Swans Commentary » swans.com February 8, 2010  



Caring For Haiti


by Michael Barker





"Most human rights organizations are modeled after Northern watchdog organizations, located in an urban area, run by a core management without a membership base (unlike Amnesty International), and dependent solely on overseas funding. The most successful of these organizations only manage to achieve the equivalent status of a public policy think-tank, a research institute, or a specialized publishing house. With media-driven visibility and a lifestyle to match, the leaders of these initiatives enjoy privilege and comfort, and progressively grow distant from a life of struggle.

"In the absence of a membership base, there is no constituency-driven obligation or framework for popularizing the language or objectives of the group beyond the community of inward-looking professionals or careerists who run it. Instead of being the currency of a social justice or conscience-driven movement, 'human rights' has increasingly become the specialized language of a select professional cadre with its own rites of passage and methods of certification. Far from being a badge of honor, human rights activism is, in some of the places I have observed it, increasingly a certificate of privilege."
— Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, 1999. (1)


(Swans - February 8, 2010)   Humanitarian imperialism is a phenomenon that needs to be understood and unmasked by all who care to safeguard life. Yet to date, many thoughtful and often selfless individuals have failed to address the depths to which imperial forces have penetrated human rights activism. Haitian human rights activist Paul Farmer provides one such example, as while he is personally critical of elite-driven human rights activism, a good case can be made that his own work actually perpetuates such elitism. For instance, the introductory quote to this article, which is taken from the opening page of the preface to his book Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (University of California Press, 2005), was penned by Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, a longtime advocate of humanitarian imperialism. Indeed, at the time of writing this vaguely critical statement Odinkalu was the senior legal officer for the London-based human rights group, Interights, a group that receives strong support from one of the world's leading humanitarian imperialists, George Soros. (At present Odinkalu works directly for Soros as the senior legal officer for his Open Society Justice Initiative.) Given this background it should come as no surprise that Farmer's own human rights endeavors are closely integrated with those of Soros's public health activism. This connection helps explain why the foreword to Pathologies of Power was written by a leading board member of the Global Humanitarian Forum, Amartya Sen, a forum that is in turn headed by an influential patron of the imperialist Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Kofi Annan. This is not to say that Farmer's work is not critical of some imperial elites, but it serves to highlight the fact that he remains uncritical (in public at least) of elites who cloak their imperial actions under the mantle of humanitarianism.

As a result of Farmer's resignation to working in partnership with liberal imperial elites -- to help the poor -- such relations appear to have paved the way for his organization to legitimatize the antidemocratic activities of a conservative humanitarian outfit known as AmeriCares. (2) The group's Web site observes that:

AmeriCares has also worked with Partners in Health, founded by Dr. Paul Farmer. Partners in Health (PIH) manages eight clinics and one hospital in the Central Plateau of Haiti, providing health care for more than 1 million patients each year. AmeriCares support of Partners in Health has included targeted donations, including IV solutions, essential medical supplies, nutritional supplements and vaccines.

AmeriCares also funded the construction of PIH's newest clinic in Lacolline, central Haiti. The clinic opened its doors in 2008, relieving severe overcrowding at other facilities, expanding service levels and providing high quality medical care in one of the poorest regions of the country.

It is not secret that from the first day of its creation in 1982 AmeriCares' mission has been tightly enmeshed with that of US democracy-manipulating community, as according to their Web site their formation was "inspired by a response to a call for disaster relief" from Poland where it initially airlifted $3.2 million in medical aid (see "The Soros Media 'Empire'"). Although AmeriCares provides ongoing "humanitarian aid and disaster relief" throughout the world, in 1999 Sara Flounders described AmeriCares as a wolf in sheep's clothing. Flounders concluded that "A closer look at AmeriCares gives an understanding of how humanitarian assistance can function as an arm of the most brutal forms of U.S. foreign policy."

