The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is a formidable, pro-corporate think tank in Washington, D.C., with a net worth of $150 million. Former Vice President Cheney receives over $200,000 a year from AEI for working an average of one hour a week as a trustee, according to the organization's tax filings.
Roger Noriega, a registered lobbyist and former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under Bush II, coordinates AEI’s Latin America program. He's still extremely influential within government. As The New York Times reported in the aftermath of the Honduran coup in 2009:
Congressional aides said that less than 10 days after Mr. Zelaya was ousted, Mr. Noriega organized a meeting for supporters of the de facto government with members of the Senate.
Mr. Fisk, [whose political career has included stints on the National Security Council and as a deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under Mr. Bush] … said he was stunned by the turnout. “I had never seen eight senators in one room to talk about Latin America in my entire career,” he said.
So when AEI provides opinions about Latin American affairs, powerful people in Washington listen. Remarkably though, after setting up a public event last week on Ecuador’s asylum of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, AEI’s message imploded.
On September 18, AEI hosted a panel called, “Assange's asylum in Correa's Ecuador: Last refuge for scoundrels?” Two right-leaning panelists were invited to defend that position, while economist Mark Weisbrot of the left-leaning think tank, Center for Economic and Policy Research, was left to challenge the basic framework for the discussion. And the moderator standing between these two conflicting views? Roger Noriega.
Despite the medium’s obvious slant and imbalance, Weisbrot took the opportunity to roundly debunk numerous right-wing tropes surrounding the issues of press freedoms, the role of WikiLeaks, accusations against Assange, and the costs and benefits to Ecuador in granting asylum to Assange.
For viewers of the debate below who seek further background on these issues, this blog has documented the records of Roger Noriega in "CNN: The Latest Outlet for Roger Noriega’s Paranoid Speculations," and Emilio Palacio in "A Tale of Two Asylums: Assange, Palacio, and Media Hypocrisy." (Palacio's brother was invited to the AEI event as a panelist.)
Keane Bhatt is an activist in Washington, D.C. He has worked in the United States and Latin America on a variety of campaigns related to community development and social justice. His analyses and opinions have appeared in a range of outlets, including NPR, The Nation, The St. Petersburg Times and CNN En Español. He is the author of the NACLA blog “Manufacturing Contempt,” which critically analyzes the U.S. press and its portrayal of the hemisphere. Follow his blog on Twitter @KeaneBhatt