Keep Your Charity, We Want Justice: International Aid and the Role of “Humanitarian” Assistance

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (March 1994)

In November, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article entitled “`Time for Healing,’ North Says of Americans’ Role in Vietnam.” Speaking at the Amway Grand Plaza, North promoted his newest mission and his newest book. The article state that “North contends it is time to lower barriers and build bridges in that battered nation of Indochina where 58,000 Americans were killed and a half million others wounded.” Wait a minute. It seems that the article conveniently failed to include the several million Southeast Asians who were killed and wounded during the USA war, as well as the incredible eco-cide that was wrought by USA bombers (the word eco-cide was coined during the USA war in Southeast Asia to describe the incredible ecological destruction done).

North’s newest book, “One More Mission,” published by Zondervan, is his latest attempt at justifying the intentionality of the USA military in the war in Southeast Asia. In fact, half the book is devoted to North’s feeble attempt to articulate USA foreign policy as well as taking occasional opportunities to plead innocent in the Iran/Contra scandal. The latter half of the book does deal with his return to Vietnam, but solely for the purpose of denouncing Communism, praising the “persecuted” Christian community, and defending the need for more free (for some) enterprising in the country. The book jacket has other endorsements from mental giants like Cal Thomas and Rush Limbaugh. The end of the book includes a message, “How Can You Help?” These two pages are a pitch for International Aid, a “humanitarian” group that facilitated some of North’s trip to Vietnam.

International Aid (IA) located in Spring Lake, Michigan, was an outgrowth of an old World Vision project that used the warehouse that IA now occupies. In September of 1980g, IA officially became a separate entity. IA literature states that they have 5 main program areas; Development, Medical, Emergency Relief, Domestic, and Mission assistance. This means providing food, clothing, medical supplies, training, educational material, and personal care items for missionaries abroad. IA’s 1992g Annual Report states that “The US efforts complement IA’s global work. We have partnered with many US agencies and provided supplies that give hope to needy families, encouraging them to regain self-worth.” Having researched the relationship between USA agencies and Private Volunteer Organizations (PVOs), I was immediately curious about the connections that IA has. The fact that they endorsed a book by Ollie North is enough to make any sane person think twice, but I decided to investigate further.

According to Deb Preusch and Tom Barry’s book, The Soft War: The Uses and Abuses of US Economic Aid in Central America, “The phenomenon of private groups aiding counterinsurgency and counterrevolutionary campaigns supported by the US government is not a new one. Many of the leading figures and organizations involved in Central America played a similar role during the Vietnam War. Groups active in Central America like World Medical Relief, Air Commandos Association, and Project Hope were also active in Southeast Asia (pg. 89).” IA is currently involved in places like Bosnia, Somalia, and some Eastern European countries. IN order to understand their role in these places, it seems necessary to critique their past involvement in other countries. I will use Central America as a focal point.

IA states that they often provide “humanitarian assistance” to other USA PVOs working overseas. A report done by the Resource Center, base in New Mexico, says that “IA is primarily a warehousing and transportation operation, providing services to rightwing evangelical groups and occasional paramilitary groups.” The IA brochure entitled “Those we serve” lists literally hundreds of groups that do overseas work. It is impossible to investigate all of them, so I will choose to focus on two main groups and some brief information on connections to other groups.

World Vision

Started in the 1950s by Bob Pierce, World Vision has become the largest evangelical relief and development agency. Their 1987g budget was “over $145 million, with more than 20% coming from the US Agency for International Development (AID).” (Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right). IN 1982g the National Catholic Reporter investigated allegations that World Vision sometimes makes its fundraising objectives a higher priority than the needs of hungry people. Apparently World Vision aired a television documentary entitled “Crisis in the Horn of Africa” which, according to relief workers in Somalia, was “almost fraudulent” because World Vision was continuing fundraising appeals for emergency food aid months after Somalia’s food crisis had been alleviated.

In a 1979g issue of Christian Century, World Vision was charged with “having collected field data for the CIA in Vietnam.” This is quite possible since World Vision played a major role in the administration of refugee camps in the area.

Beginning in 1981g, World Vision was involved in an administrative role with the Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras. Two of the other refugee agencies—CDEN and Caritas—objected to incursions by the Honduran army into the camps, but World Vision has remained silent about repeated human rights violations. Refugees testified that World Vision staff provided the army with regular intelligence reports and obligated them to attend evangelical services. Elements of World Vision collaborated with the most conservative faction of CEDEN to install conservative leadership of the pre-1982g CEDEN. So distrusted was World Vision that 19 Honduran organizations called on the government to throw the organization out of the country.

Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT)

Started in 1917g, the Wycliffe Bible Translators (also know as the Summer Institute of Linguistics) was formed for the purpose of translating the Christian bible into indigenous languages. Over the years, WBT’s close working relationship with USA government officials and allied foreign leaders has the missionaries a reputation as “assets” of the CIA. This is the case with their work in the Philippines in the 1950g’s and Vietnam in the 1960g’s. WBT was given grant money from US AID to train rural villagers to read and write. To practice their reading skills the CIA gave the new literates booklets on how to use M-16 rifles and blow up bridges.

In 1978g, WBT prepared a dictionary for the Tzotzil people of Mayan Indian ancestry. “Anthropologists noted that WBT’s Tzotzil/Spanish dictionary eliminated the Spanish and indigenous words for ideological concepts that threaten the status quo; class, community, conquer, exploitation, oppression, repression, revolution, revolutionary, rebellion, most of which do exist in the native language (Diamond).” This kind of ideological manipulation and cultural interference has led many Latin Americans to call for the expulsion of WBT from their countries. In 1979g, a commission from Mexico’s College of Ethnology and Social Anthropology had presented the government with a reported that concluded that WBT is “a covert political and ideological institution used by the US government as an instrument of control, regulation, penetration, espionage, and repression. The WBT supports the expansion of capitalism in areas rich in nature resources, opening these areas to the capital markets and turning the population into a docile and cheap labor force (Diamond).” The area that the Mexican committee speaks of is Chiapas, the site of the present uprising of Mexican Campesinos/as known as Zapatistas.

In Guatemala, during the Rios Montt regime, WBT re-entered the Ixil Triangle. While their work involved bible translation into indigenous languages, they also served to propagate a vigorously anti-communist ideology. According to WBT’s Helen Elliot “Rios Montt heard that we knew the language and helicoptered us into Nebaj, and then we started distributing blankets, food, and tin roofing as well as setting up schools.” She said WBT served as “a bridge between the military and the people” (Preusch & Barry). In 1986g, WBT signed a contract with AID for its Integrated Rural Development Program for the Mayan People. Among other things, the project translated government and military documents into Indigenous languages. It is well-known and documented that these “model villages,” established under Rios Montt’s regime, were nothing short of concentration camps. Montt had the support of many evangelical groups, like WBT, to implement his genocidal policies. A member of Montt’s own church, El Verbo, says this of the Indigenous, “The Army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed; they are communists” (Diamond).

Other Connections

According to the Resource Center study, International Aid provided supplies to Operation Blessing, a project of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Operation Blessing is said to have a close relationship with the Navy’s Operation Handclasp, a project designed to enhance the image of the Navy. CBN also was notorious for supporting the Nicaraguan terrorist forces known as the Contras throughout the 1980g’s.

Another Michigan based organization that works with International Aid is World Medical Relief (WMR), based in Detroit. WMR was a CIA conduit in its secret war against Laos. The key player in this connection was Harry Aderhodt, a retired Air Force officer, who was head of the Air Commando Association. The Air Commandos have been known to supply weapons to the Contras and the Salvadoran military. The Resource Center’s report quotes an Air Commando newsletter in regards to International Aid, “they have been responsive to our every request.” It should be mentioned that Harry Aderhodt is the editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

Marantha Campus Ministries – This organization has worked heavily in Guatemala and El Salvador. During the 1980g’s they organized 70 pro-Contra demonstrations on USA campuses before a key Congressional vote.

Gospel Crusade – Between 1985g and 1987g this group transported over 100 tons of “humanitarian” supplies to the Contras. Gospel Crusade worked closely with FDN military leader Enrique Bermudez, a top ranking Somocista National Guardsman, who has been implicated as a conspirator in the 1980g assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero.

End Time Handmaidens – This organization worked with the mercenary group RENAMO in Mozambique.

Church of the Rock – Based in Texas, this group works with Paralife Ministries. Paralife has been known to provide ideological training to Salvadoran soldiers, encouraging them to massacre their own people. On one mission, Paralife evangelist John Stern toured eight military bases and spoke to over 3,700 soldiers. He told them that “killing for the joy of it was wrong, but killing because it was necessary to fight against an anti-Christ system, communism, was not only right but a duty of every Christian” (Diamond).

