Back in Sandinista Days . . .
John Kerry now talks a moderate game; but what does the record say?


Kerry has — or had — long been a critic of U.S. policy on Cuba. In 2000, he said that “the only reason we don’t re-­evaluate the policy is the politics of Florida.” Speaking of the politics of Florida: Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a congressman from Miami, says, “I have had to fight consistently against John Kerry for years. Every time there has been an effort to unilaterally provide the Cuban dictatorship with trade financing or tourism dollars, John Kerry has stood” with the unilateralists. Just recently, Kerry had this to say about the return of Elián González to Cuba (Elián was the boy plucked from the ocean): “I didn’t agree with that.” But he had supported the Clinton administration. Kerry, forced to elaborate, said, “I didn’t like the way they did it. I thought the process was butchered.” At the time of the Elián drama, Kerry said, “There’s obviously, now, a fair amount of sort of Cold War rhetoric. I would hope both countries would view this as an opportunity to reach beyond that, to find a new opening of opportunity for how we resolve this kind of issue.” Both countries: the Castro regime and the United States. That’s how John Kerry, pre-nomination, used to talk.

You will recall that, in March, Kerry stated that most foreign leaders were rooting for him. Then Kerry started receiving the wrong kind of endorsements. Mahathir Mohamad, the flamingly anti-Semitic Malaysian, came out for him, and so did Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. The campaign had to react. Kerry decided to assert that the Bush administration wasn’t doing enough to aid Chávez’s opponents. Moreover, this belonged to a pattern of “sending mixed signals by supporting undemocratic processes in our own hemisphere.” Huh? Come again? Kerry was pandering to South Florida (which, in addition to Cubans, has a growing population of Venezuelans). Latin Americanists in the Bush administration were beside themselves. When a coup attempt against Chávez occurred in April 2002, many Democrats accused them (without proof) of abetting the plotters, and thereby betraying Venezuelan democracy. And now Kerry was saying that Bush was soft on Chávez!

To add insult to injury, Kerry had just gotten through denouncing the administration for failing to prop up the “democratic” leader of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was forced to flee (with U.S. help). Kerry said that Bush should have sent troops to save Haitian “democracy.” And yet, both Chávez and Aristide were technically elected. Some Republicans want to know, What is the Kerry Doctrine, exactly? Try to overthrow democratically elected leftist tyrants in Venezuela while sending troops to save democratically elected leftist tyrants in Haiti? One former senior intelligence official dealt with Kerry in the mid-1990s, when the issue of Aristide was hot: “We knew that Aristide was a pretty bad guy, and not the most stable individual, either.” But “Kerry was a cheerleader for Aristide, regardless of the evidence, despite what we knew. It was one of those sacred, progressive positions you were supposed to take — to be for Aristide. He was a cheerleader for Aristide, just as he had been a cheerleader for the Sandinistas.”

If Kerry has “evolved,” as we say, more power to him. Everyone appreciates a politician who grows, in the right direction (to use Hugo Chávez’s language). But Kerry has given no trustworthy indication of such growth. He seems merely to be engaged in some rhetorical adjustments, necessary to an American general election. When it comes to Latin America — and to the Western Hemisphere more broadly, and to other things — the record shows that he has not exactly been a moderate. No, not exactly.

– From the May 17, 2004, issue of National Review.