Archives

Tagged ‘IRI‘

Ukraine’s Weapons in the Information War

Boston Mail

June 17, 2014

i2GJ4sb3_Ja0

How a small country was able to answer the Kremlin propaganda machine

In recent months, the attention of many Europeans has focused on Ukraine, where nine months ago, political stability gave way to economic and social crisis. Reports from the Donetsk region, where the Kiev authorities are trying to suppress a pro-Russian militia, have become commonplace for European newspapers and television channels – the whole world is watching the progress of the military conflict. However, at the same time, on the internet another war has developed – an information war. In Europe, it is of interest only to a narrow circle of specialists, although it is progressing much more rapidly than the armed confrontation in the Donetsk region. Without stopping for a second, it affects a lot more people, and the financial burden of its execution may exceed the costs of Kiev’s anti-terrorist operation. Its features, tools and key players are covered in detail in a confidential report by the German consulting company Mediasoprotivlenie, which has been obtained by this editorial office.

The authors of the document provide detailed analysis of the actions of the Ukrainian side, which has allowed one of the poorest countries in Europe to lead an active propagandistic role in the Russian blogosphere, by using Russian bloggers. The financial assistance provided to Euromaidan by Ukrainian oligarchs and U.S. government funds USAID, NED, IRI and NDI has been of considerable help in backing this goal. Via these channels, organizations have conducted funding to liberal journalists, opposition members and whole parties that are popular in the Russian segment of the Internet. Ukrainian businessmen have entered into a kind of pact to achieve this goal during the political crisis.

The conveyors of Euromaidan’s values in Russia are an already existing network of Internet experts and influential speakers, whose names are also listed in the document. At the same time, the most influential figures in this group are not always known to a wide range of internet users. Thus, the name of Oleg Kozlovsky means little to an ordinary Russian citizen, but it it appears in the report as one of the central elements of the propaganda machine. A small informational note reports that he has been actively cooperating with the IRI fund for several years, and was one of the most important mayoral campaign activists for Alexei Navalny last summer. It reports that his resource Stopfake, which reveals Russian “propaganda,” also received a grant from the American foundation, beating out competitors’ projects. According to experts, the effectiveness Stopfake is at a relatively high level, although in Russia demand for it and its popularity are much lower than in Ukraine. In addition, some “fakes” denounced by the project’s experts are apparently provocations themselves created by Euromaidan activists.

As noted above, in the struggle for a counter-propaganda grant, Kozlovsky outperformed his competitors, and at this point pops up the name of another campaigner for Navalny. Maxim Katz was previously known around the world as a poker enthusiast – he was an active and successful player, and then became a backer who sponsored capable players’ participation in tournaments. However, in 2011 he became interested in politics and he began consistently promoting liberal views and criticism of Russian authorities on his blog. Since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, Katz has taken an openly anti-Russian stance, and even for a time ran the Antipropaganda project. Using Katz’s own methodology, it determines the amount of informational distortion in news materials from Russian and foreign media. Antipropaganda’s research results have repeatedly been criticized by pro-Kremlin bloggers – according to its research, Ukrainian journalists did not allow themselves to manipulate the facts while stories in the Russian media studiously avoided the truth. The moment the Russian Federation’s authorities adopted amendments that impose restrictions on anonymous funds transfers, Antipropaganda suddenly closed as quickly as it had opened. Currently the opposition is considering opening a Kiev branch of its urban initiative City Projects, the funding for which is likely to have already been made by European figures.

Another name mentioned by American experts more often than others is Vitaly Shushkevich. This opposition internet technologist makes no secret that he receives funding from the IRI and is a regular at events organized by the foundation in European countries. In March this year he was one of the most aggressive critics of the annexation of Crimea, calling on Ukrainians not to repeat the mistakes of Saakashvili and kill “Russian agents” on the spot. According to information given in the report, Shushkevich is now helping to lead election campaigns of several opposition candidates for the Moscow City Duma.

However, criticism of the government by liberal activists is a rather traditional phenomenon for Russia and does not cause any surprise. What did surprise many was the support for the Ukrainian revolution from the right-wing party Democratic Choice headed by Vladimir Milov. Milov called the burning alive of several dozen pro-Russian demonstrators in Odessa “local resistance in the most vividly illustrated form.” Following this, the politician issued an appeal to the people of Donbass, in which he stated that they were “not Russian” and demanded that they “do not entangle Russia in their internal conflict.” It is noteworthy that one of Milov’s party companions – blogger Stanislav Yakovlev – criticized the liberal opposition and in describing the situation in the Donbass took a consistently pro-Ukrainian side.

