Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Obama's Dinosaur in Trinidad

By Tom Hayden

It's becoming a pattern: whenever Barack Obama
implements a campaign pledge, the dinosaurs used to
running things push back. The latest dinosaur to
undercut the president's gestures is Jeffrey Davidow,
US coordinator of the Trinidad meeting, who claimed
that Hugo Chavez wanted a photo with Obama to polish
his reputation with Venezuelans.

Obama is more popular than Chavez in Venezuela, Davidow
added, which explains his rushing photos of their
handshake to the Venezuelan government's website. [ABC
News, April 18] He also managed to disparage Chavez's
presentation of a book by Eduardo Galleano to Obama as
unnecessary since the president already was familiar
with Latin American grievances.

While Obama was pressing for a new diplomacy, Davidow
was practicing the old. He added for good measure that
Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia are "forward-looking,
not backward-looking" Latin American countries, and
described the unanimous demand for normalization of US
ties to Cuba as "part of the historical baggage that
Latin America carried with it and is almost a reflexive
suspicion or anti-Americanism."

If Davidow was hoping to provoke an unproductive
reaction from the Venezuelans, he failed, at least on
Saturday. But his spoiler comments were in stark
contrast to a president pledged to listening, dialogue
and respect. Obama's modest relaxation of restrictions
on travel and remittances to Cuba, combined with his
Justice Department's prosecution of the anti-Castro
terrorist Luis Posades Carrillo, has unleashed a
momentum for policy change that may be unstoppable.

Who is Jeffrey Davidow? It might be fair to ask, who
really knows? He was a political officer at the US
embassy in Chile from 1971-74, during the carrying out
of the coup and repression against the democratically-
elected government of Salvador Allende. In a March 3,
1974 memo, later declassified, Davidow wrote to Chilean
officials of a "conspiracy on the part of the enemies
of Chile to paint the junta in the worst possible
terms." [Boston Phoenix, Dec. 16-23, 1999]

Later Davidow was ambassador to Mexico during the
Chiapas crisis, where he told the Mexican media "we
don't know of any [right-wing] paramilitary groups in
Chiapas." [Boston Phoenix, Dec. 16-23, 1999].

Davidow was ambassador to Venezuela from 1993 to 1996,
defending the social order which fell to the Chavez
political revolution two years later.

He retired from government in 2003 to head the
Institute of the Americas, which describes itself as
being "recognized as a leader in promoting regional
integration, economic development and efficient
government in the western hemisphere." The Institute's
board is heavy with energy firms, real estate
investors, and San Diego-based research entities,
including Chevron, Sempra LNG, Skanska [pipelines], the
Barrick Gold Corporation [Canada], J.P. Morgan,
Petrobras Energy [Argentina], and the Oil Industry
Association of Ecuador.

In September 2007, Davidow chaired the regional meeting
of the Trilateral Commission in Cancun, where he
criticized what he called the "creeping coup" happening
through the democratic election of Chavez in Venezuela.
It was a strange turn of phrase since Chavez had been
the target of an actual coup in earlier years. In
moderating a panel, Davidow explained the democratic
election of Chavez as a "creeping coup" as follows:

"What do other countries do when a country votes itself
out of democracy? It's an interesting question. At
least it's interesting to me."

He also warned of the dangerous threat to future oil
supplies from Venezuela resulting from the "creeping

"What does it mean when the previous principle
providers of petroleum to the US suffer declines in
their production levels?"

Davidow added the question of what to do with a
democratic country which also has become "a major
transshipment point for drugs to the US and Europe", a
claim meant to insist on the "integration" of American
Drug Enforcement Agency operatives on the ground in

These were explosive questions, all but suggesting the
need for a Cold War against Caracas, in not regime
change. Why Obama named Davidow to head the US presence
at Trinidad remains to be explored. But it suggests a
trademark Obama approach, to reassure the old guard and
seek their approval of and participation in his
proposed new directions. Seeming defensive about his
role, Davidow tried to wrap himself in the pages of the
once-liberal Washington Post in an exchange with Steve
Clemon of the New America Foundation on April 10:

"And lest you think, and I'm sure some of you do, that
I am some sort of ideologue on this, take a look at the
lead editorial in today's Washington Post.Maybe you
think they are a bunch of ideologues as well, but I
think they say it much better than I do. [Talk Left,
April 10]

[Tom Hayden is the author of Writings for a Democratic
Society: The Tom Hayden Reader, published by City
Lights Books, ]


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