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Freedom House: The Language of Hubris

By Jeremy Bigwood | NACLA | September 20, 2012

The following article is from the Summer 2012 issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas, “Latin America and the Global Economy.” It was published alongside Jeremy Bigwood’s expose of Freedom House’s role in clandestinely nurturing and organizing the opposition to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez over the last eight years.

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Freedom House offices in Washington (credit: Jeremy Bigwood)

Freedom House is the oldest Washington-based NGO working in the international arena. It was founded just before the beginning of the U.S. entry into World War II and blossomed during the Cold War. Freedom House today positions itself as a nuanced, liberal, or even left-of-center organization, obscuring its real agenda: to destabilize foreign governments whose policies challenge U.S. global hegemony. Since the 1980s Reagan revolution, its Board of Trustees has been largely composed of neoconservatives, including R. J. Woolsey, the former director of the CIA; Donald Rumsfeld; Paul Wolfowitz; Jeane Kirkpatrick; and Samuel P. Huntington.1 Although it likes to call itself “independent,” it receives about 80% of its funding from the U.S. government, either through the State Department, USAID, or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).2 As such, it is clearly an instrument of the U.S. government.3 The rest of its funding is underwritten by foundations that pay for its annual Freedom in the World report, which ranks countries according to how free they are—as perceived through the eyes of Freedom House’s main office in Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C. This report is widely cited as gospel in the news media but has been heavily criticized by academics for its biased methodology.4

During the Cold War, Freedom House acted as the principal U.S.-based intellectual organ for attacking the ideologies and policies of Soviet and Chinese communism. But it almost always artfully avoided any discussion of the embarrassing inconsistencies between U.S. ideals and practices, such as the U.S. government’s Cold War activities in Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia, and its domestic racial policies. Even so, few NACLA readers would find fault with all of Freedom House’s work during the Cold War or after. As such, the organization belongs to a gray area of U.S. foreign policy.

Freedom House underwent a significant shift toward promoting neoliberal economic and political policies after the 1973 coup in Chile against the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende.5 Since the end of the Cold War, Freedom House has adjusted to the new geopolitical environment by shifting its attention from attacking Communism to undermining what Washington considers to be “authoritarian” and “populist” countries. Freedom House now quietly funds projects in those countries that the United States considers to be economic or ideological threats, or more openly in allies that the United States wants to keep in line. Freedom House tends to stay away from U.S.-friendly totalitarian regimes and monarchies.

Freedom House arrogantly holds that it has the right to operate anywhere in the world with or without the permission of the local government. In response to queries about its activities in other countries, an online Freedom House fact sheet explains: “Language in the annual State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill states that U.S. democracy and human rights programming shall not be subject to the prior approval by the government of any foreign country.”6 In other words, Freedom House believes that, with the permission of the U.S. Congress, it has the right to decide when and where it can meddle in any other government on the planet. … Full article

1. Diego Giannone, “Political and Ideological Aspects in the Measurement of Democracy: the Freedom House Case,” Democratization 17, no. 1 (January–February 2010): 68–97, available at tandfonline.com.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., 75.

4. Gerardo l. Munck and Jay Verkuilen, “Conceptualizing and Measuring Democracy: Evaluating Alternative Indices,” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Comparative Political Studies 35, no. 1 (February 2002): 5–34; Scott Mainwaring, with Daniel Brinks and Anibal Perez Liñán, “Political Regimes in Latin America, 1900–2007,” available at kellogg.nd.edu.

5. David Harvey, “Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 610 (March 2007): 26, as quoted in Giannone, “Political and Ideological Aspects in the Measurement of Democracy.”

6. Sarah Trister, “Fact Sheet: Freedom House in Egypt,” January 2012, available at freedomhouse.org.

See Jeremy Bigwood’s article in the Report, “Freedom House in Venezuela.”

September 25, 2012 - Posted by | Deception, Timeless or most popular | , , , , ,

1 Comment

  1. Interesting article thanks for posting.

    Comment by simian | September 27, 2012


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