Ex-congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart has joined the ranks of lobbyists working for the Dominican Republic as newly elected President Luis Abinader seeks to capitalize on close ties to the Donald Trump administration.
A Florida Republican who served nine terms before retiring in 2011, Diaz-Balart is the brother of sitting Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). His Coral Gables-based lobbying firm Western Hemisphere Strategies is serving as a subcontractor to Vision Americas for $20,000 per month for the next six months.
The contract was signed on Oct. 12, three days after the Dominican Ministry of the Presidency inked a $103,000-per-month contract with Vision Americas to reach out to the US executive branch, members of Congress and their staff and private sector organizations and companies. Vision Americas was founded by Roger Francisco Noriega, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) under President George W. Bush.
The contract between the two firms states that Diaz-Balart will not lobby his brother, who sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Western Hemisphere Strategies’ current representation of Taiwan and past work for Morocco has come under scrutiny, as Mario Diaz-Balart is a member of the congressional caucuses for both countries.
“Both parties understand and agree that WHS [Western Hemisphere Strategies] will not engage in advocacy before US Representative Mario Diaz-Balart or his staff,” the contract promises.
A lawyer, Lincoln Diaz-Balart is also the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute and has long run in some of the same circles as Noriega, a fellow Cuba hawk. The two previously worked together as lobbyists for the Moroccan government until Rabat shook up its lobbying following Trump’s election. Neither responded to a request for comment.
The lobbying push comes as Abinader’s government is seeking US help to cope with a COVID-19 epidemic that has devastated its economy, which is heavily reliant on tourism. The country may seek to reverse proposed cuts to US foreign aid and advertise itself as an attractive destination as the Trump administration seeks to relocate manufacturing from China to the United States and its near abroad, said Cynthia Arnson, the director of the Latin American program with the Wilson Center.
“All the countries of the region are facing dramatic contractions in GDP, which severely limit the fiscal space which they have for social programs for helping to soften the economic blow of the pandemic,” Arnson said. “People are looking to have as many friends as they can. It’s a new administration and [Abinader] is looking for every way possible to work productively and more closely with the large economy on which [the Dominicans] depend.”
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Already close, US-Dominican relations have only deepened after the Trump administration last year warned former President Danilo Medina against running for a constitutionally prohibited third term. Medina ended up not running and Abinader won the July 5 election, ending 16 years of rule by the center-left Dominican Liberation Party.
On Aug. 14, the Dominican Republic stood out as the only country at the UN Security Council to vote with the United States to indefinitely extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Two days later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo led the US delegation to Abinader’s inauguration.
And just last week in Santo Domingo, Abinader signed a memorandum of understanding with Adam Boehler, the CEO of the US International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), on advancing investments in energy, tourism and other infrastructure projects. The MOU unlocks $2 million in financing, the Dominican Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a tweet.
“This agreement underscores the strong U.S. commitment to the Dominican Republic and the essential role of investment in advancing our shared goals,” the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic quoted Boehler as saying. “DFC is proud to support this agreement by offering our financing tools to help mobilize needed investment at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted tourism and other industries.”
Diaz-Balart and Noriega join Ballard Partners in lobbying for the Dominican government. The firm led by former Trump White House lobbyist Brian Ballard has represented the Dominican presidency since 2017 and has disclosed $2.7 million in payments since then.