The World from The Hill: House GOPs, 'thugocrats' exchange salvos

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) toasted her new chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week by cutting a cake emblazoned with the words “Congrats, Loba Feroz.”

Most congressional staffers wouldn’t surprise their boss with a dessert calling her a "ferocious she-wolf." But ever since Cuban dictator Fidel Castro coined the nickname for the panel's ranking Republican, Ros-Lehtinen has worn it as a badge of honor.

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Castro called Ros-Lehtinen a “conspirator” in his Nov. 26 “Reflections of Fidel” column, saying she was “known to our people as the loba feroz.” The next day, the Cuban-American lawmaker tweeted: “BINGO: 1st [Bolivian President] Evo Morales slams me, then Chavez calls me bandit+ now Fidel says I’m Loba Feroz.”

The Florida congresswoman likely won’t be the only incoming panel chairman guaranteed to irk certain regimes around the globe. Yet, House Republicans are taking these governments’ fiery public reactions as a compliment.

In a November speech, Morales railed against Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), the ranking Republican and likely incoming chairman of the Western Hemisphere subcommittee.

“I would say that congressman [Mack] is a confessed murderer, or a confessed conspirer against our brother president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez,” Morales said.

“If something happens to the life of Hugo Chavez, the only one responsible is that congressman.”

But Chavez isn't leaving the offensive up to his Bolivian ally. “Does anyone get the sense that Connie Mack is far too angry for a guy from a nice, sunny state? Sheesh,” the Venezuelan Embassy tweeted Dec. 1.

At a Caracas event on Nov. 23, Chavez called for Ros-Lehtinen’s extradition for “conspiring” against Venezuela and labeled her an “outlaw” and a “fascist.”

After the GOP steering committee announced panel chairmanships last week, the embassy tweeted Wednesday, "@roslehtinen and @repconniemack are going to control U.S. policy towards Lat Am from House. Malas noticias,” which translates to "bad news."

“U.S. policy towards Latin America has been blinded by South Florida politics for too long, and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Mack won’t likely look beyond the streets of Miami in deciding who they think are the U.S.’s friends and enemies in the region,” Ambassador Bernardo Álvarez told The Hill in a statement. “At the end of the day, this is to the greater detriment of the U.S. people, including the diversity within Florida's various sectors.

“The region is more dynamic, diverse and independent than ever before, a fact that both Ros-Lehtinen and Mack are bound to miss with their stubborn belief that Latin America remains the U.S.’s backyard. I wish them the best, but don’t expect much more than the worst.”

“If Hugo Chavez thinks that fighting for freedom and democracy in Latin America is some sort of grand conspiracy, he’s sadly mistaken,” Mack Communications Director Stephanie DuBois said. "Congressman Mack plans to continue his efforts to stand up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Venezuela and the entire region from the oppressive regime of Chavez and other thugocrats in the Hemisphere.”

Ros-Lehtinen and Mack have long been opposed to leftist governments in Latin America — Mack often uses the word "thugocrat" in describing Chavez and his allies — and current Western Hemisphere Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is also a vocal critic of Venezuela who has few fans in Caracas. But they’re not the only Foreign Affairs Committee politicians who have rankled world powers.

If Rep. Ed Royce (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee, takes the gavel there, the timing would be significant. Royce — also a member of the Asia subcommittee — has branded White House negotiation with North Korea a waste of time and advocates “uncomfortable consequences” for China for protecting Pyongyang and its nuclear program.

“Only when there is change in that regime will there be hope of ending this nuclear threat,” Royce wrote Nov. 30 in The Washington Times. “As sure as the sun rises in the East, the mantra that ‘China must do more’ is being bandied about by pundits. But the record has proved that China won't ‘do more.’”

In the wake of North Korea's attack on the South last month, Royce issued a statement noting that “maybe this attack will wake-up American diplomats addicted to soft-line diplomacy.”

Royce would replace current subcommittee Chairman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who has taken Iran to task throughout his term over its nuclear ambitions.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), ranking Republican on the Africa subcommittee in this Congress who might take control of a panel in the next, led a congressional resolution approved last week to honor Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Action on the measure angered Beijing. “The resolution by the U.S. House disregards facts, confuses right and wrong and flagrantly interferes in China’s internal affairs,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said. Lawmakers need to “change their arrogant and unreasonable attitude and show due respect for Chinese people and China’s judicial sovereignty.”

Smith flew Friday to Oslo along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to honor the democracy advocate.

A strong critic of human rights in China, Russia and Vietnam, Smith is going to become chairman of the Helsinki Commission come January.

Despite the preemptive verbal strikes from Latin America, the Foreign Affairs Committee in the 112th Congress faces myriad issues ranging from reining in Iran to fresh crises on the Korean Peninsula.

Ros-Lehtinen made her “worldview” clear in her acceptance speech for her new chairmanship: “Isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies. I support strong sanctions and other penalties against those who aid violent extremists, brutalize their own people, and have time and time again rejected calls to behave as responsible nations.

“Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball,” she said.

(Photo courtesy of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's office)