Michael Barker: Promoting Humanitarian Imperialism

By Michael Barker

“People in Need (PIN) is a Czech organization that provides relief aid and development assistance, while working to defend human rights and democratic freedom… PIN is one of the largest organizations of its kind in post-communist Europe, and has administered projects in thirty-seven countries over the past fourteen years.” – People in Need (2007)

Formerly known as the Epicentrum Foundation, People In Need was founded in 1992 by “conflict journalists” and “dissidents and leaders of the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution”, only changing it name to People in Need (PIN) in 1994 when they began to work in partnership with Czech Public Service Television. For those readers already aware of the ‘democratic’ background of the so-called Velvet Revolution (of 1989), it will come as little surprise to hear that PIN currently works closely with the US’s premier democracy manipulating organization, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Writing from Czechoslovakia shortly after the successful Velvet Revolution – a revolution that swept Communism out, and Vaclav Havel in – Stephen Engelberg (1990) noted that:

“An American attempt to foster democracy is being denounced here as unfair interference favoring the political parties closest to President Vaclav Havel.

“At issue is $400,000 that the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington has given to the Civic Forum [which Havel led before becoming president] and the Public Against Violence, the organizations that coalesced last November to lead the revolution against Communist rule.”

Comprehending the significance of this ‘democratic’ funding to the progressive movement worldwide is critical to understanding the implications of PIN’s current work, so it is worth briefly summarizing the NED’s origins.

Created in the 1983, with bipartisan support, the NED was launched amidst much fanfare by President Reagan who stated that it would enable the US to “foster the infrastructure of democracy – the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities” all over the world. Given the unquestionably murderous nature of Reagan’s regime, his adoption of the rhetoric of democracy was cunning indeed, and to date there has been little media sustained attention paid to the manipulative work of the NED and it’s numerous cohorts. Thus unhindered by the mainstream and alternative media alike, Jonah Gindin and Kirsten Weld (2007) observe that:

“…the NED and other democracy-promoting governmental and nongovernmental institutions have intervened successfully on behalf of ‘democracy’ – actually a very particular form of low-intensity democracy chained to pro-market economics – in countries from Nicaragua to the Philippines, Ukraine to Haiti, overturning unfriendly ‘authoritarian’ governments (many of which the United States had previously supported) and replacing them with handpicked pro-market allies.”

Professor William I. Robinson was the one of the first researchers to draw attention to the hypocrisy that was the antidemocratic practices of the NED, and his seminal work on this topic was Promoting Polyarchy, a book which examined the hijacking of democratic transitions in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Philippines and Chile. Robinson notes that the primary goal of such ‘democracy promoting’ groups is the promotion of polyarchy or low-intensity democracy over more substantive forms of democratic governance, enabling “the replacement of coercive means of social control with consensual ones”. Crucially, Robinson concluded that the success of foreign interventions can “be understood only when seen in its entirety – as a skilful combination of military aggression, economic blackmail, CIA propaganda, NED political interference, coercive diplomacy, and international pressures”.

Vaclav Havel as Arch ‘Democracy Promoter’

Seeing that Havel helped head off communism with NED aid, it is fitting that Havel – who retained his presidency until 2003 – would become a key ally of the ‘democracy promoting’ community, and a “long-term partner of People in Need”. The beginning of this ‘democracy’ love-in was of course marked by his successful rise to power in 1989, but it has been maturing ever since.

In 1990 the ‘democratically’ connected Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute honored Havel with their Four Freedoms Award. Two years later Havel then received the NED’s annual Democracy Award, and the National Democratic Institute’s W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award (the other recipient of this award was Lane Kirkland who at the time was the president of the AFL-CIO – one of the NED’s core grantees). Sadly for Havel, such ‘democracy’ awards then dried up until 2003 when he was awarded the International Rescue Committee’s Freedom Award. The following year he was then awarded the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award for a second time, while a further three years later Havel was also awarded the NED’s much sought after Democracy Service Medal.

