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Likely head of State Department Latin Desk has experience, strong feelings on Cuba.

WASHINGTON -- Otto J. Reich, a Cuban exile with a long career in Latin American issues and longtime links to hard-line anti-Castro groups, is the top contender for the job of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Reich's candidacy for the job of guiding the State Department's Latin American policy is reportedly being promoted by Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the brother of President Bush. His strongest rival is Donna Rhinak, currently the US Ambassador to Venezuela. Reich, 55, began his diplomatic career during the Reagan administration in 1981 as special assistant to the administrator of the Agency for International Development. He also served as a special adviser on public diplomacy efforts at the State Department at the height of US involvement in Central America and was appointed US Ambassador to Venezuela in 1985. Reich also served as deputy US representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission during 1991-1992.

Reich -- who has a Masters degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University- spent several years in South Florida working for the city of Miami and the Florida Department of Commerce in Coral Gables. In 1976, Reich left Florida to head the Washington office of the Council of the Americas -- an organization of US companies with interests in Latin America.

After former President Clinton took office in 1992, Reich went back to the private sector. He lobbied Congress on behalf of Cuban exile-owned Bacardi Martini, Inc.- helping the company win congressional approval for a new law that stripped a joint venture between a Cuban state company and France's Pernod Richard of its rights to the Havana Club trademark in the United States. He also established the US-Cuba Business Council, an organization that held conferences on economic opportunities in a post-Castro Cuba. The council was largely funded with $567,380 in grant money from a USAID program intended to foster economic and political reforms in Cuba. Reich is also associated with the Center for a Free Cuba and is a member of the board of trustees of Freedom House, whose Cuba program has received $1.325 million in US grant money.

Reich's hard-line tendencies- he testified at an International Trade Commission hearing last year that much of the $800 million a year in remittances to Cuba was really laundered drug money- could influence Bush administration policies toward Cuba. Reich was born in Havana in 1946. His parents were Austrian and he sometimes refers to himself as Austrian. He left Cuba in 1960 when he was 16 years old.
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Publication:America's Insider
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 8, 2001
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