Exclusive: Venezuela seems to be following Ukraine on the neocon hit list for “regime change” as Washington punishes Caracas for acting against a perceived coup threat. But a broader problem is how the U.S. conflates “free markets” with “democracy,” giving “democracy” a bad name, writes Robert Parry.
By Robert Parry
The one common thread in modern U.S. foreign policy is an insistence on “free market” solutions to the world’s problems. That is, unless you’re lucky enough to live in a First World ally of the United States or your country is too big to bully.
So, if you’re in France or Canada or for that matter China, you can have generous health and educational services and build a modern infrastructure. But if you’re a Third World country or otherwise vulnerable like, say, Ukraine or Venezuela Official Washington insists that you shred your social safety net and give free reign to private investors.
If you’re good and accept this “free market” domination, you become, by the U.S. definition, a “democracy” even if doing so goes against the wishes of most of your citizens. In other words, it doesn’t matter what most voters want; they must accept the “magic of the market” to be deemed a “democracy.”
Thus, in today’s U.S. parlance, “democracy” has come to mean almost the opposite of what it classically meant. Rather than rule by a majority of the people, you have rule by “the market,” which usually translates into rule by local oligarchs, rich foreigners and global banks.
Governments that don’t follow these rules by instead shaping their societies to address the needs of average citizens are deemed “not free,” thus making them targets of U.S.-funded “non-governmental organizations,” which train activists, pay journalists and coordinate business groups to organize an opposition to get rid of these “un-democratic” governments.
If a leader seeks to defend his or her nation’s sovereignty by such means as requiring these NGOs to register as “foreign agents,” the offending government is accused of violating “human rights” and becomes a candidate for more aggressive “regime change.”
Currently, one of the big U.S. complaints against Russia is that it requires foreign-funded NGOs that seek to influence policy decisions to register as “foreign agents.” The New York Times and other Western publications have cited this 2012 law as proof that Russia has become a dictatorship, while ignoring the fact that the Russians modeled their legislation after a U.S. law known as the “Foreign Agent Registration Act.”
So, it’s okay for the U.S. to label people who are paid by foreign entities to influence U.S. policies as “foreign agents” and to imprison people who fail to register but not for Russia to do the same. A number of these NGOs in Russia and elsewhere also are not “independent” entities but instead are financed by the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
There is even a circular element to this U.S. complaint. Leading the denunciation of Russia and other governments that restrain these U.S.-financed NGOs is Freedom House, which marks down countries on its “freedom index” when they balk at letting in this back-door U.S. influence. However, over the past three decades, Freedom House has become essentially a subsidiary of NED, a bought-and-paid-for NGO itself.
The Hidden CIA Hand
That takeover began in earnest in 1983 when CIA Director William Casey was focused on creating a funding mechanism to support Freedom House and other outside groups that would engage in propaganda and political action that the CIA had historically organized and financed covertly. Casey helped shape the plan for a congressionally funded entity that would serve as a conduit for this U.S. government money.
But Casey recognized the need to hide the CIA’s strings. “Obviously we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the development of such an organization, nor should we appear to be a sponsor or advocate,” Casey said in one undated letter to then-White House counselor Edwin Meese III as Casey urged creation of a “National Endowment.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA’s Hidden Hand in ‘Democracy’ Groups.”]
Casey’s planning led to the 1983 creation of NED, which was put under the control of neoconservative Carl Gershman, who remains in charge to this day. Gershman’s NED now distributes more than $100 million a year, which included financing scores of activists, journalists and other groups inside Ukraine before last year’s coup and now pays for dozens of projects in Venezuela, the new emerging target for “regime change.”
But NED’s cash is only a part of how the U.S. government manipulates events in vulnerable countries. In Ukraine, prior to the February 2014 coup, neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.”
Nuland then handpicked who would be the new leadership, telling U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt that “Yats is the guy,” referring to “free market” politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who not surprisingly emerged as the new prime minister after a violent coup ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014.
