[News] Otto Reich .. a career in disservice

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 13 09:03:06 EDT 2004

Published: Monday, July 12, 2004
Bylined to: <mailto:coha at coha.org>Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Council on Hemispheric Affairs: Otto Reich .. a career in disservice
    * A master at deconstructing US-Latin American relations
    * Greed, chicanery and raw ideology add up to the vulgarization of 
hemispheric issues.
    * Reich’s secret formula: promote skewed pseudo-democracy by utilizing 
thuggish tactics
    * He accuses his leftist adversaries, like Aristide, of lying; but no 
one in public life has so persistently manipulated the truth than Otto Reich.

Having just resigned on June 16 from his position as a controversial White 
House adviser on Latin American issues, Otto Reich’s highly visible career 
has spanned three decades during which he has held a series of senior 
public positions. During this period he has worked as a highly paid 
lobbyist for a number of corporations and controversy has never been far 
from his door.

During this entire period, the profoundly extremist Cuban-American exile 
has been the proponent of an abrasive US foreign policy aimed at the heart 
of Latin American dignity, targeting any of its leaders who did not share 
his Zoroastrian world view of absolute darkness versus absolute light. 
Until his resignation took effect in late June, Reich was an indefatigable 
warrior against whatever he decided was a leftwing cause. During his years 
of ostensible public service to the US, he routinely violated domestic laws 
by working behind the scenes to overthrow the radical but 
democratically-elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In El Salvador, 
he was an assiduous apologist for the death squads, at a total cost of 
85,000 lives (mostly innocent civilians that included Catholic Priests), 
and condoned brutal human rights violations by the Contras, a US-created 
force for which he later to broke the law to support. In so doing, Reich 
made the choice to protect drug traffickers to service the higher goal of 
putatively fighting communism. It would not be an exaggeration to say that 
Reich never met a liberal who he did not view a covert operator for Moscow, 
or an extreme rightwing cause that was not shrouded in rectitude. As head 
of the notorious Office of Public Diplomacy during the Iran-Contra era of 
the mid-1980s, Reich’s skullduggery was so infamous that he was repeatedly 
reprimanded by federal authorities for violating proper financial procedures.

The War of the Titans: Reich vs. Castro

Reich is primarily known for being an unflagging champion of an anti-Castro 
obsession that has done great damage to Washington’s Latin American 
relations by focusing them almost entirely on the US-Cuba conflict. Reich 
viewed Chile as good because it obediently fell in line with US interests, 
while Haiti and Venezuela were bad because they did not. Promoted as a 
leader of the extreme rightwing segment of the Cuban-American leadership 
due to his rabid hatred of Fidel Castro, he relentlessly stalked the Cuban 
communist leader as being the apotheosis of diabolism in our time. If 
someone failed to share his perception, he would be in great risk of being 
instantly denominated as being a communist.

Ironically, Castro was essential to Reich’s own fame and fortune because 
without him, Reich’s talents would have likely landed him little better 
than the job of an apparatchik, which was the fate of Assistant Secretary 
of State Roger Noriega, who, many would contend, was the one Bush official 
less intellectually prepared than Reich.

Reich’s moments in the spotlight came about due to his prominent role in 
both the Iran-Contra Affair and in his later capacity as a big-time player 
in the attempted April 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. 
Reich built a murky relationship with predatory big business interests 
including Bacardi Rum and Lockheed-Martin, and an array of questionable 
private Cuban-American militant groups, as both a private lobbyist in the 
1990s and later as a candidate to be Assistant Secretary of State for 
Western Hemisphere Affairs in President George W. Bush’s State Department. 
These bitterly controversial actions persuaded Senator Christopher Dodd 
(D-CT), of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to block Reich’s 
confirmation to that diplomatic post in January of 2002, prompting 
President Bush to exercise his right of executive privilege by appointing 
Reich on an interim basis for a one-year period, thus skirting the need for 
Senate approval.

