“Freedom House is an independent non-governmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world.” — Freedom House
Freedom House is a small but influential organization based in Washington and New York with more than 120 offices around the world and an annual budget of US$19 million.1 Calling itself “America’s oldest human rights group,” it is best known for its yearly “Freedom in the World” report, which rates countries as “free,” “partly free,” and “not free.” What it is not known for is the high percentage of its funding that comes from the State Department — an average of 95% between 2000 and 2003 — or its list of trustees, a Who’s Who of neoconservatives from government, business, academia, labor, and the press.
In 1940 a liberal New Yorker named George Field and some friends formed the National Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies to build support for the U.S. entering WWII. The group attracted prominent figures in the arts, journalism, and government — including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt — and “within a year it was drawing thousands to rallies at Madison Square Garden and making headlines.”2 A month before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Field joined with Republican presidential candidate Wendell L. Willkie and some anti-Nazi groups to found Freedom House “as a counterpoint to the Nazi Braunhaus, Hitler’s propaganda center in Munich.”3
After the war Freedom House joined with other government agencies such as the CIA and State Department to combat “Soviet and Chinese Communism, anti-Semitism and the suppression of human rights in Eastern Europe and Asia.”4 It championed NATO abroad but supported liberal causes at home, condemning the Ku Klux Klan and McCarthyism and sharing its New York headquarters, the Wendell Willkie Memorial Building, with the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Metropolitan Council of B’nai B’rith. Field retired as executive director in 1967 but served as secretary to the board of trustees until 1970. In the 1970s and 80s, Freedom House lobbied at UNESCO against the New World Information and Communications Order, an attempt by Third World countries to create media systems that weren’t dominated by First World corporations and governments.
During the 1980s, the organization began to receive a majority of its grant income from the newly created NED (founded by Congress in 1983), and contracts for Latin America far surpassed those for Eastern Europe.5 Under the Reagan-Bush administrations, Freedom House continued to promote the foreign policy objectives of the United States in Central America, “supporting the death squad-linked ARENA party in El Salvador while attacking the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, championing Contra leaders like Arturo Cruz, and serving as a conduit for funds from the National Endowment for Democracy.”6 Considered “neoconservative” even at that time, the group’s trustees and associates were affiliated with the State Department, the National Security Council (Jeane Kirkpatrick), the CIA (through front groups), the U.S. Information Agency, the Trilateral Commission (Zbigniew Brzezinski), the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Committee on the Present Danger, Accuracy in Media, the American Enterprise Institute, Crisis, The New Republic and PRODEMCA, a group that raised funds and lobbied for the Contras. During the 1980s, Freedom House also formed the Afghanistan Information Center, one of several NED-funded groups supporting the mujahedin. This was to complement the government’s US $3,000 million covert funding program for the anti-Soviet groups.7
According to Freedom House’s IRS Form 990, prior to 1997 its government funding was in the form of “government fees and contracts,” presumably for work performed on behalf of the State Department. After that year, however, the funding was qualified as “grants.” But with neoconservatives such as Kenneth Adelman, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Otto Reich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Samuel Huntington, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Malcolm Forbes Jr. on the board of trustees, there was no danger the organization would change its ideological course.8
Freedom House’s government-linked trustees have traditionally seats in the boardroom with corrupt, right-wing union bosses. In the 1980s and 1990s there were cold warriors Lane Kirkland, William Doherty, Albert Shanker, and Sol C. Chaikin. Doherty, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, was executive director of the CIA-linked AIFLD. Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, was also on the board of the Committee on the Present Danger, the NED and the NED-funded Free Trade Union Institute. He served on a private-sector committee which advised the U.S. Information Agency on labor, “help[ing] the USIA enhance its programming through increased use of the ‘international activities’ of U.S. labor organizations.”9
Sol Chaikin was president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and he followed the lead of his predecessor, 30-year president David Dubinsky, who eventually embraced “piece-rate wages, no-strike pledges, five-year contracts, opposition to the minimum wage, and opposition to government aid” in an attempt to keep the garment industry in New York City.10 He also embraced corruption and racketeering. By 1997, “New York City’s mostly unionized garment industry, with about 35,000 workers, had become a mob-dominated racket that made a mockery of collective bargaining while pushing wages down and hours up to the limits of human endurance.”11 Chaikin never tried to clean up the racketeering or better the third-world working conditions of the union’s largely immigrant garment workers, but he was a crusader against communism in other countries, joining the Committee on the Present Danger and the board of the Free Trade Union Institute. Chaikin was succeeded as ILGWU president by Jay Mazur, who served from 1986-1995. Mazur is president emeritus of UNITE, the ILGWU’s successor, where he banked over half a million dollars in his last year in office while representing New York sweatshop workers who earned an average of $7,000 annually.12 Mazur likewise succeeded Chaikin on Freedom House’s board of trustees. Like Chaikin, Mazur allowed high levels of corruption in his union but took a hard line on international communism, chairing the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Committee from 1996 to 2001 and overseeing the Solidarity Center during that time. As of 2004 Mazur was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission, according to the Wilson Center.13
Trustees Terence O’Sullivan Sr. and Jr. come out of labor’s “mob monolith,” the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA). In 1975 Sullivan Sr., who was secretary-treasurer, “was forced into early retirement as punishment for disrupting” a mobster’s funeral “with his importunate demands for higher office.”14 His son had better manners: as top assistant to Genovese mob puppet Arthur Coia Jr., he was next in line to become the union’s president when Coia was removed by the Justice Department in 2000.
