Friday, March 19, 2010

A critique of NGO’s role in Empire : Michel Bauwens

An excerpt from a cogent questioning of NGO’s role by Joan Roelofs.
“Why would these philanthropic efforts offend anyone? Why do they hate our kind hearts?
In the first place, these public-private philanthropies have worked together to fund and direct overthrow movements. We had a “Subversive Activities Control Board” here, but export was encouraged. The grantees’ activities included destabilization, the creation of mobs preventing elected governments from ruling, chaos, and violence. Among those funded were the Civic Forum in Czechoslovakia, Solidarity in Poland, Union of Democratic Forces in Bulgaria, Otpor in Serbia, and, more recently, similar groups in the succession states of the USSR. Sometimes mobs (especially of young people) have been moved around from one country to another to give the impression of vast popular opposition. The NED, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, and the Soros philanthropies have been particularly active in these operations. Human Rights Watch (formerly Helsinki Watch) has nurtured opposition groups. Reformers seeking social democracy or democratic socialism were excluded; such systems might oppress the “vulture capitalists.”
It is hard to know how much native support existed for the Western-funded revolutions, as media and information (especially if we can’t read Mongolian, Bulgarian, or Uzbeki) are produced by the same conglomerates. Of course, all revolutions are made by minorities, often with assistance of foreign allies. However, by today’s standards as embodied in the UN Charter, subverting with the intention of overthrowing foreign governments is a grave violation of international law. Many were shocked by the NED activities complementing other instruments of intervention that helped to destroy the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Yet the 1990 election was judged by the NGO observers to be a free one; neither threats of physical annihilation nor millions of foreign dollars violated the purity of that process. “Cold-war liberal” policymakers have advocated covert actions as a peaceful alternative to invasion, but it isn’t as if military action has faded away; they work together.
Such attempts are ongoing. The Venezuelan indictment is just one indication of a larger NED-NGO operation. Plans for annihilating the Cuban revolution, via “independent libraries,” “Red Feminista Cubana,” and other created organizations, are clearly spelled out on the NED web site.
NGOs are also used to disrupt revolutionary or even reformist movements that might interfere with neo-liberal goals, hampering the ability of corporations to go anywhere and do anything. Thus, as James Petras has reported, radical social groups and their leaders are co-opted into NGOs dedicated to worthy, ameliorative projects that are no threat to Western interests. Instead of broad movements challenging systemic causes of oppression, activists are recruited into discrete, well-funded “identity” politics and single-issue organizations, and poverty is just another minority status.
In India and South Africa, the very poor have been organized into Slum Dwellers and Shack Dwellers Associations, which meet with the World Bank people to discuss what is to be done. Protesters against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) were channeled into groups that were invited and funded to attend the meetings preparing this treaty. Those concerned with the devastation of oil, lumber, and mineral extraction throughout the world can utilize the “participatory mechanisms” of the Earth Council, one of whose board members is Klaus Schwab, director of the World Economic Forum. Conferences for the protesters “parallel” to the globalization elite’s are supported by that same elite. These do create fruitful interaction among dissidents; yet they may also function as a diversionary tactic. We won’t know unless these possibilities are investigated.
Amelioration is important to keep those societies newly “marketized” on a steady course despite crushing poverty. In Mongolia (as elsewhere), “shock therapy,” decimating both employment and social services, has resulted in street children, child prostitution, and increasing maternal mortality, none of which occurred in its “undeveloped” or communist phases. However, the rock concerts and street mobs have attained freedom. Enter PACT (originally, Private Agencies Collaborating Together; funders now include the Ford Foundation, US AID, Mercy Corps International, the Nature Conservancy, the World Bank, Citigroup, Chevron, Levi Strauss, and Microsoft), which provides some substitutes for the former socialist institutions, while desperation drives Mongolia’s leaders to welcome foreign garment industries and copper and gold extraction.
For many nations far from the North Atlantic, NATO seems to promise economic security. This inclination has been abetted by the creation, through NATO’s grant programs, of NGOs to foster the NATO spirit, and in Bulgaria, a charitable NGO to provide employment for their former military officers, who wouldn’t fit in. NATO also supplies research funds for universities in Eastern Europe, which now have little government funding, and is attempting to expand its charities throughout North Africa and the Middle East.
Prominent insiders, who sit high in the democracy-promotion turrets of the foundation-NGO international world, have problems with the system, although they may ignore or applaud the overthrow operations. What concerns them is the feudal relationship existing between the wealthy Western institutional patrons and the clients in poorer lands, and the NGOs lack of a genuine local constituency. Thomas Carothers, of the Carnegie Endowment, has written: “Transnational civil society is . . . very much part of the same projection of Western political and economic power that civil society activists decry in other venues.”
Others are concerned about the “brain drain” drawing the scarce educated people away from government service or authentic grassroots organizations, neither of which can offer comparable pay or perks. They protest the imposition of a foreign culture that denigrates indigenous knowledge, and paradoxically, programs such as microcredit in South Asia that reinforce the more oppressive patriarchical aspects of traditional cultures.
NGO staff members have been accused of being spies. Whether or not this is the case, the system allows access to remote native cultures, where the lay of the land and sociograms of local influentials can be charted for any purpose. This type of missionary penetration, attained through Bible translation in the Amazon River basin, has been recounted in Thy Will Be Done, by Colby and Dennett.
NGOs are now extensively occupied in the relief of disasters, whether natural or man-made, and the US military (with its “coalition”) is deeply involved in both the comforting and the afflicting. To receive US funds, humanitarian organizations must support US foreign policy. Consequently, some, such as Oxfam UK, have withdrawn their workers from Iraq. Those remaining are often regarded as collaborators, which is not surprising, as many international NGOs have been handmaids to subversion, overthrow, and occupation. Some have even supported “humanitarian” bombing, especially in the case of Yugoslavia.
It is hard to assess accurately NGOs’ complicity because there are few incentives for critical studies by journalists or academics, and anti-capitalist activists are often knotted up in some way. Information about NGOs mostly comes from the same funding sources, such as “Transitions on Line” of the Soros enterprises, or, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and others. A networking resource,, is administered by Freedom House and funded by the USAID.”

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