Otto Reich speaks on U.S.-Latin America relations

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    Otto Reich

    This Jan. 21, 2004, file photo, Otto Reich, White House special envoy for the Western Hemisphere, answers questions during a news conference in Panama City, Panama. (AP Photo)

    The issue of foreign affairs with Latin America has not been brought up during the presidential and vice presidential debates.

    The republican presidential candidate did, however, mention during Tuesday night’s debate that he would “dramatically expand trade in Latin America.”

    VOXXI recently spoke with Otto Reich, the former ambassador to Venezuela and a Romney campaign spokesperson. He answered several foreign policy questions regarding Latin America and the U.S.

    What criticism do you have of President Obama in regards to foreign affairs with Latin America?

    This administration has been ignoring Latin America, neglected Latin America and forgotten Latin America. Gov. Romney has a plan to improve our relationship with Latin America. He’s said that any plan is better than what we’ve seen in the last four years because there has been absolutely no attention to Latin America.

    Every president since John F. Kennedy has had a political or economic initiative with Latin America. Kennedy had the Alliance for Progress. Fast forward to President Ronald Reagan, he had the Caribbean Basin Initiative. President Bush Senior had the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative. But President Obama has done nothing of this sort in general.

    What are your thoughts on Obama lifting some sanctions on Cuba?

    He lifted the sanctions unilaterally without conditions, without negotiations. I think he thought that this was a sign of magnanimity from his part, but he doesn’t understand that dictators see that as a sign of weakness not a sign of strength. It’s counterintuitive for most of us who have grown up in a free society but that’s the way that the dictators think.

    There is a whole series of errors on the part of some of these Democratic leaders, like Obama, who thinks that if you extend the hand of friendship to an adversary that he is going to take it as we would. But they are not like we are.

    Otto Reich

    Otto Reich on the Cover of Newsweek. (Photo/ ottoreich)

    Starting next year, Cuba will allow its residents to leave the island without a permit. What are your thoughts on that?

    All they did was announce that Cubans no longer have to have what they call a “carta blanca” or a special letter from the ministry of foreign affairs for which they had to pay about $350. Now they are folding in those costs into the cost of a passport. Unfortunately, this is just another pawn by the Castro brothers who tend to portray what they are doing as a series of reforms when, in fact, they are not changing absolutely anything.

    Hugo Chavez was recently re-elected as Venezuela’s president. How does his re-election impact the United States’ relationship with Venezuela?

    It doesn’t really change anything. I think even the Obama administration pretty much admitted to that because it was not really a fair election. Chavez controlled all the instruments of a state, all the budgets of the government, and he put it all to use to rein this election.

    I think the voting process was free but it was not fair. When one candidate, like Chavez did, has access on a daily basis to all of the news organizations …  and the opposition candidate has to pay for his airtime, it’s going to result in one candidate, in this case Chavez, being on the air for 50 minutes for every one minute that his opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, was on the air.

    That’s just one example of the unfairness of that election. I think, in fact, what is amazing is how well Capriles did despite of the one-sided rules … It’s pretty easy to imagine that on a level playing field, the opposition candidate would have defeated Chavez, but that just didn’t exist.

    Should there be more cooperation between Mexico and the United States when it comes to dealing with the problem of the violent drug cartels operating across the southern border and drugs coming in from Mexico?

    There should be more cooperation, and there is plenty of room for more cooperation. I think that with the new president of Mexico taking office in December, and we hope that with a new president of the United States taking office in January, it is a very perspicuous opportunity to start with new programs of cooperation between the two countries.

    Mexico’s President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto is considering legalizing drugs in order to deflate the country’s drug violence being caused by the cartels. Is this something Romney supports?

    We first have to see what it is that President Peña Nieto has in mind.

    Some press reported here that President Otto Molina of Guatemala wanted to legalize drugs. Yet, when I was in Guatemala and I talked to members of the Molina administration they said that was not the case. They said that what he wanted to do was, in fact, increase and strengthen the battle against the narcotic traffickers by moving around some of the resources from some of the narcotics or some of the drugs that are very costly.

    The war on drugs is costing these countries large amounts of money and lives that they simply cannot afford to continue to lose, but that doesn’t mean that they want to legalize narcotics.

    Otto Reich

    Otto Reich, the former ambassador to Venezuela and a Romney campaign spokesperson. (Photo/ LatinAmerican Studies)

    The Obama administration has been highly criticized for Operation Fast and Furious. What are your thoughts on this operation?

    This is an example of the lack of executive experience by President Obama. When he took office in January of 2009, he had a total of zero days of experience as an executive in running anything. He had never run a business. He had never run a local state or a municipal government. He had never even had a payroll that he had to meet.

    It’s beyond me, frankly, how the American people could have hired as our chief executive officer someone with zero executive experience. You wouldn’t have hired that kind of a person to run a hot dog stand down the street. Yet, we gave him the responsibility to run the entire United States government, which is the most complex entity or organization that has ever existed.

    Fast and Furious was one example of what happens when there is no supervision and there is nobody at the top that is watching what is going on and has experience in delegating responsibility.

    How do you think Romney would have handled the Operation Fast and Furious if he had been informed of the first planning stages of this operation?

    I think Romney would have handled it totally different. As the governor of Massachusetts and as the chief executive officer of a private sector organization that created thousands of jobs, he would’ve handled it differently.

    I’ve worked for several presidents of the United States, and I see the same qualities of leadership in Gov. Romney that I saw in President Reagan and President Bush. They are decisive people and they’re not going to allow the prestige of the United States and lives of the people who work for the government to be jeopardized by lack of supervision. That’s what happened with Fast and Furious.

    Former President George W. Bush, under whom you served, has been criticized for not doing much for Latin America during his eight years in office. His critics also say that much of his attention on foreign policy went exclusively to two wars in the Middle East. What are your thoughts on that?

    Usually, the criticism is made by people who either didn’t pay attention or weren’t around in this part of the universe. George W. Bush began negotiations and concluded making negotiations with about a dozen countries. Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador …

    In addition to the Free Trade Agreement, President Bush announced the Millennium Challenge Account in Monterrey Mexico – by the way he went to Mexico more than four times. I went to Mexico with him three times in three years.

    President Bush, in addition, expanded the Andean Trade Preference initiative for the countries of the Andes. He extended aid to Colombia, which basically saved Colombia. You can talk to the former president of Colombia Alvaro Uribe or the current President Juan Manuel Santos and ask them whether Colombia would be thriving economically today as it is had it not been for President Bush.

    I can go on and on. The problem is that a lot of the Democrats – since there hasn’t been any Democratic initiatives with Latin America for the last 30 years under Carter, under Clinton and under Obama – what they do is they simply criticize the Republicans.

    There is no question that the two wars in the Middle East did distract the president considerably. When we have 150,000 troops in the field, the president does tend to be focused on that. He didn’t pay as much attention to Latin America as he started out to … but there is such a lack of information out there about what Bush did that it leads to the question that you just asked

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