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Here comes Charlie Black, John McCain’s campaign adviser, who recently remarked to Fortune magazine that another terrorist attack on U.S. soil would be a "big advantage" for the Republican presidential candidate. The comments drew a strong rebuke from the Obama campaign and embarrassed McCain while on the campaign trail. Questioned about Black’s comments during a news conference, the Arizona Senator said, "I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true. I’ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear."
Speaking to reporters, Black read from handwritten notes. "I deeply regret the comments. They were inappropriate,” he said. “I recognize that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration.”
Such pro forma expressions of penitence notwithstanding, Black has repeatedly argued that McCain benefits any time national security matters are the news of the day. A veteran political operator, Black knows that the GOP wins elections by painting the Democrats as weak on terrorism and defense. It’s a truth that’s long been evident to Black, who has carved out a political career by taking advantage of war hysteria and the public’s fear of a terrorist strike.
Black, a 60-year-old successful Washington lobbyist, is a notorious figure within the GOP. Over the course of his career he has gained a reputation as a ruthless operator possessed of a merciless instinct for exposing an opponent’s flaws. A native of North Carolina, Black is the son of Southern Democrats who switched party affiliation in 1964 to vote for Barry Goldwater.
In 1972, he helped run the Senate campaign of Jesse Helms. Black was one of the designers of a strategy that labeled Helms’ Democratic opponent as too liberal for North Carolina, driving the point home with a slogan that declared Helms to be "One of Us." Helms went on to victory, becoming the first North Carolina Republican to be elected to the Senate during the twentieth century.
Three years later Black founded the National Conservative Political Action Committee, an organization which set a new standard for negative advertising. The group campaigned against six liberal senators in 1980, portraying them as soft on national defense amongst other charges. Black’s first hire at the 1980 Reagan campaign was the infamous Lee Atwater, an operative who later became well known for his slashing brand of politics. Black himself proudly hangs a personally signed photo of the Great Communicator on his office wall. On the photo, Reagan wrote that Black was "a man of ideas."
Black’s brain child was Black, Manafort and Stone, a lobbying firm which the GOP operator founded in 1980. The company, which soon expanded to include the slash and burn Lee Atwater, soon became one of the most aggressive and well-connected Republican lobbying shops in Washington. In 1996 the firm merged with Gold & Liebengood to form BKSH & Associates Worldwide.
Black, who enjoyed stints as campaign operator for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, got to know John McCain in the late 1970s when McCain worked as the Navy’s liaison to the Senate. In 1996, the pair became close while working on Senator Phil Gramm’s failed presidential bid. One of five senior advisers to McCain, Black is a frequent campaign surrogate on television. On the trail, he sits in a big swivel chair at the front of the Straight Talk Express, joining in McCain’s rolling news conferences.
McCain and BKSH: Boosters for Invasion
In a sense, it is not too surprising that Black and McCain would wind up working together in the 2008 presidential race: both have been huge boosters of the Iraq War.
McCain was a longtime friend of Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi exile who drummed up claims that Saddam Hussein had WMD. An international con artist found guilty in absentia in Jordan for bank scams, Chalabi is most widely known for being one of the key pre-Iraq war intelligence propagandists who provided skewed information to support the Pentagon’s ultra-secretive Office of Special Plans. He was also a source for the now-discredited pre-war reporting of New York Times journalist Judith Miller. After the 2003 attack, Chalabi’s star dimmed when he was accused of leaking sensitive material to Teheran. He is still an influential figure in Baghdad.
