01/26/13 - NACLA (blog) - The Miami Herald Offers Free Publicity to Rightwing Lobbyist Jose Cardenas
Keane Bhatt Manufacturing Contempt
The Miami Herald recently presented the opinions of conservative pundit José
Cárdenas in a news article on U.S.-Cuba relations. But there's a crucial piece
of information the newspaper withheld from its readership, and it's the one
thing to know about Cárdenas: his job. He's a registered lobbyist, working for
the D.C. consulting firm Visión Américas LLC.
1509Jose Cardenas - What's Next Venezuela
Roger Noriega heads Visión Américas and, like Cárdenas, is a former George W.
Bush official and rightwing lobbyist. Among his many other bizarre claims,
Noriega has declared that both al-Qaeda and Iranian terrorists operate out of
Venezuela and that Hezbollah agents reside in the border area of Brazil,
Argentina, and Paraguay, busily pirating software and music.
Christina Rocca, another leader at Visión Américas, worked as a Central
Intelligence Agency officer for 15 years. Later, as Assistant Secretary of
State for South Asian Affairs, she "managed a foreign assistance budget of over
$5 billion annually and oversaw 3,000 personnel," and "participated in the
diplomatic lead-up to military action in Afghanistan," according to her
Visión Américas biography.
Given Rocca's background, it's only natural that in 2009, Visión Américas took
on as its client the Pakistani security firm Kestral, with Cárdenas and
Noriega lobbying Congress and the State Department on its behalf. Later that
year, a Nation magazine investigation found Kestral to be allegedly
facilitating the secret operational presence of the notorious Blackwater
security firm (subsequently rebranded as Academi) in Pakistan.
Blackwater agents, according to a former executive, conducted "counter-terrorism
operations, including house raids and border interdictions" as Kestral's
Cárdenas and Noriega also represented the Honduran textile manufacturers'
association after the 2009 coup d'etat against left-leaning president Manuel
Zelaya who had offended the business community by raising the minimum wage
by 60%. The lobbying efforts of Visíon Américas were devastatingly
effective, according to The New York Times:
Congressional aides said that less than 10 days after Mr. Zelaya was ousted, Mr.
Noriega organized a meeting for supporters of the de facto government with
members of the Senate. Mr. Fisk [a former high-ranking official], who attended
the meeting, said he was stunned by the turnout. "I had never seen eight
senators in one room to talk about Latin America in my entire career," he said.
Visión Américas's client, La Asociación Hondureña de Maquiladores, supported the
military coup in at least two ways: first, the group characterized the
kidnapping of Zelaya and the subsequent unelected leader's seizure of
presidential power as a "democratic transition," per its lobbying disclosure
form and argued that the Honduran private sector was making efforts to
"consolidate" this transition. Second, the organization mobilized a massive
lobbying campaign to prevent the United States from imposing economic sanctions
on Honduras as a response to Zelaya's illegal ouster.
But serving as a lobbyist for a Pakistani defense contractor and a Honduran
pro-coup trade group doesn't merely afford Cárdenas the opportunity to peddle
influence within policymaking circles; he has been able to pass himself off as
just another political commentator on the influential websites of Foreign
Policy magazine and NPR. Cárdenas, as his opinion pieces lauding
the Honduran putsch demonstrate, can promote his agenda of the day while never
having to identify himself as a lobbyist. Even his weak attempts at "full"
disclosure on Foreign Policy's website mention neither his lobbying, nor the
financial rewards (at least $8,000) he reaped from it:
[Full disclosure: I helped a Honduran business delegation travel to Washington
in July 2009 to brief U.S. policymakers on the crisis there.] - Oct. 2009
(Full disclosure: In July 2009, I was part of a team that advised a Honduran
delegation that traveled to Washington to defend the constitutionality of
Zelaya's removal from power.) - June 2011
Cárdenas has concealed the financial benefits he's accrued from lobbying
precisely because they make his espoused views both easily predictable and
utterly dismissible. Fortunately for him, mainstream news organizations
routinely accommodate this charade.
