The Bush administration is engaging in damage control for their questionable involvement in the failed 2 day coup against the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Alarmingly, the ominous Otto Reich is emerging as a key player in the administration’s role in the failed coup attempt to replace Chavez with an oligarchy of business, military and wealthy elites. Scrambling to distance themselves from the botched overthrow of the democratically elected Chavez government, the Bush administration admitted that Mr. Reich called the coup leader, Mr. Carmona, and asked him not to dissolve the National Assembly because it would be a “stupid thing to do”. The next day the administration revised their story and said Reich only asked our ambassador to relay that message to Carmona.
The New York Times noted that the disclosure raised questions as to whether Mr. Reich and other administration officials were stage-managing the takeover by Mr. Carmona. Although the Bush administration admits their desire to replace the Chavez government because of its opposition to U.S. policies and friendship with countries like Cuba and Iran, they now insist that they were not involved in the armed coup. The administration also admits talking with various Venezuelan officials prior to the coup including General Lucas Romero Rincon, head of the Venezuelan military, who met with Pentagon official Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, a former close associate of the U. S. supported Contra forces in Nicaragua.
Mr. Reich’s propensity to pernicious propaganda has once again emerged from events surrounding the coup. According to the New York Times, Reich told congressional aides that the administration had received reports that “foreign paramilitary forces”-suspected to be Cuban-were involved in the bloody suppression of anti-Chavez demonstrators, in which at least 14 people were killed in Venezuela. Reich, a former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and lobbyist with ties to Mobil Oil in Venezuela, further told the Congressional staffers that Mr. Chavez had meddled with the historically independent state oil company, provided haven to Colombian guerillas, and bailed out Cuba with preferential rates on oil.
Reich is a right-wing Cuban-American obsessed with overthrowing Fidel Castro’s regime and is also a big political supporter of President Bush’s brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who needs strong support from Cubans in Florida in his re-election bid this year. Reich, along with fellow Reagan administration cohorts, Elliott Abrams and John Negroponte, were discredited for their covert activities and false assertions when the United States intervened in Central America in the 1980’s and ’90s, but have been re-instated in prominent positions in the second Bush administration. They abhor Latin-American governments that are elected by the poor and working class people, like the Chavez government in Venezuela and the deposed Sandinista government in Nicaragua.
Abrams was convicted of lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra scandal, but has been remarkably rehabilitated and recycled back into the second Bush administration as head of the “Office of Democracy and Human Rights”. Negroponte was appointed as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations last September in spite of being implicated as a friend of Honduran death squad leaders who committed atrocities against the people of Honduras while he was the U.S. Ambassador there.
The most recent resurrection of this trio of right-wing renegades is the appointment of Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. President Bush used the tricky recess appointment procedure to bypass potential hostile and damaging questioning by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The Senators had some interesting examples of Mr. Reich’s malfeasance to ask him about when he was the director of the State Department’s Office of Public Diplomacy(OPD).
On September 30, 1987 a Republican appointed comptroller general of the U.S. found that Reich had done things as director of the OPD that were “prohibited, covert propaganda activities, “beyond the range of acceptable agency public information activities…”. The same report said Mr. Reich’s operation violated “a restriction on the State Department’s annual appropriations prohibiting the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress.” Reich used the covert propaganda to demonize the democratically elected Sandinista government of Nicaragua and establish the Contras as fearless freedom fighters. The purpose was to make the U.S. public afraid enough of the Sandinistas to get Congress to fund the Contras directly. The Boland Amendment was passed by Congress in 1982 that prohibited U.S. funds from being used to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. Meanwhile, the Contras were being illegally armed by the Reagan administration via the Iran-Contra arms deal.
On the night of Reagan’s re-election in 1984, Reich’s office put out the news that “intelligence sources”revealed that Soviet MIG fighter jets were arriving in Nicaragua and Andrea Mitchell interrupted election night coverage on NBC to give the phony report. This resembles the Joseph Goebbel’s fabrication that Polish troops had attacked German soldiers to give the Third Reich an excuse to launch the Nazi blitzkrieg into Poland to begin World War II in 1939. Other Reich prevarications given to media sources included: Nicaragua had been given chemical weapons by the Soviets, according to the Miami Herald; and leaders of the Sandinistas were involved in drug trafficking, according to Newsweek magazine.
In Latin American countries the United States has a history of doing business and siding with wealthy oligarchies of business, professional and military elites who tend to be lighter skinned people of European descent against the poor and working class composed mainly of darker skinned, indigenous people and those of African descent. The second Bush administration appears to be adhering to this tradition with gusto. With Otto Reich churning out the hate and fear, it is a safe bet to predict that President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela will be increasingly presented as the devil incarnate and his government as evil, anti-American terrorists. Mr. Reich will dish out the poisonous propaganda to every news source that covers the Bush administration’s Latin American policy. Joseph Goebbels would be proud.
Tom Turnipseed is an attorney, writer and civil rights activist in Columbia, South Carolina. http://www.turnipseed.net