According to a 2006 article appearing in the New Republic, McCain welcomed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), to Washington. On Capitol Hill, McCain pressured the Clinton administration to provide the Iraqi exile with money. The Arizona Senator even went so far as to call Chalabi “a patriot who has the best interests of his country at heart.” In 1997, McCain successfully pressured the White House into setting up an Iraqi government in exile. Despite opposition from the Pentagon and the State Department, McCain co-sponsored the Iraq Liberation Act, committing the United States to overthrowing Saddam and funding opposition groups. When General Anthony Zinni expressed some doubt about the effectiveness of the Iraqi opposition, McCain rebuked the military man at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Even as McCain was busy on Capitol Hill drumming up support for Chalabi, Black was doing his part at BKSH to hasten the onset of war in Iraq. The lobbying firm in fact had developed ties to Chalabi as early as 1999 and soon provided its political expertise to the INC. In an interview, Black remarked that his firm received $200,000 to $300,000 per year from the U.S. government to promote the INC. BKSH helped sell the disastrous Iraq war to the American public by promoting the supposed danger posed by Saddam’s regime and WMD.
Blandly unrepentant, Black has remarked that his firm did "standard kinds of public relations and public affairs, setting up seminars, helping them get speeches covered by the press, press conferences." Black proved highly useful to Chalabi, providing the Iraqi exile with access to high-powered officials in Washington. Chalabi even scored a seat at First Lady Laura Bush’s VIP box at the 2004 State of the Union address.
McCain: Working to Ensure the Occupation Lasts a Million Years
If you thought Bush and Rove was a Machiavellian pair, consider the relationship between McCain and Black. Both figures are at the nexus of the military-industrial complex and would like the occupation of Iraq to continue indefinitely. Already the Arizona Senator has declared his intention to stay in Iraq “for a thousand years or a million years” if necessary and there’s little reason to doubt the Senator’s word.
Though McCain seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy experience working with a cloak and dagger operation called the International Republican Institute (IRI). Since 1993, he has served as chair of the outfit, which is funded by the U.S. government and private money. The group, which receives tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy world-wide. The hottest country in which IRI currently operates is Iraq. According to the IRI’s own web site, since the summer of 2003 the organization “has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting the development of democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, indigenous civil society groups, and elected and other government officials. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs.”
A who’s who of corporate America chips in to IRI including Blackwater Training Center, part of Blackwater USA. In 2005-6 the mercenary security company which operates in Iraq donated $30,000 to IRI. Though Blackwater has fallen under scrutiny as a result of the company’s shooting of 17 Iraqis including women and children, the State Department recently decided to renew the firm’s contract. As if these corporate ties were not enough, IRI has also accepted money from Lockheed Martin, the world’s #1 military contractor. The firm has been a big McCain donor, giving more than $13,000 through its PAC to the Arizona Senator in 2006. Early on, Lockheed Martin worked to promote the war in Iraq. The company’s former vice president, Bruce Jackson, even chaired the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. There, Jackson made common cause with McCain, the group’s “honorary co-chair.” During the start of the Iraq invasion, Lockheed Martin’s F-117 stealth attack fighters were used to “shock and awe” the population. Jackson is now working on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, serving on the Senator’s foreign policy advisory team.
Like McCain, Black has a lot of connections to the Iraq occupation. In 2003 he remarked that his political ties to Chalabi helped BKSH acquire valuable work in Iraq. “Due to our past representation of the INC,” he said, “we know and have worked with a lot of people who will be in the provisional government. We have a number of clients who are interested in doing business in Iraq.” Two years after the invasion Black cashed in on his insider influence when the Lincoln Group, a Washington, D.C.-based intelligence company assigned by the Pentagon with the task of providing pro-U.S. stories to the Iraqi media, subcontracted its work to BKSH. Lincoln’s job was to publish stories written by American troops so as to improve the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq. At the time, Black’s lobbying firm was well positioned to get the contract: BKSH was already representing the government of Iraq as its U.S. lobbyist.
Like McCain, BKSH also has ties to Lockheed Martin. Indeed, Black’s firm has lobbied on behalf of the defense contractor. What’s more, like the Arizona Senator BKSH has dealings with Blackwater and represents the mercenary outfit on Capitol Hill. Black’s firm even reportedly coached Blackwater CEO Eric Prince prior to a Congressional hearing. Aside from his historic ties to Lockheed Martin and Blackwater, Black also developed a tight-knit relationship with Civitas Group, a homeland security-focused consulting firm. Black serves as a member of the company’s managing board.