The coup also started a civil war that has claimed more than 6,000 lives, mostly ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine who had supported Yanukovych and were targeted for a ruthless “anti-terrorist operation” spearheaded by neo-Nazi and other far-right militias dispatched by the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev. But Nuland blames everything on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Nuland’s Mastery of Ukraine Propaganda.”]
On top of Ukraine’s horrific death toll, the country’s economy has largely collapsed, but Nuland, Yatsenyuk and other free-marketeers have devised a solution, in line with the wishes of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund: Austerity for the average Ukrainian.
Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Nuland hailed “reforms” to turn Ukraine into a “free-market state,” including decisions “to reduce and cap pension benefits, increase work requirements and phase in a higher retirement age; [and] cutting wasteful gas subsidies.”
In other words, these “reforms” are designed to make the hard lives of average Ukrainians even harder by slashing pensions, removing work protections, forcing people to work into their old age and making them pay more for heat during the winter.
‘Sharing’ the Wealth
In exchange for those “reforms,” the IMF approved $17.5 billion in aid that will be handled by Ukraine’s Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, who until last December was a former U.S. diplomat responsible for a U.S. taxpayer-financed $150 million investment fund for Ukraine that was drained of money as she engaged in lucrative insider deals deals that she has fought to keep secret. Now, Ms. Jaresko and her cronies will get a chance to be the caretakers of more than 100 times more money. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ukraine’s Finance Minister’s American ‘Values.’”]
Other prominent Americans have been circling around Ukraine’s “democratic” opportunities. For instance, Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter was named to the board of directors of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, a shadowy Cyprus-based company linked to Privat Bank.
Privat Bank is controlled by the thuggish billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky, who was appointed by the Kiev regime to be governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a south-central province of Ukraine. In this tribute to “democracy,” the U.S.-backed Ukrainian authorities gave an oligarch his own province to rule. Kolomoysky also has helped finance paramilitary forces killing ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
Burisma has been lining up well-connected American lobbyists, too, some with ties to Secretary of State John Kerry, including Kerry’s former Senate chief of staff David Leiter, according to lobbying disclosures.
As Time magazine reported, “Leiter’s involvement in the firm rounds out a power-packed team of politically-connected Americans that also includes a second new board member, Devon Archer, a Democratic bundler and former adviser to John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Both Archer and Hunter Biden have worked as business partners with Kerry’s son-in-law, Christopher Heinz, the founding partner of Rosemont Capital, a private-equity company.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Whys Behind the Ukraine Crisis.”]
So, it seems even this modern form of “democracy” has some “sharing the wealth” aspects.
Which brings us to the worsening crisis in Venezuela, a South American country which has been ruled over the past decade or so by leftist leaders who with broad public support have sought to spread the nation’s oil wealth around more broadly than ever before, including paying for ambitious social programs to address problems of illiteracy, disease and poverty.
While there were surely missteps and mistakes by the late President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro, the Chavista government has made progress in addressing some of Venezuela’s enduring social ills, which had been coolly ignored by previous U.S.-backed rulers, such as President Carlos Andres Perez, who collaborated with the CIA and hobnobbed with the great and powerful.
I was once told by an Andres Perez assistant that the Venezuelan president shared his villa outside Caracas with the likes of David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger, bringing in beauty pageant contestants for their entertainment.
Chavez and Maduro at least have tried to improve the lot of the average Venezuelan. However, facing a deepening economic crisis made worse by the drop in world oil prices, Maduro has found himself under increasing political pressure, some of it financed or inspired by Washington and supported by the rightist government in neighboring Colombia.
Allegations of a Coup
Maduro has reacted to these moves against his government by accusing some opponents of plotting a coup, a claim that is mocked by the U.S. State Department and by the U.S. mainstream media, which apparently doesn’t believe that the United States would ever think of staging a coup in Latin America.
