Human rights, women’s and LGBTI+ groups, organisations, community organisations and human rights defenders have all drawn attention to the unacceptable femicides that have been – and still are – taking place in Mexico and have increasingly engaged in struggles and protests to end them.
Part 1 in this series evaluated femicidal concerns that have been raised by Amnesty International, the executive director of Amnesty International Mexico, Karin Zissis (writing in World Politics Review), NBC News and Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office in Quintana Roo, amongst others.
Karin Zissis, in World Politics Review in December last year, reported that “Mexico’s spike in femicides” was so troubling that it had sparked “a women’s uprising”, with mass protests taking place throughout the country. “Government statistics show that an average of 10 women are murdered each day in Mexico, and femicides have jumped by 137% over the past five years. There is rampant impunity in Mexico. From 2015 to 2018, only 7% of crimes against women were even investigated. In some ways, what took place in Cancun” (a women’s protest that turned violent when demonstrators tried to storm the city hall and municipal police used live ammunition to disperse the crowd), Zissis noted, “reflects Mexican leaders’ tempestuous relationship with a feminist movement that has grown alongside the increase in femicides” and rapes.
It is also important to recognise that alongside these femicides, the killing and violence directed against the LGBTI+ community in Mexico has also intensified to chilling levels. Mexico in 2019, for example, experienced “a surge of extreme violence toward LGBT+ people in its deadliest year in half a decade, a leading rights group said, citing cases of victims brutally stabbed and brazenly killed in public. In 2019, 117 lesbian, gay, bi and trans people were killed in Mexico, up almost a third compared with 2018 and the highest number since 2015, according to LGBT+ advocacy group Letra S.
“Victims have been found handcuffed, stabbed repeatedly and in public places. More than half the victims were transgender women, while nearly a third were gay men. At least 441 LGBT+ people were murdered in Mexico between 2015 and 2019, the group said”. These murders and the violence directed against the LGBTI+ community in Mexico has occurred despite legislation in place which has outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2003.
“A feminist Glitter Revolt“, Malú Huacuja del Toro, a feminist Mexican novelist, playwright and screenwriter confirms, “took place on August 12 and 16, 2019 in the heart of the old Aztec capital, causing the total destruction of an express-bus station, lots of buildings covered in glitter with signs against rape and femicides, and a few acts of physical confrontation. However, it all was triggered by actions far more violent than the resulting ones. That’s what the mainstream media and the city government thoroughly avoided mentioning”.
On 16 August 2019, del Toro again noted, “the very landmark monument of Mexico City, the Angel of Independence (the equivalent of the Statue of Liberty in NYC), ended up covered in glitter with words of feminist rage, against femicides, systemic impunity and police brutality”.
“Painfully”, she concluded, “the world wouldn’t know about what’s happening in Mexico City if these women wouldn’t have destroyed public property and covered walls with their indignation”.
Unfortunately, at a time when it is evident that an all embracing series of government and civil societal joint initiatives are urgently needed to confront the issue of femicides and violence against women and the LGBTI+ community, ‘migrants’ and targeted ‘Others’ in Mexico, there have instead been power clashes between the ‘socialist’ Mexican government and what it rightfully or wrongly perceives to be certain ‘civil society’ (inclusive of women’s and ‘anti-femicidal International Women’s Day) organisations and mobilisations that have been wittingly or unwittingly mobilised by ‘US/transnational’ and ‘national conservative deep political’ networks to overthrow it.
In March 2020, on the eve of International Women’s Day, for example, the Mexican president said the feminist movement was fighting for a ‘legitimate’ cause, but argued, as he had in the past, that political opponents ‘who want to see his government fail’ were helping instigate the [women’s/feminist] march and the strike”. This article seeks to investigate and evaluate the political context in which these power struggles are being played out, even as femicides and murders of LGBTI+ people continue at a horrific rate in the country.
The politics of ‘democracy promotion’, NED funding and targeting by US ‘deep political’ circles
Several female victims of male violence and human rights defenders and women’s groups campaigning against femicide and violence against women have accused the Mexican President and/or several government and/or state representatives of intimidating them directly or indirectly in an unacceptable manner. The president, for his part, has intimated that some women’s groups and their linked initiatives (inclusive of anti-femicidal ones), alongside socio-legal and media organisations, are being influenced by ‘conservative’ and ‘foreign’ directed organisations and ‘deep political’ networks and circles that seek to overthrow him and/or derail his socialist government’s initiatives.
