(Paper presented at the XVI International Workshop “A New Political Science”. Room 250 Anniversary, University of Havana, 22 November 2013)
For a new Political Science with a Southern Focus it should be of special interest to study the theoretical framework of a process, which has been developed in the last decades, where neoliberal globalization has transformed some NGOs in international actors with a great influence to impose, from national and international civil society, a hegemonic model against Southern countries.
The creation and the use of NGOs to influence and undermine political processes was more evident at the end of the 1980s, during the final stage of East-West confrontation and the “Cold War”, in the subversive context of Western countries fighting the Eastern Socialist Block.
The term NGOization was used for the first time in a critical way by feminist organizations at mid 1990s, when numerous NGOs were branded as “traitors” to its ethic principles because of collaborating with the implementation of a neoliberal agenda at international level, with evident patriarchal implications. This process was particularly observed in Latin-America, where neoliberal governments made substantive cuts in social policies, allowing a prominent role to national, regional and global forces with an agenda in correspondence with foreign interests. These policies were complementing the implementation of structural adjustments, diminishing social advances. (1)
Subsequently, with the use of these mechanisms to implement neoliberal globalization over all areas of public life, the term was taken as a condemnation by social movements from the left. This process of widening the NGOization of politics was clearly defined by the Indian social activist Arundhati Roy indicating:
«As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending. Most large-funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are, in turn, funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN and some multinational corporations» (2)
According to the international practice, this process can be observed in the following three ways:
The first has been known in several situations when NGOs are introduced in Southern countries –with urgent needs of fresh funds from outside– with an apparent humanitarian purpose, distant from a particular political background but, at the end, they follow a specific political agenda.
As an example, in September 2012 the government of Ecuador decided to suspend 26 foreign NGOs and the President Rafael Correa denounced that these organizations did not informed about their incomes. In set of fulfilling the law, they were dedicated to play a political game, he said, reinforcing that some of those organizations had a strong basis in the regional extremist right movements, pretending to destabilize leftist governments in Latin-America; while others conspired with irregular groups at the Northern frontier of that country. (3)
Nowadays, this phenomenon can reach excessive dimensions under national boundaries with what it is called NGO Republics: those are impoverished countries –such as, for example, Haiti, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Rwanda, Yemen– where NGOs and other donor institutions have created parallel states that are immensely more powerful than the national governments, with the capacity to decide where, how and the limits on the use of those funds.
The second case of this process is when there are created NGOs with the clear purpose of political influence over specific countries, as a mean of aggression and/or subversion to overthrow governments reluctant to follow the neoliberal model. This has the peculiarity of having a confrontational character without declaration of war.
One example of this can be observed in the number of NGOs created by the US government to implement their policy against Cuba, which has colossal funds. Just to mention the case of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) –an organization created by the USAID to channel resources for political destabilization–, it funded for this purposes other NGOs, not only based in the US, with 4 million dollars between 2010 and 2011, among them: Afro-Cuban Alliance Inc., Directorio Democrático Cubano, CubaNet News Inc., People in Need, Instituto Político para la Libertad, etc. (4)
The third case refers to the roll that some NGOs have played in the negotiating process at multilateral organizations, following a Northern hegemonic strategy to promote their agenda in the discussions.
During the debates at United Nations system and other international forums, it is common to see that priorities for South delegations are pushed behind in the agendas of the meetings, while the outstanding issues are basically the main concerns of the Northern and powerful countries.
In this hegemonic strategy some NGOs are used as a complementary mechanism to promote their agendas during those sessions. Their active presence in parallel events –where most powerful organizations can use more resources to attract a larger number of delegations– ensures an effective lobby that has played an important role in promoting those aims.
NGOization of politics presents an extreme complex situation in the global context, not only for its economic, political and social implications, but because of its diversity.
It would be unfair to make a generalization on this process, in order to demonize NGOs. It has been prominent their job –at national, regional and international level– facing emergency situations in several countries, natural disasters, helping peoples in basic needs, among other circumstances. Their outstanding efforts to introduce important issues at international and national debates have been essential in promoting an emancipating perspective from civil societies.
But there should be an alert on this other political expression, which refers to the use of numerous NGOs to fulfill concrete objectives, as part of a hegemonic strategy from developed states to impose their neoliberal agenda over Southern countries.
To face it, the most important reaction would be to develop the necessary capacities, from governments and civil society, to identify and curb this kind of influence and/or subordination to foreign interests. At the same time, they should implement independent and counter-hegemonic policies, in order to make a proper use of the benefits of these helps without giving way to impositions that imply to abandon national interests and priorities.
(1) For more details: Sonia E. Álvarez (2010), Beyond NGOization? Reflections from Latin American at: http://es.scribd.com/doc/68641558/Beyond-NGOization
(2) Arundhati Roy (2007) ¿Con qué detergente lavas? El poder público en la era del imperio at: http://www.alterinfos.org/spip.php?article1623
(3) For more information on this denounce: Bolpress (12 September 2012), Ecuador: Protegiendo su biodiversidad, gobierno suspende a 26 ONGs extranjeras, at: http://kaosenlared.net/america-latina/item/30479-ecuador--protegiendo-su-biodiversidad-gobierno-suspende-a-26-ongs-extranjeras.html
(4) For more details: Luis M. Rosales (20 September 2012), La NED sigue apostando al duro en la subversión contra Cuba, at: http://www.cubadebate.cu/especiales/2012/09/20/la-ned-sigue-apotando-al-duro-en-la-subversion-contra-cuba/