AmeriCares is very much the progeny of the Bush dynasty, thus the founder and chair of AmeriCares, Robert Macauley, studied at "Yale with George Bush [Senior] and has been his buddy since childhood"; George's wife, Barbara Bush, is AmeriCares' ambassador-at-large, while George's brother, Prescott Bush, Jr., sits on their advisory board. (On a related note Barack Obama recently appointed George W. Bush to the Haiti "relief effort.") Other notable AmeriCares advisors who are not generally well known for their human rights activism include Zbigniew Brzezinski (who is a former board member of Amnesty International, and former vice chair of Soros's "humanitarian" International Crisis Group), Lawrence Eagleburger (who is a former board member of Halliburton), United Nations Messenger of Peace Elie Wiesel (who serves on the board of overseers of the "humanitarian" International Rescue Committee), and Virginia Kamsky (who is a former longstanding board member of W. R. Grace and Company).

Virginia Kamsky's connection to W. R. Grace and Company is particularly noteworthy as not only is AmeriCares' founder, Robert Macauley, a former board member of this company, but from 1945 until 1993 this company was headed by J. Peter Grace (who passed away in 1995). Of Grace, Flounders writes that...

... the most important link between AmeriCares, the CIA, and ultra-right organizations was J. Peter Grace, Jr., the chair of AmeriCares from its founding in 1982 until his death in 1995. J. Peter Grace Jr. was the chair of the American Institute for Free Labor Development, the CIA's [and now the National Endowment for Democracy's] labor front, and a director of both Kennecott Copper Co. and First National City Bank, now Citibank. His prominent role in the organization of the fascist coup that overthrew the Allende government in Chile is well documented. He is also connected to the Liberty Lobby, a racist think tank and militarist lobbying group based in Washington, DC. He served as chair of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty Fund.

As Flounders reminds us: "Millions of dollars of supplies flooding into a region during a war crisis or famine can exert enormous political influence." Therefore, as Grace had additionally served on the board of governors of the secretive right-wing organization the Council for National Policy, (3) one does not have to think too hard to determine the political orientation of AmeriCares' humanitarian aid. Why Paul Farmer would choose to work with such an openly conservative organization like AmeriCares is not known, and this is a question that can only be answered by Farmer himself. (4) However, as mentioned before, it is quite likely that Farmer's pragmatic approach to working with imperial elites served to influence his organization's decision to partner with AmeriCares.

According to Partners In Health's 2009 annual report, their popularity with the elite funding community has increased immensely in recent years, with their annual revenues rising steadily from just over $10 million in 2002 to some $60 million in 2009. Here the report points out that in 2009, 23 percent of their income was derived from corporations and foundations (which included the likes of Eli Lilly and Company, the Ford Foundation, and Soros's Open Society Institute), and another 23 percent from "governments, multilateral and research institutions" (which included bodies like the World Bank and Irish Aid). Yet elite support for Partners In Health's work is longstanding, and their 2003 annual report acknowledges that they received 42 percent of their $17 million budget from the controversial Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; and a further 17 percent of their funding from other philanthropic grants.

In addition to Partners In Health working with the leading pioneers and financiers of humanitarian imperialism, Paul Farmer maintains personal connections to leading liberal imperialists. Thus Farmer is an honorary board member of the "anti-slavery" Polaris Project, is a faculty associate at Harvard University's Center for International Development, a trustee of Duke University, and he resides on the board of directors of the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative -- an organization that acts as a second home to many activists from an elite project called Human Rights Watch. In the Initiative's case, Catherine Albisa, who heads the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, serves on Human Rights Watch's US advisory committee, while Initiative board member Bruce Rabb serves on Human Rights Watch's board of directors.

Bruce Rabb's background is particularly intriguing within the confines of this article given that AmeriCares was initiated to facilitate aid deliveries to Poland. This is because Rabb is a member of the national council of the controversial group Human Rights First, and until recently served on the supervisory board of Agora SA (from 2006 until 2009), a Polish media company with tight connections to the democracy-manipulating establishment. Agora's Web site notes that: "Agora and 'Gazeta Wyborcza' (Election Gazette) were created on the eve of the [Polish] parliamentary elections in 1989"; adding that Gazeta Wyborcza was the "first independent newspaper in Poland, while Agora grew into one of the largest and most renowned media companies in Central and Eastern Europe." Significantly, their Web site neglects to mention that Gazeta Wyborcza "was established... as a daily representing the [US government, George Soros and National Endowment for Democracy-backed] Solidarity opposition" during this crucial 1989 election that saw the ouster of the incumbent government and the success of the so-called Velvet revolution. (5)