This week, the White House declared that the evidence of any coup-plotting is either fabricated or implausible, as the New York Times reported. President Barack Obama then cited what he called “an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States” from Venezuela and froze the American assets of seven Venezuelan police and military officials.
The fact that Obama can deliver that line with a straight face should make any future words out of his mouth not credible. Venezuela has done nothing to threaten the “national security of the United States” extraordinarily or otherwise. Whatever the truth about the coup-plotting, Venezuela has a much greater reason to fear for its national security at the hands of the United States.
But in this up-is-down world of Official Washington, bureaucrats and journalists nod in agreement at such absurdities.
A few weeks ago, I was having brunch with a longtime State Department official who was chortling about the pain that the drop in oil prices was inflicting on Venezuela and some other adversarial states, including Iran and Russia.
I asked why the U.S. government took such pleasure at watching people in these countries suffer. I suggested that it was perhaps more in U.S. interests for these countries and their people to be doing well with money in their pockets so they could shop and do business.
His response was that these countries had caused trouble for U.S. foreign policy in the past and now it was their turn to pay the price. He also called me a “Putin apologist” when I wouldn’t agree with the State Department’s line blaming Russia for all of Ukraine’s ills.
But the broader question is: Why does the United States insist on imposing “free market” rules on these struggling countries when Democrats and even some Republicans agree that an unrestrained “free market” has not worked well for the American people? It was “free market” extremism that led to the Great Depression of the 1930s and to the Great Recession of 2008, the effects of which are only now slowly receding.
Further, real democracy i.e., the will of the majority to shape societies to serve the many rather than the few has turned out also to be good economics. American society and economy were arguably strongest when government policy encouraged a growing middle class from the New Deal through the 1970s.
To be sure, there were faults and false starts during those decades, but experiments with an uncontrolled “free market” have proven catastrophic. Yet, that is what the U.S. government seems determined to foist on vulnerable countries whose majorities would prefer to make their societies more equitable, more fair.
And beyond the negative social impact of the “free market,” there is the danger that conflating policies that cause economic inequality with democracy will give democracy a very bad name.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). You also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.
I for one will welcome the Venezuelan Army as liberators when they roll into the Quad Cities
I’ve been wondering about this drop in oil price. It seems a very blunt instrument, and it may produce disastrous effects on domestic production as well. Greg Palast has argued that the invasion of Iraq was, in part aimed at keeping Iraqi oil off the market thereby keeping prices higher and increasing competitiveness for domestic producers. If these players were indeed influential enough to convince the political powers that be to invade and occupy a country unprovoked, how long will they allow these low prices to remain?
Just as an aside, the conflation of democracy with capitalism, and capitalism with freedom, has been in the making for at least a century, maybe more. It was Eddie Bernays who first conspicuously tried to tie the concepts together on behalf of his corporate clients. In Bernays’ mind, it was actually preferable to supplant the choices offered by democratic citizenship with the choices offered by consumerism. Over time, through his efforts and those of others, such as Hayek and Friedman and James Buchanan, the public was inexorably guided to the conclusion that markets were more responsive to the public’s needs than government, and that inevitably led to the further conclusion that government was both irrelevant and harmful (Ronald Reagan’s exact campaign pitch). Which was, as it turns out, precisely the aim of the oligarchs all along.
Just as all corporate effort trends toward monopoly, corporatism and capitalism always trend toward fascism. So, when Eddie Bernays said that democracy and capitalism were synonymous, he was, of course, lying for the people who paid his fees.
The mass media of oligarchy proclaim the virtue of â€œfreeâ€ enterprise, but its proponents eliminate free enterprise by advancing extortionate modes of business such as monopolies. Most healthy industries remaining are not market based: health services, legal services, education, energy, government service, and the military are not based upon consumer decisions and competition. Banking, finance and investment are elaborate schemes to steal the savings entrusted to them as well as government bailouts. Agriculture is mechanized; the â€œdomesticâ€ auto industry is conducted more in Canada and Mexico than in the US. Apart from the small construction industry and steel, the nation produces almost nothing for the free market. All that is left are low-wage food, sales, repair, and domestic services. The luxuries markets of travel, the arts, and so forth exist only between recessions caused by the speculators. So the â€˜free enterpriseâ€ ideology is a sham: the fact is an economy of forced expenditures, theft, fraud, speculation, and low wage servitude.
