Saturday, August 2, 2008

Faleomavaega's Summer Travels

July and August can be dreadful months in Washington, weather-wise, so it is no wonder people are eager to leave the Nation's Capital, even those who are in Congress and Congress is in session. Of course, Congress was in recess over the Independence Day holiday, so finding Faleomavaega back home was not especially unusual, since it is an election year, after all. He returned to Washington but soon was home again because, even though Congress again was in session, it was no surprise to find Eni on hand for the opening of the Pacific Arts Festival, given his long involvement in regional affairs.

Moreover, his penchant for travel even while Congress is in session and his position as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment virtually dictated he would be near all the action at a time all the region would be represented in American Samoa at a major Pacific event during which U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice would be holding a summit with Pacific foreign ministers in nearby Apia and the King of Tonga would be crowned in nearby Nuku’alofa.

It was shocking, then, when there were no press releases out of Eni about his involvement in either the summit or the coronation. Instead he surfaced back in Washington to take part in a meeting of Asian and Pacific American leaders with Sen. Barack Obama. It did not seem logical that he would pass up the summit and the coronation for such a routine political meeting so it could be surmised that he might have been summoned back to Washington for some critical vote in either the Natural Resources or Foreign Affairs Committees on which he sits.

This happened once before when the Speaker did not approve his request to travel back to American Samoa for an important chief’s funeral while the House was in session because his vote was needed in committee on a key energy bill. He issued a face-saving press release explaining his absence from Fai’ivae’s funeral because of the Speaker's "request," but nothing this time; nor did there appear to be any critical votes last week in either committee.

It all became clear when reliable sources revealed that Eni and his chief enforcer, Lisa Williams, demanded a speaking role for him at the summit and, when the State Department refused to let him speak, he chose to boycott the meeting. The good news is that, unlike 1990, when he was not invited at all to participate in President Bush 41’s historic summit with island heads of government in Honolulu, this time he did not try to wreak the gathering by urging island foreign ministers to boycott it.

Perhaps Eni would have been able to speak if Lisa Williams had not played hardball, once again overplaying her hand (the woman ranks right up there with Saddam Hussein when it comes to miscalculations), but the State Department also is well aware of Eni’s well-deserved reputation (among Republicans and Democrats) as a “loose cannon” and likely was not prepared in any event to give him a platform to make unscripted remarks that might embarrass either Secretary Rice personally or the U.S. in general.

After all, they have a file drawer full of statements he has made over the years attacking his own government, even when standing on foreign soil. Those outbursts may have played well in the media but not in Foggy Bottom. And there still are a lot of people around who remember how Eni held 10 heads of Pacific governments and 400 or so other people virtually hostage last year in the National Geographic Auditorium to listen to him and a variety of Washington politicians he corraled give long winded speeches prior to the annual Pacific Night reception. Yes, likely it was payback time.

Yet, why did he go back to Washington when the King’s coronation was but a few days later? Surely he had not been left off the guest list. And surely Nancy Pelosi would have designated him the “official” representative of the U.S. House of Representatives for the event, as she has done to give him political cover on other occasions. And there are a number of voters of Tongan descent in American Samoa. But it all was soon to come clear.

The gavel adjourning the House had yet to bang before Eni was in the air back to Asia once again, this time to Hong Kong, where he personally delivered birthday greetings from 20 members of Congress to Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-Shing. Just last year at Mr. Li’s invitation, Eni spoke at the privately funded Shantou University in Guangdong Province. It is difficult to imagine Mr. Li’s 80th birthday taking priority over a once-in-a-generation coronation in the Pacific’s only monarchy of a man the delegate has known for decades but perhaps some of Mr. Li’s wealth has found its way into Eni’s campaign treasury via the numerous Asian contributors listed in federal reports as having given generously to the Samoan legislator.

Now it’s off to where? The summit is over, the coronation concluded yesterday and the last of the Arts Festival participants leave Pago Pago this weekend. Will he come back to file his petitions for re-election? He is expected to be in Denver for the Democratic National Convention August 25-28 so it’s possible he will come down on the Sunday, August 30 flight to file his petitions personally on the Tuesday, September 2 deadline. But it’s equally possible he will drop in here on his way back from Asia to Denver or, given his past history, make an insane journey from Hong Kong here then back to Asia before going to Denver. Wouldn't you love to have his frequent flier miles?!

Why back to Asia? Well, he already has announced he wants to have “consultations” in Korea with the new owners of StarKist over the August recess. Perhaps we also intends to do a little negotiating with the new owners to buy into the Taiwan purse seiner building scheme he is promoting, even though the bill he needs to make the plan very profitable seems stalled in the Senate right now.

He also has said he will be traveling to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait because on a previous trip there he committed to “helping the people.” Precisely what kind of help he intends to give is unknown and how he intends to deliver it is a mystery since Thursday Island is part of Australia, a country not currently being serviced by USAID.

But his travels over the three weeks between Hong Kong and Denver should be easy to track, thanks to the availability of the internet and Eni’s inability to keep his mouth shut. Don't bother to Google. We'll let you know.

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