Having supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq through BKSH, Charlie Black may now hope that his candidate, John McCain, will benefit in the event of another terrorist incident. With the Arizona Senator safely in the White House, Black’s old pals at BKSH will be free to reap maximum benefit from McCain’s future wars.
Though Arizona Senator John McCain seldom talks about it, he has gotten much of his foreign policy experience working with a cloak and dagger operation called the International Republican Institute (IRI). Since 1993, McCain has served as Chair of the outfit, which is funded by the U.S. government and private money. The group, which receives tens of millions of taxpayer dollars each year, claims to promote democracy world-wide. On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society.
The hottest country in which IRI currently operates is Iraq. According to the IRI’s own web site, since the summer of 2003 the organization “has conducted a multi-faceted program aimed at promoting the development of democracy in Iraq. Toward this end, IRI works with political parties, indigenous civil society groups, and elected and other government officials. In support of these efforts, IRI also conducts numerous public opinion research projects and assists its Iraqi partners in the production of radio and television ads and programs.”
By law, IRI must operate independently of the Republican Party. However, a former institute grant recipient, Ghassan Atiyyah, the Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy, said he parted ways with the IRI over his criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the war. In 2004 Atiyyah, who pressed for a secular, liberal government in Iraq, received $116,448 from IRI. "Instead of promoting impartial, better understanding of certain ideas and concepts, they [the IRI] are actually trying to further the cause of the Republican administration," Atiyyah said. Though Atiyyah said IRI never asked him to censor his views, it became clear to the Iraqi that the two parties disagreed politically. When his funding ran out, neither pursued the relationship. "It is a civilized divorce," he said. (Atiyyah eventually fled Iraq for Britain after his life was threatened).
Who is Running IRI?
Such criticisms aside however, IRI’s overall mission statement on its Web site fundamentally strains credibility. How can the IRI, which is caught up in an incestuous political web with the power elite in Washington and U.S. corporations, claim to be an agent of positive change in Iraq? Although officially non-partisan, IRI is closely aligned with the Republican Party. Dick Cheney received the organization’s Freedom Award in late 2001. Other winners have included Condoleezza Rice, Ronald Reagan, Lynne Cheney, Colin Powell, and Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai.
IRI’s leadership spans the spectrum of center right, far right, and neoconservative factions of the GOP. Most of the organization’s staff and board have links to right-wing think tanks, foundations, and policy institutes. Former Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer, the disastrous colonial administrator who used to wear a blue blazer and hiking boots, sits on IRI’s Board of Directors.
Also sitting on the board is Randy Scheuneman, a former member of the neo-conservative outfit Project for the New American Century. Scheuneman had long-standing ties to the Iraqi National Congress or INC, a loose coalition of Iraqi dissidents and opposition groups headed by the Iraqi flim-flammer , Ahmed Chalabi.
Shady Scheuneman’s ties to McCain go way back even before IRI. In 2000, he served on the Arizona Senator’s foreign policy team during McCain’s unsuccessful presidential bid. Like McCain, Scheuneman was also active in the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which helped push for official government as well as public support for the invasion of Iraq after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Meanwhile, a who’s who of corporate America chips in to IRI including Blackwater Training Center, part of Blackwater USA. In 2005-6 the company donated $30,000 to IRI. Though Blackwater has fallen under scrutiny as a result of the company’s shooting of 17 people including women and children, the State Department recently decided to renew the firm’s contract.
