USAID in Latin America: More Than Just Aid

The USAID operations in Latin America, which are overseen by what is known as the “Office of Transition Initiatives” (OTI), is a way for the U.S. to promote its interests through soft power.

(telesur) – After being expelled from numerous Latin American countries for dubious activity, the United States organization USAID has developed a reputation of an organization that while providing aid is also developing ways to undermine governments in a number of the continent’s countries.

According to their website, USAID’s mission is “furthering America’s interests, while improving lives in the developing world.” However in practice, they may well be furthering the United States interests, but not by improving lives in the developing world but by supporting the activities of groups that are opposed to democratically elected governments.

The most recent damning revelations are that the agency not only had attempted to create a twitter style social media network in Cuba to undermine the government, but on top of this an Obama administration program secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change in order to overthrow Castro’s government, which the United States has been trying to do for over 50 years now, with no success.

After it was revealed that USAID had been interfering in Cuba, the House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz said, “That is not what USAID should be doing … USAID is flying the American flag and should be recognized around the globe as an honest broker of doing good. If they start participating in covert, subversive activities, the credibility of the United States is diminished.”

But USAID’s track record of engaging in subversive activities is a long one, and U.S. credibility as an “honest broker” was lost many years ago.

The USAID operations in Latin America, which are overseen by what is known as the “Office of Transition Initiatives” (OTI), is a way for the U.S. to promote its interests through soft power. The U.S. calls these projects aiding in “transition”, whereas in reality it is nothing but meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. They work with many different NGOs and private companies, all under the guise of providing aid to developing nations.

USAID have engaged in activities to undermine democratically elected governments in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Haiti and interfered in Brazil, Ecuador and most likely other nations.

Venezuela

In Venezuela recently released government documents show that USAID played a central role in funding and working with groups and individuals who were responsible for the 2002 coup d’etat against President Hugo Chavez.

A Wikileaks cable from November 2006 shows their opposition to the Venezuelan government.

During his 8 years in power, President Chavez has systematically dismantled the institutions of democracy and governance. The USAID/OTI program objectives in Venezuela focus on strengthening democratic institutions and spaces through non-partisan cooperation with many sectors of Venezuelan society.

Another cable shows that under Obama USAID was openly supporting the destabilizing opposition. A State Department cable from November 2006 shows how the USAID was related to undermining (“strengthening”) democratic activity.

(S) In August of 2004, Ambassador outlined the country team’s 5 point strategy to guide embassy activities in Venezuela for the period 2004 ) 2006 (specifically, from the referendum to the 2006 presidential elections). The strategy’s focus is: 1) Strengthening Democratic Institutions, 2) Penetrating Chavez’ Political Base, 3) Dividing Chavismo, 4) Protecting Vital US business, and 5) Isolating Chavez internationally.

It was further added that the anti-Chavez protesters “are our grantees,”  and it was further revealed that partners of USAID in Venezuela’s fifth biggest city, Barquisimeto were planning on “shut[ting] down [a] city.”

And this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, with thousand more cables from the United States embassy in Caracas showing communication with an aid for opposition leaders and groups. Among these, the United States has supported radical opposition leader Maria Corina Machado, who along with opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez launched “La Salida” campaign in January with the goal of forcing democratically elected president Nicolas Maduro from office, promising to “create chaos in the streets.”

Bolivia

Bolivia was forced to expel USAID from the country after supporting campaigns against the democratically elected government of Evo Morales and refusing to disclose whom it was funding in the nation. A recent Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report on USAID activities in Haiti concluded, U.S. aid often goes into a “black box” where it becomes impossible to determine who the ultimate recipients actually are.

The organization has poured in $85 million into the country and has strong links with the separatists from the wealthy Santa Cruz district, traditionally opposing Evo Morales. Interestingly, it should be noted after the expulsion, the Santa Cruz region voted for Evo Morales for the first time showing the strong possibility of USAID’s waning influence

Further, the organization had previously been caught tasking Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars in the country to engage in espionage. Documents obtained by journalist Jeremy Bigwood show that as early as 2002, USAID funded a “Political Party Reform Project,” which sought to “serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [Morales’ political party] or its successors.”
Years after, USAID started a program “to provide support to fledgling regional governments”, many of which were involved in destabilization campaigns in September of 2008.

Ecuador

USAID have also withdrawn from Ecuador after battles with the government of Rafael Correa over where there funding went. The agency refused to send any funding to Ecuadorian agencies, and instead chose their own private companies, which the Ecuadorian government refused.

Recent revelations have also shown that the National Endowment for Democracy, which is funnelled through USAID was paying the Ecuadorian journalist Juan Carlos Calderon a monthly salary of US$ 24,000 for doing its bidding. It is part of a larger network of international journalists from Colombia to Costa Rica who were being funded to criticize the government of President Correa.  The journalism group, GALI who calls for freedom of speech, but funded by USAID partners accusing Correa of being “Big Brother” and directly critizing the President’s action against the El Universo paper which falsely claimed he was a liar.

The Washington agency directed US$263,000 to NGOs whose aim was “freedom of expression”, then immediately after Ecuador was on the United States “black list” for not assuring freedom of expression.

Not long after, President Correa of Ecuador stated that he was writing up new rules for USAID engagement in the country and that “If they don’t want to follow them, then ‘So long.’”

ALBA resolution against USAID

The Latin American nations are not passive in their fight against the interference of USAID. In June 2012, foreign ministers of the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) bloc of countries passed a resolution on USAID. Parts of the resolution stated that “USAID openly meddles in sovereign countries’ domestic affairs sponsoring NGOs and protest activities intended to destabilize legitimate governments which are unfavourable from Washington’s perspective.”

ALBA is “convinced that our countries have no need for external financial support to maintain the democracy” that USAID provides, and no need for them to be part of the region.

The ministers called the ALBA leaderships to immediately deport USAID representatives who threaten the sovereignty and political stability of the countries where they work.

The resolution is a necessary bulwark against the institution, but it’s unlikely that USAID will reform. USAID has axed some of its programs in recent times, and shut down offices in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Panama, but the budget still remains at US$750 million.

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