Jan-Albert Hootsen, Mexico’s representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, has commented that ‘AMLO’ – as Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is sometimes called (an acronym of his full name) – “distracts from his own failures to combat impunity and violence by attacking anyone critical of his government. He is fully aware of the effect such attacks have: online intimidation, trolling, harassment and even threats by people who support him”.
The president’s fears of ‘conservative’ and ‘outside’ influences trying to destabilise him through use of women’s, environmental, socio-legal, media and other groups and networks, however, stem from documented initiatives that have historically and contemporaneously been undertaken by transnational businesses and US ‘deep state’ networks and organisations in Latin/South America to destabilise and/or overthrow ‘left-leaning’ governments and regimes through using social media and NGO-directed ‘civil society’ mobilisations.
Some analysts have even pointed to past and present ‘civil society’ initiatives to suggest that ‘pro-coup’ and ‘democracy promotion’ linked plans have been – and are being – engineered by big business and ‘deep political’ interests to overthrow AMLO and destabilise his government’s key initiatives. Certain women’s struggles and protests against femicide (to be examined in Part 3 of this investigative series) are being targeted by AMLO because they are perceived to form part of this ongoing ‘civil society’ destabilisation plan, some analysts contend.
It is important to not lose sight of the fact that US ‘imperialist mechanisms, institutions and US policy makers’ – acting through institutions like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) – have reportedly funded (and continued to fund) certain socio-legal, environmental, media and women’s groups to promote their own agendas, which several commentators hold to be aimed at countering a ‘socialist’ Mexican president who has, for instance, offered political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a time when the US government has sought to have him extradited to the United States to face espionage charges.
The Mexican president also clearly became a target of US ‘deep political’ circles ever since he threatened to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, known as NAFTA and its successor, dubbed NAFTA 2.0 – a neoliberal trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada. An ‘Anti-AMLO‘ movement began soon after his election “and has largely focused on portraying him as a ‘Bolivarian dictator’ who intends to turn Mexico into a communist state”.
He also became a target and considerable source of concern for big transnational business circles, Canada’s ambassador and US lawmakers, Robert F. Kennedy Jnr. and Reuters have noted. AMLO has remained a target after posing “a challenge to the US foreign-policy consensus. His government provided refuge to Bolivia’s elected socialist President Evo Morales and to members of Evo’s political party who were exiled after a Trump administration-backed military coup. AMLO also held a historic meeting with Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, and even stated Mexico would be willing to break the unilateral US blockade of Venezuela and sell the besieged Chavista government gasoline. These policies have earned AMLO the wrath of oligarchs both inside and outside of his country”, Ben Norton concluded, adding that, “on 18 June 2020, the US government ratcheted up its pressure on Mexico, targeting companies and individuals with sanctions for allegedly providing water to Venezuela, as part of an oil-for-food humanitarian agreement”.
“These opening salvos of Washington’s economic war on its southern neighbour”, Norton observed, “came just days after [he] delivered a bombshell press conference, in which he revealed that the political parties that had dominated Mexican politics for the decades before him have secretly unified in a plot to try to oust [him] … The forces trying to remove AMLO from power include major media networks, massive corporations, sitting governors and mayors, former presidents, and influential business leaders. According to a leaked document, they call themselves the Broad Opposition Bloc (or BOA). And they say they have lobbyists in Washington, financial investors on Wall Street, and major news publications and journalists from both domestic and foreign media outlets on their team”.
A reported BOA ‘plan of action’ document “makes it clear that this powerful opposition alliance seeks to use its extensive control over the media to obsessively blame AMLO for ‘unemployment, poverty, insecurity, and corruption’ in Mexico. BOA even states unambiguously in its plan that it will use ‘groups of social media networks, influencers, and analysts to insist on the destruction of the economy, of the democratic institutions, and the political authoritarianism of the government of the 4T’” (an acronym for AMLO’s Fourth Transformation process).
“One of the key points in the plan is the following: ‘Lobbying by the BOA in Washington (White House and Capital Hill) to stress the damage that the government of the [Fourth Transformation] is doing to North American investors’”. “There is another opposition alliance” – the National Anti-AMLO Front, also known as FRENAAA – “which is listed as a participant in the BOA but is even more extreme in its ideology and its tactics”, José Guadalupe Argüello III and Ben Norton have reported. There have even been suggestions/allegations and accusations that Twitter has been involved/used in a campaign against AMLO and his supporters.