In early January I went to International Aid’s office in Spring Lake to talk with them about their activities and connections. I spoke with Dr. Jack Henderson who has traveled extensively with International Aid and is part of their executive staff. I told him that I had noticed a billboard they were running in Grand Rapids for aid to Bosnia. At that point International Aid had sent 21 containers of supplies to the war-torn former Yugoslavia. When I asked him about endorsing North’s book and his recent trip to Vietnam, he replied, “North is one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met.” He also said that he had no problem endorsing a man involved in the illegal activities that led to the Iran/Contra scandal.

I asked Dr. Henderson about some of the allegations made from the Resource Center study of their organization. He told me that they did work with Air Commando “just once, but not anymore.” He also stated that the other allegations were “not accurate” as far as the other agencies mentioned earlier are concerned. I asked him if International Aid had any particular political position and he said “no, we have no particular political bent.” When asked about accountability to the groups they gave supplies to, I got no answer. It should be noted that the resource Center study also has a quote from the Christian reformed Church, “We believe that support of the contras is immoral, and are deeply disturbed by reports that International Aid, soliciting donations as ‘an interdenominational relief and mission service organization,’ serves groups terrorizing civilians and our own CRC relief projects in Nicaragua.”

International Aid also has quite a list of corporate donors. Among them are Meijers, Spartan Stores, Baker Book House, Eli Lilly & Co., K-Mart, Dow Corning Corp., Gerbers, and Amway. In fact, Amway is the largest donor. Apparently Amway provides a lot of cleaning and personal care items to International Aid in support of missionaries overseas. Amway’s connections go a little deeper, however. The vice president of communications for Amway is Nan Van Andel, the daughter of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel. Recently, Nan was given the position of Chairman (sic) of the Board for International Aid.

The title for International Aid’s 1992g Annual Report is “enabling those who serve.” The question should be asked, who is International Aid enabling and what are they serving? Is their real goal to provide relief, training, and development assistance, or are they cooperating with USA counterinsurgency campaigns and pacification programs which subvert democracy and make people dependent? From all the research I have done, the latter seems to be the case. But don’t take my word for it, investigate for yourself. You can contact International Aid @ 17011 Hickory, Spring Lake, MI, 49456. Maybe you can get a copy of North’s newest book, like I did, for your library. I think I’ll put mine next to the Chomsky books.

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Lord-ing it over others: Local Think Tank Feels Right at Home

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (March 1994)

In May of 1990g, the Acton Institute was founded here in Grand Rapids by a catholic priest named Robert Sirico. Its stated purpose, to quote from their brochure, is “to familiarize the religious community, particularly students and seminarians, with the moral dimensions of liberty and the free market system.” Located at 161 Ottawa St, in the plush Waters Building, the Acton Institute functions on a meager annual budget of $500,000. They also publish a newsletter entitled “Religion & Liberty” that regularly includes interviews with giants such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, William F. Buckley Jr., Milton Friedman, and Margaret Thatcher. Sirico has publicly expressed his delight about being in Grand Rapids. In a February 1992g GR Press article, Sirico stated “This (GR) is the heartland, there’s such sanity here.” Of course, Sirico means there is such willingness on the part of a small elite to amass wealth in this community, that’s his definition of sanity. It’s no surprise that then that the Acton Institute has received significant financial support from Richard DeVos, his son Dick, and Peter Cook, executive director of the local Mazda Corp.

On several occasions I have heard Rev. Sirico speak and each time I am convinced that he is a very dangerous and arrogant man. He went to Nicaragua just before the 1990g elections there. At his presentation on his trip he had nothing but praise for the USA-backed UNO coalition and utter contempt for the Sandinistas. It was as if he was a representative from the State Department. Sirico is a staunch critic of Latin American liberation theology, which he contends is dead. For Sirico, the free market system, private property, and wealth are the “paths to Salvation” for the world.

Recently it has been made public knowledge that the Acton Institute is bringing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to town (May 5). A few local women’s groups (WAN & NOW) and other activists have expressed to me their outrage over this and are planning some sort of public protest. This I salute and hope to be a part of, but I would hope that the justice community in Grand Rapids doesn’t just single out Thomas’ visit as an occasion to confront the politics of the Acton Institute. What I will do for the remainder of this article is to point out some of the other people and institutions they work with and why it is important that those concerned with justice in GR not ignore the Acton Institute’s larger goals.

Rev. Sirico has taken his free market band wagon all over the world and sits on panels with other free market pundits at conferences. In August of 1993g, he spoke at a conference in West Virginia, with evangelical Doug Bandow. Bandow is the senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washing, DC. The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-environmental Organizations has this to say about the Cato Institute: “This right-wing think tank, founded in 1977, sponsors policy conferences and distributes publications on issues as diverse as the global economy, military intervention and ‘ecoterrorism.’ Cato views the environmental movement and the demands it places on industry as a major obstacle to its vision of small government and unregulated economy. Cato’s director of natural resource study, Jerry Taylor, wrote in USA Today, that ‘natural resources are better protected by individual owners with vested interests in their property’ than by the government. ‘Environmental treaties are biased against economic growth despite the proven correlation between wealthy economies and healthy environments.'” The Cato Institute receives funding from Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Philip Morris, Exxon, and Procter & Gamble to name a few.

In September of 1993g, Sirico spoke with Richard DeVos and others at Hillsdale College on “Morality and the Marketplace.” Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan, is a little-known private college with strong right-wing ties. In 1985g, Hillsdale co-sponsored a seminar “with the State Department on US and Soviet Values” (see Russ Belant’s The Coors Connection). Jean Kirkpatrick was the keynote speaker, appearing with Melvin Laskey, editor of the CIA-funded London-based “Encounter” magazine. The college’s l990g books and tapes catalogue lists titles by John Birch Society’s Clarence Manion, former Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, Phyllis Schlafly, and Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith. Hillsdale College president George Roche serves on the advising board of the US branch of the World Anti-Communist League, an organization with strong ties to Latin American death squads (see Russ Belant’s “Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party”).

In early February of this year, conservative writer Michael Novak was scheduled to speak, but that even was cancelled. Novak is from the American Enterprise Institute and is on the board of advisors for the Acton Institute. Also a critic of Latin American liberation theology, Novak, during the 1980g’s was a member of “the Nicaraguan Freedom Federation, established by the Moon-owned Washington Times and PRODEMCA, an organization that funded the Contras (The Coors Connection).

Scheduled to speak on March 7 in Grand Rapids is John Fund, senior editor of that bastion of truth-telling, the Wall Street Journal. Fund also assisted Rush Limbaugh with his first book, the Way Things Ought to Be.

Also scheduled for a future date is Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation. When Feulner signed on Dr. Roger Pearson, a well-known proponent of racialist theories that are circulated worldwide by Neo-Nazis and white supremacists was involved. Feulner even edited a Pearson study that was sympathetic to the Taiwanese one-party dictatorship in 1976g. In 1980g, the Heritage Foundation published “Mandate for Leadership” to guide the incoming Reagan administration and its transition team. The several thousand recommendations called for more money and latitude for the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, with reductions and restrictions on spending for education, welfare, health, and other social services. A number of the authors of the report were later hired by the Reagan administration to implement their recommended polices (Coors).” When Reagan was reelected in 1984g, Heritage published a sequel, “Mandate for Leadership II,” that called for cutbacks or elimination of programs which provide food stamps, Medicare, child nutrition, farm assistance, and legal services for the poor. The Heritage Foundation is also heavily funded by the Coors family.

It should also be mentioned that on the Acton Institute board of advisors is Ronald Nash. Nash is also a rabid critic of Latin American liberation theology and in 1992g, he co-wrote a book with Humberto Belli called Beyond Liberation Theology, published by baker book House of Grand Rapids. I talked to two different representatives from Baker Book House on their publishing of Belli’s book Beyond Liberation Theology. Both Jim Weaver and Alan Fisher said that they were not aware of the fact that Belli had his first book financed by the CIA. They both told me that they only had contact with Ronald Nash, the other author of the book. Upon asking them if they had known of Belli’s history with the CIA, would they still have published with him, I got slightly different responses. Jim Weaver said “we would have given some serious consideration if that was the case,” but Alan Fisher simply said “I’m not sure it would sway us in either direction.” The fact that those directly involved with the book knew nothing of Balli’s history alone is cause enough to question Baker Book House’s credibility as a publisher.

Belli is presently the Minister of Education n Nicaragua, but during the 1980g’s he was living in the USA acting as a political arm of the Contras. His major influence has been with the right-wing elements of the Christian church. In 1982g he started the Puebla Institute here in Michigan, to “educate” Christians about human rights in Nicaragua. The Puebla Institute worked closely with the Sword of the Spirit community, a fascist Christian organization financed by Domino’s Pizza owner Tom Monaghan (see Sarah Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare). Belli’s first book, Nicaragua: Christians Under Fire, was financed by the CIA and widely distributed among US Christians.

This is just a sampling of the Acton Institute’s bed-fellows. I would encourage readers to get on their mailing list to know when speakers come to town. Also tell people you know about Acton’s activities and politics. The justice community needs to know what it is up against in order to achieve its goals. It is important that we expose un-democratic organizations in our midst.