No one other than large companies really starts a new business other than a small service company or store, and small startups are driven out by larger ones. So enterprise is not ‘free’ for anyone to participate. It’s only free of adequate regulation to ensure health, safety, durability, and security of investments.
But we’re still free to be professionally cheated in the stock market, or to start small unstable low-paying shops in food, sales, repair, and domestic services. Those of us not in the extortion-based sectors still have the freedom to be poor despite a good education and hard work, the freedom to die if we cannot afford health insurance, the freedom to lose everything to market changes and be cheated of our savings and investments; the freedom to have no representation in politics or public debate. The sacred four freedoms allow us to lose everything to scoundrels despite hard work all our lives.
As long as we define â€˜demosâ€ to mean dem oligarchs, we have democracy.
HOW TO GLORIFY GLOBALISM AND DISPOSE OF HUMAN BEINGS
This most incisive article by Bob Parry rights some basic flaws in the assumption of so many
authors, including self-proclaimed “liberals” of the inevitable “revolutionary” (??) advantages
of globalism. A prime example is economist William Greider’s tome ONE WORLD READY OR
NOT: THE MANIC LOGIC OF GLOBAL CAPITALISM written in 1997. If it did not emanate from
the White House, it might just as well. The evil is Communism, Marxist-Leninism, China and
so forth. As opposed to “the democracies” (such as the US). At least in the US the hundreds of
thousands of displaced workers have “free expression”.
As well shown in Gabriel Kolko’s many works, history has not documented labor’s role as a savior able to persuade multinational gree. See in particular Gabriel Kolko’s MAIN CURRENTS
IN MODERN AMERICAN HISTORY.
If American workers would only give up $4000.00 plus per year to work for $400 dollars
per year and thereby contribute to the profits of multinationals,..!!! Instead they hold
fast to the gains of years of employment for a company and make life hard for the multi-nationals. BOO-HOO! So you see, labor has forced the wealthy to poor markets and to lay off
hundred of thousands of almost well-paid employees. At least these laid off workers have
I advise those whom I join in support of “BDS”, “Boycott Divest Sanction” [of Israel] to read
Greider’s book if they can stomach his distorted values.
It remains for the Robert Parrys of the world to examine with the utmost care what commodities exist in each and every nation. As Gabriel Kolko pointed out, these commodities can be small, not well-known, but absolutely crucial to the manufacture of basic industries for the western world.
I try to hang in there to learn what I can from William Greider and his ilk despite their absurd
political views and re-writing of history and power. I may learn something by mistake.
—-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA
How â€˜Free Marketsâ€™ Defame â€˜Democracyâ€™
I found this to be an amazingly good essay. Earlier today I was thinking about the Oil Price Plunge, and wondered why it was being continued.
Perhaps Venezuela (a nation I’d quite forgotten!) is one of the primary targets.
Another superb article.
More Friedman BS, the man was a plague. See “The Chicago Boys” in the “Shock Doctrine.”
Remeber this quote from Ronald Reagan: “If you are an undeveloped country, the most frightening words you can hear are, “I’m from America, and I’m here to help you become a democracy.” â€¦no wait a minute.
i remember in an elementary econmocs report reading a paper by milton friedman where he wrote ” democracy equals capitalism”.
Milton Friedman: the most destructive man in the modern world.
I believe a good case could be made for Alan Greenspan. But possibly his destructive work was more confined to the US.
I agree with that assertion. Perhaps somebody can provide examples of democratic countries that don’t follow de capitalist and free market model.
