Roger Noriega, the former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs known for his meddling in the internal affairs of many Latin American and Caribbean nations, now issues proclamations about U.S.-Latin America policy from his perch at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Noriega, who coordinates AEI’s program on Western Hemisphere affairs, is an outspoken proponent of free trade and U.S. hegemony in Latin America and the Caribbean.
After having the Cuba portfolio at the State Department transferred to the newly created Cuba transition team, Noriega abruptly left government in June 2005 after two years on the job. During his tenure in the State Department, Noriega solidified his reputation as an ideologue who considers Latin America and the Caribbean as the U.S. backyard. At the State Department, he succeeded Otto Reich. Both inside and outside government, Noriega and Reich have been virulent opponents of Latin American/Carribean political forces and governments that criticize U.S. policies.
While at AEI, Noriega has been busy sketching a new U.S. foreign policy agenda for the region. In his description of U.S.-Latin American affairs, Noriega strikes an alarmist note. According to Noriega, we are witnessing "a battle for the heart and soul of the Americas"—between those on one side "who treat democracy as an inconvenience and see free markets as a threat" and those on the other side of this hemispheric contest "who see democratic institutions and the rule of law as indispensable to prosperity and liberty."
In a February 2006 report entitled "Two Visions of Energy in the Americas," Noriega warns Latin American and Caribbean countries against going down the path of energy outlaws who violate the laws of the free market—pointing to Venezuela and Bolivia. In his essay, Noriega advocates that corporations and governments "can and should work together to foster genuine growth and development in the hemisphere that serves both the bottom line and the moral imperative of helping raise millions out of poverty through the sound stewardship of natural resources."
In Noriega’s view, Peru is a paragon of virtue in the energy field. In January 2006 Peru signed a deal for a 460-mile gas pipeline with Hunt Oil of Texas, an event that Noriega recounted in his AEI paper. At the signing ceremony in Lima, company owner Ray L. Hunt praised Peru’s vision of energy development, which is based on the free market and foreign investment: "Peru has been blessed in terms of having a political system that is very much aware of its responsibilities to the people of Peru both today and for many generations to come."
"U.S. energy companies have every reason to try to bolster the free market energy model taking hold in other countries in the Americas," Noriega says. "Rather than have to accommodate roguish characters, they can have partners in the Americas who are democratic, accountable to the law, and respond to reason, run stable countries because they govern justly, and do not change the rules of the game for political purposes—in short, partners who respect the market."
What is more, Noriega encourages "Western energy companies" to "use their capital and technical expertise as levers to encourage countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to adopt clear and fair policies that make investments safe and sound." Noriega rightly notes that there is political sentiment in Latin America and the Caribbean that represents a "setback for market principles" and constitutes a "vision of energy in the Americas" that may run counter to the expectations and interests of the United States and U.S. energy corporations.
A vociferous supporter of free trade treaties and U.S. trade preferences in the region, Noriega also strongly supported Congress’s mid-December 2006 extension of the Andean Trade Preferences to Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. He called the Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act an "opportunity to advance U.S. objectives in Latin America—sustaining anti-drug efforts and contrasting constructive U.S. policies with the divisive, anti-American agenda of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez." According to Noriega, "The future of the Andean region is in play—thanks to the narcoterrorist threat and the populist flames fanned by Chavez and his followers."
With respect to Venezuela, Noriega believes that the international community should not give credibility to Chavez’s "undemocratic project." In June 2006, Noriega called on the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union, and others "to refuse to observe Venezuela’s 2006 presidential elections until significant changes are made in the rules of the game." He advised: "No international observer should risk its credibility by being associated with another electoral whitewash in Venezuela."
As for the Venezuelan people themselves, Noriega wrote: "One would hope that a majority of Venezuelans would take a stand to secure their essential liberties, to begin to back a political alternative that appeals to their hopes and not their fears." As it turned out, in December 2006 Chavez won another six-year term with more than 62% of the vote in an election deemed transparent by some 700 international observers.
Noriega also has a different view of the events of April 11, 2002, which most observers regard as a failed coup by the political opposition working together with a dissident faction of the military and with the approval from Washington—notably Noriega’s predecessor Reich. From Noriega’s perspective, the temporary removal of Chavez from the Miraflores presidential palace was the result of a popular rebellion sanctioned by the country’s constitution that honors Venezuela’s "republican tradition." According to Noriega, the attempted coup was a spontaneous reaction to anti-Chavez demonstrations. Rather than repress the demonstrations, the military joined with the opposition business, labor, and political leaders to oust Chavez. "We see in retrospect," wrote Noriega, that this was not the act of a desperate political leader looking to maintain order, but a logical, ruthless measure taken by a man who cannot tolerate dissent.
Following the failed 2005 Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, Noriega drew up an alternative regional integration plan that would unite like-minded governments within an "Opportunity Partnership." Noriega’s concept of a community of free-market democracies echoes similar initiatives that have been supported and shaped by the AEI and other right-center Washington think tanks that aim to create regional and global groupings of governments aligned with U.S. policies. Although Noriega’s "Opportunity Partnership" remains only an AEI concept paper, its vision for a future U.S. foreign policy for the Americas does represent a possible U.S. government response to the political divide in the region.
An Opportunity Partnership, says Noriega, "would reward countries that open their economies and government democratically with substantial material and political support and access to the benefits of free trade and investment" (AEI paper, January 12, 2006). Noriega encourages the U.S. government to "strengthen its friends against the anti-American onslaught fueled by the mischievous Chavez." According to Noriega, conditions for the new partnership would include a commitment "to fight poverty by adopting free market principles and trade liberalization." Countries would be included if they hold "free and fair elections" but excluded if they are "regimes that rig voting and mug their opponents." Among the countries not likely to be included in such a partnership, writes Noriega, are Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia.
In addition to his role as visiting scholar at AEI, Noriega, a member of Tew Cardenas law firm, represents the governments of Panama and Ecuador in free trade negotiations with Washington.
Tom Barry is policy director of the International Relations Center, online at www.irc-online.org.