Saturday, May 11, 2013

Democracy and more democracy (US style)

Yesterday, former US-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide in Guatemala.

Corey Robin reminds us that Ríos Montt found a strong ally and supporter in Ronald Reagan, who didn’t hesitate to praise him as “a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy.”

In continuing democratic developments, FAIR has a piece criticizing Paul Richter’s Los Angeles Times article about The Bolivian government and several others expelling USAID from their countries. I’ve been talking about how shamelessly the corporate-mainstream media spins news about Latin America, and particularly those movements and governments that oppose US imperialism (here’s more). I expected to find, and did find, that reports of Evo Morales’ announcement of the expulsion follow this pattern:

They repeat the same phrases and tropes. They present the story as “Morales accused the US government of imperialistic and antidemocratic interference; US officials vehemently denied the allegations and talked about how wonderful their motives and actions are in the country,” and leave it at that. They give little voice to Bolivians. They present little or no historical or contemporary context. They undertake no independent investigation of the actions of USAID in the region.* They imply that the expulsion was an impulsive reaction to John Kerry’s calling Latin America “our backyard”…

But Richter’s piece – “USAID develops a Bad Reputation Among Some Foreign Leaders” - is another story. The article reads like planted PR spin from the State Department or the CIA, like Office of Public Diplomacy-type propaganda that isn’t even trying to disguise itself as a news report. (And it’s indicative of the sorry state of affairs in US journalism that these can be so indistinguishable.)

Richter “reports”:
USAID "threatens our sovereignty and stability," the eight-nation Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas fumed in June in a resolution that accused the United States of political interference, conspiracy and "looting our natural resources."

The problem is USAID doesn't just try to boost economies, healthcare and education in poor countries. It also spends about $2.8 billion a year teaching campaign skills to political groups, encouraging independent media, organizing fair elections and funding other grass-roots activities intended to promote democracy and human rights.

Some foreign leaders view those American efforts as thinly veiled attempts to weaken the status quo or even engineer a change of governments.

"A lot of governments are nervous about this growth in civic participation they're seeing," said Thomas Carothers, vice president at the nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "When it's connected to foreign governments, it's even more unsettling — maybe subversive."

Their anxieties were intensified by George W. Bush's aggressive advocacy of a "freedom agenda," which called for democratic transformation in the Arab world, and President Obama's support for the 2011 "Arab Spring" revolts that toppled or challenged leaders in the Middle East and North Africa.
Sure, Richter. They hate our promotion of democracy.

* And when they do, they fail to pursue even the information the agency provides them:
In a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request, The Associated Press asked USAID for descriptions of the Bolivian recipients of grant money. The response did not go into detail but did include such items as $10.5 million for "democracy-building" awarded to Chemonics International in 2006 "to support improved governance in a changing political environment."

A related USAID brochure said components of the three-year "Strengthening Democratic Institutions" program included "teaching basic citizenship principles and skills" in all of Bolivia's nine states, including the lowlands opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz.
Here’s a bit more detail.

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