DAI’s not so invisible puppet show

As we wait to learn the identity of the mystery Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI) “subcontractor” who was handing out cellphones and laptops like Santa Claus in Cuba this December, let’s deconstruct the recent statement by Dr. James Boomgard, DAI Chief Executive Officer, denying DAI’s relationship to U.S. intelligence services.

Boomgard said: “The detained DAI subcontractor was not working for any intelligence service.”

In this post Clinton “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” world, perhaps that was meant as some kind of denial.  What Boomer did not say was that the detained subcontractor was not doing the work of U.S. intelligence.

In an interview the former CIA agent Phil Agee gave to Dennis Bernstein of the Flashpoints radio program in March 2005, he explained how intelligence work came to be shifted from the CIA to contractors such as the National Endowment for Democracy and their associated subcontracting NGOs such as DAI, Chemonics International (“an international development consulting firm that promotes meaningful change to help people live healthier, more productive, and more independent lives”), Partners for Democratic Change, Albert Einstein Institution, Freedom House and countless others.  Agee was speaking specifically though not exclusively of Venezuela on that occasion.

During the late 1970s there was new thinking at the highest levels of the U.S. foreign policymakers, and they reconsidered whether these ugly murderous military dictatorships of the 1970s were really the best way to preserve U.S. interests in these countries – U.S. interests being defined traditionally as unfettered access to the primary products and raw materials, to the labor and to the markets of foreign countries. This new thinking led to the establishment in 1983 of the National Endowment for Democracy. They had chosen the German pattern in which the major political parties in Germany have foundations financed by the federal government. They did more or less the same thing with the establishment of the NED as a private foundation – there is really nothing private about it, and all its money comes from the Congress.

But then there were the other core foundations – this was the fundamental mechanism for promotion of democracy around the world, but in actual fact, when they say the promotion of democracy, or civic education, or fortifying civil society, what they really mean is using those euphemisms to cover funding to certain political forces and not to others. In other words, to fortify the opposition of undesirable foreign governments as in the case of Venezuela, or to support a government that is favorable to US interests and avoid of coming to power of forces that are not seen as favorable to US interests. This will be the case since the early 1990s in Nicaragua because all those programs that were started in order to assure the defeat of Daniel Ortega in 1990 continued, and they continued to make sure that Sandinista Front was not reelected again after their defeat in 1990 – and that has been the case. These programs go on in various different countries and they require quite a bit of research. … I am sure that one could find these programs in Mexico, Colombia, Peru probably, Brazil, and other countries outside the Latin American region.

Such as Cuba.

Let’s review who the sorry subcontractor likely reported to.  Michael Morfit, DAI’s Vice President for Governance and Public Sector Management began his career in Indonesia where he worked for eight years on behalf of the Ford Foundation and USAID.  He later moved on to the Philippines, and finally to USAID’s Office of Caribbean Affairs and the Office of Strategic Planning.  He also directed USAID’s Haiti Task Force where, according to the Georgetown University website, “he was directly involved in U.S. Government planning and policy formation for major international development initiatives.”

According to the same website, his tenure at DAI was immensely profitable for the company, since the democracy and governance portion of the business saw its revenues increase from $3 million to $25 million under his stewardship.  Most recently he has been consulting in Serbia, the same land from which emerged Ivan Marovic, of OTPOR, which  as both Eva Golinger and George Ciccarielo-Maher explained, was the model advised for the student protests in favor of U.S. objectives in Venezuela.  Marovic later surfaced in Honduras where he was warmly received by the independent journalist Al Giordano, whose annual journalism classes are being partially underwritten this year by Peter Ackerman’s International Center for Non-Violent Conflict.

Here’s Eva (in Spanish) on Otpor and incidentally, Peter Ackerman:

8 responses to “DAI’s not so invisible puppet show

  1. There is an underlying ongoing discussion and debate, that I’ve had to back track right now, concerning Otpor. More generally it fits into the complications created by the industry of NGOs for ‘activists’ in the global north. On the topic of DAI, there simply little trust in my mind of any funding remotely related to the US government being used in Cuba. The US government’s intransigent attempts to overthrow the revolution for the past 51 years is undeniable, their extreme attempts find no bounds within the ‘left’ or ‘right’ of US governments, and continues to this day (Cuba is on the US government’s ‘terrorist’ fly-list, alongside ‘brown and/or Muslim’ countries). Simply – any US government/NGO funds flowing into Cuba have to be heavily scrutinized.

    However on a more broad world-wide discussion, I’m concerned that the mere presence of the NED is taken the extreme to demonstrate that there is definitive influence/control flowing out of the US (not an accusation of this blog but my general thought given the background discussion of Otpor). I suspect that groups like NED (as the extreme case) are more complex than this, and will fund certain organizations not necessarily to control or influence them, nor necessarily agree with those groups, but rather this funding indicates a position of ‘interest’ in the openings and opportunities created by actions of certain groups. Clearly I think the Serbian-model has been exported to more overtly subversive situations (such as the post-coup student movement in Venezuela, or the ‘colour revolutions’), and not necessarily by witting members of Otpor. More generally and ‘theoretically’ I think the right has moved beyond their fear of Gramsci (mostly because the application of Gramsci in the north has been of his weakest ideas) to their own manipulation of Gramscian concepts of hegemony, counter-hegemony, civil society and establishing historical blocs.

