c o m m e n t a r
Otto Reich’s Dirty Laundry
by Alec Dubro | April 2001
This commentary was commissioned and originally distributed
by the IRC’s Foreign Policy in Focus
(FPIF) project. It is reproduced here courtesy of FPIF. Foreign Policy
in Focus—A Think Tank Without Walls—can be accessed online at
Certainly the Bush team knew that nominating Otto Juan Reich for assistant secretary of state for hemisphere affairs would be trouble. After all, the aggressively rightwing Cuban American had been a key player in the Iran-contra scandal by heading the notorious Office of Public Diplomacy (OPD) in the State Department. There he manufactured op-eds that were passed off to the U.S. media under the name of Nicaraguan rebel leaders as he berated editors and journalists he deemed too soft on the Sandinistas or too tough on the Reagan administration.
In recent years, Reich has also associated himself with some of America’s
least favorite industries: liquor, tobacco, and armaments. He’s a lobbyist
for Bacardi, British American Tobacco, and Lockheed Martin. He’s also
remained in the propaganda business. From the U.S. Cuba Business Council
and other organizational springboards, Reich broadcasts the exile line,
denouncing baseball exchanges, and the return of Elian Gonzalez and trade
delegations to Havana.
Almost as soon as Reich’s name was floated, the reaction set in. Liberal
groups with a memory of Iran-contra mobilized to stop the nomination,
claiming that Reich had only one current interest in the hemisphere and
that is the return to Cuba of capitalism.
But even mainstream newspapers, such as the San Antonio Express-News
declared their dismay: "Like a disturbing dream from a not-so-distant
past, he floats up out of a time when Ollie North was running guns to
the Nicaraguan Contras and Robert McFarlane was bearing a key, a cake,
and a Bible to stiff-necked Iranian ayatollahs."
A very bad man for the top slot in Latin America policy.
But a new wrinkle has arisen in Otto Reich’s suspect resume. He is the
vice-chairman of Worldwide Responsible Apparel Production or WRAP, a clothing
industry front founded in June 2000 to undermine the growing anti-sweatshop
movement. Reich joined WRAP at its inception, associating himself with
an operation that connects some of the unsavory elements of the cold war
with a new, PR-driven approach to sustaining non-union sweatshop production.
WRAP purports to be a global network that monitors labor conditions in
garment factories around the world. WRAP is the creation of the American
Apparel and Footware Association. According to International Apparel Federation
Conference (AAFA) Chairman William Compton, "The best way to achieve
this goal [better working conditions in factories] is through our commitment
to a comprehensive and independent factory certification program like
However, WRAP is widely viewed by anti-sweatshop groups as little more
than a distracting public relations effortneither comprehensive nor independent.
According to Terry Collingsworth, attorney with the Washington-based International
Labor Rights Fund, a major force behind child labor and sweatshop monitoring,
WRAP was "set up as an industry-dominated project to avoid outside,
legitimate monitoring. In short, it’s a dodge, and is so regarded by everyone
except the industry."
According to a garment union official, WRAP does not represent the entire
industry; its membership comprises largely low-cost U.S. manufacturers
with overseas manufacturing operationsincluding such industry giants
St. Louis-based Kellwood; Sara Lee (the Chicago-based owner of Hanes,
Leggs, and other clothing brands); and VF (formerly Vanity Fair, a North
Carolina-headquartered multinational giant).
An April 2000 report by the Canada-based Maquila Solidarity Network notes
that the WRAP program has a number of glaring deficiencies:
Its board is dominated by industry representatives.
It has no provision for public disclosure of any problems found in
factories, or even where the factories are located.
Its labor code is similar to anti-union right-to-work legislation
in some U.S. states.
It only encourages manufacturers to apply self-imposed "environmentally
In short, says the Network, "If WRAP certification becomes widespread,
the possible appearance of [its] sweat-free labels on clothing could undermine
any attempts to get other, more stringent standards adopted."
Exactly why Otto Reich is serving as WRAP’s vice-chairman isn’t too
clear. He has no background in either the apparel industry or in promoting
worker rights. What he does have, however, is a connection to WRAP’s peculiar
WRAP’s chairman, Joaquin "Jack" Otero, former AFL-CIO Executive
Council member, was a leading light in the 1990 Labor Committee for a
Free Cuba, which received U.S. government funding through the AFL’s American
Institute for Free Labor Development, or AIFLD. This was one of the AFL-CIO’s
cold war overseas institutes, set up to fight communism by fighting communist-influenced
unions around the world. AIFLD was a U.S.-government funded institutemostly
through USAIDwith close connections to the CIA, and during the 1980s
and 1990s counted on funds from the National Endowment for Democracy.
AIFLD was headed by William Doherty, Jr.; his son, Lawrence, who also
worked for AIFLD, is now the executive director of WRAP. Lawrence describes
himself as a former "labor guy" although what labor work he
did other than run AIFLD programs in Latin America is unknown.
According to a statement by the International Labor Rights Fund’s Collingsworth:
"[William, Jr.] Doherty oversaw AIFLD’s operations and was best
known for finding allies in the countries of the Americas and providing
them with funds to create and sustain national trade union organizations
aligned with the respective country’s right wing political party. The
long lasting effect of Doherty’s reign at AIFLD was to force the labor
movement in most countries of the Americas to divide along ideological
lines, siding either with the leftist parties or the right wing union
created and sustained by AIFLD… To this day, the effects of this divisiveness
are still apparent. Another Doherty legacy is that he placed many of his
children and in-laws in positions at the various AFL-CIO institutes, and
some of them remain there today."
AIFLD has been disbanded by current AFL-CIO leadership, largely for its
compromised cold war mission. Otero, for instance, was identified by former
CIA agent Philip Agee as a former CIA operative. And the Doherty family
is also linked to the Agency. William Doherty Sr., grandfather of WRAP
director Lawrence, was an early labor leader, associated with the CIA
in the late 1940s. And Bill worked together with the CIA in Latin America.
As, of course, did Otto Reich in the Office of Public Diplomacy.
But what can a professional anti-communist do these days other than denounce
Cuba? Apparently, there’s pro-sweatshop work, where the three adventurers
now find themselves. If there’s any more precise explanation for Reich
in the rag trade, he’s keeping it to himself. Actually he’s keeping everything
to himself these days; he’s not speaking to the press.
Perhaps WRAP is no more than a corporate PR effort, but if that’s so,
why is it staffed with cold war relics like Otero, Doherty, and Reich?
And, if the former "labor guys" are running WRAP, why do they
espouse an essentially union-busting line? There may be as much ideology
here as profiteering, but we don’t yet know.
In any case, Otto Reich shows that he is indeed not merely focused on
preserving the Cuba boycott. He is willing to link himself with other
retrograde causes, including an implicitly anti-labor, anti-environment,
pro-sweatshop organization. Just the man we need to run U.S. hemisphere
This commentary is a product of the Interhemispheric
Resource Center’s Global Affairs
and Americas Programs .
All rights reserved.
Recommended citation: “Otto
Reich’s Dirty Laundry,” Americas Program Commentary, (Silver City, NM:
Interhemispheric Resource Center, April 2001).
Web location: http://www.americaspolicy.org/commentary/2001/0104reich.html