Henchman in the Anti-Castro Effort, Pork Meister Supreme in Diverting 
Taxpayer Funds for His Ideological Causes

Ever since fleeing Cuba with his family at the age of fourteen, Reich has 
passionately sought the demise of Castro and his regime. Reich’s personal 
crusade inevitably led him to a broad range of affiliations with radical 
right-wing Cuban-American exile groups that he was always ready to finance 
with US taxpayer funds. He has served as a trustee for the Center for a 
Free Cuba and worked for the US-Cuba Business Council, a nonprofit 
organization that, to a large extent, is financed by the ultra-rightwing 
owners of the Bacardi Company, which is at least as focused on undermining 
the Castro regime as it is on producing rum. Cuban-American leadership in 
Miami and members of the US’ rightist pantheon have helped make Reich 
perhaps the most visible contemporary radical right figure available to 
champion the extremist wing of the passionate anti-Castro movement.

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s egregious lack of feel for Latin American 
issues has led to a willingness to defer to non-mainstream and ill-prepared 
hyper-ideologues like Reich and Roger Noriega, who succeeded the former as 
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Under the 
aegis of these two prominent Cuban bashers, US-Latin American relations 
have arguably hit their lowest level in years, with Washington losing much 
of its leverage over the outcome of regional issues in which its commanding 
economic and trade clout presumably should have brought success. This 
coupled with the non-stop political intrusions coming from Governor Jeb 
Bush of Florida (himself with absolutely solid extremist credentials), 
acting on behalf of the older generation of the leadership of the 
Miami-Cuban exile community, has led the handling of US-Latin American 
policy into total disarray.

Reich’s role as head of the Latin American section of USAID in the early 
’80s, and then as the director of the Office of Public Diplomacy during the 
Reagan presidency, was based on his ability to ingratiate himself with 
powerful political figures whom he could count on to advance his own 
personal welfare, including then Vice President and former CIA director 
George H.W. Bush. Reich’s relationship with the Bush family was undoubtedly 
facilitated by his connection with Miami’s influential rightwing nexus, 
including the late Jorge Mas Canosa and his ultra-right Cuban-American 
National Foundation. Reich’s indisputable zeal in the anti-Castro mission 
made him part of the team that helped deliver some of the all-important 
Cuban-American vote to the Reagan-Bush ticket in the crucial state of 
Florida, and later to George W. Bush in his extremely controversial 2000 
presidential election victory.

Architecting the Anti-Castro Struggle

Such activities placed Reich at the center of a Miami-linked cadre of 
anti-Cuban-American militants who uniquely perceive Washington’s Latin 
American policy as a method to pursue their narrow agenda. As a private 
lobbyist for the venomously anti-Castro Barcardi family in 1995-96, Reich’s 
company provided free legal service to Senator Helms in the drafting of the 
near-universally condemned Helms-Burton Act. Under that measure’s Title III 
(routinely suspended by the Bush and Clinton Administrations) and Title IV, 
US authorities may penalize any foreign company or individual engaged in 
commerce involving previously confiscated and once American-owned Cuban 
property. This measure brought about a dangerous confrontation between the 
US and the EU and was only resolved by the Clinton administration and 
current Bush administrations’ repeated non-enforcement of the law’s main 

Reich’s MO

As Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2002-2003), 
Reich continued to press the administration to reinforce existing sanctions 
against Cuba, frequently resorting to blatantly counterfeit charges as he 
did in a speech given in 2002 at Heritage Foundation, a Washington 
conservative sanctuary. In that address, he stated that “Cuba is a state 
sponsor of terrorism. We believe that Cuba has at least a limited offensive 
biological warfare research and development effort” and also that “Cuba has 
engaged in a deliberate effort to confuse, distract and divert US 
intelligence from its vital counter-terrorism mission by dangling false 
leads.” When pressed for evidence, neither Reich nor any of his colleagues 
came forth with any proof beyond his and Undersecretary of State for Arms 
Control and Nonproliferation, John Bolton’s hoax that Havana was exporting 

The administration’s uninterrupted drive to create a contrived situation in 
order to pump up sanctions against Havana, prompted Oscar Arias, former 
president of Costa Rica and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to remark to the 
Los Angeles Times: “I believe many American farmers and businessmen are 
aware that US economic warfare against Cuba harms broader US interests, 
while at the same time injuring the people, but not the government, of 
Cuba.” The new anti-Castro measures being implemented by the Bush 
administration at the urging of Reich, Noriega and their immediate coterie 
include a controversial proposal on May 6 to attempt provocative, and 
perhaps illegal, flights through Cuban airspace by the American military 
with specialized equipment meant to prevent Cuba’s jamming of US funded, 
anti-Castro propagandistic broadcasts of TV Marti.

