former colonial administrator of Hong Kong, the BBC would report in their article, “Hong Kong election: Anti-China activists set to take LegCo seats,” that:
A new generation of anti-China activists have won seats on Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), preliminary results indicate.
Among them is Nathan Law, one of the young leaders of the mass pro-democracy demonstrations of 2014, who is now on course to win a constituency seat.
It is the first taste of real political power for the young protest leaders.
But pro-Beijing politicians will retain a majority of seats, partly because of the electoral system.
What the BBC conveniently omits is that while pro-Beijing politicians will retain a majority of seats “partly because of the electoral system,” anti-Beijing politicians made their gains almost entirely because of US-funding and support. This includes Nathan Law himself, poised to take a constituency seat, showered with awards by the US State Department for his role in US-backed protests in 2014.
Ironically, in an attempt to add further gravity to these minor electoral gains, the BBC hailed what they called a “record voter turnout” of 58%, while BBC reporters just last month claimed a 60% turnout for Thailand’s charter referendum “undermined the legitimacy of the result.” The only difference being that gains made in Hong Kong favoured Western interests, while gains made in Thailand favoured the Thai people at the expense of Western interests.
The BBC’s politically-motivated bias is easily explained as the layers or rhetoric are stripped away and the foreign networks that created and are currently supporting Hong Kong’s supposed “independence” movement are exposed.
The BBC and other Western media organisations portray the recent polls as a continuation of the so-called “Umbrella Revolution.” In this respect, they are partially right.
What they are omitting is that the 2014 protests were organised and carried out by US-funded opposition groups, representing a slim minority of Hong Kong’s population and were eventually moved off the streets when Hong Kong residents themselves lost patience over the protest’s disruptive behaviour.
Months preceding the 2014 protests, two of the movement’s leaders were quite literally in Washington D.C. lobbying the US State Department for support ahead of the planned protests. The US State Department’s own National Endowment for Democracy (NED) would admit in a statement titled, “The National Endowment for Democracy and support for democracy in Hong Kong,” that:
(Benny Tai, Joshua Wong and Martin Lee stand to Freedom House president Mark Lagon in Washington D.C. during a ceremony celebrating their role in the 2014 Hong Kong protests.)
After the protests ended, NED’s subsidiary Freedom House would even invite Martin Lee to an event titled, “Three Hong Kong Heroes,” which also included protest leaders Joshua Wong and Benny Tai. Lee would shuffle onto stage with an umbrella prop in hand, a virtual admission to his leadership role in the protests and confirmation that the NED’s previous statement was intentionally false.
NED would also deny providing funding to the movement, despite the fact that each member of the movement’s senior leadership were documented grantees of the NED and its various subsidiaries including Freedom house and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).
Toward the end of the 2014 protests, Western media organisations began making partial admissions that indeed the US was funding various segments of the movement’s leadership. Dan Steinbock in an October 2014 article in the South China Morning Post would enumerate the various confirmed accusations and concluded, “perhaps efforts at foreign interference are not entirely unfounded.”
Considering this, claims that Hong Kong’s “anti-China activists” represent “democracy” or “localism” when they represent foreign interest, not those of the Hong Kong’s residents, nor source their support “locally,” are at face value contradictory.
It is also particularly ironic that this strain of political opposition predicates itself on establishing “independence” when in reality it seeks to return Hong Kong back under the influence of Anglo-American hegemony. This is particularly obvious considering the repetitious calls from such groups for “One Country, Two Systems,” the parting demands the British colonialists themselves tabled as a condition to returning the seized territory back to the Chinese.
Nathan Law —America’s, Not Hong Kong’s Candidate
The BBC made particular mention of Nathan Law, chairman of “Demosisto,” a political party that sprung forth from the US-funded “Umbrella Revolution.” According to the BBC, he was expected to win a constituency seat, but what the BBC fails to mention is his ties to the US State Department and the alarming conflicts of interest this poses considering his potential role in Hong Kong’s governance.
(Nathan Law, left, embraced by US State Department NED chairman Carl Gershman.)
The US State Department’s NED “World Movement for Democracy” website in a post titled, “Democracy Courage Tribute Award Presentation,” would write in regards to the award presented to Nathan Lee:
The Umbrella Movement’s bold call in the fall of 2014 for a free and fair election process to select the city’s leaders brought thousands into the streets to demonstrate peacefully. The images from these protests have motivated Chinese democracy activists on the mainland and resulted in solidarity between longtime champions of democracy in Hong Kong and a new generation of Hong Kong youth seeking to improve their city. The Hong Kong democracy movement will face further obstacles in the years to come, and their idealism and bravery will need to be supported as they work for democratic representation in Hong Kong.
Nathan Lee would even pose for pictures with NED chairman Carl Gershman, apparently unconcerned of the immense conflicts of interest invited by such compromising associations.
The BBC’s coverage of Hong Kong’s recent legislative elections attempts to spin inroads made by foreign interests as “localism” and “democracy” taking root in the former British colonial holding. While the BBC alludes to Beijing’s influence preventing further gains by the opposition, its intentional omission of which foreign interests are propping up the opposition reveals systemic and intentional bias in the BBC’s reporting. Such bias is echoed across Reuters, CNN, AP and AFP as well.
Democracy, in theory, is supposed to be the expression of the people. Hong Kong is part of China, thus those participating in its political process should represent Chinese interests. An opposition party that spends its time in Washington D.C. and maintains its growing networks through foreign cash do not represent China or the Chinese in a wider sense, and certainly not Hong Kong and its residents in a more local sense.
Foreign interests working through collaborators resembles a dictatorship from abroad more than anything resembling a “democracy” of the people, even if such a dictatorship drapes itself in public polls, elections and street mobs. That before, during and after the “Umbrella Revolution” each and every leader is tied to foreign interests, completely undermines the narrative that they represent “democracy” rather than the foreign interests transparently directing (then rewarding) them every step of the way.
Joseph Thomas is chief editor of Thailand-based geopolitical journal, The New Atlas.
