A Very Bitter Enemy of Biden

By Angel Guerra Cabrera, February 24, 2021

Photo Illustration: POGO

Robert Bob Menendez is a prominent Cuban-American senator for the Democratic Party but his loyalties lie with Donald Trump rather than President Joe Biden. In New Jersey, the state he represents in the Senate, insiders were astonished a few months ago to see his disinterest in the presidential campaign of his party’s candidate, and how he diverted funds from it to promote the re-election to the House of Representatives of his friend, fellow Cuban-American and sworn enemy of the Cuban Revolution Albio Sires.

Like Cuban-born RepubIicans Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart, Menéndez repeatedly spoke out against the Obama and Biden administration’s Cuba policy, calling it “dramatic and wrong”, while ardently calling with them for a tightening of the blockade.

Menendez’s muted feud with Biden and Obama goes beyond the bounds of political rivalry and into the realm of bitter personal animosity. The New Jersey lawmaker blames them in his inner circle for his prosecution on 18 corruption charges brought against him by the justice department during the administration of the first African-American president, some of which carried 15 years in prison.  Menendez was accused by prosecutors of receiving $750,000 in campaign donations, gifts, private plane rides, and luxurious holidays, including nights in Paris, from Salomon Melgen, a multimillionaire Dominican-born ophthalmologist based in Florida, in exchange for advocating his profits from unscrupulous and fraudulent medical practices in the Medicare program.

The serious charges were backed up with extensive documentary evidence: emails, hotel bills, airline tickets and credit cards as evidence of bribes given to the senator by the doctor. However, the judge in the case eventually dropped the charges. It is striking that he did so since Obama administration officials referred to the Menendez corruption case in very harsh terms and The New York Times went so far as to demand his resignation. Deputy Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell put it this way: “Government corruption, no matter the office and rank, destroys the public trust and undermines our democratic system”. More bluntly, Peter Koski, then deputy chief of public integrity at the justice department, blasted Menendez: “He sold his Senate office for a life of luxury he couldn’t afford and a greedy doctor who put that senator on his payroll.”

Some explain the judge’s benevolence by arguing that a Supreme Court ruling on an earlier corruption case made the definition of this crime by elected officials so narrow that it is very difficult to prove. The truth is that the judge’s benefit to Menendez came when Obama-era officials were no longer in the justice department and a year after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. The same Trump who has just included in his famous list of pardons none other than Salomon Melgen, Menendez’s generous donor, sentenced in 2018 to 17 years in prison.  Until Trump’s election, a conviction for the Cuban-American senator like the one received by Melgen, or at least the end of his political career, was taken for granted. The presidential pardon for the doctor is evidence of Republican gratitude to the Democratic lawmaker who did not campaign in his important state for his party’s presidential candidate. Menendez, for his part, is indebted to Trump, who will be able to count on him as a “mole” within the Democratic ranks.

Menendez’s ultra-right projection towards Latin America and the Caribbean is public and notorious, as are those of his Cuban-American colleagues Marco Rubio and Mario Diaz-Balart. They have done and will do everything in their power to thwart the peace process in Colombia and use it as a platform for attacking Cuba, they will support the toughest policy against Venezuela including support for the discredited Juan Guaidó and also against Nicaragua, while redoubling their efforts to thwart the rapprochement with Havana promised by Biden in his campaign.  In the case of Menendez, apart from his reactionary political affiliation, his rancor against the new White House tenant and the rejection he has expressed towards Vice President Kamala Harris will push him, as he has already promised privately, to oppose all foreign policy actions attempted by the Democratic administration, especially those that tend to make policy towards progressive and revolutionary governments in Latin America and the Caribbean more flexible and pragmatic.

Source: La pupila insomne, translation, Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau