Ms. Butenis in NGO boat without a paddle -Part 1
Posted on March 20th, 2011

H. L. D. Mahindapala

 The American Ambassadress, Ms. Patricia Butenis, has come out fighting on behalf of the NGOs. This should be greeted with applause because her intervention, coming from the biggest power on earth, adds an extra dimension to the on-going local debate on NGOs — the most obscene four-letter word in the Sri Lankan political vocabulary. The fact that she is throwing punches at the critics of NGOs is also politically significant because it means that the cornered NGOs have recruited the best heavy weight they could find to come out fighting on their behalf.

 Of course, her short sermon on the role of civil society seems innocuous on the surface. It must also be conceded that some of her arguments referring to social services rendered by NGOs are valid. These non-political organizations deliver humanitarian services globally in times of crises and in peace times too. No one cavils about their well-meaning and well-directed services to the needy. However, it is her defence of NGOs in general, which includes foreign-funded anti-national interventionists like Jehan Perera and Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, (disguised, of course, as sadhus of “civil society”) that raises disturbing issues about the NGOs and their questionable role in Sri Lankan politics.

 Besides, her holier-than-thou stance stands somewhat on the border of moral arrogance, looking down her nose on the natives who have yet to reach the standards of the United Sins of America. Her paean sung in praise of “civil society”, with an emphasis on political interventionists financed by her government, confirms all the suspicions about Western embassies working hand-in-glove to intervene in domestic politics through hired local agents. Her defence, in fact, reinforces the fact that the Western embassies are playing the role of puppet masters pulling the NGO strings to make the likes of Jehan Perera and Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu dance to their drumbeat.

 Her claim to superiority, citing the example of the Civil Rights Movement of the Afro-Americans, aims to present USA as the ideal homeland where human rights have thrived with the active participation of the latter-day knights of “civil society”. But American history tells a different story. When James Baldwin wrote THE FIRE NEXT TIME “”…” a magisterial profile of the rising ethnic tensions heading towards explosive violence — it signaled that nearly two centuries of American slavery had come to an end and the white supremacists had no option but to dismantle the oppressive institutions of segregation and the obscenities of humiliation of the coloured segment American society. It was not the white man’s “civil society” that finally worked to liberate the Afro-Americans from white tyranny (though some conscience-stricken whites did work from the early days to end slavery) but the heroic struggle of the Afro-Americans who fought fearlessly to confront the white regimes of the south.

 In the last phase of their struggle it was the formidable force of the Afro-American collective led by Martin Luther King that forced America to accept the Blacks as fellow human beings. Incidentally, it is argued that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in the south not because he was committed to the rights of the Afro-American to be equal with the whites but (1) to destabilize and undermine the southern plantation economy which was based on slavery and (2) to win over more Afro-American recruits from the Confederate south into the Yankee army of the north. Lincoln’s move is seen as a shrewd political strategy to defeat the slave-owners of the separatist south in the Civil War rather than an act motivated by humanitarian concerns.

 She white-washes the dark history of American slavery and gives credit to a lily white “civil society” which tagged along at the tail end of an Afro-American’s Civil Rights Movement which had gathered an irreversible momentum “”…” a momentum whose time had come for change and could not be suppressed even through brutal terror.. Her claim to boost “civil society” as the agent of change is highly exaggerated and does not accord with historical realities. It is a devious attempt to steal the thunder of the Malcolm Xs, Martin Luthers and millions of Black activists who not only rejected the white man’s religion, Christianity and embraced Islam but also veered dangerously, under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan, to set up a separate state.

 Ms. Butenis statement is typical of the defenders of the hired claque in the so-called “civil society”. They pose as if they own the monopoly of morality. They believe that they are the knights in shining armour who make and break the world. In reality they are nothing more than self-appointed careerists with specious claims to be the sole representatives of a “civil society” “”…” a euphemism for a vague political pantomime that has no roots in the society in which they operate. NGOs are not organic civil rights movements like, for instance, the Civil Rights Movement of the Afro-Americans in America which was joined by some enthusiastic white do-gooders in the penultimate stage. They are more like transplanted poisonous weeds floating in the air looking for a chrematistic place to feed on.

