Tortuous Politics in the Americas

Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tortuous Politics in the Americas


The US White House and Cuba appear to cooperate against a common enemy: US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez

THE SEEMINGLY UNRELENTING WAVE OF MEDIA "revelations" in the United States against one of the key strategic policy officials in the Government, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (Democrat, New Jersey), has its origins not in any malfeasance or misadventure by the Senator, but in deeper political warfare involving the Cuban Government and others.

A "perfect storm" of coinciding political interests in Havana, Washington, DC, and elsewhere in the Americas has now focused increasingly around Sen. Menendez as the key impediment to the desires of the Cuban Government and the White House to re-establish USCuban relations. But behind this may also be that he stands in the way of Cuban-related criminal activities.

Sen. Menendez has refused, because of the nature of his own political base, to support the White House' desire to normalize US-Cuban relations, even though this is one of the key foreign policy objectives of Pres. Barack Obama. And this has been only one area where Sen. Menendez - whose Democratic Party "machine" in New Jersey delivered the state's vote to Barack Obama in two Presidential elections - has incurred the enmity of the President. The goal of "normalization" with Cuba became one step more important for Mr Obama with the failure, as far as US media "bounce" was concerned, of his Middle East initiative to reconcile Israel and Turkey, and to be seen - with the Presidential Middle East trip (March 20-23, 2013) - as popular in that region. The White House-sanctioned visit to Cuba in early April 2013 by US pop stars Jay-Z and Beyoncé reflected this.

"Normalization" is also the most significant strategic objective and desired legacy of the Cuban Government of Pres. Raúl Castro Ruz, to the point where the Cuban leadership has committed the Dirección de Inteligencia (DI: Directorate of Intelligence), to focus as its principal current mission on the removal of Sen. Menendez from his position blocking the process. The DI has worked largely through cut-outs in the Dominican Republic to create a rolling series of "scandals" supposedly involving Sen. Menendez, in order to force his resignation from the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

For the most part, the scandals relied, in order to achieve media publicity, on a series of claims by Dominican Republic prostitutes that Sen. Menendez had hired them, and then underpaid them. These claims ensured that allegations of impropriety by the Senator were salacious enough to achieve prominent media coverage in the US, so that even when they were able to be disproven, or the testimony of the prostitutes recanted, the stain of opprobrium would stay with the Senator and be sufficient for the White House to distance itself from the Senator, and to approve Justice Department investigations and indictments of him for other alleged malfeasances. [Not that the allegations of sexual misconduct lacked credibility, given Sen. Menendez' reputation, but it was significant that the Dominican Republic allegations seemed not even to bother with dredging up actual, verifiable incidents. And even then, Sen. Menendez is hardly alone in Washington political circles for sexual improprieties, given the allegations, for example, against Presidents Bill Clinton, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson.]

Sen. Menendez has had a colorful political career as an almost prototypical Democratic Party "machine" boss in New Jersey, and his free-wheeling past opened the prospect that "something of an illegal nature would stick" against him. Moreover, any Justice Dept. investigation or indictment, regardless of whether or not it resulted in a conviction for serious wrongdoing, would cause a rupture in the Senator's political credibility - at least - or result directly in his resignation to avoid damaging the Party or the Presidency. …

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