U.S. Meddling in Peruvian Presidential
by Jeremy Bigwood
www.zmag.org, March 20, 2006
Something smells funny about the recent
denunciation of maverick Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta
Humala for alleged human rights violations. Before the accusations,
Humala was riding high as the leading candidate in Peru's presidential
elections. Investigations illustrate that Humala's accusers are
subsidized by the US Government funded Agency for International
Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Washington may be interfering in this election to protect its
The former army officer heads a nationalist
and anti- neoliberal coalition between his new Peruvian Nationalist
Party and the ten-year-old center-left Union for Peru party. Humala,
a mestizo, was never part of Lima's white ruling elite which has
traditionally run the major institutions of the country. He is
often derided for being an upstart "cholo" (indigenous),
which sheds light on the colonial racism still inherent within
Peruvian society. So much of Humala's support comes from the impoverished
non-white majority who has suffered from the "neoliberal
reforms" of the unpopular sitting president Alejandro Toledo.
Humala has met with Evo Morales, Bolivia's
recently- elected indigenous president. Like Morales, Humala supports
the commercialization and expanded international marketing of
coca leaf products while at the same time being strongly against
the cocaine trade. He also favors greater control by Peru over
the exploitation of its natural resources. In the case of its
large natural gas fields, he would demand that the government
receive at least 49 percent of the profits and has made similar
proposals for Peru's mining industry. He has also promised to
hold a national referendum on the recently-signed free trade deal
with the United States, which is widely believed to favor U.S.
corporate interests over those of Peru.
This type of talk has not only scared
Peruvian elites and multinational business interests, but has
also drawn the ire of influential policy wonks of the neoliberal
"Washington Consensus," who fear of another country
going to a left-talking "anti-imperialist" populist
candidate-especially after the spectacular December victory of
Morales in neighboring Bolivia. Yet unlike Bolivia's Morales,
Humala is a relative newcomer to politics, which has lead some
people to fear that if elected he could turn out to be a disappointment
in the mold of Ecuador's discredited Lucio Gutiérrez, another
army officer who sold himself as a populist during elections.
Regardless, even "liberals" and academics have joined
the right-wing chorus in Washington of professing a preference
for an electoral victory by right-wing candidate Lourdes Flores
Nano over Humala. Washington was unified. Humala had to go.
Humala has also met with Venezuela's President
Hugo Chávez. Both were military officers who led failed
military uprisings against their respective presidents [UTF-8?]â¤"
ChÃ¡vez in 1992 and Humala in 2000. But unlike Chavez's
Venezuela, Peru has no major oil deposits.
On Feb. 15, Humala was accused of a series
of war crimes. The charges included forced disappearance, torture
and attempted murder that are alleged to have taken place when
he commanded a jungle counterinsurgency base in 1992 at the height
of the bloody civil war with the extremist Maoist Shining Path
and Guevarist MRTA that engulfed Peru through much of the 1980s
and 1990s. It is a charge that Humala vehemently denies, but it
is a charge that has stuck and rapidly knocked him down to second
place in the polls.
The "non-governmental organization"
(NGO) that led the charge against Humala was the National Coordinator
for Human Rights, the umbrella organization for several human
rights groups commonly known as the "Coordinadora."
Whether or not the Coordinadora's charges are true or fabricated,
nobody in the press has investigated its history or who backs
it. Is the Coordinadora merely a disinterested and neutral human
rights organization doing its job, or was this denunciation the
result of another more nefarious hidden agenda?
To anyone following Latin America recently,
it should come as no surprise that the accuser, the Coordinadora
is an "NGO" that has been funded by the U.S. government
Although it is not mentioned in the Coordinadora's
"official history" written by the Washington, D.C. based
nonprofit called the Washington Office on Latin America, it has
been funded by both the Agency for International Development (USAID)
and the smaller National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on and
off for more than a decade. While both USAID and NED are civilian
entities, they are largely controlled by the State Department
and are indispensable instruments of U.S. foreign policy.
Does U.S. funding of a foreign "NGOs"
affect their behavior? Andrew Natsios, USAID's former head, stated
unequivocally in a widely distributed 2003 speech that even foreign
USAID-funded contractors and NGO's "are an arm of the U.S.
government." And the role of the much smaller NED was made
clear when Allen Weinstein, one of its founders stated in a 1991
Washington Post article that, "a lot of what we do today
was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA."
During some of the years that USAID funded
the Coordinadora, the money passed through the USAID's Office
of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Lima. USAID's [UTF-8?]OTI offices
â¤" just as their name indicates â¤"
are devoted to "political transitions" and are temporarily
located only in countries where the U.S. government has an interest
in either "regime change" or in politically and economically
shoring up its allies.
OTI offices exist or have existed in several
Latin American and the Caribbean countries, including Bolivia,
Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Haiti. Not surprisingly, the biggest
OTI office worldwide is in Iraq. In both Venezuela and Haiti over
the last few years, USAID's OTI has contributed far more money
to "NGOs" working for the U.S.'s political and economic
interests than the more notorious yet much smaller meddler, the
According to an email from the USAID's
press officer, USAID has given the Coordinadora some $762,750.00.
But Francisco Soberón, the Coordinadora's director, told
Upside Down World that such grants have "happened in the
past-but right now for us at the Coordinadora there is nothing
at all." But he later said that "some [of the] other
organizations that are members of the Coordinadora have received
or are presently receiving" funding. One of these, APRODEH,
received at least $53,246.39 from USAID. One-year-old Freedom
of Information Act requests to USAID to determine the exact amounts
of all of the grants have not yet been answered.
Soberón denied that the Coordinadora
has received funding from NED, but the NED's own website lists
it under their list of grantees and former grantees. However,
there is no indication of how much it received or when. At the
time of this writing, telephone requests to NED's press officer
Jane Riley Richardson for information on the exact amount of funding
have not been answered. Neither have a series of FOIA requests
to NED been responded to. However, if Venezuela and Haiti are
any guides, NED funding of the Coordinadora has probably been
considerably less than that of USAID.
What has been the Coordinadora's role
vis a vis the U.S. Embassy? According to a declassified State
Department response to the Freedom of Information Act, as early
as 1993, Coordinadora officers were debriefing the U.S. embassy
in Lima about their trips to the conflictive areas of Peru where
insurgents were still active. Given the U.S. government's assistance
to the Peruvian government during the counterinsurgency war, such
debriefings could have been considered as spying.
Is the U.S. getting anything out of this
funding? The Coordinadora's Soberón responds with an emphatic
"no," adding that "we do not accept conditions
from anyone." But with the denunciation of Humala and his
resultant drop in the polls, it looks like the U.S. may have gotten
a lot for its money.