Haven’t heard of the National Endowment for Democracy? Not many people have. Yet the NED is taxpayer funded and carries out foreign policy with no meaningful public oversight or transparency. In fact, it does more to undermine democracy than not. 


The NED… 


* …spent more than $20 per voter in Nicaragua in 1990–more than had been spent by both candidates in the 1988 US Presidential election! 

* …funded and set up meetings between organizations involved in the 2002 attempts to overthrow the elected government of Venezuela. 

* …funds far right parties in Eastern Europe, even working with convicted Nazi collaborators like Lazslo Pasztor, of the NED funded Free Congress Foundation. 

* …funded, created, and trained jost of the groups involved in the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, through its core institute, the International Republican Institute, chaired by John McCain. This led to the bloodiest year in Haiti in modern history. 

* …spends aljost half its budget in support of the occupation of Iraq. 


Here in the United States, we care about democratic rights. We fought a revolution against colonialism and we fought a civil war against slavery. In the 20th century we fought for women’s right to vote and we waged a civil rights struggle to secure the vote for people of all ethnicities. We were knocked down a few times when we got a president, in 2000, who actually lost the popular vote, only to turn around and force us into a war that the US people didn’t want. But we’re still here, still struggling on behalf of real democracy! 

We care about democracy—at home and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the political-corporate-military machine tries its best to keep us from learning about US efforts to undermine elections in other countries. These efforts are aimed at making sure other governments adopt policies granting easy access for big corporations to natural resources, cheap labor, and new markets. This is backed up with US military power. Michael Plattner, a vice-president for the NED, explains, “Liberal democracy clearly favors the economic arrangements that foster globalization ….The international order that sustains globalization is underpinned by American military predominance.” 


While the NED is only a small part of the US so-called “democracy promotion” efforts, its influence reaches far beyond its annual budget. 


The NED is… 


1) …Unconstitutional– 


* The NED sets a dangerous precedent by privatizing US foreign affairs. The constitution is clear that international relations are carried out on behalf of the US people by the executive and legislative branches. 


2) …A “Black Box” of Democracy Interference that violates the public trust– 


* Because of it’s publicly-funded, yet “private” character, the NED is not subject to any meaningful oversight. In fact, the core institutes of the NED also receive funding from USAID and the US State Department. Funneled through these institutes, and then further subcontracted, even non-NED funding can get laundered so that it is aljost impossible to track. 


3) …A web of military, political, espionage, and corporate media that obstructs the free flow of information for the sake of corporate interests– 


* The boards of the NED and its core organizations are full of Spin Doctors from public relations firms, big advertisers, corporate headquarters; political analysts and advisors; and ex-CIA and military personnel. Vin Weber, NED Board Chair, works for a public relations firm that is part of the Omnicom Group, the world’s 3rd largest advertising agency. The Center for International Private Enterprise, an NED core institute, includes an executive from Google and a major contractor with Google. The International Republican Institute, another NED core institute, includes a former Senior Advisor to the CIA and various representatives from the military-industrial complex. These are just a few examples. The NED is able to coordinate campaigns of misinformation and bring together a diverse coalition in order to manipulate foreign elections. If that fails, the NED empowers that coalition to overthrow elected governments—like it did in Haiti and like it is trying to do in Venezuela. 


The sole mission of the NED is to “fix” other countries’ elections, and jost US residents would agree that is unfair. USAID also builds schools, roads and has other projects that are an obligation for rich countries to provide to the poor countries since our wealth was extracted from them in the first place. The NED mission, on the other hand, is limited to the manipulation or other countries’ democratic institutions and processes. 


In the playing field of democracy, two competing forms have met head to head: neoliberal vs. participatory democracy. The kind of democracy that the NED favors is the neoliberal kind. Its proponents, such as Plattner, refer to it as liberal democracy, but that is incorrect terminology. Liberal democracy is the philosophy of government on which the US was originally founded. It is flawed, but still more democratic than its neoliberal permutation. One still has had to struggle pretty hard to win the right to vote, be it through colonial revolt, civil war, or suffragist and civil rights movements. But once the less-than-assured right to vote is won, elections are more or less decided along the lines of “one person, one vote” and “majority rule.” Another goal of real liberal democracy is the protection of minority rights. But the only minority neoliberal democracy aims to protect are the rights of big corporations. 


Neoliberal democracy replaces the motto of “one person, one vote” with “one dollar, one vote.” For instance, in Iraq, the US is advocating for passage of oil laws that are opposed by two thirds of the Iraqi population. Passage would result in the biggest give-away of oil profits that the Middle East has witnessed. Union membership in the oil and public sector was also outlawed by the occupation government. 


Conversely, participatory democracy directly empowers community structures and cooperative ventures. When I think of participatory democracy, I think of Susana and Cesar Achique, from Tacaraigua de la Laguna in Venezuela. Susana Achique is the elected president of the Grupo Turismo y Aventura Dios y Yo (or, the God and I Tourism and Adventure Group), a local coop that was founded on a government credit of just under $140,000 US dollars. With that money, they bought and outfitted three motor boats, an office and launching dock, and set up a cooperative that takes tourists on ecological and fishing trips. 


Cesar, the driver and tour guide for our boat, was enthusiastic, telling us how their lagoon had been damaged by over-fishing by commercial trawlers, depleting both fish and bird populations that depend on the fish for food. Jobs were scarce—the commercial fishing industry brought the town little benefit. Cesar’s eyes radiated a confident pride as he told about the return of the fish and bird populations following the Venezuela’s reform of fishing laws that stopped the trawlers from entering such environmentally sensitive areas. As if to underscore what he was saying, thousands of birds started their evening descent into the mangrove swamps around us as the sun began to set. 


Back on shore, Susana explained to us how members run the coop democratically. Profits from the venture are used to pay the workers and to provide community benefits. This is something I heard over and over in Venezuela—how coops and worker owned and operated factories don’t just benefit the people directly involved, but the whole community. Revenues fund schools, health clinics, and more. Media centers, food subsidy centers, health clinics, and a whole variety of government missions are not just serving but are being implemented by community members. 


While Venezuela is engaged in a massive effort to diversify its economy, it still remains dependent on oil profits which, under participatory democracy, support social spending. Community members are involved in decisions about whether or not to develop oil resources and, for the first time in Venezuelan history, indigenous nations jost affected by oil development, take part in these decisions. 


Has participatory democracy been good for Venezuela? Since the people gained popular power in 1998, the poverty rate has dropped from 54% to 38.5%–30% if food and health subsidies are factored in; millions have gained access to free health care; half the population is enrolled in free, public education; and over 5 million acres of fallow land have been turned over to rural people for agricultural development. The economy has been growing steadily since NED funded attempts to overthrow the government in 2002. 


The Alliance for Global Justice has begun a project called the Respect for Democracy Campaign, and one of our primary goals is to close the NED. This campaign has been endorsed by many groups and individuals, including Howard Zinn, author of the Peoples’ History of the United States, Eva Golinger, author of The Chavez Code and Bush Vs. Chavez, Rev. John Fife, co-founder of the Sanctuary Movement and former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, the Venezuela Solidarity Network, the Campaign for Labor Rights, the Worker to Worker Solidarity Committee, and the Nicaragua network. 


Of course, ending democracy manipulation and winning participatory democracy must be built upon participatory struggle! In other words, what this campaign needs is…YOU! 


Neoliberal democracy and economics has put the future of the world at stake. We have a choice: corporate globalism and elitist power or community autonomy and people power. 


Which of these is in YOUR future? 


–James Jordan is coordinator of the Respect for Democracy Campaign. 

For more information: www.respect4democracy.org