For Blackwater, the benefits of supporting McCain and IRI are clear: already the Arizona Senator has declared his intention to stay in Iraq “for a thousand years or a million years” if necessary. Behind the scenes, Blackwater is surely praying for a McCain victory in November: Charlie Black, McCain’s chief adviser and a successful Washington lobbyist, has represented the mercenary outfit as well as Chalabi. Black’s connection to Chalabi began in 1999 and continued up until the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
McCain, IRI and Chevron
Though George Bush has scoffed at suggestions that the invasion of Iraq had anything to do with oil, recent press reports give some credence to such claims. In April, Chevron announced that it was involved in discussions with the Iraqi Oil Ministry to increase production in an important oil field in southern Iraq. The discussions were aimed at finalizing a two-year deal, or technical support agreement, to boost production at the West Qurna Stage 1 oil field near Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city.
It turns out that Chevron, like Blackwater, has donated to McCain’s IRI. What’s more, since McCain solidified his position as the GOP’s nominee, Chevron Chairman David O’Reilly gave $28,500 to the GOP. Meanwhile lobbyist Wayne Berman, McCain’s National Finance Co-Chairman, counts Chevron as one of his principal clients.
According to Progressive Media USA, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, the Arizona Senator has benefited handily from Big Oil. McCain has taken in at least $700,000 from the oil and gas industry since 1989. In Congress, the Arizona senator has worked tirelessly to advance the interests of the oil industry. For example, McCain’s tax plan gives the top five oil companies $3.8 billion a year in tax breaks. McCain meanwhile has voted against reducing dependence on foreign oil, has twice rejected windfall profits tax for Big Oil, and has voted against taxing oil companies to provide a $100 rebate to consumers.
McCain, IRI and Lockheed Martin
As if these corporate ties were not enough, IRI has also accepted money from Lockheed Martin, the world’s #1 military contractor. The firm has been a McCain donor, giving more than $13,000 through its PAC to the Arizona Senator in 2006. According to the Center for Public Integrity, lobbyist Vin Weber, one of McCain’s top political advisers, counted Lockheed Martin as one of his most important clients.
Early on, Lockheed saw that it could benefit from the war in Iraq. The company’s former vice president, Bruce Jackson, even chaired the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. There, he found common cause with Scheuneman, the group’s President, and McCain, the “honorary co-chair.” Jackson also worked with Scheuneman through The Project for the New American Century, a group that the Lockheed man directed personally.
Jackson goes way back in GOP circles. Between 1986 and 1990, when he was working in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, he served under Dick Cheney. He also worked under prominent neo-conservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. In 2000, he chaired the Republican Party Platform’s subcommittee for National Security and Foreign Policy when George W. Bush ran for president.
Jackson was also involved in corralling support for the Iraq war from Eastern European countries, and even went so far as to help to write their letter of endorsement for military intervention. Not surprisingly, Lockheed also had business relations with these countries. In 2003 Poland shelled out $3.5 billion for 48 F-16 fighter planes which it was able to purchase with a $3.8 billion loan from the U.S.
During the start of the Iraq invasion, Lockheed Martin’s F-117 stealth attack fighters were used to “shock and awe” the population. Jackson is now working on McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, serving on the Senator’s foreign policy advisory team.
The mainstream press has completely failed to analyze McCain’s long term involvement in the Iraq imbroglio. If they were to delve too deeply, the corporate pundits would have to confront the uncomfortable truth that the military-industrial complex and the oil industry have played an integral role in the invasion and occupation. Surrounding the whole affair are shady figures such as Black, Scheuneman and Jackson and unscrupulous companies like Chevron, Blackwater and Lockheed Martin. At the center of the vortex are none other than IRI and John McCain.
As the presidential campaign heats up the media has failed to analyze John McCain’s ties to corporate America and in particular to the beer industry. Anheuser-Busch, the nation’s largest beer producer, has proven highly instrumental in McCain’s rise on the political stage. McCain’s wife Cindy was the daughter of a multimillionaire Anheuser-Busch distributor and her beer earnings have afforded the Arizona Senator a wealthy lifestyle including a private jet and vacation homes. In the early years of McCain’s Washington career, Anheuser-Busch’s political action committee was among the Senator’s donors. Though McCain’s fundraising base is now far broader than his family bank accounts and Anheuser-Busch, executives from the company have been important and longtime supporters.
