In order to impose his order in Latin America, George W. Bush turned to an inflexible specialist of counterrevolution: Otto Reich. Despite protests by all Latin American countries and the Senate, he appointed Reich his special envoy in the continent. The past of Otto Reich is revealing: planner of destabilizations, propagandist, and protector of terrorists, as well as an organizer of coups d’état. Besides, for his own convenience, he promotes the interests of his personal clients, such as Bacardí and Lockheed.
Otto Reich was born in Cuba in 1945, from an Austrian father and a Cuban mother. He left Cuba in 1960, one year after Fidel Castro took power. He studied at the University of North Carolina where he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies. In 1973, he obtained a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University where he was recruited by Frank Calzón, a CIA expert on disinformation, who saw a brave and skilful pupil in him.
They both conceived the basis of the reforms of Freedom House, a US “think-tank” currently chaired by former CIA Director James Woosley. As an officer of the US Army, Otto Reich was sent to Panama from 1967 to 1969 and he started in Latin America, a private reserve of Washington, his career in the diplomacy of the shadow.
Nicaragua: Baptism of Fire of Psychological Warfare
During the presidential term of Ronald Reagan, Otto Reich was appointed Director of the Department for Latin America of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from 1981 until 1983 . John Bolton, currently the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, was then the general advisor of the organization. According to him, the agency served as «a CIA affiliate whose goal was the promotion of the political and economic interests of the federal government thanks to the financing of foreign assistance programs» .
From 1983 until 1986, Reich was picked up by Walter Raymond, a former CIA agent and specialist in propaganda, to direct the famous Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD), «a secret unit of psychological warfare and media indoctrination», under the guidance of Colonel Oliver North, then member of the National Security Council. According to William Raymond, the role of the OPD was to “sell” a new product in the United States: «Central America» .
In those days, the United States was involved in the support of the extreme right-wing Contras guerrillas which opposed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The role of the Office of Public Diplomacy in this matter was to provide false information to international and US domestic press in order to influence public opinion in favour of the Contras. Thus, they affirmed that the Soviets were giving the Sandinistas MIG combat jets and that the Marxist guerrillas were buying American journalists with prostitutes. A report of activities by the United States General Controller, dating from 1987  concluded that Otto Reich had carried out «forbidden and secret propaganda activities, aimed at influencing the media and the public so that they would support the US Latin America policy» .
Those activities of mass disinformation did not entail further complications for Reich. On the contrary, they guaranteed his career. In appreciation for his excellent services, he was appointed US ambassador to Caracas, Venezuela, in 1986. Shortly after taking on his new post, a Venezuelan judge reopened the case of the terrorist exile Orlando Bosch and he released him, after ten years in prison for the 1976 bomb attack against a Cuban airliner in which 73 people were killed, including the entire Cuban Olympic fencing team. In spite of corruption suspicions surrounding the judge and the refusal of 30 countries to grant political asylum to Bosch due to his criminal background, Reich pressured Washington to accept him in its territory. It was in vain. However, Bosch not only did not show repentance, but he even confirmed his bonds with Reich by expressing his gratitude to him in a letter addressed to the organizers of a conference of Cuban exiles in Caracas, as then revealed by the Venezuelan press, which Reich described as «Cuban-Soviet propaganda» .
In spite of Washington’s refusal to grant political asylum to Bosch, he went to Miami where he was again arrested for illegal entry in the United States. One of Bosch’s main supporters in the United States is the candidate for Congress Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who describes him as a patriot and a hero. Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign is led by no one else but Jeb Bush, the son of President George Bush Sr., who ordered his release in 1990 and granted him a residence permit. This gesture was described by the New York Times as «the dilapidation of the US credibility on terrorism matters». This Bush Sr. administration would also appoint Reich the US representative at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva from 1991 to 1992.
Questioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate about his relations with Bosch, Reich would affirm: «I was not aware enough of Mr. Bosch’s criminal activities as to issuing a judgement about his legal status» . No one can reasonably believe him.
Anti-Castrism and “Pro-Bacardism”
Otto Reich got quite involved in the struggle byf anti-Castro Cubans in Florida. In 1996 he founds RMA International, an association of public relations and political lobbying, with his friend Jonathan Miller, whom he met in the Office of Public Diplomacy. Their main client was the manufacturer of the Bacardí Martini rum, who fled Cuba after the triumph of Castro’s revolution. This firm gives millions of dollars to the anti-Castro groups in Florida. RMA International has received more than 600 000 dollars from Bacardí for its lobbying activities.
- Senator Jesse Helms
In 1994, Reich is a member of the organization “Citizens for a Free Cuba”, that consists of «conservative figures of US politics and of Cuban-Americans who, in an open letter to President Clinton, among other things asked for: «an intensification of the Radio and TV Marti’s broadcast to Cuba, and also of other channels of communication aimed at “informing and motivating the people”» . Elliot Abrams, then Undersecretary of State, was also a signatory of the letter, along with José Soriano, another friend of Reich, William Clark, of the National Security Council, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, US ambassador before the United Nations. The initiative receives the support of «several important directors and stockholders of Bacardí» .