Despite America’s myriad problems domestically and internationally, its geo-strategic position remains the envy of the world. Protected in the east by the Atlantic, in the west by the Pacific, to the north by Canada and to the south by Mexico, the United States is, for all intents and purposes, impervious to a foreign invasion.
Its advanced and mobile nuclear arsenal and conventional force projection capabilities further serve as a deterrent against attacks from rival nation-states. The country’s strategic position is enhanced, too, by what Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has referred to as the “exorbitant privilege” – that of possessing the world’s reserve currency. As such, the U.S. does not face the same restraints on spending that other nations do.
Because the dollar accounts for so high a proportion of the balance sheets of other countries, the rest of the world is tacitly committed to propping up its value. Taken together, America’s isolated and protected geo-strategic position combined with the “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar means, in effect, that the U.S. has an unrivaled geo-strategic position.
Yet since the end of the Cold War, the foreign policy establishment and three successive administrations have committed the U.S. to a dangerous and ill-conceived pursuit of global military and economic hegemony which has only served to undercut the country’s economy and security. It is a pursuit that is frequently cloaked in the rhetoric of humanitarianism and “democracy promotion.”
United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power recently declared in the pages of the New York Review of Books that it is “our self-interest that requires us to get better at improving human security in the service of national security.”
Power – like nearly all members of the foreign policy establishment today – believes (or says she believes) that the way foreign governments treat their own citizens “matters because it can have a direct impact on international peace and security – and on our respective national interests.”
To bolster her argument she takes the example of the Russian government which, she claims, habitually lies to its own people about what it is really up to in Ukraine. “The elimination of critical voices inside Russia,” writes Power, “helps enable acts that are profoundly destabilizing outside of Russia.”
Power’s claims are part of the widely shared, bipartisan consensus among the post-Cold War foreign policy elites who believe that the problem is not that the United States has intervened around the world too much and too often but rather that it has intervened too little. In Power’s view, “we must never be ashamed to ask whether we have been too reticent in pressing certain governments to reform and to respond to the demands of their citizens.”
This last point is a curious claim that, I suspect, quite intentionally skirts the question of whether the U.S., by actively pushing its “pro-democracy” agenda abroad, is itself the instigator of many of those “demands” (by financing and organizing many of the groups clamoring for U.S. intervention).
Efforts – almost too numerous to count – by USAID, the International Republican Institute and the National Endowment for Democracy, often in conjunction with various think tanks, TOR developers (software that enables anonymous communications), and George Soros-funded Open Society Institutes – have sought to materially aid a plethora of opposition groups across the globe. (They, in turn, seek more U.S. intervention to enhance their political positions within their societies.)
Contrary to what the scholar, diplomat George Kennan urged – that diplomacy, properly executed, was necessarily a government-to-government interaction – Power believes that “we need to broaden the spectrum of whom we engage with our diplomacy.”
She writes that diplomats must court “civil society organizations” and other groups such as “teachers association, workers’ unions and leaders in the business community” – never mind the very plain fact that State Department diplomats and Commerce Department officials, among others, have been doing outreach of that sort for some time.
The results of all this U.S. meddling have been little short of disastrous. Take, for instance, the failed state of Ukraine, where USAID and other U.S. institutions spent $5 billion in the quarter century since the fall of the Soviet Union, according to Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (and that was before the U.S.-backed overthrow of the elected government in February 2014 and the current civil war which has claimed the lives of some 10,000 Ukrainians).
This generation of American “humanitarian” crusaders, as exemplified by the career of Ambassador Power, continually seeks to sacrifice stability on the altar of “democratic” idealism (even when that involves reversing democratic results and contributing to humanitarian suffering). Further, the problem that these efforts engender for U.S. national security interests are legion: war continues to rage in eastern Ukraine, Libya is completely destabilized, likewise Syria and Iraq.
Contrary to what Power would have us believe, the “democratization” crusade undermines, rather than strengthens U.S. national security. As the Greek statesman Pericles famously observed: “I am more afraid of our own mistakes than of our enemies’ designs.”
James W Carden is editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.
Does any intelligent person look at a New York Times article about Russia or Vladimir Putin these days and expect to read an objective, balanced account? Or will it be laced with a predictable blend of contempt and ridicule? And is it any different at The Washington Post, NPR, MSNBC, CNN or almost any mainstream U.S. news outlet?
And it’s not just Russia. The same trend holds true for Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries and movements that have fallen onto the U.S. government’s “enemies list.” We saw the same pattern with Saddam Hussein and Iraq before the 2003 U.S. invasion; with Muammar Gaddafi and Libya before the U.S.-orchestrated bombing campaign in 2011; and with President Viktor Yanukovych and Ukraine before the U.S.-backed coup in 2014.
That is not to say that these countries and leaders don’t deserve criticism; they do. But the proper role of the press corps – at least as I was taught during my early years at The Associated Press – was to treat all evidence objectively and all sides fairly. Just because you might not like someone doesn’t mean your feelings should show through or the facts should be forced through a prism of bias.
In those “old days,” that sort of behavior was deemed unprofessional and you would expect a senior editor to come down hard on you. Now, however, it seems that you’d only get punished if you quoted some dissident or allowed such a person onto an op-ed page or a talk show, someone who didn’t share Official Washington’s “group think” about the “enemy.” Deviation from “group think” has become the real disqualifier.
Yet, this conformity should be shocking and unacceptable in a country that prides itself on freedom of thought and speech. Indeed, much of the criticism of “enemy” states is that they supposedly practice various forms of censorship and permit only regime-friendly propaganda to reach the public.
But when was the last time you heard anyone in the U.S. mainstream say anything positive or even nuanced about Russian President Putin. He can only be portrayed as some shirtless buffoon or the devil incarnate. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got widespread praise in 2014 when she likened him to Hitler.
Or when has anyone in the U.S. media been allowed to suggest that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters might actually have reason to fear what the U.S. press lovingly calls the “moderate” rebels – though they often operate under the military command of Sunni extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s ‘Moderate’ Syrian Deception.”]
