President Bush launched an initiative this month to combat international kleptocracy, the sort of high-level corruption by foreign officials that he called “a grave and corrosive abuse of power” that “threatens our national interest and violates our values.” The plan, he said, would be “a critical component of our freedom agenda.”
Three weeks later, the White House is making arrangements to host the leader of Kazakhstan, an autocrat who runs a nation that is anything but free and who has been accused by U.S. prosecutors of pocketing the bulk of $78 million in bribes from an American businessman. Not only will President Nursultan Nazarbayev visit the White House, people involved say, but he also will travel to the Bush family compound in Maine.
Nazarbayev’s upcoming visit, according to analysts and officials, offers a case study in the competing priorities of the Bush administration at a time when the president has vowed to fight for democracy and against corruption around the globe. Nazarbayev has banned opposition parties, intimidated the press and profited from his post, according to the U.S. government. But he also sits atop massive oil reserves that have helped open doors in Washington.
Nazarbayev is hardly the only controversial figure received at the top levels of the Bush administration. In April, the president welcomed to the Oval Office the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, who has been accused of rigging elections. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the president of Equatorial Guinea, who has been found to have millions of dollars stashed in overseas bank accounts.
Nazarbayev, 66, a blast-furnace operator-turned-Communist functionary, has led Kazakhstan since 1990, when it was part of the Soviet Union, and has since won a series of tainted elections. His government has banned or refused to register opposition parties, closed newspapers and harassed advocacy groups. Two opposition leaders were found dead of gunshots in disputed circumstances.
…”When the United States is transparently soft on friendly dictators like Nazarbayev, it undermines the effort to be tough on not-so-friendly dictators,” said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch.
Freedom House ranks Kazakhstan near the bottom in terms of political rights and civil liberties.