- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

When I learned that President George W. Bush nominated Otto J. Reich, a former American ambassador to Venezuela, to serve as assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, I concluded that Inter-American relations are about to enter a new era of cooperation.

The Senate has yet to review Mr. Reich's nomination for a post that is the highest State Department position in our hemisphere, but when it does it will have before it a man of clear vision and personal integrity, highly qualified to be the senior U.S. diplomat in the Americas.

Mr. Reich's nomination could not have come at a more crucial time. The region faces growing political, economic, and social uncertainties; but the hemispheric opportunities are boundless for improved trade, economic progress, social justice and democratic governance. For many reasons, including Latin America's recent accomplishments, Mr. Bush's family ties, and his background as governor of a border state, the hemisphere could develop into one of the 43rd president's foreign policy successes.

As we know, "the past is prologue." Mr. Reich has a long history of service to his country, a successful professional career as a business consultant, and has served as Washington representative for the Council of the Americas. Mr. Reich served in the U.S. Army in Panama and later demonstrated his nuanced knowledge of regional issues when he was appointed to head the Latin American and Caribbean Bureau for the United States Agency for International Development, and as ambassador to Caracas. He defended human rights and American interests as deputy representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where he worked tirelessly on behalf of victims of repression everywhere.

Mr. Reich's formative years also make him particularly qualified for this new assignment. Mr. Reich's father was a Holocaust survivor and, as a young boy, Otto was painfully aware that the Nazis had murdered his grandparents. Born in Cuba and having seen Fidel Castro's ascension to power and the eventual betrayal of the Cuban revolution's democratic promise, he brings a unique appreciation of the blessings of freedom to his work.

Furthermore, although some may not consider his fluency in Spanish relevant, it becomes a powerful asset for the United States when negotiating firsthand and interpreting issues, intentions, and demands that could potentially bring havoc to Inter-American relations.

Personnel is policy. The present Bush administration has made clear its interest in strengthening the ties between our countries and in fostering free-trade agreements that would provide for a wider commercial, cultural, and educational exchange. Mr. Bush is well aware of the threat that looms over the region whose emerging democracies need stronger economies to consolidate as such, and to offer better living conditions, stop the massive migration and efficiently and effectively battle the production of drugs. Mr. Reich is uniquely suited by his background, temperament and experience to help implement the president's agenda.

Although for many Americans the situations endured by our poor and developing countries may seem distant and even alien to a powerful nation like the United States, the truth is that we share a common destiny. It is no secret that the great Latin American migration to the United States, most of it illegal, is directly linked to the impoverished conditions, lack of opportunities and unjust distribution of wealth that afflicts many of our countries. Still, Latin America is a major market for U.S. products. From his experiences in USAID, and in private business, Mr. Reich understands these realities.

With Mr. Reich's confirmation as assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, the Senate will justly acknowledge his capabilities and merits for the position. The decision would also clear the way for better understanding between the United States and its neighbors. Mr. Reich's confirmation would serve as an adequate response to those trying to undermine the respectability of an honorable man because of ideological or ethnic differences. Mr. Reich deserves the support of his fellow citizens and of democrats throughout the region at this crucial juncture for inter-American affairs.

Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier is the former president of Costa Rica.

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