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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"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