Although many consider the tactics of Reich and his fellow exile demagogues 
as largely ineffective, they still greatly damage general US foreign policy 
objectives, Powell, who appears to have abdicated all responsibility for US 
policy towards Cuba, or for that matter, the rest of Latin America, has 
become merely one more choirboy in the administration’s anti-Cuba rant. 
That said, Reich has shown that he was willing to promote nearly every 
affliction on the Cuban people, be it hunger through embargoes, violence 
through Cuban domestic terrorist Orlando Bosch, or destruction through an 
anti-Castro uprising, if such steps promised to weaken the Castro regime. 
Ignoring all existing peaceful precedents for handling allegedly 
unregenerate or totalitarian states by engaging them through commerce and 
aid, Reich offered only sinister and coercive tactics to force Cuba to 
embrace his version of democracy. In the spring of 2002, after a failed 
confirmation, President Bush appointed Reich as special envoy to the White 
House. In this position, Reich displayed his bitter hard-line rhetoric in 
response to a reporter’s inquiry about how the United States would promote 
freedom in Cuba: “One way we can help [
] is not throwing a lifeline to a 
failed, corrupt, dictatorial, murderous regime. We're not going to do it. 
We are not going to help Fidel Castro stay in power by opening up our 
markets to Cuba.” Libya and China, it seems, are another matter.

Working in the Satanic Mills

When not officially involved in the public spotlight plying his ideological 
trade, Reich founded RMA International, a lobbyist firm, in 1996. This 
event did not, however, signify any major change in lifestyle. Since 1996, 
Reich’s clients have included the Cuban-American owned Bacardi Corporation, 
from which he has reportedly received US$600,000 in compensation. Upon his 
later failed nomination as Assistant Secretary of State for Western 
Hemisphere Affairs, Reich failed mention his employment as a paid lobbyist 
for the Helms-Burton Act (pushed through the legislature in the mid 1990s) 
in a required financial disclosure report. Not until it was revealed in 
other federal reports filed with the Department of Justice concerning the 
Helms-Burton campaign (which handsomely paid Reich for his efforts to pass 
the anti-Havana legislation), did Reich lightly excuse the omission of this 
information as simply a “clerical oversight.” Lockheed-Martin, British 
American Tobacco and Mobil Oil were also on Reich’s list of big business 
clients. “Although Reich is no longer employed by Bacardi, you do not have 
to be a cynic to see a dangerous conflict of interest,” wrote the 
Guardian’s Duncan Campbell.

While working for Bacardi, Reich facilitated the inclusion of Section 211, 
denying trademark protection to Cuba in the 1998 Omnibus Appropriations 
Bill. This measure, coupled with the drafting and passing of the 
Helms-Burton Act, the process in which Reich played an integral role 
(including arranging the loan of Bacardi lawyers to help draft the 
measure’s most controversial provisions for now retired Senator Helms), 
ended up dangerously straining trade relations with the European Union, 
which filed a complaint against the U.S. at the World Trade Organization. 
While Reich and the big business groups that served as his clients may have 
realized handsome profits thanks to his career-long commitment to seeking 
out clients who applaud his raw ideology and abusive campaigns against the 
region’s assortment of lefties, many US businesses and agricultural groups, 
as well as Americans in other commercial and public sector pursuits, have 
certainly not. One glaring example of Reich’s grossly negative impact on US 
business interests was when Cuba, in retaliation to Section 211, vowed to 
produce AIDS pharmaceuticals despite existing US patents, inevitably 
sparking a trade war that will do more harm than good to US commercial 

Reich’s seeming inability to easily distinguish between the boundaries of 
public and private funds and his repeated indifference to ethical standards 
was again exhibited upon his return to government in 2001. In response to 
questions regarding possible conflicts of interest between his private 
lobbying and his State Department nomination, he submitted a report to the 
Senate that stated he would surrender control of his private lobby, RMA 
International, but would continue to receive commissions from RMA clients. 
Only after a reporter questioned the integrity of such a proposal did Reich 
concede that these lucrative payoffs could pose an ethical dilemma. His 
financial statement was later revised and resubmitted without the provision 
for his continue compensation from the private sector.

