Americas, Elections, New in Lobbying

Iran-Contra figure lobbies on latest Latin America election dispute

A pro-opposition group seeking US help in replacing an oil-rich Latin American government is getting a helping hand from one of the figures in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich is the latest lobbyist to join the campaign to oust Guyana’s President David Granger following disputed March elections. Florida-based Otto Reich Associates was retained effective May 4 to lobby on “US-Guyana relations” by Washington’s Cormac Group, which in turn is lobbying for a New York nonprofit close to the opposition. Reich did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

A Caribbean Community (CARICOM) team monitoring the election’s recount this weekend upheld the opposition’s victory. The Organization of American States (OAS) in turn has called on the country’s elections commission to declare the opposition the winner and for Granger to hand over power to allow “the legitimately elected government to take its place.”

A hawkish critic of the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, the Cuban-born Reich served as assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush during the failed 2002 coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. From 1983 to 1986, Reich established and managed the inter-agency Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America and the Caribbean, which according to the New York Times “promoted the contra guerrillas fighting Nicaragua’s Marxist government” during the Iran-Contra scandal.

Cormac is working for the International Center for Democracy (ICD), a Queens group with close ties to the opposition People’s Progressive Party. PPP leader and former President Bharrat Jagdeo himself spoke at the nonprofit’s launch in 2017. A year later, Guyana’s communications ministry denounced criticism from the ICD as “propaganda being peddled.”

According to business records, the ICD was incorporated in 2015. Its initial directors were Fazal Yussuff, an assistant commissioner at the New York City Department of Corrections; lawyer Kawal Totaram; and Pramanand Rambharose. An article published in The West Indian, a Caribbean diaspora newspaper, in January identified Yussuff as the group’s chairman.

Reich joins Cormac lobbyists Jonathan Slade and Jose Cardenas on the ICD account. Cardenas is a former acting assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean at USAID who also served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. Cormac has also hired Thomas Kahn, a former staff director of the House Budget Committee, as a subcontractor. Like Reich’s, all three registrations were effective May 4.

Jagdeo’s PPP party itself previously hired Mercury under a $150,000 contract signed in March 2019 for strategic services “in connection with issues relating to the anticipated general and regional elections.” Meanwhile the ruling APNU + AFC Coalition hired JJ&B for $40,000 per month in April 2020 to lobby on “on issues related to the electoral disputes now confronting Guyana.

The electoral dispute has already begun to play out on Capitol Hill, where Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel on the Western Hemisphere, penned a letter to Granger on May 12 warning him that the election was being closely watched and lamenting the fact that the Carter Center had been prevented from monitoring the recount. The letter was signed by committee Chairman Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and ranking member Bob Menendez (D-NJ) as well as committee members Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

Meanwhile, the ICD has slammed Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) over a May 8 interview with Rickford Burke, the president of the Brooklyn-based Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy. The ICD denounced Burke as a “known activist” for the ruling APNU party.

“Congressman Jeffries’ failure to recognize or query why after two months Guyana still does not have a final election declaration is concerning and troublesome,” the ICD wrote in a letter to the editor in the Guyana Times. “The ICD would like to caution Congressman Jeffries that his comments were reckless, openly displayed his bias and impartiality in support of a specific political party in Guyana.”