5 Insidious Ways the US Has Tried Pulling Off Coups Through 'Democracy Promotion'
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Since Fidel Castro and his band of armed communist militants overthrew a right-wing dictator in 1959, the U.S. has sought to turn back the clock and destabilize Castro.
Today is no different. While contemporary means of fomenting unrest in Cuba may be novel, the underlying goal is the same: bring Cuba back into the U.S. orbit.
Last week, the Associated Press revealed the latest method the U.S. sought to employ towards that goal. The news agency exposed a secret American program to enlist thousands of young Cubans onto a Twitter-like social network to organize protests to bring down the Castro government, which is now run by Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother.
While past attempts at overthrowing Castro were run (and bungled) by the Central Intelligence Agency, this plan was run by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), putting the program out of the reach of Congressional overseers. Using foreign shell accounts and unwitting executives, USAID launched ZunZuneo—Cuban slang for a hummingbird’s tweet. USAID is known for spending money on humanitarian relief, but as the AP shows, it serves another purpose: funding initiatives to help overthrow governments that resist U.S. empire.
In order to circumvent Cuban restrictions on the Internet, ZunZuneo was run on text messages. The 40,000 Cubans who signed up for the service, which gave their private data to USAID, were greeted by innocuous messages on sports and music. Users also used it to text among themselves. But once the opportunity arose, USAID’s plan was to organize “smart mobs” in a split second to call for regime change. One USAID document said the goal of ZunZuneo was to “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.”
The failed gambit—it ended in 2012 when money for ZunZuneo ran out—was just the latest way the U.S. used “democracy promotion” to undermine foreign governments. USAID, along with the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), has poured cash into programs and organizations with the goal of promoting U.S.-favored political candidates and activist groups Many, though not all, of the countries targeted by USAID are in Latin America, a region Secretary of State John Kerry called America’s “backyard.” Here are four other countries where the U.S. sought to destabilize unfriendly countries by funding so-called democracy and “transparency” initiatives.
Hugo Chavez’ rise to power in 1999 inaugurated Latin America’s sharp leftward turn away from the United States. In response, both the Bush and Obama administrations have used NED and USAID to organize opposition to Chavez, and after his death, President Nicolas Maduro.
In 2002, a U.S.-backed coup overthrew Chavez, though he rode back to power a few days later after popular protests broke out in opposition to the new government. But the failure of that effort did not stop the U.S. government from trying to destabilize Venezuela.
USAID was one tool used to do this. A State Department cable authored in 2006 and published by WikiLeaks revealed that USAID was funding initiatives to support five goals: “penetrating Chavez's political base,” “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital U.S. business” and “isolating Chavez internationally.” These goals were cloaked in the rhetoric of “democracy”—despite the fact that Chavez had been elected in free and fair contests.
The NED, founded by the Reagan administration to counteract the Soviet Union, is today used for similar purposes. They also got in on the action in Venezuela. As Kim Scipes, author of AFL-CIO's Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?, told the Institute for Public Accuracy, the NED provided over a million dollars to similar “democracy” projects in 2012 alone. “Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, the U.S. continually engages in attacks on and operations within any country it deems acting against its interests, no matter how democratically supported and politically engaged that government is with its own population,” Scipes said in a statement.