For the first three years of the Syrian civil war, the only permissible U.S. narrative was how the brutal Assad was slaughtering peaceful “moderates,” even though Defense Intelligence Agency analysts and other insiders had long been warning about the involvement of violent jihadists in the movement from the uprising’s beginning in 2011.
But that story was kept from the American people until the Islamic State started chopping off the heads of Western hostages in 2014 – and since then, the mainstream U.S. media has only reported the fuller story in a half-hearted and garbled way. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]
Reason for Conformity
The reason for this conformity among journalists is simple: If you repeat the conventional wisdom, you might find yourself with a lucrative gig as a big-shot foreign correspondent, a regular TV talking head, or a “visiting scholar” at a major think tank. However, if you don’t say what’s expected, your career prospects aren’t very bright.
If you somehow were to find yourself in a mainstream setting and even mildly challenged the “group think,” you should expect to be denounced as a fill-in-the-blank “apologist” or “stooge.” A well-paid avatar of the conventional wisdom might even accuse you of being on the payroll of the despised leader. And, you wouldn’t likely get invited back.
But the West’s demonization of foreign “enemies” is not only an affront to free speech and meaningful democracy, it is also dangerous because it empowers unscrupulous American and European leaders to undertake violent and ill-considered actions that get lots of people killed and that spread hatred against the West.
The most obvious recent example was the Iraq War, which was justified by a barrage of false and misleading claims about Iraq which were mostly swallowed whole by a passive and complicit Western press corps.
Key to that disaster was the demonization of Saddam Hussein, who was subjected to such unrelenting propaganda that almost no one dared question the baseless charges hurled at him about hiding WMD and collaborating with Al Qaeda. To do so would have made you a “Saddam apologist” or worse.
The few who did dare raise their voices faced accusations of treason or were subjected to character assassination. Yet, even after their skepticism was vindicated as the pre-invasion accusations collapsed, there was very little reappraisal. Most of the skeptics remained marginalized and virtually everyone who got the WMD story wrong escaped accountability.
For instance, Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt, who repeatedly reported Iraq’s WMD as “flat fact,” suffered not a whit and remains in the same prestigious job, still enforcing one-sided “group thinks” about “enemies.”
An example of how Hiatt and the Post continue to play the same role as neocon propagandists was on display last year in an editorial condemning Putin’s government for shutting down Russian activities of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy and requiring foreign-funded groups seeking to influence Russian politics to register as foreign agents.
In the Post’s editorial and a companion op-ed by NED President Carl Gershman, you were led to believe that Putin was delusional, paranoid and “power mad” in his concern that outside money funneled into non-governmental organizations was a threat to Russian sovereignty.
However, the Post and Gershman left out a few salient facts, such as the fact that NED is funded by the U.S. government and was the brainchild of Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William J. Casey in 1983 to partially replace the CIA’s historic role in creating propaganda and political fronts inside targeted nations.
Also missing was the fact that Gershman himself announced in another Post op-ed that he saw Ukraine, prior to the 2014 coup, as “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward achieving Putin’s ouster in Russia. The Post also forgot to mention that the Russian law about “foreign agents” was modeled after a U.S. statute entitled the Foreign Agent Registration Act. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Why Russia Shut Down NED Fronts.”]
All those points would have given the Post’s readers a fuller and fairer understanding of why Putin and Russia acted as they did, but that would have messed up the desired propaganda narrative seeking to demonize Putin. The goal was not to inform the American people but to manipulate them into a new Cold War hostility toward Russia.
We’ve seen a similar pattern with the U.S. government’s “information warfare” around high-profile incidents. In the “old days’ – at least when I arrived in Washington in the late 1970s – there was much more skepticism among journalists about the official line from the White House or State Department. Indeed, it was a point of pride among journalists not to simply accept whatever the spokesmen or officials were saying, but to check it out.
There was plenty of enough evidence – from the Tonkin Gulf lies to the Watergate cover-up – to justify a critical examination of government claims. But that tradition has been lost, too. Despite the costly deceptions before the Iraq War, the Times, the Post and other mainstream outlets simply accept whatever accusations the U.S. government hurls against “enemies.” Beyond the gullibility, there is even hostility toward those of us who insist on seeing real evidence.
Examples of this continuing pattern include the acceptance of the U.S. government line on the sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21, 2013, and the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The first was blamed on Syria’s Assad and the second on Russia’s Putin – quite convenient even though U.S. officials refused to present any solid evidence to support their claims.
Reasons for Doubt
In both cases, there were obvious reasons to doubt the Official Story. Assad had just invited United Nations inspectors in to examine what he claimed were rebel chemical attacks, so why would he pick that time to launch a sarin attack just miles from where the inspectors were staying? Putin was trying to maintain a low profile for Russian support to Ukrainians resisting the U.S.-backed coup, but provision of a large, sophisticated and powerful anti-aircraft battery lumbering around eastern Ukraine would just have invited detection.
Further, in both cases, there was dissent among U.S. intelligence analysts, some of whom objected at least to the rushes to judgment and offered different explanations for the incidents, pointing the blame in other possible directions. The dissent caused the Obama administration to resort to a new concoction called a “Government Assessment” – essentially a propaganda document – rather than a classic “Intelligence Assessment,” which would express the consensus views of the 16 intelligence agencies and include areas of disagreement.
So, there were plenty of reasons for Washington journalists to smell a rat or at least insist upon hard evidence to make the case against Assad and Putin. Instead, given the demonized views of Assad and Putin, mainstream journalists unanimously fell in line behind the Official Story. They even ignored or buried evidence that undermined the government’s tales.
Regarding the Syrian case, there was little interest in the scientific discovery that the one sarin-laden rocket (recovered by the U.N.) had a range of only about two kilometers (destroying Washington’s claims about the Syrian government firing many rockets from eight or nine kilometers away). [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Was Turkey Behind Syria-Sarin Attack?”]
