The National Endowment for Democracy
excerpted from the book
A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2000
How many Americans could identify the
National Endowment for Democracy? An organization which often
does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. The NED was
set up in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of
all the negative revelations about the CIA in the second half
of the 1970s. The latter was a remarkable period. Spurred by Watergate-the
Church Committee of the Senate, the Pike Committee of the House
and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president, were
all busy investigating the CIA. Seemingly every other day there
was a new headline about the discovery of some awful thing, even
criminal conduct, the CIA had been mixed up in for years. The
Agency was getting an exceedingly bad name, and it was causing
the powers-that-be much embarrassment.
Something had to be done. What was done
was not to stop doing these awful things. Of course not. What
was done was to shift many of these awful things to a new organization,
with a nice sounding name-the National Endowment for Democracy.
The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA
had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate
the stigma associated with CIA covert activities.
It was a masterpiece. Of politics, of
public relations and of cynicism. Thus it was that in 1983, the
National Endowment for Democracy was set up to "support democratic
institutions throughout the world through private, nongovernmental
efforts". Notice the "nongovernmental"-part of
the image, part of the myth. In actuality, virtually every penny
of its funding comes from the federal government, as is clearly
indicated in the financial statement in each issue of its annual
report. NED likes to refer to itself as an NGO (non-governmental
organization) because this helps to maintain a certain credibility
abroad that an official US government agency might not have. But
NGO is the wrong category. NED is a GO.
Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the
legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in
1991: "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years
ago by the CIA." In effect, the CIA has been laundering money
The Endowment has four principal initial
recipients of funds: the International Republican Institute; the
National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; an affiliate
of the AFL-CIO (such as the American Center for International
Labor Solidarity); and an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce
(such as the Center for International Private Enterprise). These
institutions then disburse funds to other institutions in the
US and all over the world, which then often disburse funds to
yet other organizations.
In a multitude of ways, NED meddles in
the internal affairs of foreign countries by supplying funds,
technical know-how, training, educational materials, computers,
fax machines, copiers, automobiles and so on, to selected political
groups, civic organizations, labor unions, dissident movements,
student groups, book publishers, newspapers, other media, etc.
NED programs generally impart the basic philosophy that working
people and other citizens are best served under a system of free
enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal
government intervention in the economy and opposition to socialism
in any shape or form. A freemarket economy is equated with democracy,
reform and growth, and the merits of foreign investment are emphasized.
From 1994 to 1996, NED awarded 15 grants,
totaling more than $2,500,000, to the American Institute for Free
Labor Development, an organization used by the CIA for decades
to subvert progressive labor unions. AlFLD's work within Third
World unions typically involved a considerable educational effort
very similar to the basic NED philosophy described above. The
description of one of the 1996 NED grants to AIFLD includes as
one its objectives: "build union-management cooperation".
Like many things that NED says, this sounds innocuous, if not
positive, but these in fact are ideological code words meaning
"keep the labor agitation down...don't rock the status quo
boat". The relationship between NED and AIFLD very well captures
the CIA origins of NED.
The Endowment has funded centrist and
rightist labor organizations to help them oppose those unions
which were too militantly proworker. This has taken place in France,
Portugal and Spain amongst many other places. In France, during
the 1983-4 period, NED supported a "trade union-like organization
for professors and students" to counter "left-wing organizations
of professors". To this end it funded a series of seminars
and the publication of posters, books and pamphlets such as "Subversion
and the Theology of Revolution" and "Neutralism or Liberty".
("Neutralism" here refers to being unaligned in the
NED describes one of its 1997-98 programs
thusly: "To identify barriers to private sector development
at the local and federal levels in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
and to push for legislative change...[and] to develop strategies
for private sector growth." Critics of Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic have been supported by NED grants for years.
In short, NED's programs are in sync with
the basic needs and objectives of the New World Order's economic
globalization, just as the programs have for years been on the
same wavelength as US foreign policy.
Because of a controversy in 1984-when
NED funds were used to aid a Panamanian presidential candidate
backed by Manuel Noriega and the CIA-Congress enacted a law prohibiting
the use of NED funds "to finance the campaigns of candidates
for public office." But the ways to circumvent the spirit
of such a prohibition are not difficult to come up with; as with
American elections, there's "hard money" and there's
... NED successfully manipulated elections
in Nicaragua in 1990 and Mongolia in 1996 and helped to overthrow
democratically elected governments in Bulgaria in 1990 and Albania
in 1991 and 1992. In Haiti in the late l990s, NED was busy working
on behalf of right wing groups who were united in their opposition
to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his progressive
ideology. NED has made its weight felt in the electoral-political
process in numerous other countries.
NED would have the world believe that
it's only teaching the ABCs of democracy and elections to people
who don't know them, but in all five countries named above there
had already been free and fair elections held. The problem, from
NED's point of view, is that the elections had been won by political
parties not on NED's favorites list.
The Endowment maintains that it's engaged
in "opposition building" and "encouraging pluralism".
"We support people who otherwise do not have a voice in their
political system," said Louisa Coan, a NED program officer.
But NED hasn't provided aid to foster progressive or leftist opposition
in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua or Eastern Europe-or,
for that matter, in the United States even though these groups
are hard pressed for funds and to make themselves heard. Cuban
dissident groups and media are heavily supported however.
NED's reports carry on endlessly about
"democracy", but at best it's a modest measure of mechanical
political democracy they have in mind, not economic democracy;
nothing that aims to threaten the powers-that-be or the way-things-are,
unless of course it's in a place like Cuba.
The Endowment played an important role
in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, funding key components
of Oliver North's shadowy "Project Democracy" network,
which privatized US foreign policy, waged war, ran arms and drugs
and engaged in other equally charming activities. At one point
in 1987, a White House spokesman stated that those at NED "run
Project Democracy". This was an exaggeration; it would have
been more correct to say that NED was the public arm of Project
Democracy, while North ran the covert end of things. In any event,
the statement caused much less of a stir than if-as in an earlier
period-it had been revealed that it was the CIA which was behind
such an unscrupulous operation.
NED also mounted a multi-level campaign
to fight the leftist insurgency in the Philippines in the mid-1980s,
funding a host of private organizations, including unions and
the media. This was a replica of a typical CIA operation of pre-NED
And between 1990 and 1992, the Endowment
donated a quarter-million dollars of taxpayers' money to the Cuban-American
National Fund, the ultra-fanatic anti-Castro Miami group. The
CANF, in turn, financed Luis Posada Carriles, one of the most
prolific and pitiless terrorists of modern times, who was involved
in the blowing up of a Cuban airplane in 1976, which killed 73
people. In 1997, he was involved in a series of bomb explosions
in Havana hotels.
The NED, like the CIA before it, calls
what it does supporting democracy. The governments and movements
whom the NED targets call it destabilization.
William Blum is the author of
"Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since
World War II" (Common Courage Press, 1995).