Earlier this month, President Funes accused the Salvadoran right-wing of financing a lobbying campaign in Washington, DC to discredit his administration and the governing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) party. According to Funes, the laundered funds, for which a former president from the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party is being investigated by the IRS, came from Italian energy company Enel Green Power and Canadian Mining company Pacific Rim—both currently suing the government of El Salvador over investment disputes. In the midst of the myriad fraud and corruption allegations, a familiar face is emerging: that of the notorious anti-communist warrior diplomat, Otto Reich.
Reich was a top official throughout the Reagan and both Bush administrations. A noted—though never indicted—figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, Reich later served as US Ambassador to Venezuela during the attempted 2002 coup against President Hugo Chávez and as George W. Bush’s Special Envoy for Western Hemisphere Initiatives. In 2009, he was hired as a lobbyist by Honduran businessmen to assure US support for the coup d’état that overthrew democratically-elected Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.
Today, Reich lobbies for Pacific Rim Mining, which is suing the Salvadoran government for $315 million for not issuing gold mining exploitation permits, a sum which includes lost potential profits. The company was recently acquired by the Australian mining company OceanaGold, which announced that the previously-suspended El Dorado gold mining project “has the potential to be an economic engine for El Salvador.” In the same statement, Pacific Rim CEO Tom Shrake assured shareholders that, “We are confident in [OceanaGold’s] ability to bring the El Dorado Project to fruition.” With the FMLN supporting legislation to ban metallic mining in El Salvador, Pacific Rim has a vested interest in ensuring the party does not win a second term in power in 2014.
With the February 2014 presidential elections on the horizon, Otto Reich visited El Salvador just a week after the official start of the campaign season. In a lengthy interview with the ultra-conservative daily El Diario de Hoy, Reich worked to downplay the leftist tide that has swept across Latin America in recent years and referred to the FMLN as “Marxist-Leninist guerrilla terrorists.” In ominous terms, Reich made the case for blocking an FMLN electoral victory: “We have to take care that the left, which was a terrorist group that committed crimes, doesn’t use democratic elements to come to power and do what Chávez did in Venezuela or Castro in Cuba or Morales in Bolivia and eliminate democracy hours after taking power.”
Journalist Luis E. Montes wondered in a recent Huffington Post article (original Spanish-language text here): “Are all of the actors on the political stage ready to accept the results of the 2014 presidential elections, or are they trying to hire lobbyists in the United States in case they need to take measures similar to those taken by their Honduran counterparts? Are there connections between the hiring of the lobbyists and the allegations of supposed electoral fraud currently being disseminated by these jingoistic groups and their spokespeople?”
As Reich appears to be making a case for US intervention in the event of an FMLN victory in the upcoming elections, CISPES is working to ensure the sovereign democratic process in El Salvador is respected and fighting against the vast tide of misinformation generated by Reich and his allies. This November, leaders of the historic ANDES teachers union will be visiting cities across the US to share what is at stake in the elections and the importance of US neutrality—click HERE to find events in your city. In addition, you can help defend democracy and justice this winter by joining us as an international observer for this historic vote, the first-ever presidential election where the right-wing finds itself in the opposition—click HERE for more information.