Regarding the MH-17 case, a blind eye was turned to a Dutch intelligence report that concluded that there were several operational Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine but they were all under the control of the Ukrainian military and that the rebels had no weapon that could reach the 33,000-foot altitude where MH-17 was flying. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Ever-Curiouser MH-17 Case.”]
Though both those cases remain open and one cannot rule out new evidence emerging that bolsters the U.S. government’s version of events, the fact that there are substantive reasons to doubt the Official Story should be reflected in how the mainstream Western media deals with these two sensitive issues, but the inconvenient facts are instead brushed aside or ignored (much as happened with Iraq’s WMD).
In short, there has been a system-wide collapse of the Western news media as a professional entity in dealing with foreign crises. So, as the world plunges deeper into crises inside Syria and on Russia’s border, the West’s citizens are going in almost blind without the eyes and ears of independent journalists on the ground and with major news outlets delivering incessant propaganda from Washington and other capitals.
Instead of facts, the West’s mainstream media traffics in demonization.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Sadly, some important duties of journalism, such as applying evenhanded standards on human rights abuses and financial corruption, have been so corrupted by the demands of government propaganda – and the careerism of too many writers – that I now become suspicious whenever the mainstream media trumpets some sensational story aimed at some “designated villain.”
Far too often, this sort of “journalism” is just a forerunner to the next “regime change” scheme, dirtying up or delegitimizing a foreign leader before the inevitable advent of a “color revolution” organized by “democracy-promoting” NGOs often with money from the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy or some neoliberal financier like George Soros.
We are now seeing what looks like a new preparatory phase for the next round of “regime changes” with corruption allegations aimed at former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The new anti-Putin allegations – ballyhooed by the UK Guardian and other outlets – are particularly noteworthy because the so-called “Panama Papers” that supposedly implicate him in offshore financial dealings never mention his name.
Or as the Guardian writes: “Though the president’s name does not appear in any of the records, the data reveals a pattern – his friends have earned millions from deals that seemingly could not have been secured without his patronage. The documents suggest Putin’s family has benefited from this money – his friends’ fortunes appear his to spend.”
Note, if you will, the lack of specificity and the reliance on speculation: “a pattern”; “seemingly”; “suggest”; “appear.” Indeed, if Putin were not already a demonized figure in the Western media, such phrasing would never pass an editor’s computer screen. Indeed, the only point made in declarative phrasing is that “the president’s name does not appear in any of the records.”
A British media-watch publication, the Off-Guardian, which criticizes much of the work done at The Guardian, headlined its article on the Putin piece as “the Panama Papers cause Guardian to collapse into self-parody.”
But whatever the truth about Putin’s “corruption” or Lula’s, the journalistic point is that the notion of objectivity has long since been cast aside in favor of what’s useful as propaganda for Western interests.
Some of those Western interests now are worried about the growth of the BRICS economic system – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – as a competitor to the West’s G-7 and the International Monetary Fund. After all, control of the global financial system has been central to American power in the post-World War II world – and rivals to the West’s monopoly are not welcome.
What the built-in bias against these and other “unfriendly” governments means, in practical terms, is that one standard applies to a Russia or a Brazil, while a more forgiving measure is applied to the corruption of a U.S. or European leader.
Take, for instance, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s millions of dollars in payments in speaking fees from wealthy special interests that knew she was a good bet to become the next U.S. president. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Clinton Stalls on Goldman-Sachs Speeches.”]
Or, similarly, the millions upon millions of dollars invested in super-PACS for Clinton, Sen. Ted Cruz and other presidential hopefuls. That might look like corruption from an objective standard but is treated as just a distasteful aspect of the U.S. political process.
But imagine for a minute if Putin had been paid millions of dollars for brief speeches before powerful corporations, banks and interest groups doing business with the Kremlin. That would be held up as de facto proof of his illicit greed and corruption.
Also, when it’s a demonized foreign leader, any “corruption” will do, however minor. For example, in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s denounced Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega for his choice of eyewear: “The dictator in designer glasses,” declared Reagan, even as Nancy Reagan was accepting free designer gowns and free renovations of the White House funded by oil and gas interests.
Or, the “corruption” for a demonized leader can be a modest luxury, such as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s “sauna” in his personal residence, a topic that got front-page treatment in The New York Times and other Western publications seeking to justify the violent coup that drove Yanukovych from office in February 2014.
Incidentally, both Ortega and Yanukovych had been popularly elected but were still targeted by the U.S. government and its operatives with violent destabilization campaigns. In the 1980s, the CIA-organized Nicaraguan Contra war killed some 30,000 people, while the U.S.-orchestrated “regime change” in Ukraine sparked a civil war that has left some 10,000 people dead. Of course, in both cases, Official Washington blamed Moscow for all the trouble.
In both cases, too, the politicians and operatives who gained power as a result of the conflicts were arguably more corrupt than the Nicaraguan Sandinistas or Yanukovych’s government. The Nicaraguan Contras, whose violence helped pave the way for the 1990 election of U.S.-backed candidate Violeta Chamorro, were deeply implicated in cocaine trafficking. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]
Today, the U.S.-supported Ukrainian government is wallowing in corruption so deep that it has provoked a new political crisis. [See Consortiumnews’com’s “Reality Peeks Through in Ukraine.”]
Ironically, one of the politicians actually named in the Panama Papers for having established a shadowy offshore account is the U.S.-backed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, although he got decidedly second-billing to the unnamed Putin. (Poroshenko denied there was anything improper in his offshore financial arrangements.)
Mainstream Western journalism no longer even tries to apply common standards to questions about corruption. If you’re a favored government, there might be lamentations about the need for more “reform” – which often means slashing pensions for the elderly and cutting social programs for the poor – but if you’re a demonized leader, then the only permissible answer is criminal indictment and/or “regime change.”
One stark example of these double standards is the see-no-evil attitude toward the corruption of Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who is touted endlessly in the Western media as the paragon of Ukrainian good governance and reform. The documented reality, however, is that Jaresko enriched herself through her control of a U.S.-taxpayer-financed investment fund that was supposed to help the people of Ukraine build their economy.
