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28014: Sprague (comment): Relevant article for "democratization" programs in Haiti (fwd)

From: Jeb Sprague

Promoting Polyarchy: The New U.S. Political Intervention in Latin
by William I. Robinson
Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI)

As the 2006 presidential electoral cycle gets underway in Latin
America, the U.S. government has stepped up its political
intervention in the region under the rubric of ?promoting democracy.?
For much of the 20th century, as is well known, Washington sponsored
and promoted military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes
throughout Latin America and the Third World as its preferred method
of maintaining international control in the face of mass struggles
against the prevailing social and economic inequalities and highly
restricted political systems. But Washington abruptly switched tracks
in the mid-1980s and began to ?promote democracy? in Latin America
and around the world.

The shift from promoting dictatorships to promoting ?democracy?
coincides with the rise of the neoliberal economic project. Not only
are these two linked, but what Washington refers to as ?democracy?
has become a functional imperative of capitalist globalization. A new
transnational elite constructed and imposed a paradigm of ?free
markets and democracy? that became so hegemonic in the 1980s and
1990s. The promotion of ?free markets and democracy? is intended to
make the world both available and safe for global capitalism by
creating the most propitious conditions around the world for the
unfettered operation of the new global production and financial
system. One part of global restructuring was the so-called
"Washington consensus," or neo-liberalism. But this transnational
agenda has an explicitly political component. If the economic
component is to make the world available to capital, the political
component is to make it safe for capital by shifting the mode of
political domination from dictatorship to polyarchy. This endeavor
involves the development of new political institutions and forms of
transnational social control intended to achieve a more stable and
predictable world environment for transnational corporate investors.

When transnational elites talk about ?democracy promotion,? what they
really mean is the promotion of polyarchy. This refers to a system in
which a small group actually rules, and mass participation in
decision making is confined to choosing leaders in elections that are
carefully managed by competing elites. This, of course, is the system
in place in the United States. The concept of polyarchy is an
outgrowth of elitism theories that developed early in the twentieth
century to counter the classic definition of democracy as power or
rule (cratos) by the people (demos). Building on earlier elitism
theory that argued for an ?enlightened? elite to rule on behalf of
ignorant and unpredictable masses, a new polyarchic redefinition of
democracy developed within U.S. academic circles closely tied to the
policymaking community. U.S. policymakers often cite the redefinition
of democracy put forward by Joseph Schumpeter in his 1942 classic
study, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy.? Schumpeter argued for
?another theory? of democracy as ?institutional arrangements? for
elites to acquire power ?by means of a competitive struggle for the
people?s vote.? ?Democracy means only that the people have the
opportunity of accepting or refusing the men who are to rule them,?
explained Schumpeter. It is this conception that has guided U.S.
foreign policy.

This type of "low-intensity democracy" does not involve power
(cratos) of the people (demos), much less an end to class domination
or to substantive inequality that is growing exponentially under the
global economy. Polyarchy is promoted in order to co-opt, neutralize
and redirect mass popular democratic movements?to relieve pressure
from subordinate classes for more fundamental political, social and
economic change. The crisis of elite rule that developed throughout
the underdeveloped world in the 1970s and 1980s was resolved ?
momentarily - through transitions to polyarchies?the so-called
?democratic revolution.? At stake was what type of social order?
nascent global capitalism or some popular alternative?would emerge.
While masses pushed for a deeper popular democratization, emergent
transnationalized fractions of local elites, backed by the political
and ideological power of the global economy, often counted on the
direct political and military intervention of the United States and
other transnational forces.

In Latin America during the 1980s and 1990s, alliances of local and
global elites were able to hijack and redirect mass democratization
movements, to undercut popular demands for more fundamental change in
the social order. In this way, the outcome of mass movements against
the brutal regimes that ruled the continent involved a change in the
political system, while leaving intact fundamentally unjust
socioeconomic structures. The new polyarchic civilian elites emerging
from controlled transitions set about to integrate (or reintegrate)
their countries into the new global capitalism through a massive neo-
liberal restructuring. Transnational elites and their local
counterparts hope that polyarchy will provide a more efficient,
viable, and durable form for the political management of
socioeconomic dictatorship in the age of global capitalism.
Nonetheless, neo-liberal states have been wracked by internal
conflicts brought about by the contradictions of the global system.