 NGOs are not elected representatives of any group of people either. They feed on each other in an incestuous relationship as seen in the case of Jehan Perera (Tweedledee) awarding trophies to Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu (Tweedledum). They scratch each others back except when they fight for the dwindling dollars abroad. In short, the “civil society”, in the Sri Lankan context is far removed from the Marxian or liberal categories. It is a politically expedient platform put up to give some respectability and status to a gang of self-serving careerists paid to applaud foreign agents undermining national interests.

 The West keeps them ticking with foreign funds as a reserve local bank to draw from them the support they need at critical moments to push their agenda. That is why American, Norwegian, German ambassadors continue to back Jehan and “Paki” who are trained ideologically to follow the agenda of the West. These agents are at the beck and call of foreign embassies. A good example is Jehan Perera. When the World Alliance for Peace in Sri Lanka (WAPS) decided to hold a seminar of leading academics and intellectuals in Oslo the Norwegian media, which hardly pays any attention to the suffering of war-weary Sri Lankans, branded the participants as “extremists”. Among the participants were Paul Harris. Jane’s Weekly correspondent, who was thrown out by Ranil Wickremesinghe for exposing the “sale of the greatest land deal”, Prof. Peter Chalk of the Rand Corporation, an expert on terrorism, Prof. Asoka Bandarage of George Town University, Washington, the correspondent of the Canadian National Post, Stewart Bell, etc.

 WAPS was the only organization which bearded the Norwegian lion in its den. This challenge was too much to stomach to a nation of Quislings. The Norwegians needed some Sri Lankan source to run down this seminar. They didn’t have to look far because their hired retainer, Jehan, who receives the highest funding from Norway. was ever ready, willing and able to brand WAPS participants as “extremists”. Jehan, as usual, was singing for his supper and had no qualms about spreading lies. Later when I asked “Pacha” Perera who the extremists were he grinned sheepishly. These are the hired agents of the West would not hesitate to even sell their mother for a dollar. They know that they are being used by the West. American Ambassador Thomas Pickering is on record admitting that they use NGOs as “soft power” to advance their national interests abroad. So it is not surprising to see Jehan and “Paki” playing the role of the obedient monkeys to the moneyed organ grinders in the West.

 A genuine “civil society” has its roots in the people. They have the capacity to mobilize forces at all levels to organize political activity to protect the larger interests of the people with their own home-grown resources. The NGOs, on the other hand, depend primarily on foreign backing for survival as seen in the case of Ms. Butenis rushing to defend Jehan and “Paki”. This exposes them as hired Quislings of the American, Norwegian and other Western embassies more than being representatives of the Sri Lankan people. They run to Ms. Butenis because the people are not with them to defend them in their hour of need.

 In fact, the NGOs exist (1) because they are funded extravagantly by foreign embassies and (2) because the local media gives them free space to voice their anti-national propaganda. Without these two props they will collapse overnight. Even with these two props the NGOs have not won the confidence of the people. A credible civil society must come out of the soil of the land. They can’t be imposed from top by the American or the Norwegian embassies. Their voices may be music to the ears of the Western diplomats who hear only what they want to hear from their hired intellectuals. But their anti-national voices do not sound like music in the ears of the people. When the NGOs speak the people hear only the sound of grass and gas coming out of the other end of the bull. They do not command a respect or a following among the people. How many divisions can Jehan Perera and Saravanamuttu summon in their defence when they come under attack? With no broad base among the people the NGO have to run to momma in the US embassy for protection.

 The NGOs lost their credibility mostly in the role they played in the 33-year-old Vadukoddai War. The avowed aim of Jehan Perera and “Paki”’ was to put maximum pressure on the government to stop the war. They posed as “peaceniks” arguing for “a negotiated settlement”. The Berghoff Foundation, or instance, was demanding that the military capacity should be reduced to the level of Prabhakaran. Doors were opened by Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe for Jehan Perera to lecture to the Armed Forces on the impossibility of winning the war. He was, as usual, pontificating on a “negotiated settlement”.

