Wes Vernon | NewsMax.com
One of George Bush’s most senior aides for Latin America - and one of his administration’s most outspoken conservatives - resigned this week from his post.
Otto Reich announced his resignation as President Bush’s special envoy to Latin America at the beginning of the week “for personal and financial reasons.
For many, Reich was an administration hero for his tireless efforts to check Castro’s growing influence in Latin America - and the rising threat of Marxist Hugo Chavez’s efforts to undermine democracy in Venezuela.
Reich, a Cuban immigrant to the U.S., had seen Fidel Castro’s brutality up close. At the age of 15, he fled Cuba after Castro assumed power there in 1959.
Since then, he has been a key figure in the anti Castro movement here and served ably during the Reagan administration.
But Reich was not without his detractors in Congress and the left-leaning State Department bureaucracy.
In 2001, Ambassador Reich was nominated by President Bush to become assistant secretary of state for hemispheric affairs.
A full floor Senate vote was blocked by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Dodd holds several grudges against Reich, including Reich’s work to oust Nicaragua’s communist Sandinistas. Dodd had argued the Reagan policies that opposed the Sandinistas were misguided.
When the Democrats took control of the Senate, thanks to the defection of Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) who bolted the GOP to become an Independent voting with the Democratic caucus, Dodd became the subcommittee chairman. Under his rule, the panel simply refused to hold a vote on the nomination.
“They just sat on it,” Constantine Menges, a scholar and former Special Assistant to President Reagan, said Thursday. “They never gave him his day before the Senate [and never granted him a confirmation hearing]. They just delayed and delayed and delayed,” and never gave him a chance to answer anonymous accusations appearing in the media.
In an interview with NewsMax.com, Dr. Menges complained that Dodd’s tactic of denying Reich an up or down vote in both the Foreign Relations Committee and in the full Senate was “unfair and simply impedes the proper form of functioning of our form of Constitutional government.”
The New York Times called Reich’s nomination to the top Latin America State Dept job “a bitter fight,” but by barring an up or down vote, the ambassador was denied a chance to get into the ring.
Failing full Senate confirmation, President Bush gave Reich a temporary “recess appointment” to the State Department post. When that yearlong term expired, Bush moved Reich to the White House and made him his special envoy to Latin America - a position that did not require Senate approval.
When his resignation was announced Wednesday, the president’s National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice expressed regret at his impending departure, lauding the ambassador for his “good judgment and advice in advancing, through the President’s initiatives, freedom and prosperity in the Western Hemisphere.”
Dr. Menges, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a security affairs adviser to Reagan and also a former National Intelligence Officer at the CIA, told NewsMax that Reich was “a realist” who saw “the need to seek freedom” for those who are working to bring about the demise of the Castro dictatorship.
It was not only Fidel Castro or Daniel Ortega whom Reich fought, Menges pointed out. As President Reagan’s ambassador to Venezuela, he was steeped in the diplomatic and political landscape all throughout Latin America
Drawing on that experience and background, Dr. Menges told NewsMax, “Ambassador Reich understood early that Chavez is a person who has opposed political democracy.” Chavez is closely allied with Castro and has called himself a second Fidel.
“And he saw that Chavez, along with Castro’s secret networks, was supporting the armed communist guerillas in Colombia, and destabilization in Bolivia, and many other anti-democratic actions throughout the hemisphere.”