More relevant historical information on the democracy-manipulating establishment's humanitarian interventions in Poland is provided by Carl Bernstein, who observed that:

Until Solidarity's legal status was restored in 1989 it flourished underground, supplied, nurtured and advised largely by the network established under the auspices of Reagan and John Paul II. Tons of equipment -- fax machines (the first in Poland), printing presses, transmitters, telephones, shortwave radios, video cameras, photocopiers, telex machines, computers, word processors -- were smuggled into Poland via channels established by priests and American agents and representatives of the AFL-CIO and European labor movements. Money for the banned union came from CIA funds, the National Endowment for Democracy, secret accounts in the Vatican and Western trade unions.

According to the Polish American Library, the National Endowment for Democracy was actually "the original funding source for Gazeta Wyborcza." (6) Moreover, in 2000, Gazeta Wyborcza awarded George Soros with the title of Man of Year for his support to civil society movement in Eastern and Central Europe. Soros had of course been very active in his support of Solidarity, and in 1988 he created the Stefan Batory Foundation (an ostensibly "independent private Polish foundation") to help direct his democracy-manipulating efforts. Currently the Batory Foundation's largest funder, aside from the Open Society Institute, is the Ford Foundation, but the Batory Foundation has also received funding from other "democratic" groups like the National Endowment for Democracy and Freedom House. (7)

In addition to Bruce Rabb's former affiliation to the Polish media giant, Agora, until recently he was the secretary of FilmAid International, a US-based non-profit organization that "uses film and video to promote health, strengthen communities and enrich the lives of the world's vulnerable and uprooted." (8) FilmAid, which works closely with the International Rescue Committee and a number of other human rights organizations, was established in 1999 in response to the Kosovar refugee crisis, although it now aims to cater to the entertainment needs of people living in refugee camps all over the world. FilmAid's advisory committee is dominated by Hollywood movie stars, but one particularly significant member in relation to this article is Susan Sarandon. (9) This is because Sarandon serves on the advisory board of Wyclef Jean's controversial nonprofit organization Yéle Haiti -- a group that obtains funding from the US Agency for International Development, and whose president, Hugh Locke, is the former executive director of the elitist environmental group, Global Green USA. (10)

None of the information presented in this article should cast doubts on the authenticity of Paul Farmer's (or Susan Sarandon's) desire to work in solidarity and "stand by the side of those who suffer most from an increasingly harsh 'new world order'" (as Farmer writes in Pathologies of Power). Instead this article merely demonstrates the financial problems that face all individuals who wish to seek external funding from elite agencies for any form of international activism. As is evident, even Farmer, who wrote an important critique of foreign interference in Haitian affairs in his book The Uses of Haiti (Common Courage Press, 1994) -- which included an introduction penned by Noam Chomsky -- fails (like Chomsky) to address the full extent of the power of liberal elites to manipulate the processes of social change. As a result of this shortcoming Farmer's activism arguably serves to legitimate imperial interests that mask their capitalist interventions in the language of humanitarianism. This problem arises despite the fact that Farmer recognizes how "it is important to respect the sovereignty of states, for experience shows that states, not 'Western' human rights groups, are best placed to protect the social and economic rights of populations living in poverty." (11)

The difficult task that now lies ahead is not to accuse progressive activists, like Farmer, of selling out to imperial agendas (which does not appear to be the case), but to strive to understand how otherwise thoughtful activists consider how having their work funded by the world's most powerful capitalist elites will really benefit solidarity work with people "suffer[ing] most from an increasingly harsh 'new world order.'" In this way alternative truly anti-capitalist ways of working in solidarity with the oppressed and dispossessed can be devised, so that future displays of solidarity can we undertaken in ways that are untrammeled by obligations to powerful states and international bureaucracies. (12)