Though Anheuser Busch is most known for its domestic beers such as Budweiser (which some ridiculously refer to as the “King of Beers”), the company has also become something of an international player. For example, Anheuser-Busch has a stake in Mexico’s largest brewer, Grupo Modelo, which makes Corona, Negra Modelo, and Pacífico. Since the mid-1980s, the company has had particular success in the United States with Corona, a light-tasting beer — often served with a wedge of fresh lime — that became popular with many young adults.
For Modelo, a strong incentive for entering the deal with Anheuser-Busch was the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA: under the accord, U.S. import duties on Mexican beer were eliminated. As a Senator, McCain has been a big booster of economic globalization which has made consolidation of the beer industry possible. The Republican presidential hopeful supports NAFTA and has in fact assailed Barack Obama for his criticism of free trade. According to labor unions, NAFTA has cost the U.S. at least one million jobs, a fact of little apparent concern to the Arizona Senator. Though the agreement has led to a social and ecological disaster in Mexico, McCain does not support special provisions which would protect workers and the environment. In recognition of his efforts, the right wing Cato Institute gave McCain a 100% ranking when it came to promoting the free trade agenda.
McCain, IRI and Anheuser-Busch
On Capitol Hill, McCain has long opposed Third World governments which seek to contest corporate supremacy and free trade. Since 1993, McCain has chaired an outfit called the International Republican Institute (IRI). The group, funded by U.S. taxpayers and private money, bills itself as non-partisan and claims to promote democracy world-wide. On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society.
In reality however the IRI serves as an instrument to advance and promote the most far right Republican foreign policy agenda. More a cloak-and-dagger operation than a conventional research group, IRI has aligned itself with some of the most antidemocratic factions in the Third World. In Haiti, IRI helped to fund, equip, and lobby for the country’s two heavily conservative and White House-backed opposition parties, the Democratic Convergence and Group 184. The latter group, comprised of many of the island’s major business, church and professional figures, was at the vanguard of opposition to Jean Bertrand Aristide prior to the Haitian President’s forced ouster in 2004. In Venezuela, IRI generously funded civil society groups that were militantly opposed to the Chávez regime.
Significantly, Anheuser-Busch has donated tens of thousands of dollars to IRI. On a certain level the brewing company’s financial support is not very surprising. If it can avoid it, the company would undoubtedly like to turn back the tide of so-called Pink Tide regimes which have come to power in recent years. As I explain in my current book Revolution! South America and the Rise of the New Left (Palgrave-Macmillan 2008), nationalistic governments from Venezuela to Brazil to Argentina have opposed the creation of President Bush’s corporately-driven Free Trade Area of the Americas.
McCain, Anheuser Busch and CAFTA
Hoping to outflank hostile left wing regimes in the region, the Bush White House has been busy over the past few years hammering out free trade agreements with more conservative governments. In 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement or CAFTA, which cuts tariffs among the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Having reaped maximum gain from NAFTA, Anheuser-Busch is likely to benefit from an expansion of corporate-driven free trade in Central America. In Honduras, Anheuser-Busch introduced Budweiser in 2006. The following year, Heineken announced that it had reached an agreement with Anheuser-Busch to produce and market Budweiser in Panama. The production and bottling of Budweiser in the tiny Central American nation is a major achievement for the company, as it provides a starting point for expanding the brand to other markets in the region. What’s more, under CAFTA U.S. beers will be able to enter Central America duty free by 2015. The beer industry hopes that CAFTA will spur increased per capita consumption, particularly in countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, thus leading to greater profits.
McCain has been an important backer of CAFTA and voted for the agreement in the Senate despite the fact that the deal, modeled after NAFTA, does not contain adequate environmental or labor protections.
Not only does McCain support CAFTA but he also wants to expand free trade to other governments throughout the region. Despite Colombia’s status as a human rights and labor nightmare, the Senator backs a pending trade deal with the Andean nation. McCain’s lobbying on behalf of the Colombia deal stands to benefit his political benefactor Anheuser-Busch: in February, 2006 the company introduced Budweiser in the Andean nation.