Given Havel’s strong ‘democratic’ connections it is fitting that Edward S. Herman and David Peterson (2005)refer to Havel as belonging to a group of war apologists whom they refer to collectively as The New Humanitarians. They write that:
“The defining characteristics of the New Humanitarians are that (1) they take sides, and have done so in parallel with NATO policy [that is, NATO’s policies in Yugoslavia]; (2) they reject traditional humanitarianism’s principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence, non-violence, and the provision of care; and (3) they advocate a ‘humanitarian’ right to intervene by state violence to terminate human rights abuses.”[1]

Knowing this it is not surprising that Havel is a patron of the New Atlantic Initiative, an international organization that was formed in 1996 apparently to revitalize and expand the Atlantic community of democracies. Of course, the type of democracy being promoted by the New Atlantic Initiative is low-intensity democracy, which explains why the Initiative is headquartered in Washington, D.C. at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. Other notable patrons of the New Atlantic Institute include Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, and Margaret Thatcher.

Havel’s other ‘democratic’ affiliations come through his membership of the international advisory board of the NED’s Journal of Democracy, and through his serving on the advisory boards of both the Project on Justice in Times of Transition, and the NED-funded International Campaign for Tibet (a group which in 2005 awarded its annual Light of Truth to the president of the NED). Finally, Havel is also a member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba, a group whose significance to the ‘democracy promoters’ will be discussed later.

Returning to People in Need, their current director and co-founder, Simon Panek, is directly linked to Havel because: “He was one of the student leaders of the ‘Velvet Revolution’ and later became a member of Civic Forum and actively participated in Havel’s team that negotiated the establishment of a democratic government.” Indeed, at PIN’s annual One World International Human Rights Film Festival there is even a Vaclav Havel Special award for the film judged to make the “most significant contribution to human rights awareness”. So given the vigorous links that exist between Havel and the NED it is understandable that the NED is such a strong supporter of PIN’s work.

People [Not] in Need of ‘Democratic’ Funding

I was first alerted to People in Need’s ties to the NED via the latter’s online Democracy Projects Database when I was researching the Education grants that they had recently been providing to Iraqi groups (the database provides grant details from 1990 onwards). This initial search revealed that in 2004 PIN had received $75,000 to enable them to “assist nascent Iraqi NGOs to build their technical and managerial capacity”. The following year PIN then received a further $100,000 grant from the NED which allowed them to continue this project.[2] Having gained my attention, I subsequently searched the NED’s database for other instances of where PIN had received NED funds by searching for grants distributed to both “People in Need (PIN)” and “People in Need Foundation (PINF)”. However, by using these terms I could not even locate the grants I had just looked at, and the database simply displayed the message “Unable to recognize as a correctly formed query”. Subsequently, I then searched the database using the term “People in Need”, which returned the same message, and then I tried the search using the term “People in Need Foundation”, which this time provided me with the details of a further four NED grants, three for work in Central and Eastern Europe Region (between 1999 and 2002), and one for work in Cuba (in 2003).[3] 

At this stage I had discovered that between 1999 and 2005, the NED had provided PIN with six grants worth just over $300,000, however, as I wanted to find out more about the other funders’ of their work I examined the financial sections of their six most recent annual reports (all of which are conveniently located on their website). This is when I worked out that PIN receive a lot more money from the NED than I was led to believe by looking at the NED’s project database. In fact, according to their annual reports, in the past six years PIN has received a whopping $1 million from the NED. Furthermore, it was evident that PIN’s work was being funded by a host of ‘democracy promoting’ organizations, as they had received two grants from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (the British version of the NED) which were worth a total of $17,000, a single grant from Freedom Houseworth $19,000, a single grant from the NED-linked Reporters Without Bordersworth $3,600, and significantly, they had also received annual grants from the NED-funded Center for a Free Cuba which came to a total of a massive $389,000.[4] PIN’s links to the final Cuban group is noteworthy because Reporters Without Borders “limitless obsession with Cuba” is also funded by them, therefore, the final section of this paper will briefly examine the ‘democratic’ credentials of both the Center for a Free Cuba and the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba – a group that was founded by Havelin 2003.

Exporting ‘Democracy’ to Cuba

“The Czech Republic is at the heart of the U.S. efforts to secure multilateral support for precipitating a transition for democracy in Cuba… They’ve stuck to their principles every step of the way. Thank the Lord for the Czech Republic.” – Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen cited in Bachelet (2006)

Like many ‘democracy promoting’ organizations the Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) – which was formed in November 1997 – sounds like an innocuous democracy-loving group, and it describes itself as an “independent, non-partisan institution dedicated to promoting human rights and a transition to democracy and the rule of law on the island [Cuba]”. However, the Center’s choice of Frank Calzon as their executive director makes easy to understand the type of democracy they are interested in promoting, as for the ten years prior to starting work at the CFC Calzon had worked as the Washington representative for the neoconservative Freedom House. Calzon is also a former director of the infamous Cuban-American National Foundation CANF – another non-profit group that was formed in 1981 to advance “freedom and democracy in Cuba”.