Although not allowed to directly receive funds from his former clients, 
Reich has shamelessly used his position to promote their interests. There 
was the attempted anti-Chavez coup in Venezuela in April 2001 in which 
Reich played a key role in meeting with the conspirators and in arranging 
for them to receive US tax. Coincidentally, the coup, if successful, would 
certainly have been in the best interests of Mobil Oil, a former Reich 
client. Subsequently, by lobbying hard for Lockheed-Martin, which had been 
given permission by the Pentagon to sell F-16 fighter jets with advanced 
missile systems to Chile’s historically brutal military, Reich helped to 
lift the two-decade-old congressional ban on the sale of advanced weaponry 
in Latin America, thus risking the inception of a destructive Chilean-led 
arms race with Argentina and Peru.

In 2000, Reich became vice-chairman of WRAP, an apparel industry lobby that 
was seen by its foes as an avenue through which domestic clothing importers 
could avoid scrutiny of their non-union production. Critics claim, that 
WRAP facilitated continued maintenance of sweatshops throughout Latin 
America and elsewhere in the developing world.

Master of Deception: OPD (1983-86)

As the head of the ill-reputed US Office of Public Diplomacy, Reich 
orchestrated the "White Propaganda" campaign of running unacknowledged 
op-ed editorials in newspapers across the nation. In an initiative 
illegally coordinated with the CIA, these articles were designed to 
manipulate and intimidate unwitting major American media outlets to favor 
the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Such efforts were intended to generate a 
public following in the US and abroad for Washington’s support of a 
Sandinista overthrow and to suppress widely circulating reports at the time 
of atrocities being committed by the US-backed Contras against Nicaraguan 
civilians. While bearing the names of some well-known academic and public 
figures, the bogus op-eds and other material were authored in Reich’s 
office by professional speech writers. In 1987, the Comptroller-General of 
the US, a Republican appointee, formally found that Reich had acted 
illegally: ‘We conclude that the [OPD’s] activities involving the 
preparation and dissemination of certain types of information violated 
restriction on the use of appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda 
purposes not authorized by Congress.’

Ambassador to Venezuela (1987-89)

Reich’s most ethically questionable behavior during his ambassadorship to 
Venezuela was his controversial role in the release and ultimate 
arrangement for asylum of accused Cuban-American terrorist Orlando Bosch. 
Although Bosch had smuggled a bomb onboard a Cuban airliner in 1976, 
killing all 73 onboard, his subsequent conviction on overwhelming evidence 
in a Venezuelan court was shockingly overturned on appeal. After fleeing 
Venezuela, Reich helped him to procure refugee status inside the US, 
despite a State Department intelligence report implicating Bosch in 
approximately thirty acts of international violence and sabotage. While 
Reich always takes a strong stand against terrorism, he directly advanced 
the interests of the most prolific terrorist figure to emerge in the 
US-Latin American environment in recent decades, Bosch.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (2002-June 14, 

In January 2002, Reich was elevated by President Bush in a recess 
appointment to be the State Department’s chief Latin Americanist. After 
Senator Dodd froze Reich’s appointment this action was taken to stave off 
potentially embarrassing questions concerning his earlier career in public 
service that were sure to be aired. His confirmation also seemed highly 
unlikely after several key Republican Senators, including the chairman of 
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar (R-IN), announced 
they could not support his appointment due to his fatefully flawed 
professional history. Once in office, Reich was soon tasked to orchestrate 
a massive international media defamation campaign against Chávez that has 
continued until this day.

Choosing One’s Enemies

Along with Reich’s unbridled aversion to Chavez, due in part to the 
Venezuelan leader’s close relationship with Fidel Castro, he has shown a 
disturbing readiness to manipulate Venezuela’s domestic political scene 
that is reminiscent of similar actions he has taken in many other Latin 
American nations. The English-speaking Caribbean countries, and almost all 
of the other Latin American nations that he visited while serving Powell 
and then the White House, became, during his short tenure, the venue for 
vituperative and minatory statements about political candidates that he 
might oppose in upcoming elections. Faced with the prospect of a possible 
presidential election victory in El Salvador by the leftist FMLN, Reich had 
no problem with erroneously linking the party to the Spanish separatist 
terrorist group ETA. He stated, “We (the US government) could not have the 
same confidence in an El Salvador led by a person [Schafik Handal] who is 
obviously an admirer of Fidel Castro and of (Venezuelan President) Hugo 
    * What he did not bother to tell his audience was that he fabricated 
the link between the ETA and Cuba when, in fact, the then-Spanish Prime 
Minister Felipe Gonzalez asked Castro, as an accommodation to Spain, to 
grant several ETA militants asylum in Cuba.