According to the terms of the $150 million investment fund created by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Jaresko’s compensation was supposed to be capped at $150,000 a year, a pay package that many Americans would envy. But it was not enough for Jaresko, who first simply exceeded the limit by hundreds of thousands of dollars and then moved her compensation off-books as she amassed total annual pay of $2 million or more.
The documentation of this scheming is clear. I have published multiple stories citing the evidence of both her excessive compensation and her legal strategies for covering up evidence of alleged wrongdoing. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Ukraine’s Finance Minister Got Rich” and “Carpetbagging Crony Capitalism in Ukraine.”]
Despite the evidence, not a single mainstream Western news outlet has followed up on this information even as Jaresko is touted as a “reform” candidate for Ukrainian prime minister.
This disinterest is similar to the blinders that The New York Times and other major Western newspapers put on when they were assessing whether Ukrainian President Yanukovych was ousted in a coup in February 2014 or just wandered off and forgot to return.
In a major “investigative” piece, the Times concluded there was no coup in Ukraine while ignoring the evidence of a coup, such as the intercepted phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who they would put into power. “Yats is the guy,” said Nuland – and surprise, surprise, Arseniy Yatsenyuk ended up as prime minister.
The Times also ignored the observation of George Friedman, president of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, who noted that the Ukraine coup was “the most blatant coup in history.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.”]
The Propaganda Weapon
The other advantage of “corruption” as a propaganda weapon to discredit certain leaders is that we all assume that there is plenty of corruption in governments as well as in the private sector all around the world. Alleging corruption is like shooting large fish crowded into a small barrel. Granted, some barrels might be more crowded than others but the real decision is whose barrel you choose.
That’s part of the reason why the U.S. government has spread around hundreds of millions of dollars to finance “journalism” organizations, train political activists and support “non-governmental organizations” that promote U.S. policy goals inside targeted countries. For instance, before the Feb. 22, 2014 coup in Ukraine, there were scores of such operations in the country financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), whose budget from Congress exceeds $100 million a year.
But NED, which has been run by neocon Carl Gershman since its founding in 1983, is only part of the picture. You have other propaganda fronts operating under the umbrella of the State Department and USAID. Last year, USAID issued a fact sheet summarizing its work financing friendly journalists around the globe, including “journalism education, media business development, capacity building for supportive institutions, and strengthening legal-regulatory environments for free media.”
USAID estimated its budget for “media strengthening programs in over 30 countries” at $40 million annually, including aiding “independent media organizations and bloggers in over a dozen countries,” In Ukraine before the coup, USAID offered training in “mobile phone and website security,” which sounds a bit like an operation to thwart the local government’s intelligence gathering, an ironic position for the U.S. with its surveillance obsession, including prosecuting whistleblowers based on evidence that they talked to journalists.
USAID, working with billionaire George Soros’s Open Society, also funds the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which engages in “investigative journalism” that usually goes after governments that have fallen into disfavor with the United States and then are singled out for accusations of corruption. The USAID-funded OCCRP also collaborates with Bellingcat, an online investigative website founded by blogger Eliot Higgins.
Higgins has spread misinformation on the Internet, including discredited claims implicating the Syrian government in the sarin attack in 2013 and directing an Australian TV news crew to what looked to be the wrong location for a video of a BUK anti-aircraft battery as it supposedly made its getaway to Russia after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.
Despite his dubious record of accuracy, Higgins has gained mainstream acclaim, in part, because his “findings” always match up with the propaganda theme that the U.S. government and its Western allies are peddling. Though most genuinely independent bloggers are ignored by the mainstream media, Higgins has found his work touted by both The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In other words, the U.S. government has a robust strategy for deploying direct and indirect agents of influence. Indeed, during the first Cold War, the CIA and the old U.S. Information Agency refined the art of “information warfare,” including pioneering some of its current features like having ostensibly “independent” entities and cut-outs present U.S. propaganda to a cynical public that would reject much of what it hears from government but may trust “citizen journalists” and “bloggers.”
But the larger danger from this perversion of journalism is that it sets the stage for “regime changes” that destabilize whole countries, thwart real democracy (i.e., the will of the people), and engender civil warfare. Today’s neoconservative dream of mounting a “regime change” in Moscow is particularly dangerous to the future of both Russia and the world.
Regardless of what you think about President Putin, he is a rational political leader whose legendary sangfroid makes him someone who is not prone to emotional decisions. His leadership style also appeals to the Russian people who overwhelmingly favor him, according to public opinion polls.
While the American neocons may fantasize that they can generate enough economic pain and political dissension inside Russia to achieve Putin’s removal, their expectation that he will be followed by a pliable leader like the late President Boris Yeltsin, who will let U.S. operatives back in to resume plundering Russia’s riches, is almost certainly a fantasy.
The far more likely possibility is that – if a “regime change” could somehow be arranged – Putin would be replaced by a hard-line nationalist who might think seriously about unleashing Russia’s nuclear arsenal if the West again tries to defile Mother Russia. For me, it’s not Putin who’s the worry; it’s the guy after Putin.
So, while legitimate questions about Putin’s “corruption” – or that of any other political leader – should be pursued, the standards of evidence should not be lowered just because he or anyone else is a demonized figure in the West. There should be single not double standards.
Western media outrage about “corruption” should be expressed as loudly against political and business leaders in the U.S. or other G-7 countries as it is toward those in the BRICS.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
Brazil keeps its coups quiet (or at least quieter than many other Latin American countries). During the Cold War, there was much more attention to overt military regime changes often backed by the CIA, such as the overthrow of Guatemala’s Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, the ouster of Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973 and even Argentina’s “dirty war” coup in 1976, than to Brazil’s 1964 coup that removed President João Goulart from power.
Noam Chomsky has called Goulart’s government “mildly social democratic.” Its replacement was a brutal military dictatorship.
