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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > JVP�s war on NGOs and fears of neo colonialism

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

JVP�s war on NGOs and fears of neo colonialism

Daily Mirror - 27 April  2005

The JVP propaganda secretary recently urged his party members, supporters and all Sinhala patriots to spit on NGO activists. No one, I am sure, would have taken this lightly as rhetoric meant for popular political consumption.

The public antagonism that the JVP is attempting to stir up against NGOs is deeply rooted in its anti- imperialist ideology.

The content's of the party's letter to US Assistant Secretary of State, Christina Rocca have been welcomed in some quarters as a sign of Marxists' political maturity. The letter has also been hailed for signalling a healthy rapprochement between the JVP and its traditional ideological bete noire - a sea change from the days when our Marxists were so clever that they could discern a CIA spy behind every suspicious looking bush in this country.

This view is absolutely wrong.

The JVP is politically mature today because it has become very flexible in its tactics. It will meet Rocca, or for that matter even the worst enemy of the working class, if it serves the party's tactical objective, which, right now, is to stop the SLFP from agreeing to the proposed joint mechanism for Tsunami aid.

The JVP's political philosophy is still fundamentally posited on anti-imperialism. As I pointed out in these columns earlier, the JVP is opposed to the Eelam movement because it is convinced that the US is covertly stoking Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict to gain a foothold here.

The JVP-Patriotic National Movement campaign against Non Governmental Organizations is based on the premise that NGOs are one of the chief instruments by which the US and its strategic allies undermine the sovereign political will of countries which they want to subject to neo colonial domination.

The JVP-PNM declared March 2 as Anti Neocolonialism Day by invoking Ven. Wariyapola Sri Sumangala who pulled down and trampled on the British flag 190 years ago.

The JVP sees a clear threat in the proliferation of international NGOs in tsunami relief and reconstruction work in the south and in Trincomalee. The party perceives this as part of a US backed strategy to wean away its support base among the tsunami affected and disgruntled poor in these parts. The JVP is also concerned that potential recruits with leadership qualities in the tsunami affected villages and towns are being ideologically subverted with monies from USAID and US based evangelical groups.

Last week, a very committed JVP sympathizer, an intellectual of sorts, confronted me with a question. "Why do you think USAID is basing itself in Trincomalee in a big way?" he asked me. And before I could gulp down my nasty dram of Gal arrack and soda, the man had begun his expatiation, his voice rising above the cacophonous din of that seedy bar. My pro JVP friend praised India's example and how that country had exercised its sovereign power by shutting the door on all the tsunami NGOs that were rearing to get a piece of the action there.

USAID was involved in a big way in the US backed ouster of President Aristide in Haiti he said. Opposing US imperialism today means defeating the designs of international NGOs such as USAID, he argued, explaining the JVP's stand: And by the time the barman unkindly imposed his inflexible curfew on us, I was able to acquire a fairly clear idea of his party's perspective on the question of foreign NGOs.

The next morning I found an email from him with a link to a USAID report on Sri Lanka dated November 4, 2003. This is what I found on that page.

"The U.S. Government remains committed to supporting the cease-fire and ongoing peace process as well as to laying the foundation for long-term development for the country. While the relations between the Prime Minister's UNP Party and the President's PA Party are strained, the UNP is pro-American, giving the U.S. unparalleled access to encourage the implementation of sustainable policies and transparent governance." (www.usaid.gov/locations/asia_near_east/countries/srilanka/srilanka.html ) This year, on March 2, which the JVP declared as 'Anti Colonial Day', James Kunder, USAID Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East testified before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"USAID's overriding focus is countering the threat posed by instability and terrorism in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. Conflicts permeate the region - from ongoing insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Nepal to the separatist movements in Mindanao, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Many countries harbor extremist groups that prey on disenfranchised populations left vulnerable by their government's inability or lack of commitment to meet their daily needs" Kunder said.

"As these extremist groups grow, they threaten to destabilize their own countries and often support terrorism directed at the United States. USAID is an integral player in the U.S. government's response to these threats. We will also promote economic and political transitions in conflict-ridden countries, such as Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka", the senior USAID official told the US senate sub committee. It is a fact that the US considers Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka major strategic allies in the South Asian region.

