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LAS AMERICAS The Ultra-Right Stuff BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE F or the past few months, Washington has suffered through its worst winter in a decade. The temperature rarely rises above freezing, and the President busies himself with wrecking the economy and the environment, piling on deficits, warmongering and spewing jingoistic hatred. As if this were not bad enough, last month, he briefly turned his attention to Latin America and took a moment to toss off a new diplomatic appointment for a man we had all hoped was long gone: Roger Noriega. A junior partner in the Ultra-Right Stuff Club, Noriega will shortly be elevated to the highest position for Latin American policy-making at the State Department. A brief survey of reactions to the appointment among progressives here yielded only the dismayed and discouraged opinion, “Well, at least he’s not Otto Reich.” Reich, as you will recall, was Bush’s first choice for this appointment. His nomination ran aground last year amid charges of illegally operating an unauthorized, taxpayer-financed propaganda campaign to convince Congress that the Contra narco-guerrillas were “freedom fighters,” during a time long ago when this sort of thing was still frowned upon. As investigations of Reich’s past proceeded, conflicts of interest involving the Bacardi Chilean Armed Forces on behalf of Lockheed also came to light, together with an embarrassing effort to aid terrorists in Venezuela. As Ambassador to Venezuela under Ronald Reagan, Reich was allegedly instrumental in springing Orlando Bosch from jail in Caracas where he was serving a 10-year sentence for blowing up a Cubana airliner and killing 73 people. Plus Otto seemed to suffer from frequent bouts of pathological lying and insanity. Even in the docile “whatever-you-say, Mr. President” political climate that followed September 11, Reich could not pass muster and the Senate refused to confirm him. Reich occupied the post anyway last year under a recess appointment that did not require confirmation. During this period, he distinguished himself by bungling the U.S. role in an inept coup designed to topple President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. When the coup failed, the U.S. was left hanging out there, the only sovereign state to endorse Chavez’ overthrow other than the Holy See. Given this performance, it was clear that Reich would have to go. Which left a desirable vacancy available for Noriega, who himself had quietly slipped through the Senate confirmation process in the wake of September 11. He then took up his new post as the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, the regional body for the Western Hemisphere. Roger was biding his time there. In fact, throughout his undistinguished career, Roger typically cools his heels, collects a six-figure tax-free salary, and lies in wait at the OAS for a better position. His dubious political connections first landed him an OAS sinecure in 1991 writing technical brochures that no one read. At the time, he needed a place to hide out because he had been superficially burned by Iran/Contra, the whimsical foreign policy episode conducted by Oliver North, John Poindexter and Ronald Reagan in Central America. Roger’s political injuries from that caper were minimal, although he was deeply involved. He had been at USAID at the time, where he oversaw “non-lethal aid” shipments to the Contras. In subsequent investigations, unseemly associations surfaced. For example, a Miami-based money launderer with ties to the Medellin cartel testified to a Senate committee that he personally had cleaned up $230,000 by cycling it through a bank account used for non-lethal Contra aid. While at USAID, Roger also steered a $750,000 grant to the Thomas A. Dooley Foundation, headed by Verne Chaney, a close colleague of retired General John Singlaub, who, in turn, helped Oliver North run the illegal arms supply network to the Contras during the U.S. aid cutoff. For his part, Chaney did a survey of the Contras’ medical needs in 1985 together with Rob Owen, who was subsequently nailed as 011ie North’s bag man. When this all blew up into televised hearings, special prosecutors, threatened indictments and jail terms, Noriega found it convenient to lie low. But not too low and not too long. After churning out brochures for a bit, Noriega called on his Hill contacts, Contra-collaborators Jesse Helms and 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 2/28103