“Winning Hearts and Minds Inside the Beltway”

Mary Anastasia O’Grady writes that Venezuela’s Chavez dictatorship is doing the same thing Haiti’s Aristide did: paying large sums to American lobbyists to defend its indefensible policies. And it works.

How did Mr. Aristide, who was a known practitioner of violence get the U.S. to restore him to power in 1994 and then to tolerate his malevolence for 10 years? The answer is that he bought influence in Washington in much the same way Mr. Chavez is trying to do now.

Former Congressman Ron Dellums, Randall Robinson’s wife Hazel Ross-Robinson and Florida lawyer Ira Kurzban are all crying the blues over Mr. Aristide’s demise but not because of what the little defrocked priest did for Haitians. What each of these Washington operators lost at the end of February was an all-you-can-eat meal ticket.

U.S. Justice Department records show that the firms of Mr. Dellums and of Ms. Ross-Robinson and Mr. Kurzban’s law firm were all big beneficiaries of Mr. Aristide’s influence buying in Washington. The Washington Times has reported that Mr. Dellums, who threw his weight around with the Congressional Black Caucus on Mr. Aristide’s behalf, received $571,326 in 2001 and 2002 from the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. The story also said that Ms. Ross-Robinson took in $367,967. Still, those two were under-performers compared to Mr. Kurzban, whose work for Mr. Aristide from 1997 through 2002 yielded, according to the Times report, $5.38 million.

Lobbyists make their livings lobbying, of course. But these sizable fees paid by a desperately poor nation hearken back to Christopher Caldwell’s observations on Mr. Aristide as a Washington operator in the July 1994 American Spectator. In that story Mr. Caldwell detailed the Haitian’s skill in working the U.S. capital: “How the administration came to condone and promote this kind of slow-motion Great Terror — that is, how Aristide’s policy became our policy — is a story of the distortions that result when virtually the entire budget of a sovereign nation is funneled into a massive Washington lobbying and public-relations campaign.”

Mr. Chavez has big bucks too and far more dangerous predilections. Like Mr. Aristide he has armed paramilitaries to enforce his rule. But there are also reports that he has been giving safe haven to Colombian guerrillas inside the Venezuelan border, and that he has been funding radicalized Indian militants in Bolivia. The evidence spilling out in Washington suggests that the Patton Boggs strategy involves getting policy makers to disbelieve what has been reported from the region. The consultant I spoke to said the plan involves lobbying U.S. congressmen and “could” involve calling on the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Sound familiar?

2 thoughts on ““Winning Hearts and Minds Inside the Beltway””

  1. I hope you’re right. We were on to Aristide and the Saudis for years, too, but the money they threw around protected them (and still does in the case of SA).

    The lobbying never prevents the inevitable reckoning, merely delays it and makes it worse when it eventually happens.

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