12 Apr 2005
Council on Hemispheric Affairs
Appalling nominations and the race for the OAS secretary-general post: Dramatic examples of the U.S.’s failed Latin American policy and the Bush administration’s disdain for international norms.
The Negroponte and Bolton Nominations
The Bush administration has nominated John Bolton and John Negroponte to be its ambassador to the United Nations and its intelligence czar, respectively. Compelling evidence indicates that while Negroponte was ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, a period in which the Central American country was converted into an unsinkable aircraft carrier from which to stage the secret war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, he sanctioned or was at least fully appraised of major atrocities occurring in the country. In the service of the Reagan administration, Negroponte repeatedly deceived the U.S. media. During Congressional hearings he lied in order to cover up the creation, training and funding of a Honduran paramilitary “death squad” by U.S. authorities. Under reforms introduced during the Kennedy administration, as ambassador Negroponte had to be informed of all CIA projects in the country. The paramilitary Battalion 316 systematically murdered over 200 local opponents of the Honduran government, which had a policy of total cooperation with Washington in its CIA-directed Central American secret wars. Negroponte is guilty of presiding over the diplomatic version of Lieutenant Calley’s My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, yet refuses to express remorse or own up to his diplomatic derelictions. The U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa’s human rights report that was to go to the State Department and was highly critical of Negroponte was edited by the ambassador himself to omit information on the nation’s human rights violations. Had the findings stayed in their original form, which portrayed Honduras’ human rights reputation in unflattering terms, the U.S. government by law would have been obligated to cease funding the Honduran military. In spite of the lofty rhetoric being used by some senators to laud his career, Negroponte is little better than a dignified cutpurse who has the blood of thousands of the innocent on his hands and has avoided personal culpability for what happened in Honduras during those years. While Mrs. Negroponte urges her husband’s critics to “get on with their lives,” it’s difficult for many Hondurans to do so because their loved ones were murdered.
Earlier this week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met to discuss John Bolton’s nomination to be the U.S. ambassador to the UN. Despite his declarations before the committee that the UN is “an important component of our democracy” and pledges “to fulfill the president’s vision of working in close partnership with the United Nations,” COHA strongly opposes Bolton’s candidacy based on his unambiguous record to the contrary. When it comes to the UN or international initiatives in general, he has been all but pathogenic to such causes, rather than striving to uphold them. Our opinion is not based on his ideological leanings but reflects the unrelieved scandalous behavior that was reflected during his stint as under secretary for arms control and international security in the first Bush administration.
By selecting an individual who has spent the last decade repudiating basic norms of international cooperation and civility, Bolton’s nomination is tantamount to a slap in the face of multilateral cooperation and U.S. accountability. His consideration is an insult to U.S. diplomatic tradition and debases the principle of high standards in public service. The fact that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed off on his nomination indicates the lamentable lack of professionalism that her tenure will likely take and that she will figure to be a dependably illiberal factor in international diplomacy despite her mechanical technocratic rhetoric. We find it difficult to believe that a man who repeatedly has demonstrated his total disdain for multilateral cooperation, who even declared in 1994 that “there is no such thing as the United Nations,” could have been considered fit to occupy the chair once held by Adlai Stevenson.
In May 2002, Bolton outlandishly stated that Cuba not only possessed “at least a limited offensive biological warfare research development effort,” but had provided such technology to “other rogue states.” When challenged by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) to produce his evidence before a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he declined to appear. His charges were so bereft of any substance that his Bush administration colleagues rushed to disavow any association with them, spurring refutations by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, former commander of the U.S. Southern Command Gen. Charles Wilhelm and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Bolton also apparently threatened a State Department official in charge of monitoring such activity who dared to say that Bolton’s charges went beyond any evidence that the U.S. government possessed.
Following the selection of Negroponte as director of national intelligence and Elliot Abrams as deputy national security advisor, the Bolton nomination reinforces the notion that the Bush White House is incapable of selecting at least moderates to high public office. The U.N. will face a fierce challenge if the Senate finds Bolton acceptable and confirms him, thus guaranteeing an epoch which will witness the further “trashification” of this country’s public administration by the Bush White House.
Another lamentable aspect of the debate over Bolton and Negroponte is the complete lack of a moral component in the role being played by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (R-IN), who repeatedly reverts to Jesuitic phrases to justify his lame defense of administration nominations, particularly his shameless lack of leadership when it comes to the Bolton choice.
The Chess Game Continues: OAS Fails to Elect New Secretary-General
In an unexpected turn of events, the Organization of American States’ (OAS) General Assembly failed to elect a new secretary-general. The April 11 vote took place three days after the U.S.’ preferetti for the post, former El Salvadoran President Francisco Flores, surprisingly withdrew from the race. Flores had the backing of most Central American states and the U.S. but was considered the least viable choice among the three candidates, which also include Chile’s interior minister, José Miguel Insulza, and Mexico’s minister of foreign affairs, Ernesto Derbez.
After five rounds of votes at the OAS headquarters in downtown Washington, the member states failed to elect a new leader, with reports indicating that Derbez and Insulza each received 17 votes in all of the rounds (a candidate needs 18 out of the 34 possible votes to win). Due to the stalemate, the election has been postponed until May 2.
The OAS and Washington
The ongoing saga to elect an OAS leader has placed Washington in an uncomfortable position. This vote represents the first time that a U.S.-backed candidate will not be effortlessly elected to the position, which calls into question the exact nature of the relationship between the U.S. and the OAS for the following five years, particularly if the second string choice of the Bush administration – Derbez – is not awarded the post in May. The withdrawal of Flores, an ill-prepared political lightweight who was on the State Department’s list of dependent leaders who could be described as “U.S. clones,” must have been a hard hit for State Department hawks like Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega.
The question now is who would the U.S. like to see lead the OAS: Insulza, a strong-willed, if not arrogant, Chilean official who is a member of the Chilean Socialist party and opposed the U.S. war in Iraq, or Derbez, a relatively last-minute addition to the race who, in spite of his World Bank experience, does not appear to have the background or capacities to lead the hemispheric organization, much less the capacity to reform it. There are already rumors that a consensus candidate in the form of Manuel Rodriguez Cuadros, Peru’s minister of foreign affairs, might emerge. Interestingly, Insulza, Derbez and for that matter, Rodriguez, are all politicians with aspirations to run for the presidency of their respective countries in upcoming elections. However, they are being “pushed aside” by their political mentors by being offered the OAS position as a “consolation prize.”
Washington is likely to step up its support of Derbez in an effort to improve relations with Mexico, its NAFTA partner, especially after the recent summit between Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Texas.
The OAS and Latin America
For decades, Latin American leaders have proclaimed the necessity to get out from under Washington’s all persuasive sphere of influence, using such hoary rhetoric of Latin American unity. However, when it comes to foot the bill, the U.S. covers over 60 percent of the OAS’ $84 million-budget. Where are the regional nationalists when it comes time to pay the OAS’ bills? There are few takers. If regional leaders are interested in moving Latin America away from the U.S.’ sphere of influence, then they should assume the responsibility of moving the OAS’ headquarters from downtown Washington to Caracas, Brasilia or Panama City.
In the end, the White House will have to realize that the OAS might actually take the step of relocating from Washington, both in symbolic as well as pragmatic terms. This may not be necessarily a bad idea. Should the OAS end up with a secretary-general not heavily influenced by the State Department, as has been the case since it was founded in 1948, good relations between the U.S. and the regional body would be a sign that Washington is willing to deal with the rest of the hemisphere as coequals. If, on the other hand, the U.S. continues to use its influence either in a gross or subtle manner on some small CARICOM nation like the Bahamas, Grenada or St. Kitts & Nevis (population 38,000) to change their vote to support a candidate of Washington’s preference, just like what happened in 1975 and 1994, then the OAS’ future will be limited. Perhaps the OAS could morph into a new body composed exclusively of Latin American nations, with the U.S. and Canada consigned to being observers – something like an expanded Rio group somewhat akin to the African Union. In any event, if the OAS is to function professionally and prove its worth, it must no longer be the embarrassment that it is now proving to be.