Reich’s connection to the US intelligence agencies and reputation as one of 
the Bush administration’s master conspirators and disinformation 
specialists leads many to suspect that he played an important role in Jean 
Bertrand Aristide’s fall from favor in the international media, and in 
fostering international support for the Haitian rebels.

Throughout the closing days of the embattled Aristide administration’s stay 
in office, Secretary of State Colin Powell ostensibly attempted to avoid 
the Haitian President’s overthrow, while Reich made some off-the-record 
comments to the media alluding that a violent coup against Aristide’s 
government was certainly a viable option. The OAS and a congressional 
sub-committee are currently preparing investigations into the true 
circumstances of Aristide’s loss of power.
    * In order to superimpose his political will, Reich has often simply 
resorted to bully tactics and outright extortionist threats against those 
he feels are most vulnerable. To a distressing extent, Reich expresses the 
exact authoritarian profile that he routinely ascribes to Castro. Could it 
be that Reich would be a perfect Castro if given the chance?

When the United States invaded Iraq, Reich was clearly displeased with the 
Caribbean-based organization Caricom’s decision not to support the 
controversial war. Over Barbados TV he said, “It is not the kind of support 
that we expect from friends
 We listen very carefully to what our friends 
say and we're very disappointed by some of the statements. We're not 
violating international law, neither is Great Britain or any of the other 
countries and I would urge Caricom to study very carefully not only what it 
says, but the consequences of what it says.”

“What do I tell a member of Congress,” he hypothetically questions, “if I 
go asking for increased access for Caribbean products, for example, and he 
says, ‘Well, they did not support us in our time of need’?”

Questionable Legacy

As a career propagandist and huckster-ideologue, Otto Reich built his 
professional persona on his provision of public misinformation and his 
capacity for extremist politics that have done incalculable damaged the 
maintenance of a balanced and responsible US Latin American policy. Almost 
single-handedly, he has bent and distorted US-Latin American relations, and 
in the past several decades has contributed to a level of odium that cannot 
easily be recalled in the bilateral relationship between the two 
continents. His legacy hardly deserves that word, filled as it has been 
with vulgar rhetoric, meretricious analysis, Rasputin-like conspiracies and 
inability to distinguish responsible behavior from that of a low quality 
goon. He, together with his fellow alumnus from former Senator Helms’ 
foundry for debased regional policy-making, the State Department’s Roger 
Noriega and Dan Fisk, have gone a long way to polluting US hemispheric ties 
so much that it will likely take a generation to undo the damage. We 
certainly have not heard the last from him, because -- giving the Devil his 
due -- he has displayed a cruel genius for making big money out of craven 
deeds and then reappearing to get another crack at ultra-extremist public 
policymaking. While he constantly preaches about “democracy,” in truth his 
authoritarian tactics make him one of its worst foes. He calls other people 
liars, when, in fact, he is leagues ahead of any would-be rival in public 
life in crafting tall tales with no substance. On a strictly competitive 
basis, he would struggle to acquire any job requiring honesty, public 
rectitude or a strong moral foundation.

Reich has repeatedly shown that he is the anti-Christ for any crusade for 
responsible democratic self-rule, and his name will rank high among those 
pathalogues who manage to diminish everything they touch. His resignation 
marks the second retirement of one of the ill-reputed officials from the 
Reagan area who was exhumed after the Bush victory, for another round at 
public life. They had all participated in the Iran-Contra Affair’s “Iron 
Triangle” -- Reich, John Negroponte, current US ambassador to Iraq, and 
Elliot Abrams, current senior director of the National Security Council's 
Office for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations, and 
Admiral John Poindexter (Ret.) who was recently forced once again to resign 
in disgrace. He leaves behind him a tainted record characterized by a 
series of abject dirty deeds committed under the guise of promoting 
democracy in Latin America.
    * This analysis was prepared by Will Conkling and Sam Goble, COHA 
Research Associates
    The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, 
non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. 
It has been described on the Senate floor as being “one of the nation’s 
most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.” For more information, 
please see web page at <http://www.coha.org/>www.coha.org ; contact in 
Washington by phone (202) 216-9261, fax (202) 223-6035, or email 
<mailto:coha at coha.org>coha at coha.org

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