It should be worth also pointing out that AMLO has also been severely criticised by several ‘left’-leaning circles.
Whilst it would certainly be incorrect to state that women’s/feminist protests in Mexico against femicides have all been directed and influenced by organisations and individuals funded by US ‘imperialist networks’, and it is evident that there is a genuine groundswell of understandable anger by human rights, women’s and feminist/LGBTI+ groups at femicides and murders of LGBTI+ people that must end but which continue to be enabled by patriarchal structures and power/societal mechanisms that have been insufficiently confronted and challenged, the following needs to also be recognised.
As Deterritorial Investigations has reported, a number of countries have undoubtedly been politically ‘penetrated’ by US ‘imperialist’ designs in the following manner: “The (US) National Endowment for Democracy (NED) came into creation through the Reagan administration’s ‘Project Democracy’, dedicated to fostering ‘the infrastructure of democracy around the world’. The framework came from the 1983 National Security Directive 77, which organised Project Democracy into three overlapping aspects: public diplomacy (psychological operations and propaganda), the expansion of covert operations, and the creation of a federally-funded institution that would conduct ‘overt’ operations in conjunction with dissident groups around the world.
“In his excellent study of the NED’s operations in ‘Promoting Polyarchy: Globalisation, US Intervention, and Hegemony’, William I. Robinson digs into just how ‘democracy promotion’ works, and what it means. Robinson writes that: ‘US democracy promotion, as it actually functions, sets about not just to secure and stabilise elite-based polyarchic systems but to have the United States and local elites thoroughly penetrate civil society, and from therein assure control over popular mobilisation and mass movements (that is, correct the “flukes” or “dysfunctions” of democracy) …
“Stephen Gill … notes that the emergent model of ‘reconstituted democracy’ corresponds ‘to the concept of civil society, and indicate[s] its centrality in the making of state policy’. Philip Schmitter and Terry Lynn Karl note: ‘At its best, civil society provides an intermediate layer of governance [read: control] between the individual and the state that is capable of resolving conflicts and controlling the behaviour of members without public coercion. US strategists have shifted attention from the state and governmental apparatus of other countries to forces in civil society as a key locus of power and control’”.
Schmitter and Karl concluded that: “The composition and balance of power in civil society in a given Third World country is now just as important to US and transnational interests as who controls the governments of those countries. This is a shift from social control ‘from above’ to social control ‘from below” (and within), for the purpose of managing change and reform so as to pre-empt any elemental challenge to the social order. This explains why the new political intervention does not target governments per se, but groups in civil society itself – trade unions, political parties, peasant associations, women’s, youth, and other mass organisations’”.
Low-intensity democracy, polyarchy and NED operations in South America
As Steven Gilbert has argued: “Low-intensity democracy is characteristic polyarchy, in which elites who adhere to the neoliberal model control the government. When democratic governments within Latin America have veered too far from this outline for democracy and have threatened US interests, the US has intervened to undermine and attempt to overthrow these governments. A polyarchy is a system in which a small group controls power, the elites select the leaders and the masses participate merely by choosing among them. An enlightened class of elites rules on behalf of the ignorant and unpredictable masses (Robinson, ‘Democracy or Polyarchy?’, p. 32-35). This form of democracy promoted by the US does not stress rule by the people but rather competition among elites for the people’s vote.
“This system of elite rule is effective in containing and defusing pressure for popular social change by creating a sense of legitimacy”, Gilbert states. “It is thus a stable form of domination that provides a political environment suitable for globalisation (Robinson, ‘Democracy or Polyarchy?’, p. 32-35). Under this model of democracy, economic policies are made by technocrats that have endorsed the policies of neoliberalism or have connections to the international financial institutions that represent the interests of transnational corporations (Aviles, p. 20). These transnationally oriented elites use their power over local states to integrate their countries into the global economy. One goal of the promotion of this form of government is to ensure a secure environment for transnational investment”.
In this context, Gilbert suggests that: “The promotion of democracy is complementary to the promotion of neoliberalism and thus in order to be democratic one must identify with global capitalism. These low-intensity democracies or polyarchies also serve US interests by fostering a situation in which there is enough legitimacy to manage social protest and resistance to neoliberal policies. It proves effective in co-opting any social opposition that arises as a result of neoliberal policies as well as co-opts popular movements that threaten US interests with radical change. The US recognised that it could secure social control and limit drastic change by penetrating civil society itself. US intervention has taken the form of strengthening forces in civil society” – women’s, socio-legal, human rights, media and environmental NGO’s – “allied with the US and that identify with neoliberal policy.
