February 16, 2003
By Raffique Shah
I HAVE never met the United States Ambassador to this country, Mr Roy Austin. But-and I'm not writing this because he happens to have Caribbean "roots"-the envoy comes across as a decent man, someone devoid of the arrogance that is usually associated with those who represent the world's only superpower, especially when they are posted to small, developing nations. In the past, we have had meddlesome ambassadors and lower-level officials (more than likely CIA operatives) who have personified "The Ugly American", a world-view of wrong-but-strong US diplomats that was immortalised in a movie of the same name.
Having said that, it must also be said that Austin is here as the nominee of the George Bush regime, so one must assume that he is Republican, and that he is compelled to support whatever decisions are made in Washington. So in the case of the US-UK axis of evil that is bent on invading Iraq at any and all costs, even if the rest of the world says they are wrong, I imagine Austin will support the move. What I'd be intrigued to know, though, is exactly what his thoughts are about the former US Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere (he was demoted to a lesser position last November), one Otto Reich. Reich was the man who passed through town last week in his island-hopping quest to shore up support for the US-led war against Iraq.
Just why America would want the "tiny black specks" in the Caribbean to support its warmongering is not too much of a mystery. As it stands today, every country of size and or substance has openly opposed what is clearly an unjust war. From Germany to France, key US allies in the 1991 Gulf War, to Russia and China, the US-UK axis is meeting stiff opposition. So if you can't rally the big, then why not try the small. After all, although we may not have a seat on the UN Security Council, we do have a vote at the General Assembly.
Unfortunately for Reich, he ran into a completely different Caricom, one in which its leaders, at least most of them, do not necessarily genuflect to Bush or the State Department the way their predecessors did. Prime Minister Patrick Manning adopted a stance that most other world leaders have, that is support for the UN position on Iraq. Simply put, what the UN is saying is that it needs hard evidence that Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction, and only further inspections by its team headed by Hans Blix would dictate if there is need to forcibly disarm Saddam.
Reich must have been a disappointed man... and that with good reason. You see, Otto has quite a colourful and chequered history, of which Austin must be aware. Reich is a Cuban-born American who has been at the extreme right of US politics for all his life. That is not uncommon among Cuban-Americans, as was made palpably clear during the Elian Gonzalez affair, and more recently, during the presidential elections in which Florida votes determined the controversial results that put Bush in office by some mysterious mathematics.
But Reich is different. He always was. After working his way up the anti-Castro ladder in Florida in the Ronald Reagan era of the 1980s, he was among those implicated in the Iran-Contra affair. In fact, at the time, he was elevated to head the State Department's notorious propaganda arm, the dubious Office of Public Diplomacy-a misnomer, as you will see.
It was a time when the Sandinistas had seized power in Nicaragua from the US-backed tyrant Anastasio Somoza. The US, from the day Daniel Ortega took office, waged a war against him, both covert and overt. At the time, the US also backed the bloodiest regimes in Central America, in Guatemala and El Salvador (in the latter country, the US-armed military had raped and murdered several American nuns, among other atrocities).
Reich's job was simple: churn out propaganda, the more outrageous, the better. His biggest-or most memorable-blooper was on the night Reagan was re-elected to power in 1984. "Intelligence sources", later identified as Reich's propaganda unit, caused NBC to break its elections coverage to announce that Soviet MIG fighter-aircraft were arriving in Nicaragua! He also charged that the Soviet Union had given Nicaragua chemical weapons (sounds familiar?) and the Sandinistas were involved in drug trafficking. It would be later revealed that Manuel Noriega of Panama was the man used by the CIA to buy and distribute cocaine in the US, the backbone of the Iran-Contra affair.
Tom Turnispeed, an attorney and civil rights activist from South Carolina, likened Reich's announcement of "MIGs in Nicaragua" to Nazi Joseph Goebbels's fabrication that Polish troops had attacked German soldiers, which effectively gave Hitler the excuse he needed to invade Poland and start World War II. But even that pales when one compares it with Reich's influence, when he served as Ambassador to Venezuela (his only diplomatic posting), in securing the release from prison of Orlando Bosch. This Cuban-American did not manufacture Bosch appliances. He was one of two men who had planted a bomb on a Cubana Airlines aircraft right here in Piarco back in 1976. That aircraft exploded shortly after taking off from Barbados, killing all aboard, including several Guyanese passengers. Bosch was later pardoned by-guess who? One President George Bush. And Washington has the gall to speak about "terrorists" and "terrorism"!
But Reich, living up to his surname, has not stopped his meddlesome ways, not with the kind of support he commands in the White House. During the recent political turmoil in Venezuela, Reich is said to have worked closely with coup leader Carmona (who had deposed Hugo Chavez for 48 hours). 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 protestors in which 14 people were killed.
So this modern-day Goebbels, a notorious purveyor of lies and half-truths, was the man selected by Bush to go through the Caribbean to try to convince the region's leaders to plough their support behind the US-UK axis against Iraq. I don't know what fanciful lies he offloaded on Manning. I think, though, that Ambassador Austin should get on that high-speed, secure telex machine on Marli Street and tell his boss that the Caribbean might be littered with poor countries that depend on the US for their existence. But Caricom is no "Ship of Fools". No "Fourth Reich" for us, Sir.