 In an Australian Broadcasting Corporation programme, where Palitha Kohona in New York, Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu in London and myself in Melbourne were hooked up, I raised the issue of “negotiated settlements” with “Paki”. I asked how many “negotiated settlements” were they after? The first negotiated settlement was through Rajiv Gandhi, the regional super power. This peace-maker was assassinated by Prabhakaran. The second negotiated settlement was being worked out with Ranasinghe Premadasa. Not only Premadasa even the 600 policemen who surrendered in the hope of facilitating peace negotiations were killed. Third was the peace deal worked out jointly by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Neelan Tiruchelvam. What did Prabhakaran do? He sent his assassins and got Neelan. He nearly got Chandrika but she narrowly escaped with the loss of an eye. The last negotiated deal was with the guarantees of the international community. The Nordic Peace monitors are on record saying that Prabhakaran violated 95% of the terms and conditions of Ceasefire Agreement. He shot Ranil Wickremesinghe”ƒ”¹…”s peace deal to pieces. Finally, after promising in November 2005 to give time for Mahinda Rajapaksa to work out a solution he attacked his Army Commander and the Defence Secretary in 2006. Then came Mavil Aru “”…” the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The rest, of course, is history.

 So if the local, regional and the international negotiated settlements failed what chances had Saravanamuttu and Jehan Perera to negotiate a peace settlement with Prabhakaran? When Jehan claims that “the NPC has consistently stood for a political solution” how was he going to achieve it when players bigger than him have failed? He says: “Our work is essentially in this spirit. Our belief is that there must be a political solution to the ethnic problem that has the people’s understanding and support.” After raking in millions for “a political solution” can he, in the name of transparency and accountability, tell the public the successes scored by NGOs either for a “negotiated settlement” or a “political solution” to end the Vadukoddai War. At one point he even claimed arrogantly a seat in the peace negotiations as a stake holder. What good would that have done to peace except to provide another spokesman for Norway and Prabhakaran at the negotiating table?

2 Responses to “Ms. Butenis in NGO boat without a paddle -Part 1”

  1. Naram Says:

    THank you for this lucid thought provoking excellent Article.

    Madame Butenis and other NGOO leaders who hang on the coat tails of international NGO fat cats should reflect on the history of their own home states in the USA, a country in the present sense came into being in the 1860ss after bllody crushing of the southern states, in Abraham Lincoln’s period. President Lincoln’s negotiated solution to the ethnic problem in the US was setting up a state in Sierra Leone for resettlement of blacks; He could not or did not want to envisage a society where Blacks and whites could live together and we see today the mess in Sierra Leone by that emigrash speaking elite and the society created for the other messes in Chicago and Detroit slums which Obama entered as a Democratic party organiser from Honolulu can be seen in Obama’s own writings.

    In Sri Lanka 1818 Wellassa massacres, and the setting up of the plantation economies took place fifty years earlier. Yet a realisation of the commitment to build the infrastructure in a nationwide scale we see only today. Of course Kandyan Peasantry Commission was set up in 1956 but the officialdom in the works departments dominated by Vellalar aristocracy undermined any attempts in a very organised manner and vast scale racketeering was rampant. Jehan and Pakiasothy do not like to speak about the period when absurd agitations against the institution of Sinhala Language for the purpose of governance with sathyagrahas were not successful FP leaders went to the extent of murdering political opponents setting up bank robberies by cyanide pill wearing teenagers in the 70s.

    Despite the higher per capita incomes we do not see an orderly democracy at least equal to the level in Sri Lanka where there is some commitment to bring an evenness in development, equality of opportunity, commitment to build the physical and social infrastructure in either US or their ideal state Sierra Leone.

  2. Naram Says:

    The country – I referred to is not Sierra Leone, but Liberia – suffering with a cossetted English speaking US emigres dominating the political scene scene.

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