Here it is critical to note that CANF’s ex-president, Jose S. Sorzano, previously served as a director of the Center for International Private Enterprise [5] – which is one of the NED’s four core grantees – and he formerly acted as an aide to former CFC director, the late Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick. CANF is also directly linked to CFC through retired chief executive of Bacardi, Manuel J. Cutillas, who is a former chair of CANF’s board of directors, and is currently a director of CFC.[6] (Cutillas is also presently a trustee of the Free Enterprise Foundation, where he sits next to ‘democratic’ notable Edwin Meese III.)

Other interesting ‘democratic’ CFC directors include Nestor T. Carbonell (who is also a director of the Council of the Americas, is a member of the board of overseers of the International Rescue Committee, and serves on the advisory board of the Cuba Archive – an organization that is supported by Freedom House), Jeronimo Esteve-Abril (who serves on the advisory board of the Cuba Archive, and is a former CANF director), and Susan Kaufman Purcell (who is the vice president of both the Council of the Americas and the Americas Society, serves on the advisory council of the International Executive Service Corps, serves on the advisory council of the Inter-American Foundation (in 2004 at least), is a former trustee of Freedom House, and a former member of the editorial board of the NED’s Journal of Democracy).

Finally three particularly ‘democratic’ members of CFC’s research council are Luis E. Aguilar (who serves on the advisory board of the Cuba Archive), Irving Louis Horowitz (who served on the editorial board of the NED-funded China Perspective in the late 1980s, and was a member of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya), and Georges A. Fauriol (who is a Senior Vice President of the International Republican Institute, is the former Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and has also worked for both the US Information Agency and the Inter-American Development Bank).

 Having illustrated how closely CFC’s work is to tied to the ‘democracy promoting’ community (especially the US ‘democracy’ community), it is fitting that Vaclav Havel should also have founded the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba (ICDC) in September 2003 – a group whose website maintains that it “assist[s] those struggling for democracy in Cuba”. Like CFC, who state their unwavering commitment to the export/support of democracy, this group’s members have strong ties to the ‘democratic’ community. Thus other than Havel, ‘democratic’ members of ICDC include Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Urban Ahlin (who serves on the steering committed of the World Movement for Democracy), Madeline Albright (who is Czech-born, and is the chair of the National Democratic Institute, chair of the advisory committee of the Eurasia Foundation, and a member of the board of overseers of the International Rescue Committee), Patricio Azocar Aylwin (who was the president of Chile from 1990 to 1994 – that is, directly after an NED-backed transition to ‘democracy’ – and also a member of the Club of Madrid), Elena Bonner (who received the NED’s democracy award in 1995, and in 1992 co-founded the Russian Research Center for Human Rights – an organization housed in the same building as the NED/USAID recipient, the Moscow Research Center for Human Rights, where Bonner also serves on their advisory board), Kim Campbell (who is the secretary-general of the Club of Madrid, and a director of the International Crisis Group), Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (who was President of Nicaragua between 1990 and 1997, and received the NED’s democracy award in 1991), Adam Michnik (who serves on the advisory board of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition, and is a member of the international advisory committee of the NED’s Journal of Democracy), and Karel Schwarzenberg (who is a member of the strategy committee of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition). 

Concluding Thoughts: Beyond Sudan

As Edward S. Herman and David Peterson (2005) conclude in their groundbreaking essay, Morality’s Avenging Angels; the New Humanitarians – to which one might add People in Need – have “served as a political and propaganda arm of the new imperialism” by helping sustain the moral cover for imperial projects by “sanctioning the abandonment of the rule of law in the purported interest of human rights”. Moreover in another seminal article Herman and Peterson (2007) argue that while:

“Those on the left recognize the enormity of the lying that helped insulate U.S. and UK policymakers during their preparation to seize Iraqi territory, the depth of ideology required for educated Westerners to speak of a ‘war on terror’ or a ‘clash of civilizations’ without laughing, and so on. These lies and the structure of false beliefs that undergird them have not fared too well lately – at least to a point. In this respect, the contrast with the as yet far more impregnable edifice of lies that serves and protects the Western interventions in the former Yugoslavia – and which laid the ideological foundations for the U.S. role in Iraq and for future so-called humanitarian interventions – is stark indeed.”