Modus Operandi of the New Political Intervention

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Washington first developed novel
mechanisms of political intervention as it launched ?democracy
promotion? programs around the world. Political intervention programs
have increasingly brought together an array of governmental and non-
governmental organizations, think tanks, financial institutions,
multilateral agencies, and private corporations from the United
States, Europe, and elsewhere. In 1980, the United States and the
European Union each spent $20 million on ?democracy?- related foreign
aid. By 2001 this had risen to $571 million and $392 million,
respectively. In 2003 the EU spent $3.5 billion while the United
States was expected to spend a total of $2 billion for the 2006
fiscal year for polyarchy promotion.

U.S.-organized political intervention programs conducted under the
rubric of ?democracy promotion? involve several tiers of policy
design, funding, operational activity, and influence. The first
involves the highest levels of the U.S. state apparatus - the White
House, the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, and certain other
state branches. It is at this level that the overall need to
undertake political intervention through ?democracy promotion? in
particular countries and regions is identified as one component of
overall policy towards the country or region in question, to be
synchronized with military, economic, diplomatic and other dimensions.

In the second tier, the U.S. Agency for International Development
(AID) and several other branches of the State Department are
allocated hundreds of millions of dollars, which they dole out,
either directly or via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and
other agencies such as the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP), to a
series of ostensibly ?private? U.S. organizations that are in reality
closely tied to the policymaking establishment and aligned with U.S.
foreign policy. The NED was created in 1983 as a central organ, or
clearinghouse, for new forms of ?democratic? political intervention
abroad. Prior to the creation of the NED, the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) had routinely provided funding and guidance for
political parties, business councils, trade unions, student and civic
groups in the countries in which the U.S. intervened. In the 1980s a
significant portion of these programs were shifted from the CIA to
the AID and the NED and made many times more sophisticated than the
often-crude operations of the CIA.

The organizations that receive AID and NED funds include, among
others (the list is extensive): the National Republican Institute for
International Affairs (NRI, also known as the International
Republican Institute, or IRI) and the National Democractic Institute
for International Affairs (NDI), which are officially the ?foreign
policy arms? of the U.S. Republican and the Democratic parties,
respectively; the International Foundation for Electoral Systems
(IFES); the Center for Democracy (CFD), the Center for International
Private Enterprise (CIPE); and the Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI),
and International Labor Solidarity. The boards of directors of these
organizations include representatives from the highest levels of the
U.S. foreign policy and political establishment and representatives
from the transnational corporate world. U.S. universities, private
contractors, organic intellectuals and other ?democracy? experts may
also be tapped. All these organizations and actors coalesce into a
complex and multi-leveled U.S. political intervention network.

In the third tier, these U.S. organizations provide ?grants? to a
host of organizations in the intervened country itself. These grants
include financing, guidance, ?advice? and political sponsorship.
These organizations may be previously existing and are penetrated
through ?democracy promotion? programs and incorporated in new ways
into U.S. foreign policy designs. Or they may be created entirely
from scratch. These organizations include local political parties and
coalitions, trade unions, business councils, media outlets,
professional and civic associations, student and women?s groups,
peasant leagues, human rights groups, and so on. Local groups brought
into U.S. ?democracy promotion? programs are held up as ?independent?
and ?non- partisan? but in reality they become internal agents of the
transnational agenda.

The interventionist network seeks to penetrate and capture civil
society in the intervened country through local groups that have been
brought into the fold. A veritable army of U.S. and international
NGO?s and ?technical advisors,? ?consultants,? and ?experts? conduct
programs to ?strengthen political parties and civil society,? ?civil
education,? and ?leadership development? and ?media training?
workshops, and so on. These ?democracy promotion? activities seek to
cultivate local political and civic leaders with a political and
civic action capacity. Under U.S. sponsorship, these groups typically
come together into a ?civic front? with interlocking boards of
directors. They support one another and synchronize their political
activities and discourse.

In the overall strategy, Washington hopes to create through its
?democracy promotion? programs ?agents of influence? - local
political and civic leaders who are expected to generate ideological
conformity with the elite social order under construction, to promote
the neo-liberal outlook, and to advocate for policies that integrate
the intervened country into global capitalism. These agents are
further expected to compete with, and eclipse, more popular-
oriented, independent, progressive or radical groups and individuals
who may have a distinct agenda for their country.