According to the information provided in the report, the source of financing of Milov’s political party is structures that are close to the new president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. This explains the sharp ideological turn taken by the party nine months ago.

The report also notes the extreme effectiveness of the opposition movement’s anonymous, humorous Twitter accounts. Due to the lack of actual control over the system of microblogging and anonymous authors, fighting their posts is practically impossible for the Russian authorities, and Ukrainians are actively taking advantage of this in Russia.

Experts note that the increase in the number of blogs and social media users in Russia to a certain point played into the hands of the liberal public, primarily because the middle class had access to it and they tend to be liberal thinkers. However, in the last few years the main growth in this area has been achieved by the inhabitants of the provinces, among whom are high numbers of supporters of the authorities. This phenomenon significantly changed the balance of opinion in the Russian blogosphere, and, according to experts, the promotion of propaganda among this section of the population is currently the most important task of Ukrainian “agents.”

Photo by bloomberg.com

FLASHBACK: Venezuela: Human Rights Watch Versus Democracy

by Francisco Domínguez / September 27, 2008

21st Century Socialism

The US-based NGO Human Rights Watch has issued a new report on Venezuela. The report blatantly distorts the truth in order to promote the regime-change agenda of the United States administration.

On Sept 18th 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report entitled ‘Venezuela: Rights Suffer Under Chavez’. The report has been characterised by the Venezuelan government as biased and inaccurate.

The HRW report comes in the wake of an intensification of attacks on Venezuela by various branches of the US administration. These include:

• the re-establishment of the Fourth Fleet – previously decommissioned in 1952, the Fourth Fleet is reportedly made up of 25 warships, deployed around South America; and about which, several Latin American countries, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, amongst them, have expressed deep concerns;

• John Walters, the US drug Czar, has accused Venezuela of inaction in the war on drugs;

• the US State Department recently discussed the possibility of adding Venezuela to the list of nations that sponsor terrorism;

• the allegation that the Venezuelan government was behind the suitcase stuffed with US$800,000 brought into Argentina by Venezuelan-American citizen, Antonini Wilson, but, which, in reality, was denounced by Chavez and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, as a dirty operation, about which nothing has been conclusively demonstrated, but which has become the focus of intense media attention. Despite repeated requests by both Argentina and Venezuela, US authorities have refused to extradite Antonini to face questions;

• sanctions by the US Treasury of several Venezuelan officials over unproven allegations that they aided the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) of Colombia.

Most recently, following the expulsion of the US Ambassador from Bolivia over his relations with right wing extremists, Venezuela expelled its US Ambassador in solidarity, and the US responded by expelling the Venezuelan Ambassador from the USA.

On 10th September 2008, a plot to assassinate President Chavez and carry out a military coup was exposed. The plot was led by high level retired and serving military officers.

This is the context, one of of acute tensions between Venezuela and the US, for the publication on 18th September of the Human Rights Watch report on Venezuela. Its key theme, as outlined by José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at HRW, is as follows:

“Ten years ago, Chávez promoted a new constitution that could have significantly improved human rights in Venezuela. But rather than advancing rights protections, his government has since moved in the opposite direction, sacrificing basic guarantees in pursuit of its own political agenda.”

The 230-page Report makes the charge that “Discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chavez presidency.” Although Venezuela under President Chavez is by no means perfect, it bears no relation to the country depicted in HRW’s 2008 Report.

The key allegation, that discrimination on political grounds has been a defining feature of the Chavez presidency, looks absurd when it is understood that the civil service remains largely full of supporters of the old regime, some of whom have allegedly engaged in criminal actions, such as the destruction of key operational facilities of the national oil company PDVSA during the oil lock-out that brought the country’s economy to near collapse.

The lock-out took place almost immediately after the short-lived overthrow of President Chavez in a military coup in April 2002. The coup was backed by the military high command, the main private media, the national employers’ organisation and the old discredited trade union federation CTV.

Following the coup, there was a campaign to oust Chavez through a recall referendum in 2004. When that failed, the opposition boycotted the 2005 parliamentary election in order to try to question the legitimacy of the government. Throughout these tense events, opposition politicians and private media talked openly of violently overthrowing the government and adopted an intensely confrontational attitude.

