Why They Hate Our Kind Hearts, Too
In recent years, nations have challenged the activities and very existence
of non-governmental organizations. Russia, Zimbabwe, and Eritrea have enacted
new measures requiring registration; "Open Society Institute" affiliates
have been shut down in Eastern Europe; and Venezuela has charged the Súmate
NGO leaders with treason. In Iraq and Afghanistan, staff of Western charitable
NGOs (CARE and Doctors Without Borders) have been assassinated.
What are these organizations, and who or what is behind them?
They are heirs of the missionaries, who did many good deeds, bringing sewing
machines to Bulgaria, ideas of women's liberation to Chinese footbinders, and
life-saving medicines to the less industrialized world. Yet the missionaries
also served as scouts for corporations and colonizers, tying knots with the
most ambitious local people, especially those adept at bilingualism.
Missionaries are still operating today, but the field has become more intensely
populated and diverse. Today's NGOs are elephantine, serpentine, and Byzantine.
They may be international organizations, their local affiliates, or seemingly
spontaneous grassroots groups.
Most funding and direction come from the wealthy nations. Often the donors
form a conglomerate creating mutual responsibility and considerable ambiguity.
CIVICUS, a partnership to promote "civil society" worldwide, is funded
by, among others, American Express Foundation, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation,
Carnegie Corporation, Canadian International Development Agency, Ford Foundation,
Harvard University, Oxfam, and United Nations Development Programme.
If the source is confusing, the message is usually clear: "democratization"
strives for civil rights and elections, but it also must include an open door
to foreign capital, labor contracts, resource extraction, and military training.
These networks also define "civil society" to include rock concerts
and street mobs, but not government-provided maternal health clinics, child
care, or senior services.
Affluent nations' government agencies are important NGO funders. The most notorious
is the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED; ostensibly a nongovernmental
foundation), created by Congress in 1983 to do openly what had been CIA cold
war covert activities. When these operations were revealed in 1967, there was
shock, not so much because the US was covertly funding foreign political and
labor groups, but because organizations such as the National Education Association,
American Newspaper Guild, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal
Employees, and the National Student Association were secretly used as pass-throughs,
and all but the top officers were unwitting. Actual and phony foundations also
distributed CIA funds.
NED changed this-but not very much. It distributes grants both directly and
through other organizations, now overtly. Its "core grantees" are
the Center for International Private Enterprise (of the US Chamber of Commerce),
the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (of the AFL-CIO), and,
affiliated with the parties, the National Democratic Institute for International
Affairs and the International Republican Institute. Some private foundations
chip in, for example, Smith Richardson and Mellon-Scaife. The Mott Foundation
gave the NDI $150,000 in 1998 "to increase public confidence in democratization
and the transition to a market economy in Ukraine." Foundations also directly
co-fund NED's ultimate grantees. Thus, the Lilly Endowment supports the Institute
for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, headed by Hernando de Soto, which offers
free-market remedies for poverty.
Other capitalist democracies now have government foundations similar to NED,
and they work collaboratively, e.g., the Canadian Rights and Democracy and the
British Westminster Foundation for Democracy. Additional US agencies have joined
NED and the CIA in this work, notably, the Agency for International Development
(USAID) and United States Information Agency (USIA), which support and create
foreign NGOs and media.
Germany, France, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, and Sweden fund their political
parties' foundations. The European members of the Socialist International's
fund, the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, distributes "democratization"
The European Union has worldwide grant programs for sustainable development
and democratization. NATO grant programs support environmental organizations,
among others. United Nations agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, UNESCO, UNDP, and
FAO have long operated this way, and the World Bank funds, sponsors, guides,
and coordinates grassroots poor people's organizations.
NGOs in prosperous nations have extensive grant programs overseas. These include
not only the obviously international ones, e.g., Rotary, American Friends Service
Committee, and Oxfam; but also labor organizations such as the American Federation
of Teachers Educational Foundation. Corporate foundations are active throughout
the world, and sometimes have separate funds directed by employees, for example,
the Boeing Employees Fund, which supports charities in Japan and England.
Why would these philanthropic efforts offend anyone? Why do they hate our kind
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
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
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 OneWorld.net, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and others. A networking resource,
Ngo.net, is administered by Freedom House and funded by the USAID.
The peak of international NGOs, the World Social Forum, meets at the same time
as the World Economic Forum, only far away. The WSF's general funding is rarely
scrutinized by the participants, whose travel expenses come from similar sources.
An exception is a report by the Research
Unit on Political Economy-India, which explains why foundation funding was
refused for the 2004 WSF in Mumbai, and discusses critically the activities
of the Ford Foundation in India.
It is news when any NGO nibbles at the hand that feeds it, as did a Pakistani
theater group last November. Invited to a women's theater festival in India,
they were sent home because the organizers deemed their contribution too anti-US
for a Ford Foundation-sponsored event.
As all generalizations have exceptions, let it be noted that some NGOs are
impeccable, and even peccable ones often have humanitarian staff and directors.
A recent attempt by dissidents seeking international donors to "democracy
promotion" in the US, the International
Endowment for Democracy, could give an effective jolt. Yet it may be that
democracy, justice, or equality are not readily attainable by such means. For
several centuries NGOs have been providing "disaster aid" for societies
being "marketized." What can we learn from this history?
Joan Roelofs is a professor emerita of political science
in Keene, NH. More information on this subject may be found in her Foundations
and Public Policy: the Mask of Pluralism. Other books are Greening
Cities: Building Just and Sustainable Communities, and a just-published
translation of Victor Considerant's Principes
du socialisme: Manifeste de la démocratie au XIX siècle. Email: