The Democracy Manipulators

Based in Colombia the New Journalism Foundation – known locally as the Fundación para un Nuevo Periodismo Iberoamericano (FNPI) – was set up in late 2004 as a nonprofit organization for training professional journalists. Since 1995, the Foundation has been headed by Jaime Abello Banfi, who observed (in 2003) that the original idea behind the Foundation "was to hold workshops for young journalists, to help them learn the tools of the trade, improve the quality of journalism, and motivate other journalists". [1] Motivating journalists to attend the workshops of this well-respected Foundation is no doubt aided by the fact that one of the organizations co-founders is the Nobel Literature Prize laureate, Gabriel García Márquez. The other founders of the group include Gabriel’s brother Jaime García Márquez, and their executive director, Jaime Abello (who is a former manager of the Caribbean regional General Television Channel, and is also the president of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez Foundation). [2] 


According to the New Journalism Foundation, their "core project" is their Iberian-American Journalism Workshop Program, which is "sponsored by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO), and other private and public foundations". So given that the Foundation was founded by the progressive literary luminary, Gabriel García Márquez, I was disturbed to say the least, when I discovered that the Foundation is well connected to many democracy manipulators, including not least, the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Thus this article will provide the first critical overview of the New Journalism Foundation’s associations with the democracy manipulating establishment.


To begin with, the New Journalism Foundation boast that their first ever seminar was organized (in March 1995) with the aid of the dubious New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. This seminar was also used to help "launch Colombia‘s Foundation for Press Freedom" (Fundación para la libertad de prensa, FLIP) – an organization that ostensibly "promotes the protection of journalists". Unfortunately the New Journalism Foundation’s ‘democratic’ connections start at day one, as Colombia’s Foundation for Press Freedom received a $86,367 grant from the NED in 2005 to "promote respect for freedom of the press in Colombia",  while the Committee to Protect Journalists is backed by all manner of democracy manipulating liberal philanthropists like George Soros‘ Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation, as well as leading corporate media outlets (e.g. CNN and Time Warner). Furthermore, as I will now demonstrate, it is particularly interesting that the Mexican journalist Alma Guillermoprieto was chosen to teach the first New Journalism Foundation writing workshop.


At first glance Guillermoprieto might appear to have impressive progressive credentials as amongst other things, she "covered the insurrection against Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua for The Guardian and, in January 1982, was one of two reporters who broke the story of the El Mozote, El Salvador massacre (the other reporter was Raymond Bonner of The New York Times)". Yet without the benefit of analysing the content of all her writings, it is fair to say that in recent years Guillermoprieto’s work has been highly compatible with the interests of the global democracy manipulating community. In October 2005, Guillermoprieto contributed a profile of Hugo Chavez to the New York Review of Books (2005) entitled "The Gambler" in which she wrote:


"The opposition lives in a permanent state of rage too at the regime’s corruption, its autocratic use of public funds, and Chavez’s determined assault on the institutions that make representative democracy possible (he prefers his own brand of democracia participativa, which has little room for opposition parties or civil rights)." (p.24) [3]


Later she adds:


"Strongmen or caudillos like Chavez, and dictators, too, have always depended on fervent popular support to consolidate their hold on power. How else could they push through the measures that deny their opponents access to a fair hearing or fair trial, or fair elections, and cripple the press? They profit as well from the weird joy many people take in watching a strongman exert his power." (p.26) [4]


Tariq Ali writing in 2006, noted that "[w]ithin months of Chavez’ victory" against the failed 2002 coup, the editor of the New York Review of Books, Robert Silvers, "decided to go on the offensive", that is, a propaganda offensive against Chavez. Ali notes that at first Silvers – "a longstanding member of the Council of Foreign Relations" (and incidentally also a director of the American Ditchley Foundation) – "approached the Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul, an old-fashioned conservative with a pungent pen" to ‘report’ on the Chavez problem. However, when Naipaul started receiving "recently unclassified and possibly semi-classified US intelligence documents on Venezuela" he decided not to write the story because, as Ali suggests, "Naipaul was angered at being taken for granted and instrumentalised in such a crude fashion". Subsequently, although with some delay, the New York Review of Books got the story it was looking for when the "ever-reliable Alma Guillermoprieto was despatched to Caracas". As Ali surmised:


"What this episode reveals is the spectrum of domestic support – extending from the NYRB to Fox TV that had been garnered by Washington. Unlike Iraq, where the imperial establishment was seriously divided, as far as the South American backyard was concerned there was no leeway for dissent. Never again would the US be caught by surprise as it had been in Cuba. But it had been unprepared for Venezuela and this necessitated a unified propaganda campaign to ready public opinion for the measures that might need to be taken." [5]


Guaranteeing ‘Democratic’ Journalism


As the previous section amply demonstrated, judging by their opening workshop the New Journalism Foundation is prominently tied to numerous democracy manipulating organizations. However, this part of the article will now outline the direct support that the Foundation has obtained from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and detail their links to many other assorted ‘democratic’ groups.


The New Journalism Foundation received their first NED grant in 2000, when they obtained $75,000 to "train journalists on technical aspects of war reporting and establish a network to protect journalists and freedom of expression in Colombia". Then the following year they obtained a further $72,000 from the NED to continue this work, and in 2004, the Foundation received another $70,000 grant to run a series of training workshops "for reporters, editors, press agencies and news directors to discuss the results of a media monitoring project". This last NED grant was also used to "fund an alert network for the protection of journalists; the network will inform of attacks against journalists and prepare monthly and annual reports on the state of freedom of expression in Colombia".


The Foundation makes no attempt to hide their funding ties to the NED, and openly lists the NED on their website as allies of their Antonio Narino Project (Proyecto Antonio Nariño): a collaborative project that was launched in March 2001 as "an initiative to create the necessary mechanisms to protect and respect the journalistic profession and free access to information in the midst of Colombia’s armed conflict". [6] The Foundation adds that the ‘democratic’ Reporters Without Borders are also allies of the Antonio Narino Project. In addition, the New Journalism Foundation’s website highlights the following four groups as being "associated organizations" of their work, the Asociación de Noticias de Derechos de la Infancia, Observatorio da Imprensa, Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, and the Internacional Center for Journalists. As I have illustrated in former articles the two latter organizations are key democracy manipulators that obtain funding from the NED.


Unfortunately, the Foundation’s ‘democratic’ ties do not end here, and in February 2004, Ricardo Corredor represented the Foundation at the Third Assembly of the NED-initiated World Movement for Democracy. Moreover, from 2000 until 2002 the Foundation’s executive, Jaime Abello, participated in a ‘Press Freedom’ project run by the Inter-American Dialogue – a key US-backed democracy manipulator working throughout the Americas. [7] The current president of the Dialogue, Peter Hakim, serves on the boards and advisory committees for numerous democracy manipulating organizations including the Foundation of the Americas, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Human Rights Watch, and he was previously a vice president of the Inter-American Foundation. [8]


It is particularly strange to note that the Mexican-owned CEMEX – one of the world’s largest global cement companies – is listed as a strategic ally and/or benefactor of the New Journalism Foundation (they also cosponsor the New Journalism Award with the Foundation). This link begins to make more sense though when it is known that the chair and CEO of CEMEX, Lorenzo Zambrano – who happens to be a member of the elite planning group the Trilateral Commission, and a director of the controversial Conservation International – is also a director of Mexico’s largest media group, Grupo Televisa – wich also happens to be the largest Spanish-speaking communications company in the world. [9]


In 2001, Grupo Televisa "established a partnership with the Colombian publisher Abrenuncio to launch a Mexican edition of the[ir Colombian] magazine Cambio". [10] This is significant because in 1999, Jon Lee Anderson noted that Gabriel García Márquez "became the majority owner of the weekly news magazine Cambio" in Columbia". Anderson adds that:


"Curiously, given that García Márquez’s own journalism is so heavily influenced by his political views, Cambio takes no discernibly consistent editorial position. It is rather self-consciously middle of the road, with a large number of life-style features, and it has even published articles that express views that are loathsome to García Márquez. For instance, a recent editorial endorsed U.S. assistance to fight the guerrillas. Cambio’s managing editor, Pilar Calderón, explained that she and García Márquez and the five other owner-editors want to secure a market niche with the urban middle class. ‘We also want to recover the tradition of storytelling,’ Calderón said. ‘We don’t just want to tell the news. And, happily, Gabo is here to help us in that.’ The most recent article García Márquez wrote, just before becoming ill, was a profile of Shakira, a twenty-two year old Colombian pop star." [11]


In sum, it seems that not all of Gabriel García Márquez’s work is entirely above board; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that his work is all above board – like most of the NED’s work – but is extremely troublesome nonetheless.


