Egypt’s military government announced recently that 43 people, including 19 Americans and 14 Egyptians, face prosecution on charges of using foreign money to influence Egyptian politics. By February 6, only six of the Americans remained in Egypt. One of those charged is Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

Egyptian police earlier had raided nongovernmental organization offices where the accused worked. The U.S. Congress and President Obama have threatened to withhold $1.55 billion in mostly military aid for Egypt.

U.S. citizens facing trial work with the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House, and a journalism organization. The first two are associated, respectively, with the Republican and Democratic parties. One has $22 million available to fund programs in Egypt, the other $18 million. The four U.S. groups operate under the aegis of the private, nonprofit National Endowment for Democracy (NED), established in 1983.  Active in 70 countries, the NED is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world,” according to its website.

Says the New York Times: “United States law bars both groups from partisan activity in countries where they operate.” Yet Venezuela’s government closed down offices of NED-associated groups in December 2010 on grounds of meddling. The vigor of the Egyptian response to alleged NED intrusion was unprecedented, the Times reported.   

U.S. government monies flow from the State Department’s United States Agency for International Development to the NED and thence to private U.S. agencies funding thousands of foreign organizations. The objective of this arrangement may be to avoid embarrassment for the U.S. government by keeping its interventions indirect. The same goes with utilizing private, domestic organizations seen as respectable.

The NED system was instituted after decades of U.S. improvisation as to methods for exerting overseas control. Schemes moved from crude to less crude. Assuming ownership of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam came first, after 1898. Then, mini-invasions became the tool of choice, especially for setting up favorable arrangements in other countries, particularly financial. Sponsorship of friendly dictators was in vogue for a time. Resort to secret, often terrorist, U. S. agents came later.  

Typically, NED funding for student groups, right-wing unions, U.S.-friendly media, and political parties has found use at election time. Such was the case especially in countries of the former Yugoslavia, in Bulgaria, Georgia, Ukraine, even France, Italy and Portugal. The NED has sponsored projects in Iran and China. Its record in U.S.-targeted Latin American countries is notorious.

Cuban journalist Jean Guy Allard and Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger, along with Wesibrot, have elucidated that story. Golinger has utilized Freedom of Information Act material. In Haiti in 2003-2004, the IRI fed money and guns to paramilitaries moving from the Dominican Republic to Haiti to precipitate the overthrow of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The Brazilian government in 2005 denounced the IRI for changing election laws and thus trying to weaken then President Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party. In Honduras, the IRI took a lead role in promoting the 2009 military coup that removed elected President Manuel Zelaya. It worked to legitimize fraudulent elections the next year making Porfirio Lobo president. The IRI has long participated in U.S. efforts to undermine Cuba’s revolutionary government. Its 2011 grant for such work totaled $693,069.

Since 2002, the NED and its acolytes have availed themselves of $100 million in U.S. funds to bolster opposition to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, especially during election cycles. The IRI took a prominent role in backing the failed coup against Chavez in 2002. In 2011, the Obama administration sought $5 million to support opposition groups in Venezuela.

Among those facing trial in Egypt are representatives of Freedom House, a U.S. organization with a worldwide reach receiving 80 percent of its funding through the NED. Allegations have repeatedly surfaced of Freedom House ties to the CIA and involvement with clandestine anti-government activities in foreign countries. Between 1997 and 2009, Freedom House gathered in $10.6 million for democracy-promotion work in Cuba.

Explaining NED activity in Egypt, commentator Mark Weisbrot suggests the U.S. government “is running an empire” involving “power and control over other people in distant lands.” He adds, “These goals will generally conflict with many people’s aspirations for democracy and national self-determination.” At stake in the Middle East are “military bases and alliances.”


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.