This is clearly an intolerable situation, and it is one that needs to be urgently addressed by all concerned citizens: moreover, the widespread recent calls for a ‘humanitarian’ intervention in Sudan make addressing this issue all the more pressing. It is ironic indeed, that while over a million Iraqi citizens lay slaughtered by an illegal massacre led by the world’s leading state terrorist, many prominent human rights groups across the US are calling upon these same terrorists to stop the genocide in the Sudan: supposedly unaware of their own government genocidal foreign policy, which is drawing the world to the brink of a new world war – a war which is slated to be launched in the near future with the bombing of Iran.

Vijay Prashad (2007) draws our attention to the US’s oil interests in Sudan, while former NATO commander, General Wesley Clark (2007) explains that in 2001 a classified memo from the Secretary of Defense’s office described how the US planned “to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”. Furthermore, it is vital to note that on July 27, 2004, the US submitted draft resolution 1556 to the UN Security Council (which was adopted three days later) an act that Michel Chossudovsky described as “a first step in justifying a ‘humanitarian intervention’”. A ‘humanitarian’ intervention would of course provide the perfect pretext for taking out the Sudanese government. Yet is an intervention warranted? As Stephen Gowans (2007) points out:

“According to the UN commission appointed to investigate Washington’s charges that the Sudanese government is pursing a policy of genocide, the accusations have no foundation. It’s true, the commission found, that Khartoum has responded disproportionately to attacks on government forces by rebel groups, and it’s true that Khartoum is implicated in war crimes, but the commission found no evidence the Sudanese government is engaged in the project of seeking to eliminate an identifiable group, the defining characteristic of a policy of genocide. As far as humanitarian disasters go, the disaster in Iraq is far worse. So who would trust the perpetrators of that disaster – who, after all lied about there being a genocide in Kosovo and banned weapons in Iraq – to intervene in Darfur to resolve the humanitarian crisis there? That would be like giving your car keys to a known thief and pathological liar.”

Likewise Herman and Peterson (2007) observe that:

“…the only ‘never agains’ around which we’ve observed the ‘humanitarian’ war-sect mobilizing are the ones that advance an imperial agenda – never that run counter to it. The Bosnian Serbs, Yugoslavia in Kosovo, and the Sudan in Darfur (to name three examples).”

Implementing progressive solutions to the problems identified in this article simply requires that concerned citizens begin to apply their common-sense to the issues at hand. Certainly one of the first steps that progressive activists will need to take to advance a truly progressive agenda will involve them gaining a firmer grasp of the historical context to the rise of ‘humanitarian’ (read: humanitarian imperialism) interventions worldwide. Then perhaps people may begin to look more critically at the ongoing cooption of progressive voices – most notably through liberal philanthropy –and then they can start rebuilding the left, by creating a powerful grassroots-funded movement that can present a serious threat to the antidemocratic elites that stand between the world and democracy (that is, more participatory forms of democracy).

-Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker [at] griffith.edu.au, and some of his other articles can be found here.


[1] “Havel praised the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia as the first case of a military intervention in a country with full sovereign power, undertaken not out of any specific economico-strategic interest but because that country was violating the elementary human rights of an ethnic group. To understand the falseness of this, compare the new moralism with the great emancipatory movements inspired by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These were movements directed not against a specific group of people, but against concrete (racist, colonialist) institutionalised practices; they involved a positive, all-inclusive stance that, far from excluding the ‘enemy’ (whites, English colonisers), made an appeal to its moral sense and asked it to do something that would restore its own moral dignity. The predominant form of today’s ‘politically correct’ moralism, on the other hand, is that of Nietzschean ressentiment and envy: it is the fake gesture of disavowed politics, the assuming of a ‘moral’, depoliticised position in order to make a stronger political case. This is a perverted version of Havel’s ‘power of the powerless’: powerlessness can be manipulated as a stratagem in order to gain more power, in exactly the same way that today, in order for one’s voice to gain authority, one has to legitimise oneself as being some kind of (potential or actual) victim of power.” Slavoj Zizek, Attempts to Escape the Logic of Capitalism, London Review of Books, October 28, 1999.

