Waiting for Otto

Why would a man sullied by Iran-contra and illegal propaganda campaigns be a Bush nominee? Good question.

Thus the nominee for assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs is playing a far bigger role in domestic politics than in foreign policy. Even if the nomination goes nowhere, the president can likely guarantee Cuban-American support as long as he is perceived to be fighting for his hard-line, anti-Castro nominee. "In Washington, at the White House, in the Republican Party, they still see the Cuban-American electorate made up mostly of hard-liners," offered Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen. "I would personally question that analysis, but I think that's the way they see it and that's the way they play it." According to his voter surveys, the pro-embargo electorate is shrinking. "I think the whole political analysis that says to be able to get the Cuban-American vote you need to be a hard-liner is disintegrating quickly," he concluded.

But Bendixen thinks the president would not jeopardize his brother's re-election by giving up on Reich. "I think the president's advisors would tell him that dropping Reich would not be helpful with Cuban Americans."

Other prominent Cuban Americans share Bendixen's view. "I think that the majority of the Cuban community doesn't even know who Otto Reich is," noted Alfredo Duran, a Miami lawyer, Bay of Pigs veteran, and former Florida Democratic Party chairman, who favors a policy of dialogue with the Castro regime.

Paul Hamlyn
Miami lawyer and Bay of Pigs veteran Alfredo Duran thinks Latin America needs a Marshall Plan, not a divisive U.S. point man
Steve Satterwhite
Miami lawyer and Bay of Pigs veteran Alfredo Duran thinks Latin America needs a Marshall Plan, not a divisive U.S. point man


But what would happen if the president decided to abandon his controversial nominee? Hoping to assess the political cost of such a move, New Times queried Joe Garcia, CANF's executive director. Garcia dodged the question, saying he didn't believe withdrawing was an option. "I think you've missed the [Bush administration's] motivator," he insisted. "I think Otto Reich is a highly trained diplomat who's good at what he does. You're putting the administration in a box that I don't think they see themselves being in. I don't think that's an option, and I don't think they see it as an option. They could have, but they don't. It's an absurd question. It's like asking me what if my grandmother were a hippo? They've committed to go down the road with Otto." Garcia then suggested New Times put that question to Dennis Hays, CANF's highly diplomatic, Irish-American lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

Hays also ducked. "Everything I've seen from this president is that he does not abandon a friend, and he doesn't abandon his choice when there is no information, no whatever, that indicates the individual has done anything other than be a first-rate servant of this nation," he declared.

Oddly enough CANF's archenemy -- the Cuban government -- thinks Otto Reich is a "magnificent" choice. "Otto Reich is the ideal undersecretary for a failed U.S. foreign policy in Latin America," Ricardo Alarcón, president of the National Assembly of the People's Power, chortled during a recent interview in Havana. "I'm not worried in the least. The United States is who should be worried." Alarcón said Reich has already generated a negative reaction among Latin-American opinion leaders. He cited a widely published opinion piece by former Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias, who warned that "appointing someone of Reich's ideological stripe would be a real setback in hemispheric cooperation."

Alarcón continued: "Otto Reich is more amusing to us than anything else. He is going to be concerned not only with Cuba but the whole continent. Perfect. Letting him help destroy U.S. relations with Latin America strikes us as a brilliant idea."

If you selected (d), you're right, at least as far as the Miami Herald editorial board is concerned. The bit about "misguided, even dishonest, attempts to propagandize the American public" comes straight from a March 26 editorial in the Pulitzer Prize-winning daily. But somehow that dark cloud didn't obscure the board's belief that Reich could "dispel doubts about steering U.S. policy" in Latin America. The editorial's endorsement noted that he enjoys the support of Governor Bush and Senator Graham but mentioned none who oppose him. Reich brings "solid diplomatic credentials and key contacts" to the job, the editorial assured.

The Herald editorial also ignored its own excellent reporting, including articles on the comptroller general's conclusion concerning Reich's propaganda activities in the Iran-contra scandal. Also omitted was any reference to a 1987 Herald article based on a report by the General Accounting Office, which determined that Reich's office had awarded a noncompetitive contract worth $187,000 to Richard Miller, the president of a public-relations firm that funneled private money to the contras. The GAO found the contract in violation of the ban on funding for covert propaganda operations. Miller currently is a partner of Reich's at RMA International.

The Herald's analysis of Reich continues to be mushy, perhaps so as not to offend members of the Cuban-American political establishment. It's an attitude that contrasts sharply with that of other major newspapers not known to be soft on Castro. The Chicago Tribune, in an October 15 editorial, likened the Reich nomination to "a moldy, B-grade production that inexplicably keeps popping up at the neighborhood moviehouse." The missive read: "The U.S. embargo against Cuba -- an article of faith among the majority of Cuban exiles in Florida -- is a weary, failed policy, and widely reviled around the world, particularly in Latin America. President Bush has spoken boldly about forging a new American policy with Mexico and Latin America. That's a role that cannot be played by a has-been with so many negative past performances as Otto Reich."

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