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Wednesday, 13 June 2018 08:01

Rachel Maddow's Praise for the National Endowment for Democracy Is Misplaced

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Wire 0513wrp(Photo: Richard Stevens / Flickr)


If you watched MSNBC's Rachel Maddow program this past Friday, you would have heard her extolling the virtues of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). As part of her nightly hammering away at the Russian/Team Trump collusion narrative – with her eyes particularly fixed on the monkeyshines of Paul Manafort -- Maddow noted that in 1982, President Ronald Reagan made his "first major trip overseas as president." In a speech to the British parliament he gave what Maddow characterized as "an absolutely blistering critique of the USSR."

According to Maddow, "One of the things that Reagan denounced the Soviet Union for in that speech was them giving covert political training and assistance to Marxists, Leninists in countries all over the world. Just went after the USSR. It was a very aggressive speech."

In that speech, Reagan went on to propose "foster[ing] the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way, to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means."

Soon after Reagan's trip to Europe, Congress created the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The NED, and its institutional tentacles, was theoretically designed to spread democracy overseas. The NED created an International American Institute to Promote Private Enterprise, an International American Institute to Promote Labor Rights, and two entities tied to the Democratic and Republican parties, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.

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Maddow went on to point out that the NED still exists as do the institutes affiliated with the Democratic and Republican parties, "and they still do kind of non-partisan hard work around the world, of promoting small D democracy and promoting the institutions of civil society that any culture needs in order to have a functioning democracy."

Whatever else can be said about the NED and its affiliated organizations, it is hard to back up Maddow's naïve claim about its work re "promoting small D democracy." Because amid whatever success it may have had, the NED is also notable for supporting anti-democratic organizations, and contributing to the overthrow of democratically elected governments.

Along the way, it has provided a glut of disinformation, misinformation, and downright fake news in pursuit of its mission. In a 1991 column, the Washington Post's David Ignatius wrote that the NED has "been doing in public what the CIA used to do in private…"

Destabilizing Nicaragua and Venezuela

Over the years, the NED has found a home destabilizing governments in Central and Latin America. In November of last year, Daniel Ortega was elected to his third term as president. It was an election that the Carter Center's election team put its stamp of approval on. Ortega's election did not thrill the powers that be in Washington.

These days, things are not going well economically in Nicaragua. The International Monetary Fund is pushing the business sector to cut worker's benefits, and the Sandinista government clearly was not prepared for the anger and demonstrations resulting from its untimely suggestion that changes be made to social security benefits.

In addition, there have been major student protests in the country. So, where does the NED come into play? One of the key student organizations is the Movimiento Civico de Juventudes (MCJ). According to telesurtv.net, MCJ "is financed, created by and an integral part of the National Democratic Institute," one of the NED's affiliated institutes. "The president of the NDI is Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state. The general secretary of the MCJ, Davis Jose Nicaragua Lopez, founder of the organization, is also the coordinator of the NDI in Nicaragua and active in a series of similar organizations in Nicaragua and El Salvador."

The NDI website notes: "The Civic Youth Movement (MCJ) has been part of an NDI project that began in 2015 with the aim of expanding youth leadership and political commitment by providing hands-on training in organizational techniques. Several of the group members are graduates of the Leadership and Political Conduct Certification (CLPM) program that the NDI has supported in conjunction with Nicaraguan universities and civil society organizations."

The NDI website: "To ensure that the next generation of leaders will be equipped to govern in a democratic and transparent manner, since 2010 the NDI has partnered with Nicaraguan universities and civic organizations to lead a youth leadership program that has helped prepare more than 2,000 youth leaders, current and future, throughout the country. The NDI has also contributed to Nicaragua's efforts to increase women's political participation and initiatives to reduce discrimination against LGBT people, as well as shared best practices for monitoring electoral processes."

According to fightbacknews.org, "From 2014 to 2017, the U.S. State Department's National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funneled 55 grants worth $4.2 million to NGOs that create media stories for the opposition. One of the groups often quoted by U.S. media received over $220,000 since 2014 and is run by the son of ex-president Violeta Chamorro."

The NDI is also active in Venezuela. It describes its activities in Venezuela on its website: "The NDI began working in Venezuela in the mid-1990s in response to requests to exchange international experiences on comparative approaches to democratic governance. After closing its offices in Venezuela in 2011, the NDI has continued – based on requests – offering material resources to democratic processes, including international approaches on electoral transparency, monitoring of political processes and civic and political organization, and the Institute promotes dialogue among Venezuelans and their civic and political peers and politicians at an international level on topics of mutual interest. " 

Writing for Consortium News, Will Porter, a journalist who specializes in U.S. foreign policy and Middle East affairs, and who writes for the Libertarian Institute, pointed out that, "Documents released through a 2004 Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the IRI had trained leaders of the 2004 coup in Haiti and funded opposition groups in the months leading up the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide."

USA Today columnist James Bovard, the author of 10 books, including "Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty," wrote recently that "Democracy promotion has long been one of the U.S. government's favorite foreign charades."

Bovard supports the Trump administration's proposal "to slash [the NED's] budget by 60 percent, from $170 million to $67 million. When Congress created the agency in 1983, it prohibited NED and its grantees from directly aiding foreign political candidates. But that law restrains NED as effectively as the Fourth Amendment's restriction on warrantless searches leashes the National Security Agency."

The organization "has been caught interfering in elections in France, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and many other nations, "Boward pointed out. "NED's operatives helped spark bloody coup attempts in Venezuela and Haiti; their efforts also helped topple the elected government in the Ukraine in 2014 and ignite the ongoing civil war."

Rachel Maddow, whom I greatly respect, and am thrilled that her program is doing so well in the ratings, was reaching much too far with her enthusiasm for the NED. Even a cursory look at the NED reveals a pockmarked history, its support for anti-democratic institutions, and a record of fomenting violence against democratically elected governments.