This article is very good, but exaggerates the use of the ‘free market’ expression. We sould use the words properly. What we are seeing in Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, Irak or Lybia has nothing to do with ‘free markets’ or liberalism (in the european meaning of the word). You can call it ‘imperialism’ or, my favourite, ‘new feudalism’. But not a ‘free market’ issue.
Do you think that people that defend the free market society like Ron Paul defend the US imperial policy?
Who knew he did stand-up, right?
Problem is that he might actually have believed it. He certainly did a good job of selling it (much to the world’s dismay).
In my way of thinking, that by mid century the U.S. will be in isolation. Not because we will want this, but it will be from lack of having any real friends left. If Europeans were to even elect to become neutral where would this leave the U.S.? More, and more people of Europe are starting to wake up to the fact that fighting Russia would mean fighting would take place in their front and back yards. The American government today, in all parts of the world, are leaning heavily on it’s allies. The list of sanctioned nations has grown so large, it has created it’s own market. At home in America these wonderful ‘trade agreements’ have left it’s citizens with no durable career jobs. Someone in Washington better soon realize we cannot sustain this model of world hegemony much longer.
The list of sanctioned nations has grown so large, it has created itâ€™s own market.
That’s quite an interesting viewpoint!
Another great article by Robert Parry, Thanks. Also a great discussion thread, I have been taken to task by the â€œWe The Peopleâ€ framing.I have thought about it and realized that, for me, it means, all of us. So, what ever element, The One Percent, The Powers That Be, The Deep State, whoever THEY areâ€¦THEY are ruining the Country I loved as a boy. Granted things have always been wrong but there was, Hope.
Should We The People ever get our government back, Iâ€™m not interested in retribution as much as creative regulation so that WE are working in a more fair environment and with more concern for the planet we occupy.
Having just read War and Peace, and a history of the invasion of Russia in 1812 and thereafter, it is clear to me that any means by the ambitious to separate themselves from the rest of humanity is still being used, and used with vehemence. As the Russian nobility was terrified that the serfs and peasants might rebel, they used all kinds of tricks and trauma to keep them poor as the dirt they lived on. In our world, the methods are more sophisticated, and the nobility better camouflaged, but the desire remains. You will never be able to convince Victoria Nuland that she is no better than anyone else, or that she is guilty of any crime or wrongdoing.
Years ago I read “War And Peace” and it influenced my thinking about all wars. It is truly a great book.
me also. he was as great a writer as was claimed.
I’ve read the Preamble to our Constitution. Being a simple-minded, Constitutional fundamentalist, thinking that the words mean what they say; I see that we are supposed to be all about promoting the General Welfare, establishing Justice, and providing for the Common Defense. There is no talk of free markets in that Preamble. Indeed, I can see that “Promote the General Welfare” is nothing less than a modern, secularized expression of Jesus’s 2nd commandment to LOVE thy fellow man, so all professed Christians should be squarely behind the promotion of the General Welfare. I was watching a DVR-ed documentary about the Roosevelts the other night. FDR said he had no ideology, that he was a Christian, and a democrat, and that was all. He had an open-minded approach to the promotion of the General Welfare, adopting whatever worked , discarding what didn’t work. His New Deal was on the right track. Webster Tarpley is on the FDR-track, with his ideas, his United Front Against Austerity, and the Tax Wall Street Party. He calls himself a Dirigist, which in plain English means a proponent of a Mixed Economy, with strong PUBLIC and PRIVATE sectors. This was the common Coin-of-the-Realm, when I was a kid. We’ve suffered a Neo-Feudal coup, under color of Libertarianism, and the Ancient Regime has shoe-horned themselves back into the driver’s seat. The War between The Republic and The Empire continues on…
Excellent article. In fact, countries with “freer markets” have oligarchical governments and strong inequality of income (Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, United States), whereas more democratic countries (such as Switzerland) tend to have a more socialized economy, with less income inequality.