Adrian Karatnycky has been a prominent fixture at Freedom House since 1993, when he served as executive director. He served as president from 1996 to 2003, and then became a senior scholar. Karatnycky’s links to labor seem to stem from his political work with the AFL-CIO, which in the 1980s and early 1990s continued its implacable decline in the United States but was eager to exercise its influence abroad in the fight against communism. Karatnycky supervised AFL-CIO’s programs of assistance to the Polish union confederation, Solidarity, as well as to independent labor unions in Russia, Ukraine, and other Eastern-bloc countries. From 1991 to 1993 he was assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. He is listed as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has contributed to its magazine, Foreign Affairs, as well as the New York Times,The Washington Post, and the Washington Times.15
Freedom House has also traditionally had journalists on its board of trustees. Currently these include Mara Liasson of National Public Radio, P.J. O’Rourke of Rolling Stone, and former Reagan aide and Bush Sr. speechwriter Peggy Noonan, now a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. NPR Vice President for Communications Andi Sporkin said in an email to the author on June 22, 2006, that Liasson, NPR’s national political correspondent since 1985, is no longer a Freedom House trustee; however, she is listed as one from at least 1997 to the present.16
In 1995, at the same time Miami exiles and their friends in government were predicting the rapid fall of the Cuban revolution, Freedom House began its USAID and State Department-funded Cuba Program to “provide assistance to Cuba’s civil society” and to “raise awareness among international audiences regarding the need for a peaceful transition process in Cuba.” From 1995-1997 this program was run by Frank Calzon, a Freedom House principal since 1989.17 It is currently run by Xavier Utset in Washington, DC. Journalist Walter Lippmann says Freedom House was granted US$2.1 million for its Cuba program in 2004.18
On May 11, 2001, the Permanent Representative of Cuba to the UN lodged a complaint with the NGO Committee, alleging that Freedom House engaged in activities that violated its consultative status, objecting to “those NGOs that were being used as agents by certain governments to violate the sovereignty of other States.”19 The organization was “a machinery of subversion, closer to an intelligence service than an NGO,” he said. “Documents showed receipt of money by illegal groups in Cuba and evidence of clandestine activities. The current Cuba programme of Freedom House involved the recruitment and training of journalists from Eastern Europe and sending them to Cuba for subversive activities.”20
Cuba said that during the 57th session of the Commission on Human Rights, “the NGO had accredited as its representatives members of terrorist organizations. Also, accredited Freedom House representatives had lent their badges to non-accredited persons of Cuban origin in order to enter the Palais de Nations, which was not only illegal but put diplomats at risk.”
New York librarian, Robert Kent, expelled from Cuba in 1999for espionage, told the New York Times that Freedom House paid for “some of his 10 trips” to Cuba21 and he dropped Frank Calzon’s name while he was there meeting with paid “dissidents.”22 But Amanda Abrams, press officer for the organization, says that nobody at Freedom House knows Kent.
Haiti and Venezuela in the Sights
The State Department and Freedom House have also targeted Haiti and Venezuela for regime change. The organization reacted favorably when President Hugo Chavez was briefly overthrown in 2002,23 claiming on its website that “in Venezuela, it worked with those seeking to stem the authoritarian direction of the Chavez government.” But Abrams claims that Freedom House has only been supporting opposition groups in Venezuela since 2004, funded by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives.24
On March 17, 2004, days after the coup against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, The Washington Post published an editorial by Adrian Karatnycky, titled, “Fall of a Pseudo-Democrat,”25 which rationalized Aristide’s ouster. Karatnycky called Haiti and Venezuela “pseudo-democracies” to justify the overthrow of democratic governments that were not to Washington’s liking. This stratagem — saying that the target government wasn’t a true democracy — was used previously by Dr. Jennifer McCoy of the Carter Center, who told a U.S. subcommittee on March 15, 2000, that the Chavez government was an example of “new, subtler forms of authoritarianism through the electoral option.”26 McCoy invented the term, “hybrid democracies,” to describe democracies that produced results the United States disagreed with.
