Thursday, June 12, 2014

Gene Sharp and "regime change" in countries unfriendly to the US

Gene Sharp is world-famous as a nonviolent activist. But he has come under suspicion of acting directly or indirectly in concert with the US government in some of its more questionable efforts at "regime change," notably in Venezuela.

At the risk of doing a "this side says, the other side say, opinions differ" comment, there is a notable difference of opinion on Sharp's work and role among people who normally aren't shy about questioning US foreign policies with which they disagree.

A couple of pieces from 2008 on the anti-Sharp side:

George Ciccariello-Maher, Einstein Turns in His Grave CounterPunch 04/16/2008

Michael Barker, Sharp Reflection Warranted: Nonviolence in the Service of Imperialism Swans Commentary 06/30/2014

And some favorable ones:

Stephen Zunes, Sharp Attack Unwarranted Foreign Policy in Focus 06/27/2008

Sherly Gay Stolberg, Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution New York Times 02/16/2011

Russ Wellen, Nonviolence Guru Gene Sharp Gets His Due Foreign Policy in Focus 02/24/2011

Sasha Abramsky, Gene Sharp, Nonviolent Warrior The Nation 03/16/2011

I'm agnostic on the question of to what extent Sharp and his Albert Einstein Institution actually cooperate with the US government in their foreign activist work. Which, of course, doesn't imply in itself any malicious intent on his part.

Still, what Ciccariello-Maher relates about Sharp's involvement with the National Endowment for Democracy and the International Republican Institute is cause for caution:

Firstly, Golinger’s claim that the AEI [Albert Einstein Institution] has received funding from the U.S. government. Sharp is at pains to deny this below, but would no doubt concede that the Institution has received funds from both the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). These funding sources are reported in AEI’s own annual funding statements. It is only through the worst of bad faith that one could claim that these are not in essence institutions pertaining to the U.S. government, since their formally-private status does little to hide the fact that they were both created by the U.S. Congress in 1983 to support Reagan’s covert wars. Both, moreover, have been shown (e.g. in Golinger’s first book, The Chávez Code) to have directly financed the coup-mongers among the Venezuelan opposition.

Secondly, Golinger’s claim that AEI was linked to Venezuelans who were plotting to assassinate Chávez. In his letter below, Sharp quarrels with the phrase "linked to," when this is in fact not "slippery" in the least, but rather the most precise description of the facts. The AEI did not actively participate in plotting to kill Chávez–it would be inaccurate to claim as much. Rather, Cuban-born far-right opposition leader Robert Alonso (brother of María "Conchita") boasted of having met directly with the AEI shortly before Colombian paramilitaries were discovered training at his estate in El Hatillo, a few short miles from Caracas. When interrogated, they admitted their mission was to kill Chávez.

More direct, however, was AEI’s training offered to the Venezuelan opposition toward the formulation of what was called "Operation Guarimba" (brainchild of Alonso himself), a series of often-violent street blockades that resulted in several deaths. The Guarimba tactics of 2003-2004 have been more recently taken up by the opposition-controlled student movement during 2007. According to an analysis published by Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor), Venezuelan student leaders traveled to Belgrade in 2005 to meet representatives of the AEI-trained opposition movement OTPOR-CANVAS, before later traveling to Boston to consult directly with Gene Sharp himself. When these allegedly non-partisan students hit the streets in 2007, their logo was exactly the same as that used by OTPOR and which appears in AEI literature.

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