BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
by Nikolas Kozloff
Behind the recent pressure campaign against the Zelaya regime in Honduras lurks a shadowy world of right wing foundations, lobbying groups, and anti-Chávez figures. This tangled web of Washington, D.C. interests includes the Arcadia Foundation, a mysterious figure named Robert Carmona Borjas, and former State Department official Otto Reich. What do all these organizations and characters have in common? In one way or another, they are all tied back to Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Venezuelan lawyer Robert-Carmona Borjas helped to draft some of the infamous anti-constitutional "Carmona decrees" after Hugo Chávez was overthrown in the April 2002 military coup. After Chávez was returned to power, Carmona Borjas fled to the United States where he found his calling as a leading anti-Chávez figure and, more recently, as a fierce critic of the Zelaya regime in Honduras.
In 2004, Carmona-Borjas was listed as part time faculty at the Department of Romance Languages and Literature at George Washington University; as recently as November 2008, set up a class entitled "Political Management in Latin America" offered through the Graduate School of Political Management. According to the GW Hatchet, the local student paper, the class had a roster of right-wing, free-trade boosting speakers including Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich, Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan politician, Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutiérrez, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
According to the Hatchet, the class sought to "analyze Latin American governments that have failed social policies, which have led to anti-system political movements." "Many Latin American countries have forged ties with re-emerging powers and countries in pursuit of nuclear capability," Carmona-Borjas said, "ties that can endanger the interests of the United States in the region."
But it was not part time teaching in D.C. that distinguished Carmona Borjas as a political player. No, it was the Venezuelan's work as Vice President of the mysterious anti-corruption and watchdog outfit known as Arcadia Foundation that really set him apart. From his perch at Arcadia, Carmona-Borjas launched anti-corruption attacks against Honduras and the Zelaya regime. In particular, he conducted a massive public relations campaign against Hondutel, the state telecommunications company in Honduras. In article after article published in the Central American media, Borjas-Carmona accused Hondutel of corruption.
The Right-Wing Telecom Connection
The Venezuelan right winger was joined in his criticisms by Otto Reich, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, State Department official under Bush, and foreign policy adviser for McCain's 2008 campaign. Reich was linked to figures in the 2002 coup against Chávez and has worked as a corporate lobbyist for firms such as telecom giant AT&T. His firm, Otto Reich Associates, advises U.S. corporations in Latin America and promotes the American free trade agenda by fighting privatization.
I speculated before that Reich and Carmona-Borjas might have known of each other, and the George Washington University connection is now proof of that. What seems to have united both Reich and Carmona-Borjas was their interest in the telecommunications issue. That's not too surprising in light of the history. Indeed, for McCain and his right-wing ilk the telecom industry has been a central political focus. McCain has had important historic ties to big corporations such as AT&T, MCI, and Qualcomm. In return for their financial contributions, McCain, who partly oversees the telecommunication industry in the Senate, has acted to protect and look out for the political and economic interests of the telecoms on Capitol Hill.
To get a sense of the sheer scope of McCain's incestuous relationship with the telecoms, one need only log on to the Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics. In the 1998 electoral cycle, AT&T gave $34,000 to McCain. In the 2000 cycle, the telecom giant provided $69,000; in 2002 $61,000; in 2004 $39,000; in 2006 $29,000; and in 2008 $187,000. Over the course of his career, AT&T has been McCain's second largest corporate backer.
What's more, AT&T has donated handsomely to McCain's International Republican Institute (IRI). McCain chairs this group and though he seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy experience working with the operation that is funded by the U.S. government and private money. The IRI, which receives tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy worldwide. In 2006, AT&T gave the IRI $200,000. AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris declined to elaborate on why the international telecommunications provider wrote a big check. "AT&T contributes to a variety of charitable organizations," he said flippantly.
IRI and Telecom Agenda in Latin America
The IRI has fought against regimes in Latin America that resist privatization of the telecom industry. In Venezuela, where the government nationalized the telecom firm CANTV, IRI generously funded anti-Chávez civil society groups that were opposed to the regime. Starting in 1998, the year Chávez was elected, IRI worked with Venezuelan organizations to produce anti-Chávez media campaigns, including newspaper, television, and radio ads.
Additionally, when politicians, union and civil society leaders went to Washington to meet with U.S. officials just one month before the April 2002 coup, IRI picked up the bill. The IRI also helped to fund the corrupt Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (which played a major role in the anti-Chávez destabilization campaign leading up to the coup) and Súmate, an organization involved in a signature-gathering campaign to present a petition calling for Chávez's recall.
Like Hugo Chávez, Honduran President Zelaya was known to be as a fierce critic of telecommunications privatization. In this sense, he was at odds with the current coup president Roberto Micheletti as well as right-wing interests in the U.S. such as McCain's IRI, Arcadia, and Otto Reich Associates that push for the free trade agenda and privatization.
The Curious Case of Cormac
For evidence of further U.S. corporate and right-wing ties to the Honduran imbroglio, one need look no farther than PR Newswire for last Monday, July 6. In an article headlined "Honduran Congressional, Business Leaders to Hold Washington, D.C., Press Conference," we learn that a delegation sought "several days of meetings with United States policymakers to clarify any misunderstandings about Honduras' constitutional process and to discuss next steps to ensure the preservation of the country's democratic institutions."
Founded in March 2001, the Cormac Group is a "strategic consulting and lobbying firm" advocating "open and fair markets." Cormac works in the telecommunications sector and seeks to construct "a barrier-free regulatory structure that enhances competition." Cormac's Founding Partner John Timmons was a fundraiser for McCain and former Senate aide and has represented AT&T. Another partner at Cormac, Jonathan Slade, "has developed a well-known reputation from helping American and foreign companies impact the U.S. foreign policy process, particularly related to Latin America."
Hard Right and Not Obama
What seems to have united all these right-wing groups and figures -- from Arcadia to Otto Reich -- was their allegiance to free markets and privatization of the telecom industry. It was these entities allied to the hard right and McCain that played the most prominent role in the pressure campaign against Zelaya -- not the Obama Administration.
Nikolas Kozloff is the author of Hugo Chávez: Oil, Politics and the Challenge to the U.S. (Palgrave, 2006) and Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave, 2008). Check out his Web site at http://senorchichero.blogspot.com.