Bolivia expelled the U.S. Agency for International Development last week because the agency doesn’t just offer paternalistic aid to the poor, it also advances democracy by promoting their empowerment.
“It was a familiar charge for the State Department’s principal foreign aid agency. In the last two years, it has been booted out of Russia, snubbed in Egypt and declared unwelcome by a bloc of left-leaning Latin American countries” Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times:
USAID doesn’t just try to boost economies, healthcare and education in poor countries. It also spends about $2.8 billion a year teaching campaign skills to political groups, encouraging independent media, organizing fair elections and funding other grass-roots activities intended to promote democracy and human rights.
“A lot of governments are nervous about this growth in civic participation they’re seeing,” said Thomas Carothers, vice president at the nonpartisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “When it’s connected to foreign governments, it’s even more unsettling — maybe subversive.”
The backlash has been dramatic. About 50 countries have adopted laws to limit foreign funding of civic groups or more strictly control their activities. About 30 other countries are considering restrictions, according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.
“This is the empire striking back,” said a senior Obama administration official, who insisted that USAID does not try to undermine governments.
Analysts say it’s easy to understand why many governments, and their citizens, are suspicious of the pro-democracy programs, Richter writes, not least in Egypt, where the ruling Muslim Brotherhood endorsed a crackdown on civil society groups.
“If this were flipped — if Egypt were funding groups in the United States — it would hit a real wrong chord,” said Ted Piccone, deputy director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. “As evenhanded as we try to be, this is the most sensitive kind of assistance out there. We are intervening directly in their political affairs.”
But other observers suggest that autocratic regimes are less concerned about the principle of sovereignty – after all, Egypt accepts largely covert assistance from Gulf-based Islamist charities and Russia employs its own political technologists in its near abroad – than their fear of independent voices expressing political dissent.