In more modern times, Latin American coups have shed their image of overt military takeovers or covert CIA actions. Rather than tanks in the streets and grim-looking generals rounding up political opponents – today’s coups are more like the “color revolutions” used in Eastern Europe and the Mideast in which leftist, socialist or perceived anti-American governments were targeted with “soft power” tactics, such as economic dislocation, sophisticated propaganda, and political disorder often financed by “pro-democracy” non-governmental organizations (or NGOs).
This strategy began to take shape in the latter days of the Cold War as the CIA program of arming Nicaraguan Contra rebels gave way to a U.S. economic strategy of driving Sandinista-led Nicaragua into abject poverty, combined with a political strategy of spending on election-related NGOs by the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy, setting the stage for the Sandinistas’ political defeat in 1990.
During the Obama administration, this strategy of non-violent “regime change” in Latin America has gained increasing favor, as with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decisive support for the 2009 ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya who had pursued a moderately progressive domestic policy that threatened the interests of the Central American nation’s traditional oligarchy and foreign investors.
Unlike the earlier military-style coups, the “silent coups” never take off their masks and reveal themselves as coups. They are coups disguised as domestic popular uprisings which are blamed on the misrule of the targeted government. Indeed, the U.S. mainstream media will go to great lengths to deny that these coups are even coups.
The new coups are cloaked in one of two disguises. In the first, a rightist minority that lost at the polls will allege “fraud” and move its message to the streets as an expression of “democracy”; in the second type, the minority cloaks its power grab behind the legal or constitutional workings of the legislature or the courts, such as was the case in ousting President Zelaya in Honduras in 2009.
Both strategies usually deploy accusations of corruption or dictatorial intent against the sitting government, charges that are trumpeted by rightist-owned news outlets and U.S.-funded NGOs that portray themselves as “promoting democracy,” seeking “good government” or defending “human rights.” Brazil today is showing signs of both strategies.
First, some background: In 2002, the Workers’ Party’s (PT) Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to power with 61.3 percent of the vote. Four years later, he was returned to power with a still overwhelming 60.83 percent. Lula da Silva’s presidency was marked by extraordinary growth in Brazil’s economy and by landmark social reforms and domestic infrastructure investments.
In 2010, at the end of Lula da Silva’s presidency, the BBC provided a typical account of his successes: “Number-crunchers say rising incomes have catapulted more than 29 million Brazilians into the middle class during the eight-year presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former trade unionist elected in 2002. Some of these people are beneficiaries of government handouts and others of a steadily improving education system. Brazilians are staying in school longer, which secures them higher wages, which drives consumption, which in turn fuels a booming domestic economy.”
However, in Brazil, a two-term president must sit out a full term before running again. So, in 2010, Dilma Rousseff ran as Lula da Silva’s chosen successor. She won a majority 56.05 percent of the vote. When, in 2014, Rousseff won re-election with 52 percent of the vote, the right-wing opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) went into a panic.
This panic was not just because democracy was failing as a method for advancing right-wing goals, nor was the panic just over the fourth consecutive victory by the more left-wing PT. The panic became desperation when it became clear that, after the PT had succeeded in holding onto power while Lula da Silva was constitutionally sidelined, he was likely returning as the PT’s presidential candidate in 2018.
After all, Lula da Silva left office with an 80 percent approval rating. Democracy, it seemed, might never work for the PSDB. So, the “silent coup” playbook was opened. As the prescribed first play, the opposition refused to accept the 2014 electoral results despite never proffering a credible complaint. The second move was taking to the streets.
A well-organized and well-funded minority whose numbers were too small to prevail at the polls can still create lots of noise and disruption in the streets, manufacturing the appearance of a powerful democratic movement. Plus, these protests received sympathetic coverage from the corporate media of both Brazil and the United States.
The next step was to cite corruption and begin the process for a constitutional coup in the form of impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff. Corruption, of course, is a reliable weapon in this arsenal because there is always some corruption in government which can be exaggerated or ignored as political interests dictate.
Allegations of corruption also can be useful in dirtying up popular politicians by making them appear to be only interested in lining their pockets, a particularly effective line of attack against leaders who appear to be working to benefit the people. Meanwhile, the corruption of U.S.-favored politicians who are lining their own pockets much more egregiously is often ignored by the same media and NGOs.
In recent years, this type of “constitutional” coup was used in Honduras to get rid of democratically elected President Zelaya. He was whisked out of Honduras through a kidnapping at gunpoint that was dressed up as a constitutional obligation mandated by a court after Zelaya announced a plebiscite to determine whether Hondurans wanted to draft a new constitution.
The hostile political establishment in Honduras falsely translated his announcement into an unconstitutional intention to seek reelection, i.e., the abuse-of-power ruse. The ability to stand for a second term would be considered in the constitutional discussions, but was never announced as an intention by Zelaya.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court declared the President’s plebiscite unconstitutional and the military kidnapped Zelaya. The Supreme Court charged Zelaya with treason and declared a new president: a coup in constitutional disguise, one that was condemned by many Latin American nations but was embraced by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This coup pattern reoccurred in Paraguay when right-wing Frederico Franco took the presidency from democratically elected, left-leaning Fernando Lugo in what has been called a parliamentary coup. As in Honduras, the coup was made to look like a constitutional transition. In the Paraguay case, the right-wing opposition opportunistically capitalized on a skirmish over disputed land that left at least 11 people dead to unfairly blame the deaths on President Lugo. It then impeached him after giving him only 24 hours to prepare his defense and only two hours to deliver it.
Brazil is manifesting what could be the third example of this sort of coup in Latin America during the Obama administration.
Operation Lava Jato began in Brazil in March of 2014 as a judicial and police investigation into government corruption. Lava Jato is usually translated as “Car Wash” but, apparently, is better captured as “speed laundering” with the connotation of corruption and money laundering.
Operation Lava Jato began as the uncovering of political bribery and misuse of money, revolving around Brazil’s massive oil company Petrobras. The dirt – or political influence-buying – that needed washing stuck to all major political parties in a corrupt system, according to Alfredo Saad Filho, Professor of Political Economy at the SAOS University of London.