The testimony of Andrew S. Natsios, administrator, USAID before the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Committee on Appropriations, US Senate on April 21, last year is more revealing:

"The end of the Cold War and the challenges that now face USAID have prompted the most thoroughgoing reassessment of the country's development mission since the end of the Second World War. We are responding with a new understanding of the multiple goals of foreign assistance. Specifically, USAID now faces five distinct challenges:

* Supporting transformational development * Strengthening fragile states and reconstructing failed states * Supporting U.S. geo-strategic interests * Addressing transnational problems * Providing humanitarian relief in crisis countries"

"Aid is a potent leveraging instrument that can keep countries allied with U.S. policy. It also helps them in their own battles against terrorism. Our tasks today however, are broader and more demanding than just winning the allegiance of key leaders around the world".

"We at USAID are the chief instrument of what some call the nation's "soft power." I am not very fond of the phrase because it unintentionally implies weakness. In any case, the President signaled the importance of what we do when he called "development" a critical part of a triad of foreign policy instruments", Nastios told the senate sub committee.

USAID's motives in Sudan where the US is trying to secure access to the country's oil and other natural resources such as Gum Arabic have often been questioned. The Sudanese government in Khartoum has leveled accusations against the USAID in the past, implying that the organization's activities have jeopardized the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In his testimony Nastios says: "USAID boasts unparalleled expertise in Sudanese affairs. Our staff has spearheaded strategic interventions that have brought pockets of peace and intervals of tranquility which have allowed our humanitarian missions to move forward and peace to gain traction".

The JVP appears to be also concerned that USAID may eventually succeed in creating ideologically tailor made persons who would rise to positions of power in the Sri Lankan state, becoming the key points for consolidating US strategic influence here.

The testimony of Nastios further corroborates the Marxists' suspicions: "I am proud that among the legions of "graduates," both of our educational programs and of our Foreign Service National workforce (FSN), many have gone on to ministerial posts and other positions of influence in their countries. We welcome the vice-president of El Salvador as one, a former USAID FSN installed in office several weeks ago in what, from a US point of view, was a most promising election for the people of her country and inter-American relations" says the USAID Administrator.

Perhaps the strongest and most recent evidence for the JVP's case against USAID and other international NGOs comes from Haiti.

Here I shall submit without comment an excerpt from the report 'Haiti: Human Rights Investigation, November 11-21, 2004," written by immigration lawyer Tom Griffin and published by the University of Miami Law School.

"In order to obtain more insight into the U.S. role, investigators spoke with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, and with employees of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which implemented a series of civil society projects as a subcontractor of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). IFES is a U.S.-based tax-exempt organization that claims to provide "targeted technical assistance to strengthen transitional democracies." It has worked in Haiti since 1990".

"According to IFES administrators, the organization's Haitian staff members were directed to attend and observe all political demonstrations during the months leading up to President Aristide's ouster, on an "unofficial" basis.

They were also required to write weekly "political situation reports" based on their observations and to provide these reports to the local office of USAID and IFES headquarters. The investigators obtained copies of some of the reports, which are available upon request. The administrators were asked why Aristide, as president, could not simply stop IFES from acting or exclude IFES from Haiti. The administrators stated that IFES was bootstrapped to USAID, and that Aristide had to allow IFES to operate or else he would have had to forego humanitarian and other assistance from USAID. This would have damaged his relationship with his own people who needed USAID services, and further alienated Washington, they said".

"The (USAID/IFES) administrators stated that the ouster of Aristide 'was not the objective of the IFES program, but it was the result.' They further stated that IFES/USAID workers in Haiti wanted to take credit for the ouster of Aristide, but could not 'out of respect for the wishes of the U.S. government". (The full report can be downloaded from http://www.law.miami.edu/cshr/)

In recent years the US military too has begun to realize that NGOs could be useful in dealing with conflict situations in a manner that could serve American interests. In 1998 the US army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence sponsored a study on the role of NGOs in the Zapatista rebellion in Mexico's Chiapas region. I will quote briefly from the study's conclusion - "The Mexican case suggests that the US army should continue to improve its understanding of the growing roles of NGOs in environments affected by SSCs." (Small Scale Contingencies formerly known as Low Intensity Conflicts). Where feasible, it may be increasingly advisable to improve US and allied skills for communication and even coordination with NGOs that can affect the course and conduct of a netwar" (pp. 128-29, The Zapatista Social Netwar in Mexico by David Ronfeldt et al. prepared for US army by Rand Arroyo Center. 1998)

The JVP is wielding its ideological cudgels against globally powerful foes indeed. The battle lines have been drawn.

Weerawansa has fired the first shot. But the JVP knows it can achieve a swift victory in this battle only when its captures state power.


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