Magazine article Insight on the News

Smearing Reich?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Smearing Reich?

Article excerpt

President Bush's choice of social democrat Otto Reich to lead the State Department's policy for the Western Hemisphere has the left calling for his head on a platter.

Otto Juan Reich, President George W. Bush's State Department pick to run policy for the Western Hemisphere, "is the wrong man, with the wrong instincts, pursuing the wrong interests, at the wrong time." So says a coalition that has banded together to stop his nomination as assistant secretary of state. On their newly launched Website, www.stopottoreich.com, they proclaim: "Reich is a divider, not a uniter."

Reich's opponents hope the Bush administration will sacrifice him to avoid an ugly public-relations battle, and their effort includes lobbying "farm-state Republicans" who wish to expand trade with Latin America. Savoring the White House's politically motivated surrender of the military-training ground on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, Reich's opponents feel they are on a roll.

Reich's intended post probably will be more sensitive than at any time since the Cold War when the Soviet Union was arming Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba. Conservatives worry that a left-wing insurgence is taking shape in the region: This points to the rise of strongman Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, a cocaine-and-heroin-fueled guerrilla movement in Colombia, a left-wing populist movement sweeping Brazil, the newly found political legitimacy of the Zapatista guerrillas in Mexico, the growing electoral clout of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party in El Salvador and the possible return to power of Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

This is why Reich's critics say he is the wrong man at the wrong time. Reich doesn't like those people. And he didn't like them in the 1980s, when he was head of the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean. From there, he supported the Nicaraguan Contras. Even worse, as far as the coalition ranged against him thinks, the Cuban-born diplomat has a long record of opposing the Castro regime.

Reich is a divisive figure aligned with "hard-line Cuban-Americans," and he "engaged in illegal propagandizing for the Contras," says the Center for International Policy (CIP), which is leading the "Stop Otto Reich" campaign. "The nomination would send a deeply alienating message to our Latin neighbors."

The CIP finds Reich so divisive and alienating because of its own worldview, say Reich defenders. In the 1980s, the CIP was a vocal supporter of the Castro-aligned Marxist revolutionary movements sweeping the Western Hemisphere. Its president, Robert E. White, whom President Ronald Reagan removed as U.S. ambassador to El Salvador, became a vocal supporter of the communist FMLN guerrillas. CIP senior fellow Wayne S. Smith, who was chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979 to 1982, earned a reputation as a staunch apologist for the Castro regime through his extensive scholarly and polemical writings and commentary. He has enjoyed unusual access to Cuban officialdom through the years.

Smith directs the CIP's Cuba Project. Its programming takes a different approach to Cuba than that of Reich. Whereas Reich speaks of toppling the Castro brothers and the Cuban Communist Party, the CIP emphasizes expanding trade with the regime and reserves its enmity for Castro's opponents. The CIP board of directors includes Stewart Mott, a longtime funder of far-left causes, and Dessima Williams, who lost her job as ambassador from the Marxist-Leninist regime in Grenada when President Reagan sent in the troops in 1983.

CIP's fellow members of the Stop Otto Reich coalition, formally known as the Coalition for a Sensible Latin America Policy (CSLAP), are: the Cuban Committee for Democracy, which says its job is to "promote the moderate and progressive sector of the Cuban-American population"; the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which was there when Latin American revolutionaries needed a voice in Washington; and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a supporter of Marxist causes in the region with a strong scholarly and policy community base. …

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