“The promotion of low-intensity democracy functions through three levels. The first level consists of the highest levels of US government such as the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and the CIA. This level identifies whether political intervention is necessary in a particular country. Billions of dollars in funds are then allocated to a second layer of US organisations and agencies such as USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) along with related groups. These organisations provide support to organisations or groups within the intervened country by providing funding, guidance, and political sponsorship. These groups include anything from political parties to media outlets to student groups. While the US claims these organisations are independent and nonpartisan”, Gilbert concludes that “they play a vital part in the intervention. The hope is that these groups will compete with more progressive and radical groups that have different agendas for their countries.
“In reality, NED operations”, he concluded, “are often covert. It is difficult to trace funding through the NED due to its complex ties to many other groups that often appropriate funds. Most NED funding is channeled through other US organisations and then funneled to foreign organisations. The NED engages the important sectors of society such as labour, business, and political parties and organisations within a target country to create a society that is dependent on and responsive to US interests. The promotion of democracy is insincere: in reality, the NED is a tool for infiltrating civil society in other countries (Robinson, ‘A Faustian Bargain’, p. 18)”.
The controversy surrounding ‘democracy promotion’ and NED funding of NGO’s in Mexico
In this highly charged and politicised context of US funded and promoted ‘democracy promotion’ and ‘reconstituted democracy’ promotion which the Mexican president rails at (and which international mainstream media news platforms ignore or ridicule him for), key women’s organisations (some campaigning to address femicidal concerns) – alongside trade unions, environmental, socio-legal and other media organisations in Mexico, as in many other countries – have received NED and other US ‘deep state’ linked sources of funding for initiatives aimed variously at addressing gender violence and environmental, socio-legal accountability issues.
In August 2020, for example, nine Mexican NGO’s opposing AMLO’s ‘Mayan Train’ mega-development initiative were accused by the president of being unduly influenced through funding by five US foundations, including NED as well as Ford, Rockefeller, ClimateWorks and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This prompted Michael D. Layton, the Jonson Centre’s W. K. Kellogg Philanthropy Chair to comment that AMLO had stated that the Mexican NGO’s “were ‘disguised’ as advocates for the environment and human rights, when in fact they were acting on behalf of what he termed ‘cabals of the powerful’ (Presidency of the Republic, 2020)”. This “attack”, Layton asserted, “is not an isolated incident. It occurs against a backdrop of increasingly hostile rhetoric and policy actions directed against Mexican civil society from the Mexican government, as well as increasing violence against environmental and human rights activists in that country”.
Funding of Mexican women’s rights and environmental rights NGO’s from US based ‘NGO’s’ such as the NED has, in this politicised context, however, undoubtedly complicated matters as it has fuelled tensions between the President and his party and ‘anti-imperialist’ supporters (who fear US imperialist strategies that are aimed at overthrowing them and/or derailing their wider initiatives), and certain women’s and feminist organisations and individuals that are receiving support from the NED and other US ‘deep state’ networks. It has also sparked tensions within the women’s and feminist movement where many groups and collectives, following the experience of years of being at the receiving end of US backed and trained death-squads and neoliberal NAFTA ‘reforms’ that created a spike in femicides, have been at odds with groups in Mexico receiving (sometimes covertly) funds from the NED and linked US-democracy and coup promotion deep political networks and circles that continue to push neoliberal and pro-coup agendas.
Estefanía Castañeda Pérez has noted how, during the 1990’s, “femicides became rampant in border cities such as Ciudad Juarez after NAFTA displaced many female workers from the interior of Mexico, particularly impoverished and Indigenous women, forcing them to relocate to border cities to work for exploitative sectors such as maquiladoras”.
Lucinda Grinnell has observed that in Latin America, “ideological and organisational conflicts between activists that organise autonomously and feminists that organise in NGO’s have ensued in many countries across the region. While some organisations are able to exist at both grassroots and global levels in terms of programming and vision, feminist organising has often been limited to what international funders agree to support, thereby restricting the scope of some feminist organising in Latin America”.
