The CIA’s influence in Latin America is not a “leftist rant”, it is ever-present and ignoring it represents a real menace for national sovereignty and the continuity of progressive governments in the region. In 2018, one of its offshoots, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) channelled over US$23 million to meddle in the internal affairs of key Latin American countries, under the flagship of “human rights”, “democracy” and “entrepreneurship.”
A trip through memory lane of NED’s history
After World War II, the United States assumed its self-proclaimed role to fight communism in a new found bipolar world. The wartime Office of Strategic Services morphed into the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947, and the rest is history as an interventionist policy went into full force, especially in Latin America.
Covert operations, ousting democratically elected governments, inciting revolts and supporting transnational companies were the run of the mill actions, all justified as part of the fight against communist influence in the region. This intensified as the Cuban Revolution shook the world in 1959, inspiring new revolutions in the global south.
When it was revealed in the late 1960s that some U.S. private voluntary organizations (PVO) were receiving covert funding from the CIA to intervene in foreign nations, the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration concluded that such funding should cease, recommending the establishment of “a public-private mechanism” to fund overseas activities openly.
Congressman Dante Fascell (D, FL), a later co-founder of NED, introduced a bill in April 1967 to create the Institute of International Affairs, an initiative that would authorize overt funding for what the U.S. referred to as exporting “democracy”, but it didn’t go through. However, the 1970s would force a change inside the CIA, and subsequently the world.
In 1974, former CIA specialist and whistleblower, Victor Marchetti, published a book revealing all sorts of secrets and clandestine operations made by the agency. In the same year, New York Times journalist, Seymour Hersh, reported a series of stories regarding mass internal surveillance made by the CIA. And one year later, former agent Phillip Agee, would add to the controversy with a book dealing with his work intervening and influencing Latin American politics.
The public outcry resulted in the Rockefeller Commission, the Pike “Report,” and the Church Committee, all investigated the CIA’s work. “We should not have to do this kind of work covertly,” said current NED President Carl Gershman in 1986, adding that “it would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA. We saw that in the 60s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.”
The Agency had to reform in order to continue its interventionist agenda. So in 1982, in a major foreign policy address delivered at Westminster Palace before the British Parliament, President Ronald Reagan announced the creation of a U.S. entity that would foster liberal ideology, market economy (neoliberalism), and U.S.-styled “democracy”.
With money from the Agency of International Development (USAID), a government program recommended the establishment of a bipartisan, non-profit corporation to be known as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). By 1983, the new organization was created, and the CIA had a new way to channel funds for countries who did not agree with U.S policy.
“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” said NED cofounder Allen Weinstein in 1991.
As major party ideologies were less attractive in the 1980s, the fall of the Soviet bloc would mark the perfect opportunity and conditions for NED’s work. Civil society became a new political actor, through non-government organizations (NGO), and as in wartime, these would become “trojan horses” for the CIA by accepting money to influence political parties, unions, dissident movements, and media in dozens of countries.
In order to do this, NED houses four organizations that materialize the work. The first is the U.S. labor-affiliated American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), now Solidarity Center, in charge of infiltrating and influencing worker’s unions. The second, backed by the U.S Chamber of Commerce is the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), in charge of asserting power over business and industrial moguls.
Last but not least, the Democratic Party’s National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the Republican Party’s International Republican Institute (IRI), both in charge of colluding with left and right local parties and movements, respectively. All getting their funding from the same purse.
Infamous figures such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Wolfowitz, Madeline Albright, among others have been board directors; and even now the main voice leading regime change in Venezuela, Elliot Abrams is listed as an “on leave” board director.
There are countless strategies that NED uses to meddle in countries: supplying funds, technical know-how, training, educational materials, gifts, conferences, oversee trips, office materials, you name it. These are channeled directly by NED or third parties to selected political groups, NGOs, labor unions, dissident movements, student groups, publishers, and what they refer to “independent” media.
These programs aim to exert influence directly inside a country by pushing a certain economic/political agenda, intervening in electoral processes and mass media. Or indirectly by lobbying civil society into believing that free-market ideology and neoliberalism jargon is the path towards democracy and human rights.
