Sunday, October 12, 2008

Faleomavaega and the Indonesian Connection

Stories continue to circulate on the internet speculating that in July of 2007 Barack Obama sent Faleomavaega on a secret mission to Jakarta to persuade the Indonesians to seal up the childhood records of Obama, who was at that time known as Barry Soetoro. In exchange, Faleomavaega supposedly arranged for cash assistance and promised to mute his criticism of the Indonesian government over its policies in West Papua. Faleomavaega did in fact speak more favorably of the regime on his departure according to press accounts of the trip but the rest remains speculation at this moment.

Another interesting occurrance has been pointed out, however, which may or may not be coincidental. Although Obama's record justifiable places him in the left wing of his party, he did not join the Congressional Progressive Caucus when he was elected to the Senate. The CPC is a group of the most leftwing members of the House and Senate and includes the likes of Barney Frank, Maxine Waters and Barbara Lee from the House plus the Senate's only self-identified socialist, Bernie Sanders. Even though his Senate voting record clearly places him in this group, he did not join, perhaps to burnish a more centrist image in preparation for his presidential run. CPC was founded in the early 1990s and Faleomavaega was a charter member. As recently as 2003 he defended his membership in the press when he was criticized for belonging to a group whose views on such issues as abortion, the Iraq war, prayer in school and American flag burning were so far outside the mainstream of Samoan thought.

However, just about the time Obama joined the Senate, Faleomavaega quietly withdrew his membership from the CPC. Coincidence? Maybe. But there are some who think he may be hedging his bets in case he loses this election so that he might be in line to be named assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific. In a debate with his opponents last week, he made a point of telling the audience that he was a strong Obama supporter. This is unusual because presidential politics usually do not play a role in local campaigns since American Samoa does not vote in presidential elections and candidates for office, including congress, do not run under national party labels. Was his public endorsement meant to send yet another signal to Obama? There has been speculation that he stayed away from the local Democratic party's national delegate selection caucus last spring (he was in New Zealand inspecting a new visa system) because he knew he would not be able to pry away any delegates from Hillary Clinton, who the governor and the party establishment was backing. Interestingly enough, however, Faleomavaega did show up for the caucus in Hawaii, which claims Obama as a native son and where Obama's sister is active.

Whatever favor he may be currying with Obama, to ensure that he doesn't lose this election in American Samoa Faleomavaega is expected to be flush with contributions from his usual sources: party leadership groups, labor unions and Asian related special interest PACs. So far, none of these groups appear on his FEC reports but they are expected to be after the October 15 public release of quarterly receipts and disbursements. Meantime, people are said to be nervous on island that the Indonesian ambassador to the U.S. who is due this week in Pago Pago might be carrying large amounts of cash for Faleomavaega to distribute around the island on election day.

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