Promoting Polyarchy in Latin America

Latin America has been a laboratory for polyarchy promotion. By the
late 1970s, authoritarian regimes there faced an intractable crisis.
Mass popular movements for democracy and human rights threatened to
bring down the whole elite-based social order, along with the
dictatorships?as happened in Nicaragua in 1979, and looked likely to
occur in Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala and elsewhere. This threat
from below, combined with the inability of the authoritarian regimes
to manage the dislocations and adjustments of globalization,
generated intra-elite conflicts that unravelled the ruling power blocs.

The United States launched ?democracy promotion? along with other
interventions during mass struggles against authoritarian regimes and
for popular democratization. The challenge of this ?preemptive
reform? was to remove dictatorships so as to prevent deeper change.
U.S. intervention synchronized political aid programs with covert and
direct military operations, economic aid or sanctions, formal
diplomacy, government-to- government programs, and so on. These
programs helped place in power local sections of the transnational
elite that swept to power in country after country, and who have
integrated their respective nation-states into the new global order.
The same elite groups that benefit from capitalist globalization also
came in this way to control key political institutions. In the 1990s
and the 21st century U.S. policy has aimed to ?consolidate democracy?
through broad ?democratic aid? and other government-to-government and
multilateral programs.

The cases of Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Venezuela, and Bolivia,
among others, demonstrate these patterns. In Chile, the United
States, after orchestrating the 1973 overthrow of the Allende
government, backed the Pinochet dictatorship until 1985, when, in
response to a growing protest movement, Washington abruptly shifted
support to the elite opposition and began to promote a transition. It
pressured the regime to open up and to transfer power to civilian
elites and simultaneously implemented political intervention
programs, through the AID and the NED, to organize and guide the
coalition that ran against Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite and in the
1990 general elections. U.S. political intervention was key to
achieving unity among a splintered elite opposition, in eclipsing
popular opposition, and in assuring elite hegemony over the anti-
dictatorial movement between 1985 and 1987 when this hegemony was in
dispute. From 1987 to 1990, U.S. intervention also was important in
consolidating a reconstituted elite and in securing the commitment of
much of that elite to the process?begun under Pinochet?of far-
reaching neoliberal restructuring and integration into the global

In Nicaragua, the United States supported the Somoza family
dictatorship for nearly five decades. The Sandinista government that
came to power in the 1979 revolution became the target of a massive
U.S. destabilization campaign. Then, in 1987, the objective of this
campaign changed dramatically, from a military overthrow of the
Sandinistas by an externally based counterrevolutionary movement to
new forms of polyarchy promotion supporting an internal, moderate
opposition. This opposition, organized and trained through large-
scale U.S. political intervention programs, operated through
peaceful, non-coercive means in civil society to undermine Sandinista
hegemony. The shift from hard-line destabilization to polyarchy
promotion culminated in the 1990 electoral defeat of the Sandinistas,
a conservative restoration and installation of a polyarchic political
system, reinsertion of Nicaragua into the global economy and far-
reaching neoliberal restructuring.

In Panama, as in Nicaragua, military aggression was combined with
political intervention to achieve a polyarchic outcome. The rise to
power of Manuel Noriega, an unpopular CIA asset and close U.S. ally,
following Torrijos? death in 1981 opening a period of crisis and
instability. Washington continued its support for the Noriega regime,
despite its practice of electoral fraud and mass repression, until a
combination of conjunctural geopolitical concerns and the broader
shift to its new, worldwide strategy led to a decision to overthrow
it. The destabilization campaign included economic sanctions,
coercive diplomacy, psychological operations and finally, a direct,
military invasion in 1989. The campaign also involved a multimillion
dollar political intervention program to create a ?democratic
opposition? by bringing together ?modernizing? groups from within the
oligarchy tied to international banking and trade. Through the
invasion this ?modernized? sector was placed in power?literally.
Despite ongoing social conflict and an internally divided elite,
neoliberal reform proceeded apace in the 1990s.

