The Stealth Destabilizer

s prA-letterotests have been taking place in Venezuela the last couple of weeks, it is always good to check on what the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has been up to in Venezuela. Before going into details, it is important to note what NED is and is not. First of all, it has nothing to do with the democracy we are taught in civics classes, concerning one person-one vote, with everyone affected having a say in the decision, etc. (This is commonly known as “popular” or grassroots democracy.) The NED opposes this kind of democracy.

The NED promotes top-down, elite, constrained (or “polyarchal”) democracy. This is the democracy where the elites get to decide the candidates or questions suitable to go before the people, while always limiting the choices to what the elites are comfortable with. Then, once the elites have made their decision, the people are presented with the “choice” that the elites approve.  And then the NED prattles on with its nonsense about how it is “promoting democracy around the world.”

This is one of the most cynical uses of democracy there is. The other thing to note about NED is that it is not independent as it claims, ad nauseum. It was created by the U.S. Congress, signed into U.S. law by President Ronald Reagan, and it operates from funds provided by the U.S. government.

However, its Board of Directors is drawn from among the elites in the U.S. government’s foreign policy-making realm. Past board members have included Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, General Wesley K. Clark, Paul Wolfo- witz, and Elliot Abrams of Reaga administration fame.

In reality, NED is part of the U.S. empire’s tools and is “independent” only in the sense that no elected presidential administration can directly alter its composition or activities, even if it wanted to. It’s initial project director, Professor Allen Weinstein of Georgetown University, admitted in the Washington Post of September 22, 1991, that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

According to Professor William Robinson in his 1996 book, Promoting Polyarchy, NED is a product of U.S. government foreign policy shifts from “earlier strategies to contain social and political mobilization through a focus on control of the state and governmental apparatus” to a process of “democracy promotion,” whereby “the United States and local elites thoroughly penetrate civil society, and from therein, assure control over popular mobilization and mass movene-NEDvements.” What this means is, as I note in AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?, “that instead of waiting for a client government to be threatened by its people and then responding, U.S. foreign policy shifted to intervening in the civil society of a country ‘of interest’ (as defined by U.S. foreign policy goals) before popular mobilization could become significant, and by supporting certain groups and certain politicians, then channel any potential mobilization in the direction desired by the U.S. government.”

This also means that these “civil society” organizations can be used offensively as well, against any government the U.S. opposes. NED funding, for example, was used in all of the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and, I expect, in the Ukraine as well as elsewhere.

How do they operate? They work through four “institutes”—the International Republican Institute (currently headed by U.S. Senator John McCain), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (currently headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright), the Center for International Private Enterprise (the international wing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), the foreign policy operation of the AFL-CIO, with Richard Trumka, the head of its Board of Directors.

ACILS had been indirectly involved in the 2002 coup attempt in Venezuela by participating in meetings with leaders later involved in the coup beforehand, and then denying afterwards the involvement of the leaders of the right-wing labor organization (CTV) in the coup, leaders of an organization long affiliated with the AFL-CIO. We also know NED overall has been active in Venezuela since 1997.

The NED and its institutes continue to actively fund projects in Venezuela. From the 2012 NED Annual Report (the latest available), we see they have provided $1,338,331 to organizations and projects in Venezuela that year alone including:


      $120,125 for projects for “accountability”

      $470,870 for “civic education”

      $96,400 for “democratic ideas and values”

      $105,000 for “freedom of information”

      $92,265 for “human rights”

      $216,063 for “political processes”

      $34,962 for “rule of law”

      $45,000 for “strengthening political institutions”

      $153,646 for Center for International Private Enterprise


Additionally,  as found on the NED “Latin American and Caribbean” regional page, NED has granted $465,000 to ACILS to advance NED objectives of “freedom of association” in the region, with another $380,000 to take place in Venezuela and Colombia. This is in addition to another $645,000 to the International Republican Institute and $750,000 to the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

The irony of these pious claims for “freedom of association,” etc., is that Venezuela has developed public participation to one of the highest levels in the world and has one of the most free media in the world. Even with massive private TV media involvement in the 2002 coup, the government did not take away their right to broadcast. In other words, NED and its institutes are not active in Venezuela to promote democracy, as they claim, but to act against popular democracy in an effort to restore the rule of the elite, top-down democracy. They want to show who is boss in the U.S. Empire. This author bets they fail.


 Kim Scipes is Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University in Westville, Indiana and author of AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? and KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994.