In “Fall of a Pseudo-Democrat,” Karatnycky charged that President Aristide had “squandered his democratic mandate by tampering with elections, intimidating the opposition and tolerating widespread corruption.” If in fact any of these charges were true — though there is no evidence that they are — as the spokesman of an organization which claims that its mission is to promote democracy, Karatnycky should know that the democratic way to change the government is not through a military coup, but through elections. This is true especially, as in the case of Haiti, when the leaders of the coup are known human rights violators. The coup was predictably followed by a bloodbath and widespread persecution of supporters of the elected government, who were imprisoned without charges or executed with their hands tied behind their backs. According to a study published by the medical journal, Lancet, under the interim government installed with the coup, 8,000 people were murdered and 35,000 women and children were raped in the greater Port Au Prince area alone.
Using a fallacious comparison, Dr. McCoy likened the Chavez government to the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori in Peru in her testimony before Congress. Karatnycky put both Aristide and Chavez in the category of undemocratic leaders: “Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, having survived a coup attempt in 2002, faces mass discontent and intense growing civic pressure because he has strayed from the democratic path.” An even more outrageous attack on Chavez by Freedom House was published in the Miami Herald in August 2006.27
Today, Freedom House continues to serve as both a think tank and a “civil society” funder as part of the State Department’s modern “democracy promotion” complex. Frequently cited in the press and academic works, the reports and studies produced by Freedom House and its affiliates promote the neoconservative ideology of its trustees and government sponsors. Although some names and affiliations have changed, the group is still dominated by neocons. Brzezinski, Kirkpatrick, and Forbes are still on the trustees list, as well as Liasson, O’Rourke, and Noonan. Trustee Ken Adelman is a contributor to the Project for a New American Century, along with former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who joined Freedom House in 2000. Adelman was an assistant to Rumsfeld from 1975-1977, U.N. ambassador and arms control director under Reagan, and is currently a member of the Defense Policy Board. He wrote an article for The Washington Post in 2002 titled, “Cakewalk in Iraq”28 in which he said: “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” Another trustee, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington, is the U.S. author of the Trilateral Commission report, The Crisis of Democracy and The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of World Order (1996).
1 Freedom House, “Freedom House Statement on the Passing of George Field,” 1 June 2006. Retrieved on 1 January 2007.
2 Robert D. McFadden, “George Field, Defender of Human Rights, Is Dead at 101,” New York Times 30 May 2006.
5 Michael Flynn, “Freedom House,” Interhemispheric Resource Center, Right Web Profile. 26 July 2005. Retrieved on 1 January 2007. Total income for Freedom House during fiscal year 1987 was $2,108,320. Its total income from grants and contributions was $1,315,759. Assuming that the fiscal years for both NED and Freedom House overlap for the most part, that means that Freedom House received a full 35 percent of its total income from the Endowment during 1987. Of its total grant income, the figure becomes a staggering 57 percent.”
8 Freedom House IRS Form 990, 1997.
9 IRC, 1990.
11 Ibid, p. 193.
12 Ibid, p. 197.
14 Fitch, p. 143-144.
15 Yuri Shevchuk, “INTERVIEW: Adrian Karatnycky Speaks on Ukraine’s Internal and Foreign Affairs,” Ukrainian Weekly 43.71, 26 October 2003. Retrieved on 28 December 2006.
17 IRC, 1990.
18 Walter Lippmann, “Overt U.S. government funding for Cuban ‘Dissidents’ 2004.” Retrieved on 28 December 2006.
23 Diana Barahona, “Uneasy Standoff in Venezuela’s Media Wars,” CounterPunch, 16 August 2005. Steve Chapman was the author of a pro-coup editorial published on August 14, 2002, in the Chicago Tribune. He said in a telephone conversation that he wasn’t knowledgeable about Venezuela and that in order to write the editorial he had made phone calls to Freedom House, as well as consulting clips from the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and the New York Times. He said he didn’t know FH was funded by the State Department until I told him.
24 Amanda Abrams, 2006. Email response to query by author:
“Freedom House has had a Venezuela Program for human rights defenders since 2004. The program is funded by USAID, the Office of Transition Initiatives. Freedom House’s Venezuela program is a regional effort to tie human rights defenders throughout Latin America with one another, sharing best practices and lessons learned, through targeted exchanges and workshops focused on important human rights issues. The program is designed to strengthen the capacity of Venezuelan human rights defenders to do their job, and to tie them to counterparts in other countries.”
26 Justin Delacour and Diana Barahona, “The Carter Center’s Jennifer McCoy: Can She Be an Impartial Observer of Venezuela’s Referendum?” CounterPunch 14 August 2004.
Diana Barahona is a freelance journalist.