In Haiti, the U.S. sustained the Duvalier dictatorship at the same
time as it promoted a development model in the 1960s and 1970s which
inserted the country into the emergent global economy as an export-
assembly platform. But Haiti became submerged in a national power
vacuum and a cauldron of turmoil between 1986 and 1990 as the poor
majority mobilized against the dictatorship and against the tiny
elite that scrambled to maintain control after Baby Doc?s departure.
During this period, the U.S. introduced a massive "democracy
promotion" program to cultivate a polyarchic elite and place it in
power through U.S.-organized elections. The liberation theologist
Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the 1990 elections but Aristide was
overthrown in a 1991 military coup that had the tacit support of
Washington. Aristide returned to office as a lame-duck president
through a U.S. invasion in September 1994, having agreed as a
condition that he implement a neo-liberal program and open space for
the elite. From 1994 to 2004 the NED and the AID provided support for
a slew of elite civic and political organizations who mounted
opposition to Aristide?s Lavalas party. Aristide was again ousted in
February 2004, this time directly by U.S. marines on the heels of an
uprising led by former Duvalierists paramilitaries and conservative
political groups. He was replaced by the exact same collection of
elites that had been cultivated by U.S. political intervention
programs since the 1980s.

Venezuela had a polyarchic political system in place since the 1958
pact of Punto Fijo. But the exhaustion of the political and economic
model that emerged from that pact led to a crisis of the polyarchic
system during the 1980s and 1990s. This crisis of oligarchic power
could not be contained as the popular classes began to make their own
political protagonism felt, from the 1989 Caracazo and on. This
political protagonism eventually coalesced around the rise of Hugo
Chavez and the Bolivarian government. The objective of the U.S.-
transnational project in Venezuela, hence, was to salvage oligarchic
power, modernize it, and try to identify and groom new groups among
the elite who could reincorporate the popular classes into an elite
hegemony and implement neo-liberalism. But this project could not be
implemented. What took place instead was the rise of a popular
project contrary to the interests of the transnational elite and
their local counterparts. The Bolivarian project had broken with
elitist hegemony in Venezuela and the primordial U.S. objective
became to restore it. This is the context in which U.S. strategists
turned to ?democracy promotion? in Venezuela.

As is well known, the NED dramatically expanded its programs in
Venezuela since Hugo Chavez was elected to power in 1998. NED and
related AID programs for the anti-Chavista forces have been broadly
documented, and include, among others: assistance for these forces to
develop media strategies; regular trips to Washington for opposition
politicians, business people, and trade unionists; new disbursements
for the CTV; a series of workshops for opposition groups; and
financing for numerous anti-Chavista groups. The NED doled out almost
one million dollars in the period preceeding the 2002 coup d?etat to
the groups that were involved in the abortive putsch, while the Bush
administration gave tacit support to the coup. With the collapse of
the coup and the subsequent failure of the anti-Chavista forces to
win the August 2005 referendum, Washington has turned to a strategy
of ongoing attrition, involving a strategic shift from a ?war of
maneuver? that has sought the quick removal of the Chavez government
(coup d?etat, business strikes, referendum) to an extended ?war of
position.? The effort now is to regroup the opposition forces and to
develop plans for the November 2006 elections and beyond, without
passing up any opportunity to weaken and destabilize the government
on an ongoing basis. For these purposes ?democracy promotion?
programs have been vastly expanded and now involve tens of millions
of dollars.

In Bolivia, polyarchy promotion programs were relatively small-scale
until the indigenous uprising that drove President Gonzalo Sanchez de
Lozada from power in October 2003. From that point on, millions of
dollars poured in to fund and organize discredited traditional
political parties, support compliant (?moderate?) indigenous leaders
that could counter more radical ones, and to develop civic
organizations under elite control to compete with militant social
movements. One objective of these programs was to depoliticize the
issue of natural gas and defuse popular demands for nationalization
of natural resources. The AID?s Office of Transition Initiatives
(OTI) spent no less than $11.8 million for these purposes during 2004
and 2005. One U.S. Embassy cable from La Paz explained that one of
the objectives was to ?help build moderate, pro-democratic political
parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its
successors.? Now that the MAS and Evo Morales has come to power
despite U.S. political intervention, Washington can be expected to
develop a destabilization program that will be predicated on
?democracy promotion.?

Recently, the State Department declared that the four priorities for
?democracy promotion? in Latin America in 2006 are Venezuela,
Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Latin America's polyarchic regimes face
growing crises of legitimacy and governability. As the winds of
change push Latin America to the left, these novel modalities of U.S.
intervention can be expected to play an ever more prominent role in
U.S. strategy for the region.


William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global studies, and
Latin American studies at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
He was formerly an investigative journalist in Latin America and a
consultant for the Nicaraguan government.

He is also a member of the In the Name of Democracy advisory board.

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