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1.  Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, "Why More Africans Don't Use Human Rights Language," Human Rights Dialogue, 2 (1), 1999. Odinkalu is a board member of the Fund for Global Human Rights. The Fund for Global Human Rights was formed in 2002 after a meeting convened January 2001 by the International Human Rights Funders Group (IHRFG) -- which was formed in 1994 -- that "sought to create opportunities for new funding and the exchange of ideas, strategies and mutual support among otherwise isolated human rights groups." IHRFG is far from critical of imperial democracy-manipulating groups as the comprehensive Funders Directory on their Web site provides links to groups like the National Endowment for Democracy. Moving back to the Fund for Global Human Rights, their executive director, Regan Ralph, had previously "helped build and ultimately directed" the Women's Rights division of Human Rights Watch (1992 to 2001).  (back)

2.  AmeriCares works closely with the pharmaceutical industry, from whom they obtain medical, food, and other disaster relief supplies -- so it is logical that their Web site notes that their corporate partners are AstraZeneca, Nestle Waters North America, Becton, Dickerson & Company, Abbott Laboratories, AmerisourceBergen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Henry Schein, Inc. Other humanitarian organizations that AmeriCares works with in distributing their aid include Save the Children, Hope Worldwide, the Order of Malta, Project Mercy, Life for Relief and Development, Volunteers International of Latin America, American Near East Refugee Aid, and the Haitian Health Foundation.  (back)

3.  Jonathan Feldman, Universities in the Business of Repression: The Academic-Military-Industrial Complex in Central America (South End Press, 1999), p.292. For further details about the Council for National Policy and the related "humanitarian" work of World Vision, see "The Religious Right And World Vision's 'Charitable' Evangelism."  (back)

4.  On January 15, 2009, I e-mailed Partners In Health to ask them to pass on a question to Paul Farmer regarding their work with AmeriCares. I wrote: "I am writing a critical article about a group called AmeriCares for a progressive publication and I wanted to ask Paul why Partners In Health chose to work with this group. I would be more than happy to include any comments or response Paul might have within my article. I am particularly interested as to his opinion on Sara Flounders 1999 article 'The Role of AmeriCares: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing.'"  (back)

5.  Adam Michnik, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Gazeta Wyborcza, has also "received numerous awards in recognition of his advocacy of democracy and press freedom, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1986 and OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy in 1996." Michnik serves on the international advisory committee of the National Endowment for Democracy's Journal of Democracy, on the advisory board of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition, and he is a member of the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba.

Most of Gazeta Wyborcza's "staff members were previously connected with the underground daily Tygodnik Mazowsze. It is one of the most popular newspapers: it has an average circulation of about 450,000 copies and about 5.5 million readers. From the beginning its editor in chief has been Adam Michnik." (see "Assisted Negotiated Transition to Democracy" [pdf])

Given that (in 1986) Michnik had received an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights (RFK Center), it is worth pointing out that in 2002, Haitian activist Loune Viaud, who runs Zanmi Lasante (Partners In Health), received the same award. Just prior to the distribution of the award in 2002, the director of the RFK Center from 2000 until 2001 was Stephen Rickard, an individual who presently serves as the executive director of George Soros's Open Society Policy Center, and had previously acted as the Washington director for Amnesty International USA (1996-2000). Another RFK Center staffer with impeccable elite credentials is John Heffernan who since October 2009 has acted as the director of Speak Truth To Power at the Center, and prior to assuming this post had served as the director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Earlier still Heffernan had worked in Guyana as the chief of party for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (a primary grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy), in the former Yugoslavia where he managed a humanitarian relief program for the International Rescue Committee, and in Sudan where he organized a refugee resettlement program for the International Rescue Committee.  (back)

6.  "Polish American Library and References," http://www.apacouncil.org/library.php (Web page no longer active). For other related information on funding of Gazeta Wyborcza see Ellen Hume, "The Media Missionaries," (Knight Foundation, 2004).  (back)

7.  For an example of National Endowment for Democracy funding of the Batory Foundation, see their "Financial Report 2002."  (back)