Many Latin American suffragists, she observes, have “carved their own path. They” have “worked to ensure that women’s political rights became a norm upheld legally in Latin America and connected women’s political rights to their economic and social rights, at the same time as they [have] challenged US imperialism both on a state level and on an interpersonal level”. Pérez has added: “US-funded coups and drug wars throughout Latin America have forced women to flee from their countries, exposing them to gender violence from multiple nations while in transit. Thus, the 8M” women’s/feminist mass “protest” in Mexico in March 2020 “was more than just the uprising of Mexican women – it was the uprising of women throughout Latin America, united in the struggle against patriarchy, capitalism, and state violence”.
These uncomfortable tensions between democracy promotion NED-funded and other US ‘deep state’ NGO’s and those opposed to such types of funding in Mexico, as elsewhere, need to recognised even as Deterritorial Investigations observes that “the NED, Freedom House, and others in the democracy promotion networks often get passed over: their work does operate in a progressive veneer, giving activists the money, tools, and training required to fight back against despotic governments and political isolation. Its cause is humanitarian, even if the end result is the expansion of hegemony and the consolidation of transnationalisation’s contradictions. We should note that Joseph Nye, who first gave articulation to the idea of soft power in the 1970’s, did not see it as diametrically opposed to hard power – instead, the two forces, persuasion and coercion, can work hand-in-hand …
“We can see it in the way that the NED went to work building up civil society in Iraq after the country was flattened by the hard power of war”, it notes, adding: “We can see it everyday in our own internal societies, where the freedoms of the market run parallel to the profound unfreedoms: violence and internal colonisation that buttress these. Any technopolitics for our time – and how could a dissenting political praxis today be anything else! – must take into account these types of forces”, present in Mexico and a host of other countries.
Robert W. Peck has commented: “The NED is just one example of the kind of taxpayer-funded NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) and/or corporately funded think tanks and other entities operating six layers deep behind the scenes that actually determine policy and shape the world we live in. This is the deep state, and the NED is an example of one of the very real creatures that live in what has come to be called ‘The Swamp’ and which the public is almost completely oblivious to”.
William Blum, in ‘Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower’, has noted the way in which “Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in 1991: ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’. In effect”, Blum concluded, “the CIA has been laundering money through NED”.
“Comparing the NED with the CIA”, Deterritorial Investigations reminds us that “former (CIA) agency director William Colby noted that it was no longer ‘necessary to turn to the covert approach. Many of the programmes which … were conducted as covert operations (can now be) conducted quite openly and consequentially, without controversy’. NED actions that were reminiscent of the CIA” have been “uncovered by investigative journalists”, reports Deterritorial Investigations.
Concern has also been expressed in some quarters that, with this type of ‘democracy promotion; “the polyarchal conception of democracy, with its insistence on neoliberal markets and the ‘rule of minorities’ via the electoral process, becomes conflated with what appears to be a robust (yet generally temporary) participatory democracy”, with all its attendant limitations.
Professor Radha D’Souza, a social justice activist, former constitutional lawyer in India, Reader at Westminster Law School and author of ‘What’s Wrong With Rights: Social Movements, Law and Liberal Imaginations’ has also importantly raised the point that is all too often sidestepped in critical discourses examining the role and nature of many so-called ‘non-government organisations’ (NGO’s): “One of the things we don’t often talk about is the connection these organisations” – inclusive of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – “have to their own states …. It starts to make sense if we go back to what I (have) said … about how democracy promotion becomes an important cornerstone of American foreign policy and later G7 foreign policy. After the Watergate scandal, there was the idea that we can’t leave everything to the state to do because Western governments became very discredited by what Watergate brought out. And so there was an effort to distance democracy promotion from direct state involvement”.
Consequently, D’Souza observes: “We see the establishment of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which is supposed to be an NGO, but is not because it is funded by the US Congress and the main participants or components of NED are the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Chambers of Industries and Commerce and the Trade Union Federation. So it’s not an independent or autonomous body. This funding then is distributed through a wide range of NGO’s and people who then begin to follow this whole democracy promotion policy and act as a tool of foreign policy for these governments …
“And where is the autonomy”, she asks, in many of these so-called NGO’s “if there is a revolving door between the state and these kinds of institutions? So there are a lot of credibility issues around” NGO’s of this kind and the funding they provide and the work that they undertake, she has observed in her research work.
The consequences of questionable NED funded interventions in South America
Many scholars and political commentators have described what they see as clearly questionable NED funded interventions in Latin/South America and elsewhere: “NED was complicit in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980’s, manipulated the 1990 Nicaraguan elections, heavily funded the 2002 failed coup attempt against socialist President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and supported the opposition to progressive President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti in the 1990’s. Between 1990 and 1992, NED donated a quarter-million dollars to the Cuban-American National Foundation, the violent anti-Castro group based in Miami.
