Thursday, October 15, 2009

Go Get 'em Mel!

Mel Martinez is a very interesting person. And things just keep getting more interesting with this man.

Last August, rumors of his early resignation were finally confirmed, and by early September the first Cuban-American to serve the U.S. Senate was saying farewell more than a year before the official end of his term. Martinez had stressed the care of his family being the reason for his early departure, but Radio Mambi hosts expressed their disappointment with the decision nonetheless. The people elected him to serve his term, and he let them down they would say. "I'm sorry if I disappointed," he told readers of El Sentinel.

But, just two weeks after his Senate farewell speech, he had found another job. A job where he could fulfill one of his lifelong passions:

"Even though I will no longer hold public office, my passion to work and devote myself to seeing a day when the people of Cuba can live in freedom will continue."

Martinez now works for DLA Piper, one of Washington's major lobbying firms. And, also one of the biggest at hiring former government employees.

But, most importantly, Martinez joins DLA Piper partner Ignacio Sanchez, a strong supporter of economic sanctions towards Cuba since the 90s, and one of the authors of the controversial Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. Sanchez has also been a long-time active member of hard-line Cuban exile organizations, such as the Bridge of Young Professional Cubans (whose goal was to "contribute to the overthrow of the Fidel Castro government and the reconstruction of Cuba"[1]), the Cuban American National Foundation and the Cuban Liberty Council (CLC).

Some may recall the name Ignacio Sanchez when in 2007 he was pressured to resign from the CLC due to revelations from Miami Herald columnist Ana Menendez. It was revealed that Sanchez provided legal representation to a foreign company with links to the Cuban government (the ultimate taboo for exile hard-liners and militants).

But, since the 1990s Ignacio Sanchez has been providing his legal expertise to several foreign companies that want to know more about the extraterritorial obstacles of the U.S. embargo (which he coincidentally helped design). What first began as providing legal advise at the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, Sanchez now works with the mega-law firm DLA Piper and also lobbies for some of the largest global companies that stand to win or lose big once U.S. policy toward Cuba changes.

For example, Sanchez lobbies for the General Cigar Company, "the largest manufacturer and marketer of premium, imported, hand-made or hand-rolled cigars" in the U.S. and the company in a trademark dispute with the Cuban government over the Cohiba brand. Sanchez also lobbies for Diageo PLC, the "largest multinational beer, wine and spirit company in the world" that recently lost a bid to buy the makers of Absolut vodka. Diageo lost to Pernod Ricard, the French spirits consortium that has a joint partnership with the Cuban government and in a trademark dispute with Bacardi USA over the Havana Club brand.

So, Mel Martinez and Ignacio Sanchez will make a great team. Both in fact supported the now-defunct Cuban family travel restrictions back in 2004. At the time, Sanchez described the restrictions as necessary to "achieve freedom and liberty." And, Mel Martinez, then running for the Senate seat, was reported to have "helped craft"[2] the travel measures. But, when Pres. Obama took steps to repeal the travel restrictions earlier this year Martinez had a change of attitude and replied warmly with "some suggestions" [PDF], and even said that the President was "approaching it the right way."

(These remarks made Martinez a target on Radio Mambi, with one regular guest calling them "infantile and among the stupidest." [@3:37])

Anway, despite the fact that DLA Piper has a whole history of problems already (related to former House Majority Leader and DLA Piper member Dick Armey, and controversy over lobbying for a government that was violating human rights in Africa), I wish the best for Mel Martinez.

Even though his wisdom in the past has not been the best.

[Related articles]
- "A Deal Martinez Couldn't Resist" by Daniel Ruth
- "Martinez, His New Boss Aren't Strangers" by William March

[1] January 17, 1993. El Nuevo Herald. "Jovenes tienden puente de ideas entre Cuba y Miami" by Ana Santiago.
[2] October 19, 2004. The Miami Herald. "Castor, Martinez get testy on issues in debate" by Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo.

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