The recently revealed plot for another coup attempt and plans to assassinate President Chavez, just before regional and local elections in November, are in line with the stance taken by the opposition at crucial moments.

Expanding democracy

Contrary to HRW’s allegations that the Venezuelan government practices ‘political discrimination’ against the opposition, the government’s attitude to the opposition’s persistent efforts to use violent and unconstitutional means to overthrow it, has been one of tolerance and magnanimity. Last year, President Chávez pardoned political opponents who backed the failed 2002 coup against his democratically-elected government. “It’s a matter of turning the page,” Chávez said. “We want there to be a strong ideological and political debate – but in peace.”

In this spirit, the government has often welcomed input from the opposition, for example, inviting the leaders of student protests to address the National Assembly. Not a common occurrence anywhere else in the world.

All political parties in Venezuela operate without any constraints. The majority of these parties are in the opposition; their difficulty is that they do not enjoy the high levels of support of the fewer pro-government political parties.

Opposition parties in Venezuela can and do organise public meetings, rallies, demonstrations, street marches; their spokespersons speak regularly on TV and radio – and they never moderate their language, their criticism, or their opposition to the government. They stand candidates for elections, hold national party events, issue proclamations, statements, hold press conferences, publish books, pamphlets, disseminate anti-government propaganda – in the streets and through the media, without any governmental sanctions whatsoever.

The great majority of private newspapers and television stations in the country support the Opposition and they face no restrictions other than the normal ones that exist in any democratic country, such as those governing libel and defamation. No Venezuelan newspaper has ever been subjected to any censorship by the Chavez administration. There are no political prisoners of any kind in Venezuela.

With regard to the judiciary, contrary to the 2008 HRW report’s contention, under Chavez the independence and probity of the judiciary has been significantly strengthened by dealing with the corruption with which it was previously riddled. HRW’s own 2004 report recognized this:

“When President Chávez became president in 1999, he inherited a judiciary that had been plagued for years by influence-peddling, political interference, and, above all, corruption…In terms of public credibility, the system was bankrupt.”

At the same time, all democratic institutions have been strengthened in Venezuela, exemplified by the internationally verified efficiency and scrupulous fairness of the National Electoral Council, which has had no hesitation in upholding electoral results unfavourable to the government such as the defeat of the 2007 constitutional referendum – a result accepted immediately by President Chavez and his government.

HRW’s assertion that the Venezuelan media balance is shifting in favour of Chavez is misleading. In fact, the opposition media enjoy unrestricted freedom but they are increasingly seen as grossly biased and as having lost the political argument. The reality remains that the private media, which largely supports the opposition, controls the largest share of the airwaves, and there are no major pro-government
national daily newspapers.

HRW’s allegation that the government “has sought to remake the country’s labor movement in ways that violate basic principles of freedom of association,” also bears no relation to reality.

There are six national trade union federations in Venezuela (CTV, CUTV, UNT, CODESA, CGT, and CST), all of which function with total freedom and without the kind of draconian anti-trade union legislation which disfigures the USA and many of its allies.

Industrial relations are evolving positively. Furthermore, the level of trade union membership is rising – before Chávez came to office in 1999, 11% of workers were in unions; the figure now is estimated to be over 20%. Thus, HRW’s allegation that the government violates basic principles of union association is not borne out by the facts.

The charge of the HRW 2008 report that the Chávez government has an “aggressively adversarial approach to local rights advocates and civil society organizations” is equally false. With varying degrees of success, the government has been empowering millions of hitherto excluded people through an array of social organizations, such as – tens of thousands of – communal councils, which aim to democratize local government.

There are also 200,000 cooperatives, women’s organizations, indigenous organizations, Afro-descendants organizations, organizations of gays and lesbians, and so forth. The numbers of these organizations have mushroomed because their rights have, for the first time ever, been either enshrined in the 1999 constitution or are being actively promoted and the government has been keen to assist them.

Additionally, as part of the implementation of the principles of participatory democracy enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, the government has made successful efforts to enfranchise ever larger layers of the traditionally excluded.

In terms of the traditional electoral process, the number of registered voters has increased phenomenonally. When Chávez was first elected President in 1998 the number of registered voters was 11,013,020. This has increased to 16,109,664 (a staggering 60% increase) by the time of the 2007 Constitutional Referendum.

