With a keen sense of political irony, Otto Reich, Bush's former overlord for Latin America, chose the morning of the November elections to publicly unveil his latest venture, Otto Reich & Associates, Inc., a Beltway lobby shop for corporations, deposed dictators and unsavory regimes in need of a helping hand.
Perhaps Reich was privy to some inside information from his pal Karl Rove on how the presidential election was going to turn out. Over his own career as a coup plotter and election rigger, Reich has rarely left such important matters to the whims of chance. As it stands, Bush's victory means that Reich will likely make a killing from his new enterprise.
“I have chosen this Election Day in the United States to announce the establishment of my new consulting firm, Otto Reich Associates, LLC,” Reich brayed in a letter to potential clients. “The firm provides strategic, government relations, trade, and investment advice to US and Latin American corporations. Having spent my professional life in Latin American affairs, I am pleased to be back in the private sector after three more years in government service.
“My most recent assignments, as Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere and as the President's Special Envoy for the region, have provided me with added insights and relationships which may be of assistance to companies wishing to enter or expand markets in the Americas. Often, a company has all the elements required to succeed in a foreign market but lacks the ability to open the political doors to make its case, or to close the deal. We can provide that missing element to our clients.
“This day, when the US chooses its leaders, is an appropriate moment to announce this venture. Regardless of the outcome of the election, the business community will continue to look for investment and partnering opportunities. This country will not miss a step in the march toward a better future. The Americas will continue to present both dangers and opportunities. Those companies which avail themselves of the best business intelligence and “business diplomacy” will succeed.
“I wanted to inform you of this event and express the hope that there are ways in which we can cooperate for mutual benefit.”
Among the services alluded to by Reich are his impassioned defense of death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras; plots to overthrow the governments of Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba; intimidation of reporters and human rights activists; and path-clearing for corporations seeking set up sweatshops free from headaches caused by unionized workers.
Reich retired from his latest stint in government in July, leaving behind a resume of infamy rarely equaled by a civil servant. For more than 30 years, Reich served as the guiding force for US policy in Latin America. The Reichian doctrine featured an unapologetic endorsement of some of the bloodiest regimes in modern history, from Guatemala to El Salvador, and an unrelenting obsession with toppling the Cuban government.
In March of 2001, when George Bush announced his intention to name Reich as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, the top diplomatic post in the government for Latin America, Reich's career was already ripe enough with atrocities that his nomination elicited howls of protest from journalists and human rights groups. Notably, there was no objection to the pick from Colin Powell, at whose left hand Reich was supposed to repose. On the right hand, in charge of stirring up trouble in the eastern hemisphere, was John Bolton, who has lobbies for war against Syria, Iran and North Korean. So much for Powell the dove.
Reich's nomination required confirmation by the US Senate, where in a rare display of spinefulness Christopher Dodd, the Democrat from Connecticut, blocked hearings on Reich's appointment. A stalemate ensued and for several months Reich settled into the murkier position of “special envoy to Latin America,” a kind of off-the-shelf operator who directed Bush policy in Latin America with little accountability to Congress or anyone else, except perhaps the Cuban-America Foundation. Those were heady days. From his White House office, Reich helped plot an unsuccessful coup against the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, sought to undermine the fragile and cash-strapped government of Haiti and tightened the screws on Cuba.
This was all familiar ground for Reich. Back in the 1980s, he headed the State Department's Office of Public Diplomacy, the propaganda operation that stoked the Reagan administration's war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. In his role of propaganda czar, Reich habitually leaked phony information to an obedient herd of reporters aimed inflating the supposed threat posed by the Sandinistas and scrubbing clean the bloody resume of the Contras.
An example of Reich at work in those days. On the evening of Reagan's reelection in 1984, Andrea Mitchell interrupted NBC's election night coverage with a breaking story about a squadron of MiG fighters shipped by the Soviet Union to Nicaragua. Mitchell's bulletin cited a “top intelligence source” for the story, said source later identified as Otto Reich. The report sparked a mini uproar in Washington about the grave threat posed by the new Sandinista air force. One Democratic senator rushed to the well of the Senate to deliver a breathless tirade against the Nicaraguan government, which concluded with a call for Reagan to incinerate Managua.
Of course, the story soon proved to be fallacious. It was the first of many official fabrications drafted by Reich's office to manipulate public and political opinion about Reagan's wars across Central America.
Reich has never lacked hubris. On March 15, 1985, he laid out much of his work in a boastful memo to Patrick Buchanan, then director of Communications in the Reagan White House. In his note to Buchanan, Reich hyped the successes of his “white propaganda” campaign on behalf of the Contras, which included ghost-writing and planting op-eds under the names of Contra leaders in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post. Reich also described how he used a “cut-out” to arrange a media tour for the Contra elites. The “cut-out” became a favored technique of the Reagan team to conceal their illicit backing of the Contras after passage of the Boland amendment, which barred such support.
Throughout the 1980s, the Office of Public Diplomacy worked side-by-side with Oliver North, John Poindexter and CIA psy-ops teams in the day-to-day management of the Contra war. Unlike many of his colleagues, Reich escaped indictment for his role in the Iran/Contra scandals, but his fingerprints are smeared all over some of the most notorious escapades of that covert war.
Reich specialized in feeding his manufactured morsels to a few favored and compliant reporters. At the top of the list was Fred Francis, who covered the State Department for NBC News. In his memo to Buchanan, Reich preened about prompting Francis to run a “positive piece” about the Contras the previous night. He also gloated that the network might soon get its hands on a secret State Department cable that would prove highly embarrassing to the Sandinistas.
If NBC was a favorite venue for Reichian propaganda, CBS was viewed with unrestrained loathing by the Reagan Contra shop. Reich frequently badgered CBS reporters and news executives about their unflattering coverage of the Contras. One of Reich's targets was Leslie Cockburn, whose reports linked Contra leaders to illegal gun running and ties to the drug trade. Reich also called for the firing of Dan Rather.
Reich's relentless bullying of CBS earned him high praise from his boss, Secretary of State George Schultz, who bragged about Reich's exploits in disinformation in a letter to Reagan. Schultz directed Reagan's attention specifically to Reich's efforts to silence CBS's reports on Contra malfeasance as a taste of “what the Office of Public Diplomacy has been doing to help improve the quality of information the American people are receiving. It has been repeated dozens of times over the past few months.“
Among the dozens of other operations Schultz had in mind was Reich's effort to intimidate the news staff at National Public Radio. In the spring of 1985, Reich chewed out more than a dozen reporters and producers at NPR, once again accusing them of being biased against the Contras. “Reich bragged that he had made similar visits to other newspapers and television networks,” recalled Bill Buzenburg, the former foreign affairs correspondent for NPR. “Reich said he gotten others to change some of their reporters in the field.“
When the direct approach didn't work, Reich employed sleazier methods to intimidate reporters. In 1985, his office spread a fictitious story that two reporters were receiving sexual favors from prostitutes in Managua in exchange for writing positive reports about the Sandinistas. Reich even tried to out some of the reporters as being gay. “It isn't only women,” Reich told New York magazine. “They also provide young boys.“
In 1987, the Reagan team moved out Reich of Washington to Caracas, where he served as US Ambassador to Venezuela. Reich left DC just as an investigation was being launched by the General Accounting Office into the operations of the Office of Public Diplomacy. The GAO's report later concluded that Reich's operation had “engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities.” Soon after the report was made public, the plug was pulled on the Office of Public Diplomacy. Reich, however, remained at his post in Caracas.