Touting the virtues of mediocre Budweiser, Esteban Amoia, a regional marketing manager for Anheuser-Busch International, remarked that “Budweiser has exceeded expectations in Colombia…and there is a growing demand for the brand’s clean, crisp and refreshing taste." Encouraged by Budweiser’s success in Colombia, Anheuser-Busch is now marketing Bud Light. Amoia added that the beer could “become the brand of choice for young, fun-loving men and women who are on the move."
From his earliest days as a politician, McCain has eagerly enmeshed himself in an insidious political web with Anheuser-Busch. If it weren’t for Cindy McCain and her beer money, the Arizona Senator might not have achieved great political power in the Senate. In exchange for Anheuser-Busch’s support, McCain looks out for the beer company’s long-term interests abroad. Truly, it might be said that the Arizona Senator is the “King of Beers” in Latin America.
Now that John McCain has presumably wrapped up the Republican nomination, it's natural to wonder what kind of foreign policy he might pursue towards the rest of the world if he were elected President. For example, how would the "maverick" McCain deal with Latin America?
In recent years, the region has taken a decidedly leftist turn; new leaders such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua have openly challenged U.S. diplomatic and political influence. McCain's record suggests that he would pursue a very hawkish and antagonistic policy in the hemisphere. It's even possible that the Arizona Republican, who has suggested that the United States might be in Iraq for hundreds of years and might "bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran," could ratchet up military tensions in Latin America and escalate conflict with countries like Venezuela.
The International Republican Institute (IRI)
McCain has chaired the International Republican Institute (IRI) since 1993. Ostensibly a non-partisan, democracy-building outfit, in reality the IRI serves as an instrument to advance and promote the most far right Republican foreign policy agenda. More a cloak-and-dagger operation than a conventional research group, IRI has aligned itself with some of the most antidemocratic factions in the Third World.
On the surface at least, IRI seems to have a rather innocuous agenda including party building, media training, the organization of leadership trainings, dissemination of newsletters, and strengthening of civil society. In reality, however, the IRI is more concerned with crushing incipient left movements in Latin America.
One of the least known Washington institutions, IRI receives taxpayer money via the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. A.I.D.). The organization is active in around sixty countries and has a budget of $74 million. On the board of IRI, McCain has been joined by a who's who of Republican bigwigs such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick.
IRI's Latin American Activities
In Haiti, IRI helped to fund, equip, and lobby for Haiti's two heavily conservative and White House-backed opposition parties, the Democratic Convergence and Group 184. The latter group, comprised of many of the island's major business, church and professional figures, was at the vanguard of opposition to Jean Bertrand Aristide prior to the Haitian President's forced ouster in 2004. At the same time, IRI funneled taxpayer money to hard-line anti-Castro forces allied to the Republican Party.
In Venezuela, IRI generously funded anti-Chávez civil society groups that were militantly 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.
McCain and Cuba
McCain has taken a personal interest in IRI's Cuba work and praises the anti-Castro opposition. The Arizona Senator has called Cuba "a national security threat," adding that "as president, I will not passively await the long overdue demise of the Castro dictatorship ... The Cuban people have waited long enough." McCain wants to increase funding for the U.S. government's anti-Castro radio and TV stations, seeks the release of all Cuban political prisoners, supports internationally monitored elections on the island, and wants to keep the U.S. trade embargo in place. What kind of future does McCain envision for Cuba? No doubt, one in which the Miami anti-Castro exiles rule the island. McCain's most influential advisers on Latin American affairs are Cuban Americans from Florida, including Senator Mel Martínez and far right Congress members Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen.
For McCain, It's Never Ending Free Trade and Militarization
On Capitol Hill, McCain has championed pro-U.S. Latin American regimes while working to isolate those governments which are rising up to challenge American hegemony. On Colombia, for example, McCain has been a big booster of official U.S. policy. Despite Colombia's status as a human rights nightmare, the Senator supports ongoing funding to the government of Álvaro Uribe so as to combat the "narco-trafficking and terrorist threat."
