Cuba news

Between a Reich and a hard place

First, the good news. Otto Reich, Bush’s fanatically anti-Cuban choice as US Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs, has failed to win Senate approval for his nomination. Bush’s nomination was widely seen as a pay-off to the viciously anti-Cuban Miami Mafia for its role in securing Bush’s fraudulent election victory in Florida. Bizarrely, Reich was opposed on the grounds that he lacked the necessary ‘range of experience and temperament’. A brief glance at his career suggests that, on the contrary, here was a man whose broad experience made him ideally suited to the brutal defence of US interests throughout Latin America.

• During the USA’s covert wars on Nicaragua and El Salvador in the early 1980s, Reich headed the sinister Office of Public Diplomacy, specially set up to produce disinformation and propaganda against the Sandinistas and Salvadorean revolutionaries. During this time he reported to, amongst others, Security Council aide Oliver North, later tried for his role in the Iran/Contra affair. In 1987, US courts ruled that the Office of Public Diplomacy had violated a prohibition against using federal funds for domestic propaganda, but Reich was never prosecuted.

• From 1986-89, Reich was US ambassador to Venezuela. Within days of his appointment, the terrorist Orlando Bosch, imprisoned in Venezuela for murdering 73 Cubans when he blew up a civilian airliner in 1976, had been freed through Reich’s intervention. Bosch flew to the USA, where he was paroled by George Bush Snr and given US residency.

• On his return to the USA, Reich set up as lobbyist, representing such unsavoury clients as Bacardi rum, arms producers Lockheed Martin and British American Tobacco. He also headed the US-Cuba Business Council, a non-profit organisation run by Bacardi and partially funded by the Agency for International Development (USAID). Bacardi is reported to have paid Reich $600,000 for his services. On Bacardi’s behalf, Reich helped draft the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, intensifying the blockade against Cuba and also Section 11 of the 1998 Omnibus Appropriations Act, stripping Cuba of trademark protection and thereby allowing Bacardi to produce and sell its own rum under the Havana Club label.

• Even during his brief tenure in Western Hemispheric Affairs, Reich’s time has not been wasted. In the past year, he has waged a constant battle against those in the US who want to normalise relations with Cuba; rebutting Cuban offers of co-operation on health projects and anti-drugs campaigns and accusing Cuba of preparing a biological weapons programme. He also helped prepare a coup against democratically elected Venezuelan President Chavez last April. However, so clumsy were his efforts that even the US administration seems to have been embarrassed enough not to fight for him to remain in post.

• This man of many talents also takes an interest in the rag trade. He is vice chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP), set up in June 2000 to undermine the growing anti-sweatshop movement and dodge more stringent regulation of the trade. The chair of WRAP, Joaquin Otero, a former AFL-CIO leader, was prominent in the Labor Committee for a Free Cuba in the 1990s. It’s a small world.

The bad news is that the rabidly anti-communist, reactionary Reich has not gone far. Bush has invented a new post for his protegé as ‘Special Envoy for Western Hemispheric Initiatives’ based in the executive building next to the White House. His job includes ‘homeland security issues in the Caribbean’ and ‘aspects of Cuba policy’, focusing in particular on people-to-people contacts between Americans and Cubans and ‘transitional issues in the post-Castro period’. Not much to celebrate there, then.

Nor has the Miami Mafia’s hold over George Bush diminished: Bush has replaced Reich with another anti-Cuban fanatic, Roger Noriega. Noriega has a long history of subversive and dirty propaganda activities with congressional committees and imperialist front organisations such as the Organisation of American States (OAS) and USAID. In 2001 he was awarded the Grand Master of the Order of the Sun by the corrupt, neo-liberal government of Peru for his support for ‘the democratic transition and promotion of human rights’! For several years Noriega was the right-hand man to arch-reactionary Jesse Helms, the co-sponsor of the Helms-Burton Act.
Jim Craven and Cat Wiener

Amnesty International takes up Miami 5

Amnesty International has written to US Attorney General John Ashcroft, raising the issue of the Miami 5 and the appalling treatment of visiting relatives as a human rights abuse. The case has been taken up in particular by the Irish branch of Amnesty, which highlights the travesty of a trial which relied almost exclusively on evidence from convicted terrorists and where there was extensive intimidation of jurors by these same terrorists. It dedicates the campaign to free the Miami 5 ‘to the memory of 3,478 Cubans killed and 2,099 maimed at the hands of US-based terrorist groups since 1959.’

International awareness of the campaign to free the five men, political prisoners of US imperialism, is growing. Meanwhile, in Cuba, National Assembly Minister Ricardo Alarcon has informed the National Assembly that in 1998, just five months before the men were arrested, he had submitted files to the FBI including a chronology of terrorist acts perpetrated by terrorists from the Cuban American National Foundation, operating out of US territory, in the 1990s; telephone transcripts pinpointing the location of the terrorist Posada Carriles and a list of 64 known terrorists operating in the USA. The US authorities have never acted on this information. So much for the War on Terrorism.

Credit for terrorism

In January, the Miami Herald reported that credit card MBNA would be joining forces with the USA Cuba Financial Funds organisation to ensure that from ‘every purchase made using the card a percentage of the amount will go directly to aid needy Cubans outside of the island and even internal dissidents’. Leading lights at USA Cuba Financial Funds are Marta Lima, president of the World Federation of Former Cuban Political Prisoners, and Eugenio Llanera, a known Miami fanatic who organised violent attacks on Cuba in the 1960s as part of a terrorist organisation going by the innocuous name of the Democratic National Unity Party.

FRFI 171 February / March 2003


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