Reich also directs the Center for a Free Cuba along with Jeanne Kirkapatrick, Luis Aguilar, William Doherty and the «big boss of Bacardí Manuel J. Cutillas, (...) president of the Council of Administration» . The Center for a Free Cuba is one of the organizations that «pressed the most for child Elián González to stay in the United States, against the will of his father, as a political weapon against the Cuban government». The case was a fiasco: Washington finally agreed on the child’s return to Cuba as his father rejected two million dollars offered by the anti-Castro extreme right wing so that he would request political asylum in the United States.
The links he developed with the anti-Castro Cuban community in Miami and, above all, with Bacardí, opened the doors of the business world to Otto Reich when he temporarily left Washington’s political intrigues in the late 1980s.
Thus, from 1990 until 1996 he directed the Brock Group, a lobbying department that works for the German Ministry of Commerce and the British American Tobacco company. The group also represents the interests of Bacardí in Washington, Bermudas and Bahamas.
On a similar perspective, Reich was one of the first ones to testify before Congress in favor of the Helms-Burton law as President of the Council for US-Cuba Relations, on March 30th, 1995. The final text, signed by Bill Clinton on March 12th, 1996, declares the confiscations and nationalizations carried out by the Cuban government in 1959 illegal, eliminates the protection of the brands that sell products of companies that were nationalized and forbids the entrance in the United States territory of all those who have benefited from those sales.
This affects company directors, advisors, etc., as well as anyone who invests in Cuba. A few days after the law went into effect, «the members of the executive board and stockholders of the Italian company Stet, of the Mexican Domos and the Canadian Sherrit individually received a document from the US government in which they were threatened to have their visas to enter the United States cancelled if they did not cease «trafficking» with properties nationalized in Cuba» . Pernod-Ricard and the Israeli farming company BM were threatened in the same way. The attack against the French company is not by chance: shortly before the approval of the law, rumors began to spread in Washington that described the text as the «Bacardí law». Its objective would be to allow the firm to recover its goods in Cuba, and at the same time moving its great rival Pernod Ricard out of the American market with the excuse of its relations with Cuba. Consequently, Otto Reich’s involvement in the case is not incidental.
If Fidel Castro is overthrown, the Helms-Burton law also demands that the US President creates an institution in charge of the economic restructuring of the country. According to section 203 of the text, this institution will be called Cuba-United States Council and it will ensure the coordination between the federal government and the private sector to guarantee the return of Cuba to the market economy and also the meetings between Cuban and American representatives of the private sector - something that would facilitate bilateral trade. What is peculiar in this case is that this Council already exists: it was created, and was even chaired for a while, by Otto Reich.
RMA International: Business and Market of Armaments
RMA International, Reich’s lobbying association, also represents the interests of the Lockheed Corporation for which it obtained the lifting of a ban that prohibited the sale of high-technology military equipment in Latin America, imposed for 20 years by Congress. This achievement allowed the American armament giant to sell several F-16 fighter jets to Chile in 2001 .
As if his lobbying activities in favour of ethical industries such as those of alcohol, tobacco and armaments were not enough, Reich was also vice-president of an organization funded by the textile industry that presents itself as a “global network of surveillance of the working conditions in textile factories around the world”, the WRAP (Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production) .
The pseudo-union activities of this organization created in 2000, mainly oriented to communication, really aim at preserving the non-unionized textile production giving the products an “ethical” label that is actually very lax as it is mainly based on environmentalist criteria. This allows them to keep aside other independent organizations that would really exercise their surveillance role to defend the workers and also allows them to cleverly evade every measure in favour of the protection of the workers’ rights.
The WRAP mainly represents low-price US textile companies that have their productions dispersed such as the Kellwood, Sara Lee, Hanes, Leggs or VF (former Vanity Fair). Its administrative council is mainly made up of representatives of the industry, it does not denounce the abuses that occur in the factories and it opposes most of the union rights.
Aside from being a matter of personal publicity, the reason for which Reich worked as WRAP vice-president is far from clear since he had no experience whatsoever regarding unions or the textile industry. However, we can find by his side old acquaintances of the Cold War such as Joaquín Otero, a former CIA agent and member of the Union Committee for a Free Cuba of 1990, or Lawrence Doherty, son of William Doherty Jr., a figure of the right-wing union movement.
A Delicate Appointment
The networks that supported Otto Reich are certainly powerful, but not popular. In March 2001, the new US President George W. Bush announced his desire to appoint him Under-Secretary of State for the “Western Hemisphere”, a post from which he would supervise Washington’s foreign policy towards the region. The election was immediately described as “really incredible” by Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Felipe Pérez Roque .
The US Congress also opposed this nomination that would be rejected for the first time after the Democrats’ return as a majority to the Senate in June 2001. Consequently, in October 2001, it was the Secretary of State himself, Colin Powell, who tried to convince the senators to approve the return of Otto Reich to Washington. In November, he received the support of three former State secretaries: James Baker, George Schultz and Lawrence Eagleburger. (The text of the open letter sent to the Washington Post, accompanied by a supporting text to the Center for Security Policy, can be consulted in the web site).