“In 2018, under the guise of ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and ‘entrepreneurship’, NED funnelled more than $23 million to opposition groups in Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Bolivia. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton called Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua the ‘Troika of Tyranny’ in November 2018. A few months later, in April 2019, the US government orchestrated another unsuccessful coup in Venezuela. Juan Guaidó, Washington’s chosen puppet to seize power from President Nicolás Maduro, was funded by NED”, notes Marjorie Cohn, Professor Emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace.
John Pilger also refers to Juan Guaidó as “a pop-up creation of the CIA-front NED as the ‘legitimate President of Venezuela’”. Cohn further noted that: “The Obama administration, led by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, supported the 2009 coup in Honduras. The fraudulent election following the coup was financed by NED and the State Department, ushering in a repressive and militarised regime. Conditions deteriorated, leading to the exodus of thousands of Honduran children fleeing north”.
Elsewhere, Robert Parry in 2014 reported that the “NED funded a staggering 65 projects in Ukraine, according to its latest report. The funding for these NGO’s range[d] from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars and created for NED what amounted to a shadow political structure of media and activist groups that could be deployed to stir up unrest when the Ukrainian government didn’t act as desired. This NED shadow structure, when working in concert with domestic opposition forces, had the capability to challenge the decisions of Yanukovych’s elected government, including the recent coup spearheaded by violent neo-Nazis that overthrew him. Presumably, NED wanted the ‘regime change’ without the neo-Nazi element. But that armed force was necessary for the coup to oust Yanukovych and open the path for those IMF-demanded economic ‘reforms’”.
Eva Golinger, an attorney and author of ‘The Chávez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela’, ‘Bush vs. Chávez: Washington’s War on Venezuela’, ‘The Empire’s Web: Encyclopedia of Interventionism and Subversion’ and ‘Permanent Aggression: USAID, NED and the CIA’ in 2014 concluded that: “The NED, a ‘foundation’ created by Congress in 1983 to essentially do the CIA’s work overtly, has been one of the principal financiers of destabilisation in Venezuela throughout the Chavez administration and now against President Maduro”.
Criticisms of ‘democracy promotion’ influenced and funded initiatives in Mexico
In Mexico, several commentators have alluded to ‘democracy promotion’ funded electoral initiatives that may have been used to stop AMLO winning the 2006 election. Michael Lettieri had observed the following just after that election took place: “It is not so much to charge that Calderón’s squalid tactic [Calderon was eventually declared the winner of the election despite severe irregularities being reported] of inventing a scenario in which Hugo Chávez would run Mexico through the pliable hands of López Obrador came with the encouragement of the International Republican Institute, a US entity that specializes in using NED public funds to influence the outcome of elections throughout Latin America, including in recent years: Haiti, Nicaragua, Venezuela and now Mexico.
“Using relatively small amounts of highly targeted funds, IRI’s funds ostensibly go for voter mobilisation and other bland-sounding election projects, but in the end, allow Washington to buy the elections. It is likely that later investigative journalists will establish that this is precisely what happened in Mexico, because in every analogous situation elsewhere in the hemisphere, NED funds were slipped to the IRI to abort popular movements like that of López Obrador.
“In fact, the IRI and the Republican Party have had a long relationship with the National Action Party (PAN) that goes back at least to Calderón’s father … In a sense, with the critical issue of whether Mexico would join with the Banana Republics of Central America in preventing Venezuela from being awarded Argentina’s seat on the UN Security Council, Washington apparently decided that too much was at stake to leave things to chance. Beltway policy makers undoubtedly decided to give a little help to their panista colleague, hoping that he would remember this assistance at the time that the UN Security Council vote was being taken”.
More recent assessments by Ben Norton and Arturo Sanchez Jimenez have alluded to a possible coup-like strategy being played out targeting AMLO. Ben Norton from The Grayzone, in late November 2019, reported that “left-wing forces in Latin America are warning of a revival of a Cold War era campaign by the US of violent subterfuge and support for right-wing dictatorships across the region. One successful coup against a democratically elected socialist president is not enough”, he observed.