There is no such thing as a completely “free” market. Any rules of economics are enforced by the government and cannot exist without a government. Anarchy leads not to a “free market,” but to looting, impossibility of contracts, civil war, rampant crime, etc. What is widely believed to be a “free market” is actually a set of principles that can be imposed only by an oligarchical government. A system approaching a “free market” or pure capitalism cannot coexist with a democratic government because the “free market” benefits only a lucky minority.
Pure capitalism has never existed anywhere on this planet, there has always been some mixture of socialism and capitalism (what is known as a mixed economy). The economic systems approaching pure capitalism, such as the US during the Gilded Age, or modern Dubai and Singapore are products of a starkly undemocratic government.
Not lucky but a vicious avaricious minority – and their lucky acolytes.
“Free market” more refers to freedom of the top financial echelon, no one else.
Bob, you hit the nail on the head. What confounds me is why it isn’t obvious to anyone with half a brain that “supporting democracy” is code for “supporting big multinational corporations.” Further, it’s almost always about oil and gas. How many coups has the United States backed in countries whose main export is oranges?
The only thing I would add is that USAID and NED work closely with Soros foundations. In Ukraine, Soros funded “think tanks” and media centers to “help” journalists covering the Ukraine crisis. Also, USAID for some time has been funding programs to build social media skills. Again, it should be obvious what this is all about. So why isn’t it?
P.S. I hope you got enough information out of your State Department source to justify nausea and indigestion.
One of the State Department press pool, Matt Lee, spanked Jen Psaki over her claim that
“As a matter of long-standing policy, the United States does not support political transitions by nonconstitutional means. Political transitions must be democratic, constitutional, peaceful and legal.”
The State Department is really, really bad at lying. Worse than the old Soviet apparatchiks, who could at least sound intelligent.
Charles, I saw that earlier today.
People constantly marvel over how incompetent and brain dead Psaki and Harf are. But if you think about it, it’s a brilliant strategy for limiting media access to information. I suspect they were chosen intentionally, and their superiors likely think they are doing a terrific job.
Yes, right now the US State Department and US President are openly financing a regime change in Syria via armed rebels. Is armed rebellion stipulated in Syrian laws as a legitimate method for transfer of political power?
Psaki and Harf are anything but brain-dead. They are very intelligent and, more importantly, extremely ambitious people who have great command over their words (sophistry?) and see a fortune to be had, as they’ve witnessed so many others in the DC cesspool doing unthinkable work like theirs who’ve gone on to become well-off or millionnaires, via the taxpayers money and special interests. Eat s**t, make bank. Sell out all of humanity. That’s the only way you can explain intelligent people taking on seemingly wrong-on-all-fronts causes. Because they’re paid to, like hired mercenaries. Sociopaths, perhaps, like many mercenaries who seek the thrill of the kill, or a Congressional seat. That’s what’s dangerous about the ambitious mixing with the mercs; what if the powers that be piss of their mercs and … things change?
p.s. No mistake that the only jobs that pay these days are those who, you might say, contribute to the greater overall problems the planet faces. By and large, well-paying jobs can only be found in banks/finance, defense/warring, pharmaceuticals/medical industry, entertainment (films and tv shows featuring graphic violence and killing and grostesque worship of militarism). Of course, no talk about the very real and extremely widespread suffering of all those affected by these purposeful decisions made by our elected leaders and executed with our hard-earned tax dollars. The possibly millios of people hurt by our leaders’ decisions.
p.s. No mistake that the only jobs that pay these days are those that, you might say, contribute to the greater overall problems the planet faces. By and large, well-paying jobs can only be found in banks/finance, defense/warring, pharmaceuticals/medical industry, entertainment (films and TV shows featuring graphic violence and killing and grotesque worship of militarism). Of course, no talk about the very real and extremely widespread suffering of all those affected by these purposeful decisions made by our elected leaders and executed with our hard-earned tax dollars. The possibly millions of people around the world hurt by our leaders’ decisions.
Oh, sorry about accidental double-post. I’m new here and thought I didn’t press the button right first time ’round.