At the same time, Venezuela has held more internationally recognized democratic elections than virtually any other country in the world in the decade Chávez has been in office.

To argue, as does the HRW, that this situation corresponds in any way to stifling civil society is to deny reality.

US-funded opposition

The government, however, has had serious concerns about illegal activity by a relatively small number of NGO-type bodies funded by the USA, which engage in campaigns to subvert the constitutional order. The US funded SUMATE ‘NGO’, for example, centralized the collection of signatures to unseat Chavez in 2004, and its leader, Corina Machado, endorsed the 2002 coup.

The publicly acknowledged funding of such so-called NGOs comes from US government sources including the infamous National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity and the Centre for International Private Enterprise. The government of Venezuela charges that these organisations are channels for the covert funding of opposition groups to seek to undermine democratic institutions and the elected government.

This charge is amply confirmed by international experience. One example illustrates this. On hearing of the ousting of Chávez in April 2002, International Republican Institute President, George A. Folsom, issued the following statement:

“Last night, led by every sector of civil society, the Venezuelan people rose up to defend democracy in their country. Venezuelans were provoked into action as a result of systematic repression by the Government of Hugo Chavez. Several hundred thousand people filled the streets of Caracas to demand the resignation of Lt. Col. Chavez.”

The chairman of the IRI since 1993 has been the current Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made no bones about his intense antagonism to progressive governments in Latin America, especially, Chavez. His campaign website even featured an online petition calling for support in his quest to “stop the dictators of Latin America.” The petition called for the removal of Chávez “in the name of democracy and freedom throughout our hemisphere.” Although the petition was taken down, it is an indication of his thinking, as leader of this NGO funder and a possible future president of the USA.

In a similar vein, several months after the failed 2002 coup, the US State Dept established an Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) in Caracas, with money from USAID and which operates out of the US Embassy with, among other stated objectives: “to provide fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key transition needs.” ‘Transition’ has to be seen in the context of the US administration’s doctrine of its right to seek to externally promote ‘regime change’ in countries which it perceives as pursuing policies against the interests of the sections of the US it represents.

The Chávez government has been expanding democracy and social progress to unprecedented levels. And in truth, there is no serious evidence of any systematic effort or policy aimed at attacking human rights; in fact, all evidence points in the opposite direction. Therefore, it is difficult not to conclude that HRW’s 2008 report, as on previous occasions, does not have the purpose of constructive criticism of shortcomings or possible flaws in the process of social progress and democratization underway in Venezuela – which would be welcome – but that it distorts reality to depict a country on the verge of becoming a nasty dictatorship.

The imbalance in the  HRW report is evident in that, for example, it does not even mention the substantial progress that has been made in improving the human rights of the immense majority of the population by such means as:

• the reduction of poverty (by 34%);

• the eradication of illiteracy;

• the expansion of education from 6 million people participating in education in 1998 to more than 12 million in 2008;

• the access to free health care increased to the great majority of the population, about 20 million people, by 2008;

• the provision of subsidized food benefiting 12-14 million people in 2008;

• the reduction in unemployment to historic low levels of around 7% in
2008;

• the promotion of a far greater role of women in society and the economy; and

• the dramatic increase in social spending that has taken place in Venezuela since the election of Chavez.

The unbalanced and plain misleading character of HRW’s reports on Venezuela has been consistent and has coincided uncannily with the run-up to important electoral contests such as the forthcoming November elections this year. It issued a communiqué on Venezuela with similar unsubstantiated themes in June 2004, just two months before the recall referendum against Chavez. In October 2007, it published a statement expressing similar preoccupations just two months before the constitutional referendum. And HRW published its 2008 report on 18th September, just two months away from regional and local authority elections in Venezuela in November 2008.

All these reports have echoed US anti-Chavez propaganda: ‘a dictatorship is in the making in Venezuela’. Back in June, John McCain said in a speech to the Florida Association of Broadcasters: “Hugo Chavez has used the cloak of electoral legitimacy to establish a one party dictatorship in Venezuela.”

The question presents itself: who stands to gain from Human Rights Watch activity in Venezuela – the population of the country or the Washington administration seeking to undermine an elected government seen as breaking free of its traditional economic and political domination?

Dr Francisco Domínguez is head of the Centre for Brazilian and Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, UK.

 

We do apologize for the mess, we are currently undergoing some necessary maintenance. Our articles and information will still be available though not as you would normally expect it to look. Thank you for your patience and have a wonderful day.