Summer of Defections for Burma
Two high-profile diplomatic defections at the Burmese Embassy in Washington this summer have dealt an embarrassing blow to the military-backed junta’s recent efforts to show the world that it is turning over a new leaf after maintaining an ironclad grip over Burma (which it renamed Myanmar) for five decades.
Last November, the military regime staged elections to transition toward civilian rule, although over 80 percent of the parliamentary seats went to the army-backed party and most Western observers dismissed the election as a sham.
For Deputy Chief of Mission Kyaw Win, 59, the second-ranking diplomat at the embassy, the election seemed to be the last straw as he announced his defection in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 4. After a 31-year career on the Burmese Foreign Ministry, Kyaw Win is now seeking asylum in the United States, saying he’s given up on the military government ever changing.
“It has always been my hope that democratic reform could finally be realized in my country. The truth is that, despite the election that was held up as a democratic process, the military continues to hold uncontested power and democratic change under this system will not happen in the foreseeable future,” he wrote, also saying that his outreach to pro-democracy activists in Washington had put him and his family in danger.
Less than two weeks later, a second diplomat followed in Kyaw Win’s footsteps, leaving an awkward void in the 14-person mission located at 23rd and S Streets — which doesn’t have an ambassador because of strained relations with the United States. First secretary Soe Aung, the number-four man at the embassy, also announced that he’d be seeking political asylum in the United States, telling Voice of America’s Burmese Service that he feared for his safety after being recalled to Burma as part of an investigation into Kyaw Win’s defection.
Kyaw Win told VOA that as far as he knew, his colleague — a civilian, like himself — had been summoned back to Burma within 24 hours of his defection. “That indicated he’s considered guilty of wrongdoing,” he said. “It also indicates that the Burmese government does not trust the civilian staffer. They trust only the ex-military officials.”
A career diplomat who previously served in Switzerland, India and Brazil, Kyaw Win said he thought it would be better working within the system to gradually reform the military government — one of the most repressive in the world — although last year’s election made it clear to him that things were getting worse, not better. “[T]he truth is that senior military officials are consolidating their grip on power and seeking to stamp out the voices of those seeking democracy, human rights and individual liberties,” he wrote in his letter to Clinton.
Kyaw Win, who announced his decision shortly before he was set to retire and return to Burma, added that his contacts with pro-democracy groups and NGOs in Washington, along with his efforts to improve relations between the United States and Burma, made him a target of the government.
“Many Burmese people here know him well,” Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, told the Washington Post. “Even when people were protesting outside the embassy, he came out to listen and told them, ‘I will bring his points and requests to my government.’”
Kyaw Win wrote that he feared being “prosecuted for my actions, efforts and beliefs when I return to Naypyidaw after completing my tour of duty here.” For now, the diplomat, his wife and two adult sons, as well as his colleague Soe Aung, remain in the suburbs of Washington. State Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials do not publicly comment on asylum requests.
After years of harsh economic sanctions, the Obama administration began tentatively engaging Burma’s leaders, with lackluster results. The regime did hold elections for the first time in 20 years, but most experts derided them as window dressing that helped military officials solidify their control. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won the last widely recognized elections in 1990, was still under house arrest at the time of last year’s election. Although she was released shortly after the vote and has been able to travel outside Rangoon for the first time since 2003, the iconic pro-democracy leader remains under constant supervision by the military.
In his letter, Kyaw Win warned that threats against Suu Kyi “must be taken seriously.” He also urged the U.S. government to support an international inquiry into Burma’s human rights abuses and called for “highly targeted financial sanctions against the government and their cronies that serve to keep them in power.”
Yet he also said that dialogue shouldn’t be abandoned, arguing that “continued engagement with my government at all levels can help open a window, change the mindset imprinted by the regime, and let them see an alternative path towards peace and freedom.”
“The democracy movement in my country cannot be crushed,” he concluded. “It is alive and well and at some point will prevail.”
*For more information, keep an eye out for the upcoming September issue of The Washington Diplomat, which will feature an exclusive in-depth report on the defections at the Burmese Embassy.
Deputy Chief of Mission Kyaw Win, 59, the second-ranking diplomat at the Burmese Embassy in Washington, announced his defection in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 4 after a 31-year career on the Burmese Foreign Ministry.
Photo: Larry Luxner
Vatican Ambassador Dies
of Lung Complications
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the ambassador of the Holy See to the U.S. since February 2006, died July 27 at the age of 73 from complications relating to a lung surgery.