[2] Exact grant details:

Grantor: NED; Grantee: People in Need Foundation (PINF); Country(ies): Iraq; Region: Middle East; Subject(s): Education; Grant Awarded: 2004; Amount: $75,000*; Program Summary: To increase cross border cooperation with a pilot mentoring program. PINF will assist nascent Iraqi NGOs to build their technical and managerial capacity. NGO experts from Central Eastern European countries with technical skills matching the needs of the Iraqi groups will be identified and placed as mentors with appropriate Iraqi NGOs.

Grantor: NED; Grantee: People in Need (PIN); Country(ies): Iraq; Region: Middle East; Subject(s): Education; Grant Awarded: 2005; Amount: $100,000*; Program Summary: To continue its NGO training and capacity building program for nascent Iraqi NGOs. PIN will provide two weeks of NGO management training in Amman, Jordan for 30 Iraqi NGOs and select 15 recipients for small grants of Amount $2,500. These NGOs will attend a two-week advanced project management training in Amman before returning to Iraq to implement the grant activities.

[3] Exact grant details:

Grantor: NED; Grantee: People in Need Foundation; Country(ies): Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Kosovo; Region: Central and Eastern Europe; Subject(s): Media and Publishing; Grant Awarded: 1999; Amount: $21,000 (special USIA funds for the Balkans and Slovakia); Program Summary: To work with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to organize a one-month training program in Prague for 15 young Kosovar journalists. The program will include seminars and lectures on the fundamental principles of journalism and hands-on training on state-of-the-art radio broadcasting equipment and the Internet.

Grantor: NED; Grantee: People in Need Foundation; Country(ies): Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Kosovo; Region: Central and Eastern Europe; Subject(s): Media and Publishing; Grant Awarded: 2000; Amount: $23,240*; Program Summary: To raise professional and managerial competence of independent news organizations in the province and to promote a free and democratic media.

Grantor: NED; Grantee: People in Need Foundation; Country(ies): Central and Eastern Europe Regional; Region: Central and Eastern Europe; Subject(s): Media and Publishing; Youth; Grant Awarded: 2002; Amount: $27,500*; Program Summary: To enable the Faik Konica Journalism Academy to conduct a series of courses on professional journalism and media management for more than 200 young journalists. Funding will also be used to help cover the Academy’s infrastructure costs.

Grantor: NED; Grantee: People in Need Foundation; Country(ies): Cuba; Region: Latin America and the Caribbean; Subject(s): Media and Publishing; Grant Awarded: 2003; Amount: $60,000; Program Summary: To work with various independent groups in Cuba to develop their capacity to produce and distribute samizdat. The Foundation will work closely with local journalists and dissident groups and help promote their work internationally.

[4] In 2000, PIN received CZK 4,108,663 ($107,000) from the NED, CZK 605,904 ($16,000) from the Center for a Free Cuba, CZK 33,948 ($1,000) from the Westminster Foundation,

In 2001, PIN received €105,903 ($150,000) from the NED, €22,339 ($32,000) from the Center for a Free Cuba, €11,127 ($16,000) from the Westminster Foundation.

In 2002, PIN received €96,032 ($136,000) from the NED, €63,949 ($91,000) from the Center for a Free Cuba, €13,422 ($19,000) from Freedom House, €15,951 ($23,000) from Saferhouse

In 2003, PIN received €111,717 ($158,000) from the NED, €109,361 ($155,000) from the International Rescue Committee, €42,864 ($61,000) from the Center for a Free Cuba.

In 2004, PIN received €171,869 ($243,000) from the NED, €127,786 ($181,000) from the International Rescue Committee, €48.810 ($69,000) from the Center for a Free Cuba,

In 2005, PIN received €169,454 ($240,000) from the NED, and it is also interesting that they received €7,137 ($10,000) from the Americans Friends Service Committee, €2,517 ($3,600) from Reporters Without Borders, and €85,502 ($120,000) from the Center for a Free Cuba.

Currency conversions from Euros to US$ were made using current exchange rates.

[5] www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Center_for_International_Private_Enterprise

[6] For more background information on Manuel J. Cutillas’s involvement with Bacardi, see Hernando Calvo Ospina, Bacardi: The Hidden War (London: Pluto Press, 2002).

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