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16/11/2008 | Should Arturo Valenzuela get a post in Barack Obama's new government?

Martin Edwin Andersen

When it comes to Latin America, I truly hope the Obama team will give a pass on including former Hillary Clinton supporter Arturo Valenzuela on its foreign policy team. Not only is Valenzuela's dandyish personal style both boorish and pedantic; he has been proven dead wrong on several issues critical to democracy in Latin America and to U.S. security.

 

My own concern for the well-being of the new Administration? I personally sent out more than 5,000 blogs and "posts" to newspapers, magazines and other media Web sites since the beginning of 2008 in favor of Obama, mostly during a period of time in which Valenzuela was working for Clinton. (See, for example, http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/blog/martinedwinandersen, the one with the slogan:  Restore Honor and Integrity to the White House and to the Democratic Party ... Barack Obama, '08!!!)

Three years earlier, in 2005, I resigned in protest as the senior analyst for Latin America for the human rights group Freedom House--who I had worked for since 1997-- over the treatment they planned to give Mexico in their annual "Freedom in the World" report. Valenzuela was Freedom House's academic advisor on Latin America.

I had given Mexico low marks in its country write-up due to the violence and fear created by drug mafias and their police protectors in the northern states bordering the U.S. More than 900 people had been killed in the first nine months of that year and journalists, in particular, had fled several cities in fear.

Against all evidence, Valenzuela demanded on giving Mexico a pass on the issue.

Valenzuela, a Georgetown University professor, claimed that violence wasn't a major issue in Mexico, that there was nothing approaching a state of terror in major cities of the north in the U.S.'s southern neighbor, and that, of all the countries in Latin America, it was Mexico that he knew best.

I had previously clashed with Valenzuela for his being an apologist for Argentina's corrupt president Carlos Menem (after the Argentine's corruption was well known, Valenzuela nonetheless sonorously declared that the "The Western world owes a debt of gratitude to Carlos Menem"). He had also loudly defended Venezuela's narcissist-leninist Hugo Chavez on press freedom in previous meetings at Freedom House. 

(For those who do not know my record: I was one of Menem's most vocal and persistence critics in the United States in the 1990s and, in 1999, wrote an editorial denouncing Chavez in the Washington Times with the headline: "The Robespierre of the Andes?"  I had wrote a number of lengthy pieces for Freedom House itself detailing the attacks on political rights and civil liberties under Chavez.)

When Valenzuela prevailed at the Freedom House meeting on the Mexico issue, I announced my resignation.

Like Henry Kissinger, Valenzuela has made a career of rising up the bureaucratic ladder while leaving a string of questionable judgments in his wake.

Below is a copy of the e-mail I sent to Freedom House announcing my resignation:

Subject: Arturo Valenzuela: "Mexico expert"
Date: 11/29/2005 7:02:16 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
From: Anacasti
Reply To:
To: puddington@_____________
CC: piano@___________, rosenberg@____________ , valenzue@___________, repucci@________, derikson@_______, goldbissm@____, windsor@_____, FHPRES

Arch,

As you will recall, in our very uncomfortable meeting last week, Dr. Arturo Valenzuela made a big deal about how he followed events in Mexico closer than any other country in the region, and that he was absolutely sure that a climate of fear did not reign in the country's north.

He said this in trying to induce changes in the ratings that had been given to Mexico for next year's Freedom in the World publication.

Of course his delivery was pure Arturo ("puro Arturo," in Spanish), filled with condescension and hectoring for opposing views. Apparently, I was the only one at the table who remembered him shilling for corrupt Carlos Menem in the 1990s--he once lectured me on how the "Western World owes Menem a debt of gratitude"--and telling us a couple of years ago that Venezuela's Chavez wasn't that bad an hombre.

Despite such history, at last week's meeting I chose not point to the oxymoronic quality of his serving as a Clinton Administration "expert" on Latin America, trying to focus attention instead on his various, unsupportable assertions about happenings in the region as they affect the forthcoming Freedom in the World report.

As you recall, Dr. Valenzuela kept ranting about how I needed to show him my "data points"--the number of times he employed the phrase suggesting that he had of late learned a new term of art.

Well, here's one, from the most recent report on Mexico by the authoritative Inter-American Press Association (http://www.sipiapa.com/pulications/informe_mexico2005o.cfm). It reads:

"In addition to these brutal examples, numerous violent acts have led to a climate of fear and demoralization in various areas of the country, in particular along the U.S. border. El Universal newspaper unofficially counted more than 1000 drug-related killings in a nine month period during 2005.

"Threats directed against editors and reporters have resulted in an unwillingness to report on drug trafficking, even where the information is from official sources. The west coast state of Sinaloa has seen the highest number drug-related killings. Like the border region, there are numerous reports of journalists abandoning their profession and even fleeing the city in fear for their and their families lives."

Maybe for Dr. Valenzuela, more than 1000 killings in less than a year clustered mostly in one region does not suggest, as the IAPA did, and as I insisted last week, "a climate of fear and demoralization" with people abandoning their profession and even fleeing for their lives. For me, more than a data point, it closes the case.

As a mutual acquaintance of Arturo's and mine once said while Dr. Valenzuela was still in the Clinton Administration: "For a Mexico specialist he sure knows a lot about Chile."

By the way, after our meeting at Freedom House last week, I called Michael ________ to apologize to him for invoking his privately expressed opinion in support of my contention before you all that Arturo lacks not only collegiality, but also good sense about the region. Michael told me that I was now authorized to do so.

It pains me greatly that Freedom House chooses to continue to use Dr. Valenzuela as an academic advisor. It is bad enough that, in my opinion, he adds little real value to our discussions.

Even worse is having to endure murder boards with someone who is both silly and sarcastic. For that reason, I regret to confirm that this will be the last year I will be serving as a specialist for Freedom House's publications.

Best regards,

Mick Andersen

Offnews.info (Argentina)

 


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