As The New York Times observed in 1986: "In some respects, the [NED] program resembles the aid given by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s to bolster pro-American political groups". So it is fitting that Jon Lee Anderson wrote that Márquez’s:


"…friend María Elvira Samper says, [he likes] ‘to do things clandestinely. He likes diplomacy, not politics. He says he is un gran conspirador.’ But he has come under a good deal of criticism for enjoying his role too much, and for becoming enamored of men in power. Friends who acknowledge that there is some truth to the criticism attribute his susceptibility to the charms of Castro and Clinton in part to the thrill of having come so far from his roots."


What Now?


This article has had the unfortunate opportunity to illustrate how very deep the tentacles of the democracy manipulating community reach into the world of progressive journalism. Indeed, given that Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s writing is admired in all corners of the world, his Foundation’s link to the NED are very troublesome, as the kudos attached to his name will help legitimate the NED’s decidedly antidemocratic work. This problem is, of course, not unique to Marquez’s situation, as many progressive activists have become enmeshed with the activities of the global democracy manipulating community.


These concerning ‘democratic’ ties can perhaps best be explained by viewing the NED’s work (and that of liberal foundations more generally) as an extension of the cultural cold war that was formerly waged by both intelligence agencies and liberal foundations. In the not so distant past, this war for ‘our’ minds was fought covertly – with a "central feature of this pro­gramme" being "to advance the claim that it did not exist" [12] – but now the war is now being waged overtly in the name of democracy, peace, and freedom. Thus while the CIA’s cultural war remained invisible to genuine progressives for years, [13] the current propaganda offensive being waged by democracy manipulators worldwide is undertaken so openly that paradoxically very few people have criticized its corrosive influence on democracy.


Such a situation is not conducive to the survival of democracy, particularly to more participatory forms of democracy, thus it is vital that concerned citizens start to shine more light on the shadowy world of the democracy manipulators. To facilitate this process I would love to offer my help to any activists who wish to examine the work of democracy manipulators in their own countries. To find out which groups are funded simply type the name of your country into the NED’s Democracy Projects Database and a few seconds later you will have a list of many NED-backed organizations. Then email me at Michael.J.Barker [AT] and I will see what I can do to help out.






[1]  "As of May 2007, approximately 4,300 Latin American and Spaniard journalists have participated in 230 [FNPI] workshops and seminars, conducted in 45 cities of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain."


[2] "Previously, [Abello] served as an assistant to the Colombian government in reforming legislation concerning television, telecommunications, and the film industry. He is a board member of several organizations dedicated to the film industry and freedom of expression."Furthermore, the Foundation notes that: "A group of journalist friends, including the Argentine writer, Tomás Eloy Martínez, collaborated in refining the foundation’s mandate."


[3] Simon Tisdall (2005) writing in the British newspaper The Guardian said: "Venezuela‘s opposition parties and media had been browbeaten into impotent subservience, reported Alma Guillermoprieto." Alma argues that "it is a safe bet that Chávez would do everything in his power to intimidate and destroy any public figure who came to pose a real threat to his rule: the Asamblea Nacional – the legislative body under chavista control – has already made it next to impossible for a new opposition party to survive financially."


