Something smells funny about the recent denunciation of maverick Peruvian
presidential candidate Ollanta Humala for alleged human rights violations. Before
the accusations, Humala was riding high as the leading candidate in Peru’s
presidential elections. Investigations illustrate that Humala’s accusers
are subsidized by the US Government funded Agency for International Development
(USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Washington may be interfering
in this election to protect its own interests.
The former army officer heads a nationalist and anti-neoliberal coalition between
his new Peruvian Nationalist Party and the ten-year-old center-left Union for
Peru party. Humala, a mestizo, was never part of Lima’s white ruling elite
which has traditionally run the major institutions of the country. He is often
derided for being an upstart "cholo" (indigenous), which sheds light
on the colonial racism still inherent within Peruvian society. So much of Humala’s
support comes from the impoverished non-white majority who has suffered from
the "neoliberal reforms" of the unpopular sitting president Alejandro
Humala has met with Evo Morales, Bolivia’s recently-elected indigenous
president. Like Morales, Humala supports the commercialization and expanded
international marketing of coca leaf products while at the same time being strongly
against the cocaine trade. He also favors greater control by Peru over the exploitation
of its natural resources. In the case of its large natural gas fields, he would
demand that the government receive at least 49 percent of the profits and has
made similar proposals for Peru’s mining industry. He has also promised
to hold a national referendum on the recently-signed free trade deal with the
United States, which is widely believed to favor U.S. corporate interests over
those of Peru.
This type of talk has not only scared Peruvian elites and multinational business
interests, but has also drawn the ire of influential policy wonks of the neoliberal
"Washington Consensus," who fear of another country going to a left-talking
"anti-imperialist" populist candidate—especially after the spectacular
December victory of Morales in neighboring Bolivia. Yet unlike Bolivia’s
Morales, Humala is a relative newcomer to politics, which has lead some people
to fear that if elected he could turn out to be a disappointment in the mold
of Ecuador’s discredited Lucio Gutiérrez, another army officer
who sold himself as a populist during elections. Regardless, even "liberals"
and academics have joined the right-wing chorus in Washington of professing
a preference for an electoral victory by right-wing candidate Lourdes Flores
Nano over Humala. Washington was unified. Humala had to go.
Humala has also met with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez. Both
were military officers who led failed military uprisings against their respective
presidents – Chávez in 1992 and Humala in 2000. But unlike Chavez’s
Venezuela, Peru has no major oil deposits.
On Feb. 15, Humala was accused of a series of war crimes. The charges included
forced disappearance, torture and attempted murder that are alleged to have
taken place when he commanded a jungle counterinsurgency base in 1992 at the
height of the bloody civil war with the extremist Maoist Shining Path and Guevarist
MRTA that engulfed Peru through much of the 1980s and 1990s. It is a charge
that Humala vehemently denies, but it is a charge that has stuck and rapidly
knocked him down to second place in the polls.
The "non-governmental organization" (NGO) that led the charge against
Humala was the National Coordinator for Human Rights, the umbrella organization
for several human rights groups commonly known as the "Coordinadora."
Whether or not the Coordinadora’s charges are true or fabricated, nobody
in the press has investigated its history or who backs it. Is the Coordinadora
merely a disinterested and neutral human rights organization doing its job,
or was this denunciation the result of another more nefarious hidden agenda?
To anyone following Latin America recently, it should come as no surprise
that the accuser, the Coordinadora is an "NGO" that has been funded
by the U.S. government for years.
Although it is not mentioned in the Coordinadora’s "official history"
written by the Washington, D.C. based nonprofit called the Washington Office
on Latin America, it has been funded by both the Agency for International Development
(USAID) and the smaller National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on and off for
more than a decade. While both USAID and NED are civilian entities, they are
largely controlled by the State Department and are indispensable instruments
of U.S. foreign policy.
Does U.S. funding of a foreign "NGOs" affect their behavior?
Andrew Natsios, USAID’s former head, stated unequivocally in a widely
distributed 2003 speech that even foreign USAID-funded contractors and NGO’s
"are an arm of the U.S. government." And the role of the much smaller
NED was made clear when Allen Weinstein, one of its founders stated in a 1991
Washington Post article that, "a lot of what we do today was done covertly
25 years ago by the CIA."
During some of the years that USAID funded the Coordinadora, the money passed
through the USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Lima. USAID’s
OTI offices – just as their name indicates – are devoted to "political
transitions" and are temporarily located only in countries where the U.S.
government has an interest in either "regime change" or in politically
and economically shoring up its allies.
OTI offices exist or have existed in several Latin American and the Caribbean
countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Haiti. Not surprisingly,
the biggest OTI office worldwide is in Iraq. In both Venezuela and Haiti over
the last few years, USAID’s OTI has contributed far more money to "NGOs"
working for the U.S.’s political and economic interests than the more
notorious yet much smaller meddler, the NED.
According to an email from the USAID’s press officer, USAID has given
the Coordinadora some $762,750.00. But Francisco Soberón, the Coordinadora’s
director, told Upside Down World that such grants have "happened in the
past—but right now for us at the Coordinadora there is nothing at all."
But he later said that "some [of the] other organizations that are members
of the Coordinadora have received or are presently receiving" funding.
One of these, APRODEH, received at least $53,246.39 from USAID. One-year-old
Freedom of Information Act requests to USAID to determine the exact amounts
of all of the grants have not yet been answered.
Soberón denied that the Coordinadora has received funding from NED,
but the NED’s own website lists it under their list of grantees and former
grantees. However, there is no indication of how much it received or when. At
the time of this writing, telephone requests to NED’s press officer Jane
Riley Richardson for information on the exact amount of funding have not been
answered. Neither have a series of FOIA requests to NED been responded to. However,
if Venezuela and Haiti are any guides, NED funding of the Coordinadora has probably
been considerably less than that of USAID.
What has been the Coordinadora’s role vis a vis the U.S. Embassy? According
to a declassified State Department response to the Freedom of Information Act,
as early as 1993, Coordinadora officers were debriefing the U.S. embassy in
Lima about their trips to the conflictive areas of Peru where insurgents were
still active. Given the U.S. government’s assistance to the Peruvian government
during the counterinsurgency war, such debriefings could have been considered
Is the U.S. getting anything out of this funding? The Coordinadora’s
Soberón responds with an emphatic "no," adding that "we
do not accept conditions from anyone." But with the denunciation of Humala
and his resultant drop in the polls, it looks like the U.S. may have gotten
a lot for its money.
*Photo of Ollanta Humala was taken by José Cruz/ABr, of Agencia
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