When we last caught up with Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa’s non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he was eulogizing Uzbekistan on the floor of the House to mark 20 years of US-Uzbekistan relations and providing rich fodder for Uzbekistan’s state-controlled media outlets. In his latest show of support for Central Asia’s governments, he has called for Nursultan Nazarbaev to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Last year we have already celebrated the 20th anniversary of the brave step made by President Nazarbayev. At the parliament meeting on March 7, 2012 the people of the Marshall Islands adopted a resolution calling to award President Nazarbayev with the Nobel Peace Prize in commemoration of the victims and the survivors of the nuclear tests. President of the Marshall Islands noted that by then the Nobel Committee had awarded only those who inspected nuclear tests sites or talked about the necessity of cooperation. That’s why I join the people and the parliament of the Marshall Islands and call everyone to do the same today and get the Nobel Committee to grant this honor to President Nazarbayev,” the U.S. Congressman said. [Note: The Russian version quotes Faleomavaega as saying that the committee has never recognized someone for dismantling nuclear weapons.]
But whenever Delegate Faleomavaega says something that ends up as good press for a Central Asian government, it is important to remember the Congressman’s strange role in U.S.-Central Asia Affairs. In the past, he has seemed fairly ignorant of the region and he has the unique distinction of being the first member of Congress to visit Uzbekistan after the Andijon massacre. Additionally, he received an award in 2007 from President Nazarbaev for fostering U.S.-Kazakhstan friendship.
Delegate Faleomavaega is one of the co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Central Asia. That caucus was created as part of a contract between the Government of Kazakhstan and Policy Impact Communications. The Project on Government Oversight last year said that Faleomavaega stands out in Kazakhstan’s efforts to lobby Congress.
One Member of Congress, Delegate Eni Faleomavaega from American Samoa, a co-chair and driving force behind the creation of the Central Asia caucus, particularly stands out. In the 2010 election cycle, two of Faleomavaega’s top organizational contributors had been under contract with the Republic of Kazakhstan: Employees and family members from Policy Impact Communications, the lobbying firm hired to create the Central Asia caucus, contributed $4,800, making the firm Faleomavaega’s second largest organizational contributor; and another firm, Steptoe and Johnson, which is the Republic of Kazakhstan’s outside counsel, contributed $2,000 through its Political Action Committee.
Money well spent, I suppose.
Policy Impact also was part of efforts to support Bahrain’s monarchy in 2011, and Delegate Faleomavaega played a notoriously high-profile role in defending the government. Meanwhile, the other co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Central Asia, Representative Dan Burton, is under scrutiny for the shady financing behind a trip to Bahrain in April. And yep, Policy Impact was involved.
In small defense of Faleomavaega, ProPublica notes that the Delegate has mildly criticized Bahrain in 2012. Perhaps this suggests to some extent that he can be persuaded to take a more nuanced vice fawning approach to foreign relations. In this particular case, he makes a fair enough point that precedent makes Nazarbaev a suitable candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. On the other hand, his statements and conduct are rich fodder for Kazakhstani media to place an official seal of U.S. approval on Nazarbaev hagiography.
In a long, forceful defense of his relationships with Kazakhstan and Policy Impact, Faleomavaega said,
As for Central Asia, I will continue to do everything I can to support this part of the world, including serving as co-chair of the Caucus, because, having been subjected to Communism, the people of Central Asia have lived without basic freedom for over 100 years. In my meetings with the people and leaders of these countries, they, like us, want democracy and it is my intent to do what I can to help them as they move forward.
Well, Delegate. Giving good press to leaders who still deny many basic freedoms is doing it wrong.