    The reaction needs to be much more complex or intelligent. I feel the reason why there is such a heated debate on the blogs in the past, concerning Otpor and other such ‘activists’, is that both sides are being labelled as ‘unauthentic’, when they do not feel it. Groups like Otpor and their activist supporters are ‘left’ in some way or another, their critics are often ‘left’ of a different variety, and the financial support coming from right-wing organizations creates the sharp distinction between the variety of the ‘left’ (not at the moment a comment on the quality of either variety of the ‘left’). Simply this demonstrates the incapacity of the left to deal with complexity (both sides) and is why groups like Otpor are chosen for funding. Such groups are not ‘revolutionary’ in their consequences, mostly because they lack the skill to be (it takes many failures to learn) but are in many ways ignorant of their potential failings (we all are). Because of the manipulation of the ignorance of skill, such groups and movements provide the openings that can be seized by rightwing groups. It takes a lot of energy to launch an activist campaign, if it stops after its first little victory and does not become more ambitious and bold in either its victory or defeat, it inevitably leaves a vacuum for someone or more often something else to take over.

    Rather than shouting such groups as Otpor down however as being some sort of willing conspirators, the analysis has to be about why pro-capitalist (particularly elite capitalist) groups would chose to fund them in the first place. My hope is that we can discover that we live in a much more complex world where actions do not match intentions do not match desired consequences for both the left and the right, and that we can become more intelligent about creating the opportunities for true transformation.

  2. Machetera,

    Thanks for this.

    Worth pointing out what Golinger writes:

    “A high-level USAID official confirmed two weeks ago that the CIA uses USAID’s name to issue contracts and funding to third parties in order to provide cover for clandestine operations.”

  3. matt h: “Rather than shouting such groups as Otpor down however as being some sort of willing conspirators, the analysis has to be about why pro-capitalist (particularly elite capitalist) groups would chose to fund them in the first place.”
    Surely the reason pro-capitalist and elite capitalist, to use your words, choose to fund them is because they deliver the goods they want.
    You don’t think the overthrow of Milosevic was not just another colour revolution?

  4. P.S. Though I agree that many involved in such groups actually believe they are ‘left’ or are in other situations.

  5. In the video above, Eva Golinger falsely claims that there was a connection between the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict and actions of Venezuelan student demonstrators, because the Center’s chair helped produce the film “Bringing Down a Dictator”, which was seen by those students. In fact, this film is one of four documentaries on nonviolent struggle which the Center has supported, and thousands of DVD’s of that documentary have been distributed in dozens of countries all over the world. Students in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, and in the antiwar and immigrant rights’ movements in the U.S. have seen it, as well as in Venezuela, but ICNC does not support or endorse the actions of any such groups. It is an educational foundation that disseminates knowledge of how civil resistance can be used in struggles for rights, justice and other goals, to all those who request that knowledge.

  6. matt: maybe organizations like Optor should consider the political complexities of a situation before they engage in them. also,
    there is no equivalency between the right and the left; we have to choose a side, and that side defines us morally.

  7. Jack: Does Jack even know Jack!? If Jack and the ICNC really cared about “rights, justice, and other goals” you would do some tweeking of your “educational” pap and redirect it to the audience most in need, the US and Israeli populace. I find you and your professed goals to be disingenuous. Fomenting dis-ease is not laudable, and hiding behind the logic of “we’re not responsible” for the results is vile.

  8. Well I think it is also a bit hypocritical or naive to suggest that one can have an absolute grasp on any situation before an activist becomes engaged. If one truly tries to be before they become active they will be debilitated and often miss any opportunity to engage the people around them. I am not advocating that one should just ‘jump into’ activism and not contemplate the consequences, but the capacity to be nuanced in engagement and criticism has to be central. We live in a world that is complex and difficult, we have to acknowledge this and live through the tensions in an intelligent manner.

    I am ignorant of the case of Serbia for the most part so I do not want to suggest that I have any conclusive statements to make about whether or not what happened was another colour revolution. But I do not think one needs to take every point to an extreme to provide a useful and meaningful critique of the consequences. I fully agree with many that there are very irreconcilable difficulties if a ‘leftist’ group takes money from a ‘realist’-US imperial organization. But some stupid decisions, or at the very least highly questionable decisions, are just that – stupid. They are not nefarious or underhanded on the part of person or group that took them on, though they may have opened themselves to be by other groups who do have those concerns. Nor does it mean that in their actions did they necessarily drive the results that did happen, they may have simply created the opportunities for groups like NED, their European counterparts, and local political elites to seize political control for their own desires.

    Can groups do ‘better’? Of course they can. But I also do not see many successes for the left anywhere in the North. Is our own failure to make any sort of significant political impact a right-wing plot? Are we being manipulated by the right in our mistakes and inaction? I think we are all making a bunch of bad, ill-thought-out decisions that reveal our ignorance and naivety generally.

    It makes any of our attempts to do something a new ‘opportunity’ for the right to seize. One of the biggest problems is that the left can turn legitimate critical responses into factious debates that destroy solidarity or affinity while provide no lessons for anyone involved. This would be fine, a normal and important action, if it happened selectively amidst a strong creative development of a wider-socially critical response and movement of transformation. But the left does not create much more than it destroys, it does not educate much more than it unlearns, and thus is continually shooting itself in the foot instead of biting its tongue.

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