Letter from Otto J. Reich to the editors of
Washington, April 5, 2007.
To the editors of Newsweek:
I am a former US government official, having served, inter alia, as US
Ambassador to Venezuela, Assistant Secretary of State, the President¹s
Special Envoy for the Western Hemisphere, Special Advisor to the
Secretary of State and Assistant Administrator of the US Agency for
International Development. I am a veteran of the US Army, and
currently the founder and owner of a small but thriving consulting
firm. My 40-year career has been devoted to bringing the United States
and Latin America closer together and to help raise the economic
standards of this region.
I do not appreciate, therefore, having my work belittled and myself
insulted by a Newsweek columnist (³Right Idea, Wrong Time², by Fareed
Zakaria, Newsweek, March 19, 2007) who has never met me, never talked
to me, never had anyone call to check any facts before writing about
me, does not know my work, and who bases his views on the opinion of
an academic with whom I have clashed publicly. Zakaria¹s use of
subjective, ad-hominem terms such as ³extremist² and
³weird,² is childish name-calling expected more of a 12-year old child
than from a Newsweek columnist.
President Bush has just completed his 8th trip to Latin America in six
years in office, having visited five important countries including the
largest nation, Brazil, the smallest South American republic, Uruguay,
and our closest neighbor, Mexico. Any visit by a President of the
United States to our home hemisphere brings both dangers and
opportunities, and this was no exception. Americans need to know more
about this strategic region of 600 million people.
Fareed Zakaria did not help shed light on the Americas, but instead
allowed his column to be used by an embittered university professor to
distort the facts.
In a juvenile attempt to trivialize the president¹s accomplishments
and slur his administration, and me, Mr. Zakaria has done your readers
a disservice. In his shallow treatment of the subject, Mr. Zakaria
clearly demonstrates his superficial knowledge of this region and
that, frankly, he was a poor choice to comment on a potentially
significant presidential journey.
Further, by relying entirely on one source for his column, a Harvard
professor who has never held any non-academic post, Mr. Zakaria
unwittingly allowed his column to be a blunt instrument used by Dr.
Jorge Dominguez to settle personal scores with me, since Dominguez and
I have clashed publicly in the past about policy differences.
Mr. Zakaria makes so many errors in his column that it is impossible
to correct them in this letter. For example, it is false that
"...Reich... is sufficiently extreme and weird that even the
Republican Senate eventually rejected his nomination." This
statement¹s several errors may be due to Zakaria¹s ignorance rather
than malice. My 2001 nomination as Assistant Secretary of State was
never "rejected" by the Senate because there was never a vote. The
nomination was blocked by one Senator, Chris Dodd, who as Chairman of
the Sub Committee on the Western Hemisphere, refused to hold even the
hearing, much less a vote, thus subverting the process of advice a
consent which is called for under the Constitution for all
presidential nominees. Dodd was able to thwart the process because the
Senate was not in Republican hands as Zakaria asserts; the Democrats
had taken control of the Senate in 2001 with the party switch of
Senator Jeffords of Vermont, and the Democrats decided to block a
number of nominations to demonstrate their newfound power (as
Republicans also, unfortunately, have done when in control).
The reason Dodd refused to hold hearings is that I had sufficient
votes to be confirmed, as the White House Office of Legislative
Affairs informed President Bush. Do you not think that if Dodd had had
enough votes to defeat a Bush appointee, that he would have allowed
the hearings and a vote? Of course he would have. That way he would
have embarrassed not only me but
the President. Instead, Dodd refused to allow me even to testify. As
faras being "extreme or weird," those are childish insults not worthy
Most egregious, however, is Zakaria¹s fabrication of facts in his
description of my role in the events in Venezuela which resulted in
Hugo Chavez being removed from power for two days in 2002. Contrary to
what Zakaria states, the State Department Inspector General has found
that neither the State Department, nor my Bureau, nor my staff nor I
played any improper role. I repeat, Zakaria¹s entire reconstruction of
the aforementioned events is a fabrication. I refer you to the State
Department website for the Inspector General¹s report of July 2002 and
the factual report of the role I played.
It is obvious from reading the column that the source of many of
Zakaria¹s falsehoods is Jorge Dominguez, the only person quoted.
Dominguez and I have differences about Latin America and particularly
Cuba. Recently, for example, Dominguez called for the public
"honoring" of Fidel Castro as a great man who had transformed his
nation. Some may consider calling for the honoring of a murderer who
has destroyed his country¹s liberties, infrastructure and morale to
be ³extremist and weird.² Like many academics that have never
practiced what they teach, Dominguez is entitled to his bizarre
opinions. Most of the time, the only victims of his oddity are his
students. This time it was Fareed Zakaria.
In addition to the errors and insults directed against me, Zakaria¹s
column also suffers from numerous factual mistakes about US policy in
Latin America. For example, in one of his attempts to denigrate the
current President, Zakaria states that when he was elected, George W.
Bush allowed the ³momentum² of the North America Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) to be lost, to the detriment of Latin America¹s development.
Zakaria¹s timeline is off by 8 years. George W.
Bush was inaugurated in 2001. NAFTA, negotiated by Bush 41, was
approved by Congress in 1993 with Bill Clinton¹s support.
Unfortunately, President Clinton allowed the trade promotion authority
(TPA), required for successful free trade negotiations to lapse the
following year, and thus the US did not conclude any trade agreements
until 2002, when Pres. Bush managed to have TPA restored by a margin
of a single vote after strong personal lobbying. Since then the US has
concluded FTA negotiations with Chile, five Central American nations,
Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, just in this hemisphere. Hardly a
³loss of momentum.² As I said earlier, your readers deserve much
better than Zakaria¹s historical distortion, whether it was
intentional or inadvertent.
In the interest of decency and our respective professional
reputations, I urge you to correct the impression caused by this
column. I would like to settle this amicably, so I look forward to
hearing from you.
Otto J. Reich
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