What Is the N.E.D.’s Mission?

By The New York Review of Books, Oct. 21, 2021

In response to:

Ortega in His Labyrinth from the September 23, 2021 issue

To the Editors:

We were very surprised to read the inaccurate and misleading description of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in “Ortega in His Labyrinth” by Stephen Kinzer [NYR, September 23].

NED is an independent and bipartisan grant-making organization that has worked since 1984 to strengthen democratic processes around the world by providing support to civil society groups and activists in one hundred countries, including Nicaragua. NED does not encourage or fund protests, opposition groups, or “foment…rebellions,” as Kinzer falsely claims. Rather, NED’s demonstrable record is one of fostering the growth of a wide range of democratic institutions abroad, including a vibrant civil society, that ensure human rights, independent media, and rule of law.

Had Kinzer cared to check the facts, readily available on NED’s website, he would have observed that we provide funding for our Nicaraguan partners’ initiatives on issues such as advocacy for police reform, encouraging youth engagement on citizen participation and civic values, defending the rights of marginalized communities, improving human rights groups’ documentation capacity, promoting access to independent digital media, and fostering dialogue, consensus building, and responsiveness among political actors.

Kinzer also characterizes NED as a US agency, such as the CIA or the US Agency for International Development, which is factually incorrect. NED is a unique institution. With an annual appropriation from Congress, NED is an independent, nonprofit grant-making foundation that reports to an independent board of directors. As a nongovernmental organization, NED enjoys the political and operational autonomy from government that gives it the flexibility, adaptability, and legitimacy required to work in some of the world’s most difficult circumstances, such as Nicaragua.

Please provide a correction to this article’s inaccuracies. This kind of misinformation about NED’s work and mission is readily weaponized by autocratic regimes and other malicious actors to put our partners in Nicaragua and around the world at risk.

Christine Bednarz
Senior Manager Media Relations, Public Affairs
National Endowment for Democracy
Washington, D.C.

Stephen Kinzer replies:

In 1991 a cofounder of the National Endowment for Democracy, Allen Weinstein, explained its work by saying, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” The endowment’s regime-change mission has not changed, but Bednarz’s letter suggests that its spokespeople have become less candid.

Among the shapers of the endowment’s agenda were Madeleine Albright (“We are the indispensable nation”) and John McCain (“Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran”). Current board members include former senator Mel Martínez, a lifelong campaigner against the Cuban government; Senator Ben Sasse (“The Iran deal has always been terrible”); and champion regime-changer Elliott Abrams, who was convicted of lying to Congress to cover up illegal US government support for the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s and later led President Trump’s unsuccessful campaign to overthrow the government of Venezuela.

The National Endowment for Democracy, which receives nearly all its funds from Congress, is a conduit through which the US government has given millions of dollars to political and other protest groups in countries from Albania to Haiti. Some may argue that it makes sense for the US to seek to undermine unfriendly governments and to replace them with new ones aligned with American interests. It is less honest to pretend that this is not the mission of the National Endowment for Democracy.


Posted Dec. 26, 2023