8.  Bruce Rabb is also a board member of the Sabre Foundation, which was founded in 1969 and "works to build free institutions and to examine the ideals that sustain them." Interestingly, in 2005 the Sabre Foundation chose John Whitehead to chair their dinner committee for their 35th Anniversary; in the same year Whitehead was honored with the National Endowment for Democracy's annual democracy service medal. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Sabre Foundation's president, Kenneth Bartels, is a trustee of World Learning for International Development -- which previously operated as the Delphi International Group -- a group that worked closely with the National Endowment for Democracy throughout the 1980s to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. (From 2005 until late 2009, former Morgan Stanley and Company principal Carol Bellamy was the president of World Learning; an individual who prior to her appointment had served for almost 10 years as the executive director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), and before that had directed Peace Corps for two years.)  (back)

9.  Other notable members of FilmAid's advisory committee include Lisa Anderson, Robert DeVecchi, Amy Mitchell (who is a former American Enterprise Institute media researcher), Susan Patricof (who is a member of International Rescue Committee's board of directors and individual funder of the International Crisis Group), and actress Liv Ullmann (who is vice chairman of the International Rescue Committee and honorary chair of their affiliated Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children).  (back)

10.  Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean currently sits on the advisory council of an elite funding body known as the Global Philanthropy Forum. Wyclef Jean served as the executive producer of Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006), a documentary that "plays like a manipulative music video" that "makes heroes of the made-in-Washington leaders of Haiti's 2004 coup." For a historically accurate documentary see Kevin Pina's excellent Haiti: We Must Kill the Bandits (2007): thankfully Pina's radical journalism has meant that unlike most other writers he has been critical of George Soros's influence in Haitian affairs.

Another recent documentary called Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy (2009) was made with the help of Partners In Health -- along with other nongovernmental organizations like the Lambi Fund of Haiti (whose board of directors includes JP Morgan Chase vice president Gyliane Morgan). In 2007, the co-producer/co-director of Poto Mitan, Mark Schuller, completed his Ph.D., which was titled "Killing with Kindness? Impacts of International Development Aid on Participation and Autonomy Within Women's NGOs in Post-Coup Haiti" (University of California, Santa Barbara, 2007). In an article based on this thesis, Schuller shows how nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) act "as intermediaries, 'glue' [for] globalization in four ways. First, in their 'gap filler' roles NGOs provide legitimacy to globalization, representing alternatives to states fragmented by neoliberalism. Second, NGOs, in the contemporary neoliberal aid regime, can undermine the governance capacity of states in the Global South, eroding the Keynesian social welfare state ethos and social contract that states are (or should be) responsible for service provision. Third, NGOs provide high-paying jobs to an educated middle class, reproducing inequalities inherent to and required by the contemporary neoliberal world system. Fourth, NGOs, as an ideologically dependent transnational middle class, constitute buffers between elites and impoverished masses and can present institutional barriers against local participation and priority setting." Mark Schuller, "Gluing Globalization: NGOs as Intermediaries in Haiti," Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 32 (1), 2007, p.84. Clearly these are important criticisms of NGOs; however, within this article Schuller fails to draw upon the existing radical literature that would bolster his critique of the role of NGOs. That said, Schuller does cite the work of William I. Robinson (mentioning his 2004 book A Theory of Global Capitalism), an author whose earlier 1996 book Promoting Polyarchy provides a good starting point for a critique of the manipulation of civil society by transnational elites: Schuller is familiar with this second book as he refers to it within another of his articles, see "Haiti's 200-Year Ménage-à-Trois: Globalization, the State, and Civil Society" (pdf). As I have not personally had a chance to watch Poto Mitan, I will look forward to seeing how critical the documentary is of the role that liberal elites and their foundations play in manipulating NGOs and civil society in Haiti.  (back)

11.  Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (University of California Press, 2005), p.246, p.240.  (back)

12.  Farmer writes: "We need to be untrammeled by obligations to powerful states and international bureaucracies. A central irony of human rights law is that it consists largely of appeals to the perpetrators. ... That makes it difficult for institutions accountable to states to take their constituents to task. When in 1994 the United Nations created the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights, the $700,000 annual budget was paltry even by the standards of a nongovernmental organization. The results were predictable: 'With denunciation of those responsible for abuses the only means available for carrying out his mission,' the first commissioner 'managed to go through his first year in the post without publicly criticizing a single government anywhere in the world.'" Pathologies of Power, p.242.  (back)


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Published February 8, 2010