But Brazil’s political Right hijacked the investigation and turned a legitimate judicial investigation into a political coup attempt.
According to Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Professor of Sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal and Distinguished Legal Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, although Operation Lava Jato “involves the leaders of various parties, the fact is that Operation Lava Jato – and its media accomplices – have shown to be majorly inclined towards implicating the leaders of PT (the Workers’ Party), with the by now unmistakable purpose of bringing about the political assassination of President Dilma Rousseff and former President Lula da Silva.”
De Sousa Santos called the political repurposing of the judicial investigation “glaringly” and “crassly selective,” and he indicts the entire operation in its refitted form as “blatantly illegal and unconstitutional.” Alfredo Saad Filho said the goal is to “inflict maximum damage” on the PT “while shielding other parties.”
The ultimate goal of the coup in democratic disguise is to neutralize Lula da Silva. Criminal charges — which Filho describes as “stretched” — have been brought against Lula da Silva. On March 4, he was detained for questioning. President Rousseff then appointed Lula da Silva as her Chief of Staff, a move which the opposition represented as an attempt to use ministerial status to protect him from prosecution by any body other than the Supreme Court.
But Filho says this representation is based on an illegally recorded and illegally released conversation between Rousseff and Lula da Silva. The conversation, Filho says, was then “misinterpreted” to allow it to be “presented as ‘proof’ of a conspiracy to protect Lula.” De Sousa Santos added that “President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet has decided to include Lula da Silva among its ministers. It is its right to do so and no institution, least of all the judiciary, has the power to prevent it.”
No “presidential crime warranting an impeachment has emerged,” according to Filho.
As in Honduras and Paraguay, an opposition that despairs of its ability to remove the elected government through democratic instruments has turned to undemocratic means that it hopes to disguise as judicial and constitutional. In the case of Brazil, Professor de Sousa Santos calls this coup in democratic disguise a “political-judicial coup.”
In both Honduras and Paraguay, the U.S. government, though publicly insisting that it wasn’t involved, privately knew the machinations were coups. Less than a month after the Honduran coup, the White House, State Department and many others were in receipt of a frank cable from the U.S. embassy in Honduras calling the coup a coup.
Entitled “Open and Shut: the Case of the Honduran Coup,” the embassy said, “There is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” The cable added, “none of the . . . arguments [of the coup defenders] has any substantive validity under the Honduran constitution.”
As for Paraguay, U.S. embassy cables said Lugo’s political opposition had as its goal to “Capitalize on any Lugo missteps” and “impeach Lugo and assure their own political supremacy.” The cable noted that to achieve their goal, they are willing to “legally” impeach Lugo “even if on spurious grounds.”
Professor de Sousa Santos said U.S. imperialism has returned to its Latin American “backyard” in the form of NGO development projects, “organizations whose gestures in defense of democracy are just a front for covert, aggressive attacks and provocations directed at progressive governments.”
He said the U.S. goal is “replacing progressive governments with conservative governments while maintaining the democratic façade.” He claimed that Brazil is awash in financing from American sources, including “CIA-related organizations.” (The National Endowment for Democracy was created in 1983, in part to do somewhat openly what the CIA had previously done covertly, i.e., finance political movements that bent to Washington’s will.)
History will tell whether Brazil’s silent coup will succeed. History may also reveal what the U.S. government’s knowledge and involvement may be.
The United States government could potentially spend up to US$30 million on “democracy development” programs in Cuba in 2016, according to bills waiting for approval at U.S. Congress.
Two draft bills related to U.S. State Department’s budget for foreign spending were approved by the Appropriation Committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The draft bill approved by the House Committee on Appropriations states that the National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, the State Department and the Agency for International Development would share US$30 million in Cuba democracy funds.
Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘Economic Support Fund, “$30,000,000 shall be made available to promote democracy and strengthen civil society in Cuba,” the draft bill said. It was approved by the House’s committee in June 2015.
It added that such funds could not be used “for business promotion, economic reform, entrepreneurship, or any other assistance that is not democracy-building.”
Meanwhile, the draft bill approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations said that US$20 million should be used for Cuba democracy programs, including up to $5 million for “private Cuban entrepreneurs.” This draft was approved by the committee in July last year.
The Senate version of the bill also authorizes US$50.5 million “for programs to promote Internet freedom globally,” and says a portion of the funds would likely be used “to support Internet freedom in Cuba.”
Neither bill has been approved by any of the corresponding government bodies yet.
Over the years, programs such as the NED or the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have received mounting criticism over meddling in other nations political spheres in order to promote U.S. interests, unlike their claim of promoting democracy and aid.
Both programs are funded by the U.S. congress.
Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for the U.S. presidency twice, has argued against such programs. In 2005, he stated that NED has “very little to do with democracy. It is an organization that uses U.S. tax money to actually subvert democracy, by showering funding on favored political parties or movements overseas.”
The NED has been banned in various countries over meddling claims.
The National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, is an organization that presents itself as an NGO officially dedicated to “the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world”. But in reality it gets 95% of its budget from the United States Congress. It was officially created by the Reagan administration in 1982.
The nature of the NED has led many contemporary intellectuals and researchers to describe it as an agency enabling the secret services of the US to overthrow governments that the US State Department dislikes.
This description was supported by the testimony of Oliviet Guilmain, a researcher at the CECE (Centre for the Comparative Study of Elections), during an information session at the French Senate concerning financing of the electoral process. It is known that the NED finances opposition parties in numerous countries and provides special aid to exiles and opponents of regimes targeted by the US State Department.
In the case of Syria, NED’s main organization is the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. It is also a partner of the International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) which received $140,000 following a meeting in December 2009 between Carl Gershman and self-styled French human rights organizations. NED’s French contact was François Zimeray, who was former Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s Ambassador for Human Rights. Those present during that meeting included the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD), the African section of AEDH (Act Together for Human Rights), Reporters Without Borders, SOS Racisme and the FIDH.