President Donald Trump, he confirmed, was “also turning up the heat on Mexico, baselessly linking the country to terrorism and even hinting at potential military intervention. The moves come as the country’s left-leaning President Andrés Manuel López Obrador warns of right-wing attempts at a coup. These moves have led left-wing forces in Latin America to warn of a 21st-century revival of Operation Condor, the Cold War era campaign of violent subterfuge and US support for right-wing dictatorships across the region”.
As “Mexico’s first left-wing president in more than five decades”, Norton noted that he had “earned widespread support by pledging to combat neoliberal capitalist orthodoxy. ‘The neoliberal economic model has been a disaster, a calamity for the public life of the country’, AMLO declared. When he unveiled his multibillion-dollar National Development Plan, Obrador announced the end to ‘the long night of neoliberalism’”.
In adopting such a stance, however, “AMLO’s left-wing policies have caused shockwaves in Washington, which has long relied on neoliberal Mexican leaders ensuring a steady cheap exploitable labour base and maintaining a reliable market for US goods and open borders for US capital and corporations. On 27 November”, Norton reported that “Trump announced that the US government w[ould] be designating Mexican drug cartels as ‘terrorist organisations’. Such a designation could pave the way for direct US military intervention in Mexico”.
Indeed, Norton confirms, “the US president refused to rule out drone strikes or other military action against drug cartels in Mexico [and] …the designation was particularly ironic considering some top drug cartel leaders in Mexico have long-standing ties to the US government. The leaders of the notoriously brutal cartel the Zetas, for instance, were originally trained in counter-insurgency tactics by the US military”.
As Norton clarified: “Throughout the Cold War, the US government armed, trained and funded right-wing death squads throughout Latin America, many of which were involved in drug trafficking. The CIA also used drug money to fund far-right counter-insurgency paramilitary groups in Central America”.
To add to this, “the Barack Obama administration also oversaw a campaign called Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious, in which the US government helped send thousands of guns to cartels in Mexico. Mexican journalist Alina Duarte explained that, with the Trump administration’s designation of cartels as terrorists: ‘They are creating the idea that Mexico represents a threat to their national security. Should we start talking about the possibility of a coup against Lopez Obrador in Mexico?’”.
Ongoing initiatives to destabilise AMLO can be explained by the way he further infuriated US policymakers by rejecting their “efforts to delegitimise Venezuela’s leftist government, throwing a wrench in Washington’s efforts to impose right-wing activist Juan Guaidó as coup leader”. Norton further clarified that AMLO “welcomed Ecuador’s ousted socialist leader Rafael Correa and hosted Argentina’s left-leaning Alberto Fernández for his first foreign trip after winning the presidency” and he “even welcomed Cuban President Díaz-Canel to Mexico. For Washington, an independent and left-wing Mexico is intolerable. Today, as Latin America is increasingly viewed through the lens of a new Cold War, Operation Condor is being reignited with new mechanisms of sabotage and subversion in play. The mayhem has only begun”, concluded Norton.
In July 2019, the journalist Arturo Sanchez Jimenez reported and concluded that “the far right” was “planning a soft coup or silent coup” against AMLO, “according to an investigation carried out by the alternative video-collective Canal 6 de Julio. The scenario would first be to delegitimise AMLO and then oust him by means of campaigns and messages in media outlets and through social media; by organising opposition groups and protests; provoking authorities; spreading fake news and rumours; among other manoeuvres, similar to the situations that happened recently in other Latin American countries such as Honduras, Argentina and Brazil.
“This all may sound like a conspiracy theory but there is nothing secret about it. The whole destabilising method can be openly checked out on the Internet, stated Canal 6 de Julio director Carlos Mendoza Aupetit during an interview”.
According to the political scientist Gene Sharp – who is reported to have “worked with a former analyst for the US Defence Intelligence Agency to create a ‘strategic blueprint that weaponised protest as a form of hybrid warfare, aiming it at states that resisted Washington’s unipolar domination’” – Aupetit stated: “Sharp sets out a five-step recipe to topple presidents. There is a stage of softening first, in which the media tries to create unrest and social despair; then delegitimising opponents and spreading commentary adverse to the government, taunts, and fake news followed by the stage of heating up the streets by fostering constant protests” of various socio-political kinds (be they women’s, environmental, economic or other directed protests).