[4] A selection of quotes referring to Chavez taken from The New York Times include:


–         "would-be strongman" (December 1998)


–         "Mr. Chavez has not only stripped the opposition-controlled Congress of all its powers, but also taken control of Venezuela‘s judicial system" (September 1999)


–         "elected strongman who has bent his country’s democratic rules" (April 2002)


–         "Chavez’s leftist regime" (April 2002)


–         "Chavez regime was threatening the country’s democratic system" (April 2002)


–         "fiery strongman" (April 2002)


–         "Venezuelans stayed tuned for the return of their strongman" (April 2002)


–         "president Hugo Chavez, the angry populist and cashiered army colonel who then eviscerated the legislature and the judiciary" (April 2003)


–         "Hugo Chavez, Venezuela‘s leftist populist military strongman" (November 2005, written by the imperialist ‘humanitarian’ foot soldier David Rieff)


–         "Hugo Chavez’s regime" (February 2006)


–         "Hugo Chavez has been unable to reproduce his regime in any other country except in Bolivia" (November 2006)


–         "given Chavez’s outlandish rhetoric, it is tempting to dismiss him as a madman" (January 2007, David Rieff again)


–         "the old strongman formula of cronyism, corruption and incompetence" (March 2007)


–         "Chavez became increasingly autocratic" (June 2007)


–         "an all-powerful strongman" (August 2007)


–         "beloved strongman" (December 2007)


–         "whims of a strongman" (December 2007)


–         "fiery Venezuelan strongman" (December 2007)


[5] Tariq Ali, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope (Verso, 2006), p.60.


[6] Founding members of the Antonio Narino Project include the New Journalism Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation of Colombia (Fescol), Andiarios, The Freedom of the Press Foundation, and the Foundation for Society and Media for Peace.


[7] In 2005 the Inter-American Dialogue released a report entitled, A Break in the Clouds – Latin America and the Caribbean, which Edgard Hernandez notes was "biased against the administration of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and makes use of several baseless arguments and half-truths."


[8] The Inter-American Foundation’s work is similar to that of the Inter-American Dialogue, and it is notable that in 2005 their board of directors was home to Roger F. Noriega. Noriega worked for USAID and the U.S. Department of State between 1986 and 1990, where amongst other things he funneled money to the Contras, sometimes via Colombia‘s Medellin drug cartel. Most recently Noriega played a pivotal role in the US’s ‘democracy promoting’ activities in Haiti as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2003-2005), where he oversaw the ‘removal‘ of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in March 2004.


In the last year the Inter-American Foundation, which "primarily funds partnerships among grassroots and nonprofit organizations, businesses and local governments, directed at improving the quality of life of poor people and strengthening participation" has issued a number of grants to media related projects. In 2006, Formación Solidaria (FORMASOL) in Bolivia received $140,348 (over two years) to "strengthen radio programs for 20,000 indigenous Chiquitanos and Guarayos, offer workshops for 42 community leaders, and develop a Web site, all directed at promoting broader awareness of indigenous rights, enhancing technical skills and building a democratic culture." In the same year another two media projects were also funded in El Salvador. The first was the Comité de Reconstrucción y Desarrollo Ecónomico-Social de Comunidades de Suchitoto, which obtained $60,000; and the second was Fundación de Lisiados y Discapacitados para el Desarrollo Integral (FUNDELIDDI), which received $35,000.


[9] The joint 2005 Annual Report of both the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas noted that: "The Americas Society celebrated its 40th Anniversary by honoring two distinguished entrepreneurs of the Americas, the Honourable Paul Desmarais of Canada and Lorenzo H. Zambrano" with their Gold Medal Distinguished Service Award.


[10] The editor of the Mexican edition of Cambio magazine is Ramon Alberto Garza.


[11] Another twist to this story was added in October 2000 when America Online Latin America, Inc. (a subsidiary of Time Warner) "announced a strategic alliance" with the Colombian publisher Abrenuncio, "to make original content from Cambio and its other leading publications available across the region, appearing on AOL Latin America’s services in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina".


[12] Frances Stonor Saunders, Who Paid the Piper?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Granta Books, 1999), p.1.


[13] As Saunders (1999, p.2) observed: "Unchallenged, undetected for over twenty years, America’s spying establishment operated a sophisticated, substantially endowed cultural front in the West, for the West, in the name of freedom of expression. Defining the Cold War as a ‘battle for men’s minds’ it stockpiled a vast arsenal of cultural weapons: journals, books, conferences, sem­inars, art exhibitions, concerts, awards."

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