McCain has taken a personal interest in the Andean region. He has traveled to Ecuador and Colombia so as to drum up more support for the counter insurgency and drug war, now amounting to billions of dollars a year. McCain's foremost fear is that the Democrats may turn off the money flow to Uribe. "You don't build strong alliances by turning your back on friends," he has said.
McCain seeks to confront countries such as Venezuela and Cuba by encouraging U.S. partnership with sympathetic regimes that support American style free trade. "We need to build on the passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement by expanding U.S. trade with the region,'' he has said. "Let's start by ratifying the trade agreements with Panama, Peru, and Colombia that are already completed, and pushing forward the Free Trade Area of the Americas."
Chávez has been one of the greatest obstacles to the fulfillment of McCain's free trade agenda, however. In recent years, the Venezuelan has pushed his own barter trade scheme, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which promotes economic solidarity and reciprocity between Latin American nations. Concerned about growing ties between Cuba and Venezuela, McCain said "He [Chávez] aspires to be this generation's [Fidel] Castro. I think the people of Venezuela ought to look at the standard of living in Cuba before they would embrace such a thing."
Fighting the Information War in Latin America
Speaking in Miami's Little Havana, McCain said that "everyone should understand the connections" between Evo Morales, Castro, and Chávez. "They inspire each other. They assist each other. They get ideas from each other. It's very disturbing." McCain said Chávez breathed "new oxygen" into Castro's regime, and that the U.S. government should do more to quell dictatorships throughout Latin America. Perhaps not surprisingly given his historic involvement in IRI, McCain's campaign Web site even featured an online petition calling for support in his quest to "stop the dictators of Latin America." The petition called for the ouster of Chávez "in the name of democracy and freedom throughout our hemisphere."
Though the petition was later taken down, McCain has staked out hawkish territory on Venezuela and would surely escalate tensions with the South American nation. Most troubling is the Senator's strong push for renewed U.S. propaganda in the region. McCain has criticized the Venezuelan government's decision to not renew Radio Caracas Television's license, and has called for reestablishing an agency like the United States Information Agency (the USIA oversaw a variety of agencies including the Voice of America radio network before it was merged into the State Department in 1998).
"Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,'' McCain has said. "We need to re-create an independent agency with the sole purpose of getting America's message to the world. Thiswould aid our efforts to communicate accurately with the people of Latin America."
If McCain was ever able to push through his aggressive media initiatives, he would antagonize many nations in the region which resent the pervasiveness of U.S. dominated media. Already, Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, and Uruguay have formed a joint satellite news station called Telesur (in my upcoming book scheduled for release in six weeks, I devote an entire chapter to the issue of media politics in South America).
From Bolton to Big Stick
To make matters worse, the Chair of IRI has sought to promote neo-conservative figures from the Bush regime such as John Bolton. During the latter's confirmation hearings in the Senate, McCain urged his Democratic colleagues to approve the diplomat's nomination quickly. Bolton has been a hawk not only on Iran but also Venezuela. McCain, who refers to Chávez as a "wacko," said it was important to confirm Bolton. With Bolton at the United Nations, the U.S. would be able to talk back to "two-bit dictators" like the Venezuelan leader.
Like Bolton, McCain apparently shares his colleague's disdain for the United Nations and wants to create a so-called League of Democracies. As envisioned by the Arizona legislator, the new body would take the place of the United Nations on such issues as conflict resolution, disease treatment and prevention, environmental crises, and access to free markets. Interestingly, McCain's inspiration for the League is Teddy Roosevelt, who had a vision of "like-minded nations working together for peace and liberty."
Roosevelt, however, was no dove: he wielded a Big Stick and practiced gunboat diplomacy in Latin America. It's a policy which John McCain would probably like to revive if he is elected President in November.