The International Federation of Human Rights is thus an official partner of the NED, as is also shown by its support for the allegations made by the ex-secretary general of the Libyan Human Rights League – also attached to the FIDH – against the government of Moammer Kadhafi. Those allegations, also supported by the NGO “U.N Watch”, were what set off the diplomatic procedures against the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.
In the case of Syria, Dr. Radwan Ziadeh is the director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. His highly impressive biography makes clear his engagement is in favor of US foreign policy in the Middle East. In particular, he is a member of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Washington. He was present alongside Aly Abuzakuuk – one of the NED representatives in Libya – for the Round Table of the Democracy Awards, which is an event that honors so-called “human rights activists” by the NED.
Moreover, there are strong similarities between the process that created the Humanitarian War in Libya and what is being elaborated in regard to Syria. For example, UN Watch, an organization that coordinates the operations of the NED and the FIDH in Geneva, has already launched several petitions against the Syrian regime and Bachar Al-Assad. These petitions against Syria make the same allegations of massacres as those put forth by the ex-secretary of the Libyan Human Rights League, Sliman Bouchuiguir, at the UN Human Rights Council against Libya.
It is therefore an urgent matter to denounce these procedures. It is all the more important since recent history shows us that these allegations were not verified in the case of Libya. Nor was there any proof based on any solid evidence about the allegations made against Tripoli, contrary to the claims of the International Criminal Court.
Julien Teil is a videographer and investigative documentary film maker from France.
Copyright © Julien Teil, La Guerre Hunanitaire
Caracas – US Democrat presidential frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Venezuela’s leftist president Nicolas Maduro of attempting to “rig” the upcoming National Assembly elections.
Speaking at the Atlanta Council conference “Politics, Government and Women in Latin America: Better than you think?” this past Monday, Clinton beseeched hemispheric leaders to “raise their voices” on behalf of the Venezuelan people this Sunday, when they will elect their representatives to the country’s National Assembly.
“To date, (the Maduro administration) has been doing all it can to rig the elections: jailing political opponents, blocking with trumped up charges, stoking political tensions.”
“The people of Venezuela need to know that their friends and neighbours in the Americas are rallying to their cause and defence. They are not alone,” she stated.
Clinton’s comments come less than two weeks after it was revealed that the State Department’s embassy in Caracas had collaborated with the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on executives at Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.
Presidential elections are not due in Venezuela until 2019, but the upcoming elections to choose the country’s representatives to parliament could potentially increase the influence of the Venezuelan opposition coalition, the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD), on national policy– especially if it garners two-thirds of parliamentary seats.
While the ruling socialist party has consistently won the majority of national elections over the past fifteen years, 2015’s parliamentary elections are taking place in the midst of a spiralling economic crisis. Some observers predict that general discontent amongst the population could translate to political gains for the opposition.
In her speech, Clinton appeared to strongly back an opposition win this Sunday, and rejected the possibility that the government could win the majority of the National Assembly fairly.
Nonetheless, the presidential hopeful did not take advantage of her time on the podium to elaborate on the basis for her accusations. She also made no reference to the country’s National Electoral Council (CNE), which is responsible for monitoring electoral contests in the country, nor the international electoral observation mission headed by UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) that will also accompany Sunday’s vote.
In other comments, Clinton waded into the contentious murder of opposition parliamentary candidate Luis Manuel Diaz who was shot at a political event last week.
Opposition spokespeople immediately moved to blame the death on Chavista groups, but information since released by authorities suggests that the murder was related to turf wars and unsettled scores between rival organised criminal groups.
Diaz himself had spent three years in prison awaiting trial for his connection to a double homicide and had received a series of death threats since he was temporarily released.
“I am outraged by the cold-blooded assassination of Luis Manuel Diaz on stage at a rally last week,” stated Clinton.
Voices in the Region
In what seemed to be a thinly veiled vote of confidence in the newly elected Argentine president, millionaire former businessman Mauricio Macri, Clinton added that she welcomed “voices across the region that have started to speak up for democratic values, but we need much more”.
Since his election last Sunday, Macri has pledged to have Venezuela suspended from the regional organisation MERCOSUR (the Common Market of the South), but has failed to gain the backing of other leaders on the continent.
As former Secretary of State for the Obama administration between 2009-2013, Clinton’s tenure coincided with an increase in funding for political opposition groups in Venezuela from institutions such as the National Endowment for Democracy– which in return receives an annual appropriation from US Congress through the State Department.
On Monday she vowed that the US would “show leadership and lead in the region more broadly” if she were to become president in 2016.
The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has recognized George Soros’s Open Society Institute and another affiliated organization as undesirable groups, banning Russian citizens and organizations from participation in any of their projects.
In a statement released on Monday, prosecutors said the activities of the Open Society Institute and the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation were a threat to the foundations of Russia’s Constitutional order and national security. They added that the Justice Ministry would be duly informed about these conclusions and would add the two groups to Russia’s list of undesirable foreign organizations.
Prosecutors launched a probe into the activities of the two organizations – both sponsored by the well-known US financier George Soros – in July this year, after Russian senators approved the so-called “patriotic stop-list” of 12 groups that required immediate attention over their supposed anti-Russian activities. Other groups on the list included the National Endowment for Democracy; the International Republican Institute; the National Democratic Institute; the MacArthur Foundation and Freedom House.
In late July, the Russian Justice Ministry recognized the US National Endowment for Democracy as an undesirable group after prosecutors discovered the US NGO had spent millions on attempts to question the legitimacy of Russian elections and tarnish the prestige of national military service.
The Law on Undesirable Foreign Organizations came into force in early June this year. It requires the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Foreign Ministry to draw up an official list of undesirable foreign organizations and outlaw their activities. Once a group is recognized as undesirable, its assets in Russia must be frozen, its offices closed and the distribution of any of its materials must be banned.
If the ban is violated, the personnel of the outlawed group and any Russian citizens who cooperate with them could face heavy fines, or even prison terms in the case of repeated or aggravated offences.
The Soros Foundation started working in Russia in the mid-1990s, but wrapped up its active operations in 2003.