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Otto Reich

In office
6 June 1986 – 17 July 1989
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by George W. Landau
Succeeded by Kenneth N. Skoug, Jr.

Born October 16, 1945

Otto Juan Reich (born October 16, 1945), a Cuban-American, is former senior official in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. Among other positions held, he has been the President's Special Envoy for the Western Hemisphere; Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs; United States Ambassador to Venezuela; and Assistant Administrator of the US Agency for International Development.

Reich was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere in January 2002, and served under a recess appointment. In 2003, Bush then appointed him US Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere. Since leaving the White House in 2004, he has headed his own international consulting firm, Otto Reich Associates, LLC, based in Washington, D.C.[1][2] Reich served as a policy adviser on Latin America for John McCain's presidential campaign.


Early years

Reich was born in Cuba to a Cuban Catholic mother and an Austrian-Jewish father, Walter Reich, whose parents died in the Holocaust and who had fled Austria in 1938. His father was trying to reach the United States but he remained in Havana, where he settled down, got married, and sold furniture. At age 14, Otto Reich, raised in his mother's Catholic faith left with his family for the US as refugees a year and half after Fidel Castro came to power.

In 1966, Reich received a B.A. in International Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. From 1967 to 1969, as a paratroop officer, he served as a Civil Affairs officer in the US Army in the Panama Canal Zone. He was awarded the US Army's Commendation Medal.

After receiving a M.A. in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University in 1973, Reich worked as a staff assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives, an international representative for the Florida Department of Commerce, Community Development Coordinator for the City of Miami, and later Washington Director of the Council of the Americas.

From 1981 to 1983, Reich was Assistant Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in charge of US economic assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1991 and 1992, at the request of President George H. W. Bush, Reich served as Deputy US Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Office of Public Diplomacy

From 1983 to 1986, Reich established and managed the inter-agency Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean. The OPD declassified Central Intelligence Agency information and disseminated it to influence public opinion and spur Congress to continue to fund the Reagan administration's campaign against Nicaragua's Sandinista government. The OPD was highly controversial and was criticized by numerous government sources, including a staff report by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which characterized it as a domestic political and propaganda operation.[3] In 1987, an investigation by the Comptroller General determined that the OPD engaged in "prohibited, covert propaganda activities, beyond the range of acceptable agency public information activities". The OPD also violated “a restriction on the State Department’s annual appropriations prohibiting the use of federal funds for publicity or propaganda purposes not authorized by Congress.”[1]

Ambassadorship and Corporate Career

From 1986 to 1989, Reich served as Ambassador to Venezuela. For this service he received the State Department's Superior Honor Award, the Meritorious Service Award and the Republic of Venezuela's Order of the Liberator, the highest honor conferred by that nation. While stationed in Caracas, Reich was said to have been instrumental in the release of Orlando Bosch, a Cuban exile, from jail where he was serving a 10-year sentence for blowing up Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 on October 6, 1976 while en route from Barbados to Havana. All seventy-three people on board were killed, including many young members of a Cuban fencing team.

During Senate hearings for his appointment to the Bush administration in 2002, Reich was asked, "Do you consider Orlando Bosch to be a terrorist?", Reich wrote in response: "I do not have sufficient knowledge of Mr Bosch's criminal activities to pass judgment on his legal status." [4]

From 1989 to 2001, Reich worked as a corporate advisor to clients such as Bell Atlantic, McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Co., AT&T, Bacardi, British American Tobacco, and Lockheed Martin, which sought to sell F-16 fighter aircraft to Chile. He also reportedly helped draft the Helms-Burton Act which tightened the Cuban embargo by extendending the territorial application of the initial embargo to apply to foreign companies trading with Cuba.

2002 Venezuelan coup

Reich held the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the time of the 2002 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt on April 11, 2002 against Hugo Chávez. On the day Pedro Carmona was installed as president, Otto Reich summoned ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office to express their support and that of the US administration for the new government.[2] The timing coincided with America's shift in focus to the Middle East and Islamic terrorism right after 9/11; while according to some critics delegating Latin America to career officers.

Administration officials acknowledged that U.S. officials, including officials at the Embassy in Caracas, met with opposition leaders throughout this period—a common diplomatic practice. The U.S. government denied encouraging the coup, saying they insisted any change in government must take place through constitutional means. [5] Because of these allegations, Sen. Christopher Dodd requested a review of US activities leading up to and during the coup attempt. The OIG report found no wrongdoing by US officials either in the State Department or in the US Embassy.[3]

According to a report in The New York Times, Reich warned Congressional aides there was more at stake in Venezuela than simply the success or failure of Hugo Chávez. He accused Chávez of meddling with the historically independent state oil company, providing haven to Colombian guerrillas and bailing out Cuba with preferential rates on oil. He also said the administration had received reports that "foreign paramilitary forces"-- which they suspected to be Cubans -— were involved in the bloody suppression of anti-Chávez demonstrators, in which at least fourteen people were killed.[4] Mr. Reich, who declined to be interviewed, offered no evidence for his assertions.

The United States, which had acknowledged the de facto government, did not condemn the coup until Chávez had been restored to power by the Venezuelan military. [5] The majority of Latin American presidents, meeting at a conference in Central America, refused to recognize coup leaders' chosen replacement, Pedro Carmona, pressuring them to promptly undo the coup and reinstate president-elect Hugo Chavez to Venezuela's presidential palace, Miraflores - on live TV.

Other activities

In 2002, not long after he was appointed as Special Envoy, Reich was also nominated to serve on the board of the controversial Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, better known as the School of the Americas.[6][7]

He also served as vice-chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production (WRAP), an employers' organization which monitors the use of sweatshops and has been criticized by anti-sweatshop activists.[8] From 1998 to 2001, Reich was co-host of CNN International’s “Choque de Opiniones,” a Spanish-language version of CNN’s “Crossfire.” He appears regularly on US and Latin American media.

During the 2008 US Presidential elections, Reich served as a foreign policy adviser to John McCain.[9]


External links



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