Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Democracy Ltd

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Democracy Ltd

Article excerpt

If the word "democracy"--repeated over and over in the mouths of Northern officials--is starting to sound as meaningless as "bubblegum," then try replacing it with "polyarchy" or "a system of elections managed by competing elites." Then take "good governance" and try substituting it with "paving a path for greater privatization in the majority world." A new glossary for decoding foreign-policy doublespeak is the first thing you'll acquire as you start examining work by In the Name of Democracy, the newly formed activist research collective.

"Ther's a word game being played," says Kirsten Weld, a doctoral student at Yale University and a member of the collective. "It's important to call out what is actually happening here and to prevent the idea of democracy from being hijacked by people who have very little interest in people power." What's happening in democracy's name, in our names and with our tax dollars, says Weld, is not entirely unlike what was happening when the U.S. was propping up authoritarian governments. What's different, she says, is that "democracy is a lot easier to get behind."

A Clearing House for Democracy Promotion Research

While democracy promotion has been studied on a case-by-case basis in various parts of the world, the collective's website,, is intended to be a clearing house of information that pulls such work together. With a more global scope, Weld says, "you can start to read an article about Peru or an article about Iraq, and start to see the parallels and the greater theoretical arguments and broader patterns." Current members hope the site will inspire further participation and ultimately become useful to people directly affected by democracy promotion.

William Robinson, professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a member of the collective's advisory committee who has done extensive critical research on this subject. He argues that democracy promotion is the political globalization accompanying neoliberal economic globalization and militarization around the world today. He coined the term "polyarchy" better to define this strategy. He traces its emergence to the early 1980s under the Reagan Administration following the U.S. defeat in Indochina and in response to democracy movements rising up against authoritarian regimes worldwide in the 1960s and '70s. About this time, he says, U.S. foreign-policy circles concluded that promoting polyarchy would serve neoliberal economic interests better in the long run than promoting dictatorships.

The National Endowment for Democracy and the CIA

Jonah Gindin, an independent journalist who divides his time between Canada and Venezuela, was instrumental in getting the collective started. "I was following pretty high-profile U.S. intervention in Venezuela along the democracy promotion model," he recalls. One of the most well known examples that he was researching involves Sumate, a civil-rights NGO that is a recipient of funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). "The leader of Sumate was in the palace in 2002 during the coup," highlights Gindin, "and at the time obviously supported the coup."

Gindin recalls a quote from Allen Weinstein, one of the NED'S founders. Reported by the Washington Post in 1990, Weinstein said, "A lot of what we do today at the National Endowment for Democracy was done 25 years ago by the CIA." Gindin could see that all four, core foundations of the NED had projects in Venezuela. As part of his research, he interviewed Phil Agee, a former CIA agent. "[Agee] left the agency in 1967," Gindin tells me, "after coming to the conclusion that everything he was doing was not in the service of freedom or democracy, but was really in the service propping up the local elites and propping up the status quo in Latin America." Agee now joins Robinson, along with Naomi Klein, on the collective's advisory committee. …

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