“It seems likely a soft coup is under way in Mexico, or that the way is being paved for it, said Mendoza Aupetit” who believed that, “if we follow Sharp’s methodology, I think” Mexico has reached “the first or second [stage]. The soft coup strategy has yielded results [elsewhere], the documentary highlights. For instance, Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in Honduras with the support of Washington in 2009; Argentina’s opposition tried to use the death of an attorney to charge then president Cristina Fernandez in 2015; Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff was removed from office for allegedly violating a budget act in 2016; that same year, ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was jailed for corruption without having a shred of evidence about it. Mendoza Aupetit warns that not every criticism against the Government can be understood as a soft coup plot. It is good to have criticism, even if it is harsh. The problem is when destabilising efforts are disguised with criticism in order to overthrow a president through non-democratic means”.
NED funding of women’s organisations in Mexico
Even as these revelations and destabilising strategies linked to US ‘deep-state’ promoted ‘democracy promotion’ have become public knowledge in South America and more specifically Mexico, several women’s rights NGO’s’ in Mexico that have been protesting against a variety of AMLO’s initiatives have continued to court NED ‘non-governmental’ funding in their campaign work, much of which also focuses on anti-femicide campaign initiatives.
On 23 February this year, an NED publication ‘Mexico 2020’ acknowledged that the NED had, in that year, provided $65,000 in funding to Fondo Semillas to “build the capacity of Women’s Rights Organisations”, $55,000 to Controla Tu Gobierno A.C. to “empower women to hold government accountable” (where “the organisation will also promote outcomes with prominent media outlets”), $35,000 to Justicia para Nuestras Hijas A.C to “strengthen the capacity of human rights victims and their families to demand their right to access to justice, a proper investigation, and due process of law” (where “the group will also train organisations outside of the state on its methodologies”), a supplement of $55,000 to Festival Internacional de Cine Documental de la Ciudad de México to “create engaging public narratives that advocate for the rights of vulnerable communities throughout Mexico” (it had also received $39,950 in NED funds in 2019), and $858,000 to Solidarity Centre (SC) “to promote freedom of association and social protection in Mexico” (where “the Centre will support the most vulnerable workers, including indigenous farmworker women, migrants, and domestic workers”).
The NED publication ‘Mexico 2018’ acknowledged that, in 2018, $30,000 was provided to Justicia para Nuestras Hijas A.C to “strengthen the capacity of female victims of gender-based violence and their relatives to demand their rights to due process and access to justice”, $35,000 was provided to IDHEAS Litigio Estrategico en Derechos Humanos A.C. to “promote access to justice for victims of human rights violations and forced disappearance in Mexico” and $609,018 was provided to the Solidarity Centre (SC) to “advance the rule of law and support authentic freedom of association in Mexico”.
According to the NED’s ‘searchable grants database’, in 2017, the NED also officially provided $25,000 in funding to Justicia para Nuestras Hijas A.C to “promot[e] access to Justice for Victims of Gender Violence” by “strengthen(ing) the capacity of female victims of gender-based violence and their relatives to demand their rights to due process and access to justice. The organization will offer judicial literacy trainings for 80 families in Chihuahua, Mexico”.
$41,824 was provided in 2017 to IDHEAS Litigio Estrategico en Derechos Humanos A.C. “to promote access to justice for victims of human rights violations and forced disappearance in Mexico. The organisation will convene workshops on domestic and international human rights mechanisms for the families and victims of forced disappearance and other violations. It will also develop a monitoring mechanism for the national victims system, and conduct strategic litigation on emblematic cases” (It also received $40,000 in 2016 for similar work).
It has been in this context, where several Mexican women’s and linked women’s rights organisations have received funding from the NED and other US ‘deep state’ directed networks and organisations, that Mexico’s president has declared his open suspicions about some women’s groups’ actions and initiatives being ‘remotely controlled’ with or without their knowledge to destabilise his presidency and the government’s initiatives.
Amidst these controversies, Arussi Unda, the spokeswoman for Las Brujas del Mar, a feminist collective in the state of Veracruz, has gone so far as to accuse the president of the following: “He has placed the feminist movement as public enemy No 1”.
Maïssa Hubert, deputy director of Equis Justice for Women, a Mexico City organisation advocating for women’s access to justice, also asserts that: “The federal government discourse argues that the feminists represent a movement that goes against the government, not against certain policies. It does not recognise that the movement is demanding rights”.
Part 3 in this series will examine ‘Ongoing femicides and International Women’s Day protests against femicide in Mexico in 2020 and 2021’.
Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University in the UK, who specialises in genocide studies, ‘deep politics’, human rights concerns and an examination of the manner in which ‘Othered’ communities are ‘criminalised’ by state and supra-state linked mechanisms and bodies.