[ Otto Reich, Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs since 2002, is a far-right wing propagandist and former Reagan appointee. He supported the Contras, and was ambassador to Venezuela, in which, more recently he probably helped orchestrate the Bush Administration’s 2002 coup attempt. Reich smears the popular, democratically elected Chavez (Venezuela) and Aristide (Haiti). They both oppose the Bush Administration’s hegemonic policy in Latin America. –BL ]
US wants Chavez out
The departing US envoy to Latin America and the Caribbean said the Bush administration would like to see the removal of the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez.
Otto Reich, who resigned earlier this week, said the White House disapproved of Mr Chavez’s “undemocratic” style of leadership and accused the Venezuelan leader of trying to block the August referendum on his presidency.
“I can tell you now that I’m out of the government that we would like to see him out and I don’t think that’s any secret,” he said. “He’s not a democrat and he’s done enormous damage to the people of Venezuela.
“There are two million Venezuelans who have fallen below the poverty line since he came into office,” Mr Reich said. “He has supported radical movements in other countries in the hemisphere. He has violated civil liberties, he has tried to muzzle the press, labour unions and other civil institutions and that’s one of the reasons we don’t like Mr Chavez and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my saying that.”
The controversial diplomat also made it clear that the Bush administration does not see former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide as part of their future plans for Haiti.
He said new allegations have emerged about Mr Aristide’s involvement with drug smugglers but Mr Aristide has denied these charges.
Mr Reich also dismissed that Mr Aristide’s repeated claims that he was abducted from Haiti on February 29.
“Jean Bertrand Aristide can claim whatever he wants, he does not tell the truth and I can tell you that because he lied to my face,” Mr Reich said.
“I was the leader of a US delegation in a joint OAS and Caribbean Community that went to Haiti in March 2003 and he lied to us,” he said. “And by the way, the people who were most upset by this were the Caribbean leaders.”
But Professor Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, rejected Mr Reich’s comments and told BBC Caribbean Radio that the United States ignores abuses by right wing governments, but comes down hard on left wing governments like Venezuela’s.
“This administration has no credible record of being a strong advocate of human rights, they use human rights as a political weapon,” Mr Birns said.
“With regard to President Chavez, I think that a close investigation of that regime would show that there have been relatively few human rights violations, there have been very few anti-constitutional acts on his part.”
Professor Birns said that there is very little for which President Chavez can be condemned in respect of his human rights record, and said the United States have much more important issues to consider than dislodging President Chavez.
“He’s sly, he looks for a tortured interpretation of constitutional clauses and he taunts his opponents in a very undignified manner but he’s hardly a major human rights violator,” he said. “Believe me the United States has very little cause to condemn Venezuela and in fact, I think the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Iraq by US forces easily surpasses any charge that has been made against Mr Chavez.”
He also said that it was time that the United States starts to provide the evidence for the allegations they have raised against former Haitian leader Aristide.
“Many of the charges being brought against him are pure invention,” he said. “There hasn’t been one piece of proof and you would think that at this late stage, Reich and others would start producing some evidence in order to back up their charges, but there’s not one piece of evidence.”
There was controversy surrounding Mr Reich?s appointment in January 2003. He was originally nominated by President Bush as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere but the US Congress refused to confirm him in the position.
Mr Reich, who once served as the ambassador to Venezuela, welcomed the failed coup against President Chavez in 2002.
Cuban-born Reich is a staunch opponent of President Fidel Castro and a fervent supporter of the economic embargo against the island.