Maxine Waters: Seasoned Leader or Leftist Pariah? By CHRISTOPHER KROHN

Special to the Planet
Friday August 06, 2004

Maxine Waters has represented South-Central Los Angeles (includes Gardena, Inglewood, Lawndale, and Hawthorne) for seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. She has one of the most liberal voting records in Congress. When Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News wrote about the CIA-backed Contra crack cocaine link between Central America and South-Central Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, she held town hall meetings to investigate and took a leading role in searching out the truth. When Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristede was taken to the Central African Republic recently (Waters says “kidnapped”) she was one of a handful on a plane bound for Bangui, the capital, to rescue the deposed leader. In fact, she was arrested in front of the White House recently while advocating for justice for Haitian refugees and the restoration of democracy in Haiti.  

Waters is in favor of opening full diplomatic relations with Cuba, and she is certain the constitutionally elected president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, will win a plebiscite vote later this month. She was a leader in Congress in denouncing South African apartheid, and has been an outspoken critic of George Bush’s war in Iraq. She has called for redirecting money used in the government’s “war on drugs” towards treatment and prevention programs. After the 2000 election debacle in Florida, Congresswoman Waters was named chair of the Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform. She is also a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Financial Services Committee in Congress. Waters was born in St. Louis, Missouri and is the fifth of 13 children. She graduated from California State University at Los Angeles , began her public service as a teacher in the Head Start program and later served for 12 years in the California State Assembly. 

The Daily Planet caught up with Congresswoman Waters in Boston after a breakfast for California delegates. Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown had just given a rousing speech on what the Democrats need to do to win in November. Just “register more voters,” he said.  

Waters talked mostly about what has been a major passion for her during her seven terms in the House of Representatives, foreign affairs. In particular she spoke at length not only about the war in Iraq, but about how a Kerry-Edwards foreign policy might address the ongoing US policy crises in Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba. 


Daily Planet: With respect to the war in Iraq and the lack of clarity in the official Democratic Party Platform, shouldn’t there be a stronger statement, a plan of some kind, to bring U.S. troops home? 


Maxine Waters: I never had great expectations for the party platform. It is simply a relic of the past, as Willie said this convention is. The platform does not speak to issues that address the concerns of most of the people who make up the Democratic Party. It’s something that’s done that must not be controversial, it must not raise too many questions, it must not challenge the nominee in any way. So I don’t pay any attention to the platform. 


DP: Willie Brown did say that the convention as it is done now has become a relic of the past. How do you think the convention should be done? 


MW: I think Willie opened up a challenge this morning: to begin to think about what you really do to begin to engage people. How do you expand this party? How do you tap into people in a real way…that this (convention) is kind of maybe artificial, that it doesn’t work anymore. Does it talk to young people who are in the hip-hop community? Those are questions that I think have to be on the table. 


DP: If Maxine Waters were writing the platform, with respect to the war, what do you think would be a realistic position that all 50 states could get on board and pass? 


MW: Not so much if I was writing the platform, but as an elected official who cares very much about the direction of this country as it relates to foreign affairs, I think our nominee is challenged with the problem of having to fashion a way for him to stop this war and to bring our men and women home. Say what you will, he must fashion a strategy to do that, and he must learn to articulate that. I think the support is there for that kind of vision, and I am going to continue to push for that. 


DP: What do delegates have, coming away from this convention and moving toward the general election in November? There is simply no guarantee, from the delegates I have talked to, that John Kerry and John Edwards are going to bring the troops home. They don’t have a plan. What do progressives get out of this convention concerning the war? 


MW: That’s our challenge. We have got to nudge and push and fight within our party and with our nominee to make this happen. This attempt to make this party more centrist, more a party that does not talk about the hard issues, of playing to one side or the other… That’s what leadership is about. Leadership has to figure that out. We have to push him (Kerry) to some leadership about how we wind out of this war in Iraq. It has to be done no matter what is said or not said in the platform. 


DP: Any chance he will address withdrawal from Iraq in tonight’s acceptance speech? 


MW: You know I do not have any great expectations that he’s going to surface all of a sudden and surprise us that he’s got a strategy. But I do think the more progressives talk to the media and say that’s our goal, the more possibility we have that it will be a reality before November. 


DP: Do you think Kerry/Edwards will do the right thing in Venezuela, Haiti, and Cuba? 


MW: I think these issues—Haiti, Venezuela, and Cuba—have not been on the minds of the people who are running. I don’t think they are well versed in these issues. I think right now they have been advised what to say and right now our nominee basically said half of the right thing on Haiti, that he supports the democratically elected president. Then he says, but I will do nothing to return him. Well, he is trying to be on both sides on that. We know that they’ve already demonized [President Hugo] Chavez [of Venezuela.] Chavez is going to win on the 15th, no matter what the CIA has done to undermine that government, he’s going to win! As for Fidel, already what the Bush administration is attempting to do to attract the Cuban vote is backfiring. We should be taking advantage of the fact that Bush has come up with policies that are going to hurt families in Cuba…that he is going to deny them the ability to see their loved ones and to travel and to do the remittances in ways that will support people who are poor. So I think we have some opportunities here, on the Cuba issue. I think Chavez is managing to show that he can defy the great efforts of the United States and the CIA, and with Aristede the Lavalas Party is resisting the puppet government in Haiti. The events are going to overtake the Bush administration. 


DP: What do you think are the chances that a Kerry-Edwards administration would return Aristede to Haiti and restore diplomatic relations with the government of Fidel Castro? 


MW: I believe with such a short period of time left in the term of Aristede a structure of fair elections is not going to happen for a while. Some of us are pushing it sooner than later, so that we can get the international elections community involved in designing what this elections process will be. I don’t think we will have an opportunity before his [Aristede’s] term runs out, but I do think that by the end of his term we can have an elections structure in place to make sure the Lavalas Party is involved and that they have an opportunity to win these seats just like the opposition. It’s important that Aristede remain alive and offer some leadership to the Lavalas Party. With respect to Cuba, I think strangely enough the conservative farm community and agricultural community, and those people who see trade as a great possibility, are going to be in the leadership in helping to normalize relations with Cuba. It’s very interesting the so-called Lefties have been on the point of trying to do this, but really it has been this conservative movement of the agriculturalists that has moved it to where it is now, where we have some trade going on.ô