The National Endowment for Democracy has little to do with promoting fair elections, representative government, or any of the ideals and institutions one would normally associate with democracy. What the NED promotes is corporate globalism. In fact, its main political agenda is the derailment of people’s democracy whenever it is in conflict with commercial interests. Thus, the NED represents the political advance guard of neo-liberalism.

The National Endowment for Democracy was created by an act of Congress in 1983, a brainchild of the Reagan administration. Its primary source of funding is U.S. taxes. Nevertheless, the NED is officially designated as a private institution — a non-governmental organization. As such, it is not subject to meaningful public oversight or review. This seems to be intentional. Allen Weinstein, the NED’s theoretical planner, noted in a 1991 Washington Post interview, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

If there are any doubts about the NED’s role in advancing U.S. domination, consider the following statements by Michael Plattner, an NED vice-president and co-editor of the Journal for Democracy:

“Globalization has fostered democratization, and democratization has fostered globalization. Moreover, both trends generally have furthered American interests and contributed to the strengthening of American power … It is worth emphasizing that the international order that sustains globalization is underpinned by American military predominance.”

Fortunately, the NED and neo-liberalism do not function free of resistance. A top priority among labor unions is the struggle for democratic rights, and, conversely, against corporate globalism. Certainly, in the United States, organized labor constitutes the best organized, most prominent, and most responsive voice speaking for all working persons.

However, on an international level, the situation becomes murkier. For many years, the AFL-CIO provided cover for CIA operations abroad through the old American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD).

The election of John Sweeney, in 1995, as head of the AFL-CIO, was part of a rank-and-file effort to further democratize the organization, and also represented a break with its longstanding CIA collaboration. This reaction against labor’s covert history and the AIFLD led to the creation of the Solidarity Center. Unfortunately, the Solidarity Center is being led by Harry Kamberis, who is a holdover from the AIFLD. Kamberis’ roots are in the State Department, rather than in labor, and his employment history indicates a strong connection with the CIA.

NED allotments provide most funding for the Solidarity Center, which actually receives almost no funding from union dues. In fact, very few union members have been aware of the activities of the Solidarity Center, at least until recently.

Solidarity Center activities in Venezuela have prompted a rank-and-file reaction against NED funding of the center. Many union sisters and brothers were incensed to learn of Solidarity Center aid to those attempting to derail democracy in Venezuela, including support for corrupt union officials and elements involved in the April 2002 coup attempt.

A tremendous movement has arisen among the rank and file that questions acceptance of NED monies and demands accountability from the Solidarity Center. This movement had its largest success in the unanimous approval of the Building Unity and Trust Among Workers Worldwide resolution, July 13, 2004, by the California Labor Federation. This resolution strongly questioned acceptance of NED funding, especially in Venezuela and also in Iraq. The resolution further called on the AFL-CIO to “clear the air” regarding its past associations with the CIA and anti-democratic activities around the world.

Nowhere has the struggle for democracy and the fightback against the NED been as strong or inspiring as among those movements in Latin America most targeted by the NED and other components of neo-liberal expansionism.

A new vision is emerging in Latin America that is inspiring the world with its strength and vitality. It is a vision of real democracy, social justice, anti-imperialism, national sovereignty, community-based development, and international solidarity. It is a vision that challenges the U.S. corporate lust for natural resources, and rejects the rampant privatization that is undermining national sovereignty and the people’s right to make democratic decisions regarding resource development.

As people who cherish democracy and its corollaries of human rights, economic justice, and respect for the land and its resources, we have no choice but to condemn NED interference. The NED is a political trailblazer for neo-liberalism, and thus, for neo-colonialism. For that reason, proponents of real democracy, who love peace and justice, must work together to demand the defunding and the closing of the NED.

We must not, however, think that if we get rid of or bring major changes to the NED, we have achieved our goal. The NED is but one player in the subversion of democracy in service to corporate expansionism.

Our struggle is one of internationalism versus globalism, of people’s democracy versus elitism. Around the world, and here at home, our goal is the same: government by the people, for the people, and of the people — no more, no less.

James Jordan (turnwind_az@yahoo.com) is coordinator of the Latin America Solidarity Coalition’s working group on the NED.