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From the Thick Jungles of the South | BINGOs, GONGOs and the Empire of the Moon

It is a curious document: the conclusory findings of a Brazilian parliamentary commission of inquiry (CPI) that almost and essentially never took place.

In 2002, the lower house of the Brazilian congress installed just such a CPI to investigate the activities of NGOs, and foreign-operated and -controlled NGOs in particular, on its soil.

At the time, two cases were highlighted: the almost comically sleazy and cheep use of a sketchy anti-cancer NGO to lobby for the approval of an expensive drug to treat an extremely rare form of the disease, bankrolled by the Big Pharma farmer Novartis, and a giddy scheme by the Unification Church
to buy up land atop the world’s largest freshwater acquifer, along the Paraguayan border with Mato Grosso do Sul.

The commission’s brief account of the latter case deserves translation, and is appended hereto therefore, though for the life of me I cannot dig up any information on how the affair turned out.

The investigation went dormant during the election cycles of 2002 and 2006, threatened to flare up again during the election cycle of 2010, and finally was snuffed out for good amid promises of mutually assured political destruction: If one side holds the NGO where the president’s daughter works up to public scorn, the other will do the same for the daughter of the contender.

Even now, we await the installation of a GONGO — government-organized nongovernmental organization — to be chaired by the attractive wife of São Paulo’s sitting governor, Geraldo Alckmin.

Dubbed Fussesp, or “the solidarity fund of the State of São Paulo,” the thing was founded during the previous Alckmin governorship — 2002-2006 — but has yet to remove the “coming soon” notice from its Web site. Lu certainly makes for a gracious and lovely First Lady, but this sort of self-promotion using the publicly funded political machine cannot help but generate a certain, as they say here, malestar.

What, however, is our takeaway? As a general diagnosis of the post-Westphalia era, I found the conclusions of this 2002 draft report translation-worthy and gave it a little more attention than I usually do to blogged, you get what you pay for, examples of intelligent Lusophone life. Read on.

There are signs that the classic Nation-state, with its clearly defined territorial boundaries, its exclusive exercise of sovereignty over these territories, and its concentration of authority in a unitary government, is losing steam. Certain crucial and traditional attributes of the State are withering away, among them the privileged possession of information, diluted now by the ease of obtaining and circulating information provided by the new technologies.

At the same time, and as a result, three new kinds of agent are growing ever stronger: multilateral bodies, multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations. There are millions of NGOs, scattered all over the world. Their exact number is difficult to ascertain. Part of their work is accomplished by volunteers and part by professional staff, sustained by private, corporate, government and multilateral donations. They engage in all sorts of humanitarian or ecological research and activity. Many are now large, rich and prestigious enough to influence the policies of sovereign states.

While these organizations often provide society with excellent services and complement the policymaking process in an extremely useful way, it must be remembered that NGOs are first and foremost a way of making a living for their managers and staff. Bearing in mind the influence some NGOs have over local and national governments and multilateral bodies, it is important to remember that they all have one trait in common: not a single one of them is democratically elected. The oversight and auditing of their use of funds is most often not available to the public, assuming such work is even performed.

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