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Azerbaijan: Obama campaign manager in Baku

Just weeks before a controversial referendum will likely remove a constitutional two-term restriction on the presidency, Barack Obama's campaign manager yesterday visited Baku, capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan. With foreign broadcasts recently banned in the oil-rich former Soviet republic, the trip has not been well-received by most online political commentators.

Letters in Bottles explains why the visit by David Plouffe has caused concern in some circles.

Azeri President Aliyev, fresh off a crooked win in the November presidential race, is seeking to cement his power by putting through a constitutional amendment to end presidential term limits [...]. As a good democrat, Aliyev has blocked opposition access to the media, while he uses his his cronies to push the measure:

[...]

The US embassy there claims he will be acting as a “private citizen,” but Plouffe would have to be hopelessly naive not to realize that his talk will be used by the regime as a further piece of evidence that this referendum is a perfectly legitimate form of democratic expression.

Before the visit, Jemal Public Affairs urged Plouffe not to go.

Barack Obama’s Campaign Manager David Plouffe’s impending trip to Azerbaijan is inappropriate and should be cancelled. I hope that the President and Sec. of State Clinton dissuade Plouff from traveling to an authoritarian county to promote the government’s undemocratic ambitions.

This kind of trip is dangerous and represents the worst of American foreign policy. It’s anything but a break from the past 8 years. Cozying up to a government not because they share our values of liberty and freedom, but because of oil revenues.

Writing on the Harper's blog, Ken Silverstein is also less than impressed.

A Plouffe associate confirms details of the trip to Politico. He says Plouffe will be speaking to university students “about the 2008 election and the power of grassroots people to make change…He’ll be focusing on the power of democracy and what it means to people around the world.”

Spare us. Plouffe was invited by a pro-government group headed up by hacks loyal to the regime. Whatever his motivation is, and I could make a pretty good guess, democracy in not high on the list.

The Carpetblog, written by a keen observer on all things Azerbaijan, offers Plouffe some advice.

No one knows better than Carpetblogger how to ingratiate oneself to an obscure, corrupt dictator with oil, so we're a little miffed Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe didn't call us before his upcoming trip to Azerbaijan. Who hearts Baku more than Carpetblogger?

[...]

Remember, David, it's not selling out, it's buying in! We're glad GovAZ is establishing links with the new administration and we hope you're presented with some quality investment opportunities while there. Democracy is for chumps!

And while RBO examines U.S. strategic interests in the region, 27 Months in Azerbaijan wonders if Plouffe's visit is more than just that of a private citizen.

Right after the Georgia-Russia conflict over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Dick Cheney [...] met with the president. To me, that message read “we’ve kind of got your back as long as the oil and gas keep flowing.”

Now, it appears David Plouffe, the Obama campaign strategist is coming to Azerbaijan:

[...]

[...] It’ll be interesting to see if America’s foreign policy shifts toward Azerbaijan.

Whatever the reason for his visit, however, few media outlets had the opportunity to cover it. The Foreign Policy blog, for example, says journalists were denied access to Plouffe.

The journalist in Baku who broke the story of Plouffe's visit, of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told a contact that she and other journalists tried to attend Plouffe's speech Monday at Baku's Gerb (Western) University but were not allowed in. [...]

Dirty South… Caucasus thanks Plouffe for “stopping by.”

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