And they’ve done it for the past 36 years. So 2018 NED’s grant report is not a surprise but a chance to see who’s who in the CIA “nice list”.
Leopoldo Lopez’ wife Lilian Tintori receives an award from NED, in the picture also congressman Eliot Engel (D), chairman of the House committee on foreign policy legislation and oversight
In 2018, US$2.4 million were destined for Venezuela. However, it is the only country in the region in which the recipients are not published. The programs are described under civic education, human rights observatories, and vague liberal keywords such as empowerment, freedom, democracy and democratic values.
Yet journalists, Max Blumenthal and Dan Cohen wrote in January 2019 an extensive investigative piece that explained how opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido, who has declared himself interim president in Venezuela with teh support of teh U.S. and its allies, is a product of NED’s funding.
On October 5, 2005, five Venezuelan “student leaders” arrived in Serbia to begin training for an insurrection, courtesy of the NED-funded Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (Canvas). According to leaked internal emails from intelligence firm Stratfor, Canvas “may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”
It was two years later, in 2007, when Guaido graduated from University that he moved to Washington, DC to enroll in the Governance and Political Management Program at George Washington University, under the tutelage of neoliberal Venezuelan economist Luis Enrique Berrizbeitia. The “Generation 2007” class was created, with others such as Yon Goicoechea and David Smolansky.
The funding started pouring in.
In a 2010 report by the Spanish think tank, Fride Institute, with funding from the World Movement for Democracy (a NED project), disclosed that the Venezuelan opposition was receiving funding of whopping US$40 to 50 million annually, which shows that NED funding is just one of the strategies to funnel clandestine ops.
By 2014, the same “student leaders” would create the guarimbas, a student-led anti-government movement that has been accused of violence, to exacerbate chaos and a few years later Guaido would become the latest pawn in the U.S. interventionist plot in Venezuela.
Cuban Democratic Director Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat with far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his son. Photo: Print screen from Cuban Democratic Directorate.
The premise is very similar in Cuba. In 2018, US$4.7 million were diverted to anti-Cuban movements and NGOs.
In the case of the island, there are mainly NGO’s based in the U.S. under the 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization statute, who have strategically devised their plan to influence local media, international perceptions, and labor unions.
With regards to labor union infiltration, the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba is dedicated to promoting free trade unionism in a bid to undermine the Workers Union of Cuba (CTC). However, it is as a recurrent strategy for Latin America to have media on their payroll, for this country: CubaNET, Diario de Cuba, HyperMedia, Cartel Urbano, all presenting themselves as “independent” outlets are financed by the U.S. government.
There are also institutes and think tanks such as the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, the Latin American Cultural Union (LACU), Center for a Free Cuba, Cuban Institue for Freedom of the Press and Expression, Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos, Free Society Project, Inc., and the Cuban Democratic Directorate. The latter self-describes as an NGO that “supports the human rights movement in Cuba” yet proudly displays on their website’s homepage a picture of their Director Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat with far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his son.
Another approach is funding organizations to influence international perception. In this category stands out the international Press and Society Institute, Slovakian People in Peril Association, Chilean Public Space Center, International Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Christian Solidarity International, Mexican Factual Innovation and Investigation, Colombian ProBono Foundation, Uruguayan Development and Communication Institute, Colombian Sergio Arboleda University, Iberoamerican Constitutional Studies Center, Mexican Youth Association for the United Nations, and the Peruvian Freedom Institute, which openly states its liberal economic and political affiliation, gathers young middle-class Peruvian and Latin Americans to indoctrinate them in a program called “Free Citizens Academy”, and later be sent to the island.
Nicaraguan protests and Venezuelan guarimbas seem to have the same characteristics and guidelines. Photos: EFE
The list cannot be complete without the third official member of what National Security Advisor, John Bolton, dubbed the “Troika of Tyranny”, in order to justify interventions paralleled in Venezuela and Cuba. In 2018, Nicaragua got US$1.3 million. However, for this country, Washington needed to engage the funding one by one as it builds a clear network to overthrow President Daniel Ortega.
One of the biggest recipients is the Iberian-American Foundation of Cultures (Fibras) founded in 2000, and since 2006, according to their website, supporting “democratic culture”. The Foundation has received funding from NED, IRI, NDI, and USAID; money which they use to sponsor the opposition Movement for Nicaragua (MpN). Iberian-American Foundation of Cultures is based in Spain but has branches across Latin America.
Since the beginning of Ortega’s administration in 2007, the MpN has organized a multitude of protests against the government. Starting in 2018, they’ve become main actors in the nation-wide demonstrations against Ortega’s government that have rocked the country, joining others such as Let’s Do Democracy and the International Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policies (IEEPP).
In December 2018, in a criminal trial against Cristian Mendoza, alias Viper, charged with organizing violent actions within the protests, the defendant claimed that the current director of the IEEPP, Felix Maradiaga, and the director of Let’s Do Democracy, Luciano Garcia, were the main leaders of the criminal groups, in which Viper was involved, which violently took over the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua during April, May and June of that year.
The accused added that the two alleged culprits were handing out pamphlets titled “Strategy to save democracy in Nicaragua”, which contained guidelines on how to create situations of instability to overthrow the government.
These nation-wide protests, started against the government’s Social Security Reform – later withdrawn-, which aimed to distribute the financial burden between companies and workers, thus avoiding privatization of the service. However, since the start, the private sector was not pleased.
The Higher Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep) rejected the measures arguing they generated “uncertainty and limited the creation of jobs by the private sector.” In regards to NED funding, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) had the largest amount for Nicaragua, US$230,000.
The discontent pushed by the private sector was taken up by NGOs such as MpN, IEEPP and Let’s Do Democracy. The protests have similar characteristics as the guarimbas in Venezuela, which include extreme violence, homemade weapons, social media fake news strategy, systematic destruction of public and private property, and deployment of local celebrities, actions that have been described by the government and their supporters as a soft coup attempt.
Another recipient of NED funds is the Permanent Commission of Human Rights of Nicaragua (CPDH), founded in 1977, and part of a triumvirate of “human rights” organizations that were created under U.S auspice. The other two, Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH) from 1986 and the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) – linked to the offshoot Sandinista Renewal Movement -are all directly connected to the opposition far-right bishop Juan Abelardo Mata.
In the ever-present media category, the private company Invermedia received funding. This firm belongs to opposition journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro Barrios, son of former president Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. When Chamorro was elected, George H. W. Bush removed the embargo that Ronald Reagan had imposed during Sandinista rule and promised economic aid to the country.
“The End of an Era? Bolivia’s Evo Morales and the Alternation of Power” was a forum organized by NED in 2017. Photo: NED YouTube
As presidential elections loom closer, Oct. 20, the Andean country cannot be left out the list. In 2018, it received US$908,832. Approximately 47 percent of this amount was used, without a recipient, by the Republican Party International Republican Institute – in charge of funding right-wing parties – and the Center for International Private Enterprise – in charge of financing private sector chamber of commerce and production.
The rest of the grants are divided into three categories: NGOs that involve the justice system, media, and think tanks. In the first category, the NGOs MicroJustice Bolivia, Build Foundation, Observatory for Human Rights and Justice and Building Networks Bolivia can be found.
Local media, as usual, is a common grantee. Here, however, it is not self-proclaimed “independent” outlets but the Fides News Agency, Bolivia’s oldest news agency, and also the Foundation for Journalism. Finally, the outspoken critic think tank against Morales’ administration, Millenium Foundation is amongst the recipients.
These sort of organizations think tanks and media outlets can be found in all countries in the NED official list. Back in 2016, teleSUR reported on how the CIA operated in Ecuador, through NED and other organizations. Now the same recipients are still on the list, those that openly opposed former President Rafael Correa and others that disguise themselves as “human rights” NGOs. Another case is the influence in the electoral process in Haiti that can be seen in the amount of money that was destined towards that cause in that country. The same can be said for the rest of the list.
Now to dub all of them ‘agents’ would be a misconception, and more related to a Cold War era mindset. And even though the CIA continues to recruit moles and agents, their tactics have changed as the main goal is to influence and create a “common sense” without being seen as interventionists, or as XVIII-XIX century Johann von Goethe said: “the best slave is the one who thinks he is free.”