Such was the case in a news report by Juan Tamayo in The Miami Herald on
January 6: "John Kerry Held Secret Talks with Cuba to Free Alan Gross." The
piece details the Obama administration's effort to release USAID contractor Alan
Gross from Cuban custody in exchange for "cutting back funding for the
pro-democracy programs and making them less provocative to Cuba." This attempt
was thwarted by the Cuban-American lobby, according to R.M. Schneiderman, a
Newsweek writer whose Foreign Affairs reporting serves as the basis for the
Sen. Bob Menendez, a powerful Cuban American Democrat from New Jersey, stepped
in to defend the programs in the spring of 2011 and persuaded the White House to
roll back most of the changes, Schneiderman wrote.
The Herald quotes Schneiderman's conclusion: "the United States appeared to step
back from an opportunity to free Gross from jail and strike a blow against the
antiquated politics of the Cold War . The Cuban-American lobby had won." But the
newspaper also dedicates four paragraphs to Cárdenas's response, introducing him
simply as "a former top official at the U.S. Agency for International
The Herald's Tamayo provides readers with the conclusions of Cárdenas's
article in Foreign Policy, which rails against the "folly of attempting to
appease dictators," and criticizes Obama administration officials for "giv[ing]
the Castro regime everything it wanted" and "offering to gut a democracy program
because a dictatorship opposes it."
1510InterAmerican Security Watch
It just so happens that Cárdenas, unbeknownst perhaps to most Miami Herald
readers, has been a prominent figure for the Cuban-American right. He began
his career at the Cuban-American National Foundation-"the pre-eminent exile
lobby," according to The New York Times-and eventually became the
organization's Washington Director. The foundation is dedicated to
"supporting, empowering, and expanding the dissident movement" in Cuba, and
providing it with "guidance, materials, and financial resources."
Another possible reason for Cárdenas's opposition to cuts in
"democracy-promotion" programs may arise from the institutional imperatives of
Visión Américas: USAID has invested about $80 million into "operational
activities" through its Cuba Democracy and Contingency Planning Program (CDCPP)
since 1996, with the "primary objective" of "hastening a peaceful transition
to a democratic, market-oriented society." Schneiderman related the
operational nature of Gross's work on behalf of USAID contractor Development
>From the beginning, the U.S. government has said that Gross was merely trying to
improve Internet access for Cuban Jews. In reality, Gross was setting up
wireless networks outside the government's control as part of a provocative
program by [USAID].
Visión Américas, armed with the experience and contacts developed through
Cárdenas's leadership at USAID, advertises its expertise in "expand[ing]
government-wide opportunities" for security and technology firms, promising to
"shepherd [a] company through [the] U.S. government contracting process." More
relevant than his former high-level position within the Cuban exile lobby is
Cárdenas's vested interest in continued USAID programming in Cuba, as any cuts
to the CDCPP budget mean, quite simply, less potential business for his
Disregard for a moment the fact that a majority of the U.S. public favors an
end to the country's economic blockade against Cuba, or that in a time of
austerity, a population forced to make cuts to government spending would likely
scrap a program diverting tens of millions of dollars toward pressuring a
sovereign country along a more "market-oriented" path.
The reality is that almost three-fourths of the country favors simply
reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. While it is unsurprising for a
major newspaper to offer space to a rightwing pundit denouncing even tepid
efforts in this direction, The Miami Herald should display a modicum of
journalistic ethics and tell its readers that in the case of Cárdenas, such
unpopular arguments were brought to them by K Street.
Keane Bhatt is an activist in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the United
States and Latin America on a variety of campaigns related to community
development and social justice. His analyses and opinions have appeared in a
range of outlets, including NPR, The Nation, The St. Petersburg Times and CNN En
Español. He is the author of the NACLA blog "Manufacturing Contempt," which
critically analyzes the U.S. press and its portrayal of the hemisphere. Connect
with his blog on Twitter @KeaneBhatt
Visible links 1. Send by email https://nacla.org/printmail/8740 2.
3. Jose Cardenas - What's Next Venezuela
6. Http://visionamericas.com/rocca.php 7.
12. Http://www.thenation.com/article/154739/blackwaters-black-ops?page=full 13.
15. Http://www.thenation.com/article/waiting-zelaya 16.
21. Http://shadow.foreignpolicy.com/blog/12823 22.
33. Http://www.visionamericas.com/cardenas.php 34.
35. Http://www.canf.org/about/about-us/ 36.
37. Http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB411/ 38.
40. Http://www.visionamericas.com/approach.php 41.
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