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate resisted and refused to even receive him for a hearing in mid December. President Bush would then take advantage of the Congress recess to ratify his appointment, in January 2002.
His first official mission took him to Colombia where he, accompanied by the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, met with the General of the US Southern Command to analyze with him, and also with Colombian President Andrés Pastrana, the methods to implement the Colombia Plan .
His major concern at the time was the defense of the main Colombian oil pipeline that the FARC guerrillas regularly attacked. Reich’s tone corresponds to the policy that the Bush administration advocates in Latin America: the use of force. In March 2002, he announced that the State Department would “cancel the visas” of Latin American leaders who had been identified as participants «in confirmed cases of corruption and money laundry in the highest power circles» .
Otto Reich Directs by Remote Control the Aborted Overthrow of Chávez in April 2002
In April 2002, after the failure of the coup d’état against Chávez in Venezuela, an anonymous source of the State Department affirmed that Otto Reich had advised the leader of those who took part in the coup, Guillermo Carmona, not to dissolve the National Assembly, something that he immediately did, however, when he proclaimed himself president. This confession, according to the AFP news agency, «suggests that Washington was fully informed on Friday about the purposes of the seditious elements before they became publicly known» . The information would then be immediately denied by the one involved. Shortly afterwards, while the press began to show interest for Washington’s role in the failed coup against Chávez’s government, Otto Reich claimed that four Cuban planes were in the landing strip of the airport of Caracas as the events took place. In our own investigation about the coup we found out that: «(Elliot) Abrams and (Otto) Reich (had) both received numerous Venezuelan personalities in Washington during the weeks prior to the coup d’état, including Elías Santana (We Want to Choose) and trade unionist Carlos Ortega (CTV). The trips (were) financed by the IRI (International Republican Institute), which depends on the National Endowment for Democracy . Funds were given by the ACILS-Solidarity Center to the Venezuelan CTV union, while the CIPE funded the Fedecamaras central union» .
Again using his ability in matters of propaganda, Otto Reich also participated, during the whole period, in the manipulation of the media, thanks to the invaluable help of magnate Gustavo Cisneros «who owns, especially, AOL Latin America, DIRECT TV Latin America (300 radio and television networks in 28 countries) and Univisión (the US Hispanic television network)». It was all those media outlets that broadcast the lies about Hugo Chávez ordering his troops to open fire against his opponents. By the way, Otto Reich never denied that he kept in touch with Gustavo Cisneros in those days.
According to our information, he may have even chosen himself the officers that would participate in the coup in his capacity as administrator of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) of Fort Benning, formerly known as the School of the Americas . This school trained Latin American military personnel and also served to recruit agents in the region.
Otto Reich, Special Envoy
In January of 2003, in an attempt to avoid another power struggle with the US Senate, President Bush replaced Otto Reich with Roger F Noriega, US ambassador to the United Nations and principal advisor to former senator Jesse Helms. Reich was then named «special envoy for Western Hemisphere initiatives», a post not requiring Senate approval .
Otto Reich continued the same policies in his new post. In December of 2003 he declared that under President Hugo Chávez, Venezuela was undergoing “the worse crisis in all of Latin America” and that «two-thirds of Venezuelans reject» their president. He added that the opposition had succeeded in collecting «up to four million signatures» with the aim of ousting Chávez. These statements were rapidly disproved by the Venezuelan vice-president, José Vicente Rangel, who reiterated on December 20 that «the paths of communication and understanding between Venezuela and the United States are permanently open» .
Reich also intervened in Haiti. In March of 2002 he told the Wall Street Journal that the steps taken to work with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had produced no results: «there is no democracy, no economic development, but a lot of crime, corruption and denunciations for drug trafficking» .
In March of 2003 he travelled to Haiti to supervise negotiations between Aristide and the Washington-supported opposition. He once again participated in propaganda operations destined to create the image of a totally decadent Haitian regime, and deliberately ignored pro-Aristide demonstrations focusing only on those demanding Aristide’s resignation, organized under the aegis of the Democratic Convergence linked to the USAID program named Democracy Enhancement .
On May 4, 2004, Otto Reich tendered his resignation to create his own consultancy business, as well as to dedicate his time to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush. The total sum of his actions as head of the US diplomatic corps in Latin America left him unsatisfied: «he would have liked to accelerate the end of the Cuban dictatorship and assist the Venezuelan people in protecting them from such a dictatorship». . Nevertheless, the political will existed: on October 10, 2003, President George W. Bush gave a speech before the anti-Castro Florida elite in the presence of Colin Powell and Otto Reich.
There, he announced the creation of a «Commission of Assistance to a Free Cuba, foreseeing the happy days in which the Castro regime no longer exists and democracy will be establish in the island. This commission will be jointly directed by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Mel Martínez. They will resort to experts of our government to plan the transition in Cuba from a Stalinist regime to a tolerant and free society and to find the means to accelerate this transition».
This commission, that has been working for more than six months under the advice of the clairvoyant Otto Reich, actually plans the ways to overthrow Fidel Castro. Consequently, the elections of November 2004 will probably give a second chance to Mr. Reich.