On July 22, the apostolic nunciature in Washington — as the Vatican’s embassy in the U.S. is known — announced that Sambi had been “placed on assisted ventilation” two weeks after undergoing “a delicate lung surgery” performed at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.
His funeral was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. on Aug. 6, and a funeral mass was held in his hometown of Sogliano al Rubicone in northern Italy on Aug. 2.
Sambi was frequently seen on the diplomatic circuit and was highly regarded for his warm, approachable demeanor. He was also a veteran Vatican diplomat. The Italian native was ordained into the priesthood in 1964 and was called into diplomatic service in 1969 as an attaché in Cameroon. Later, he was assigned to Jerusalem in 1971, Cuba in 1974, Algeria in 1978, Nicaragua in 1979, Belgium in 1981 and India in 1984.
In addition, Sambi served as archbishop and nuncio (ambassador) to Burundi and Indonesia. In 1998, he was appointed nuncio to Cyprus, Israel and Palestine, where he helped to arrange Pope John Paul II’s landmark pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000. Six years later, he took up his posting as the pope’s ambassador in Washington, D.C.
In April 2008, he accompanied Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United States, where the pope held a historic private meeting with five victims of clergy sexual abuse. Sambi was also blunt in telling bishops that the scandal had been “a horrible experience which has deprived all of us of our credibility,” but that the turmoil should not deter them from their mission of spreading the Gospel and that the values of religious life “are extremely important for the renewal of the church.”
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington told the Catholic News Service that everyone in his archdiocese felt “a particular bond” with Sambi because of the planning that led up to the papal visit in 2008 — and that he will personally miss his friendship.
“We all recognize his extraordinary work as the pope’s personal representative and the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, his sense of humor, his friendly and open manner, and his clear love for the church and our Holy Father,” Wuerl told Catholic News Service.
In a statement released in Los Angeles, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez noted that of all the postings Sambi had during his 42 years of diplomatic service, “he had a special affection for his last posting, as papal nuncio to the United States.”
“In speaking to U.S. bishops last fall, he said, ‘Here the Lord has planted me, here I must flourish. This has become my home, this has become my people; to put all my energies at its service is my joy and my crown.’”
Sambi told Catholic News Service that he was impressed with the vitality of Catholicism in the United States and that it is “difficult to find a part of the world where the charity of U.S. Catholics did not reach the poor or sick people.”
In a 2007 interview with The Washington Diplomat, Sambi said he specifically admired the many interfaith efforts he discovered in the nation’s capital. Shortly after arriving in Washington, he attended a conference at Georgetown University with other Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders — an experience that prompted an epiphany of sorts.
“At Georgetown, I saw Jewish and Christian and Muslim leaders walk together, hand in hand, as a sign of brotherhood. But I’ve never seen this in Jerusalem, or Cairo, or Beirut or Amman. Why is it possible in Washington but not in these other places? I think there is one reason: freedom. When you are free, there is the possibility of brotherhood and fraternity,” he told The Washington Diplomat in the December 2007 cover story “Vatican’s Envoy Preaches Peace Through Religious Bridges.”
Indeed, throughout his U.S. tenure, Sambi believed that religions should be a force for cohesion and healing rather than acrimony and conflict, engaging in a kind of spiritual diplomacy to build bridges between nations and peoples.
“Religion is — and must be — an instrument of peace. Historically, religion has sometimes been an instrument of conflict. I think the youth will abandon their religion if it is an instrument of conflict. The mission of religion is peace, between individuals and God, and between individuals,” he told The Diplomat.
“And a diplomat’s mission is the creation of bridges. Diplomats are human beings with our beautiful days and dark days, with our efforts to overcome ourselves and to be better. You can build bridges when you give of yourself and exchange truth.”
While in the United States, Sambi traveled throughout the country to attend the ordinations of bishops, celebrate Mass and participate in myriad events. He told The Diplomat that he would begin most of his days at 6 a.m., with a private prayer and then a mass with his colleagues at the embassy. He was at his desk by 8 a.m. and spent his days in meetings, on the phone, and attending receptions. He was also very involved in the selection of bishops in the United States.
“I try to open the doors and see a lot of people. To know a country and a church, it is important to meet a lot of people. Usually they enrich you very much,” he said.
“Archbishop Sambi understood and loved our nation,” New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan said in a July 28 statement. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was one of the candidates for bishop recommended to the pope by Sambi. “He traveled throughout the country, often to attend the ordination of bishops, always eager to meet the faithful, and to share with them the affection that the Holy Father has for them and their country,” Dolan said.
Sambi, reflecting on his long career meeting people from all walks of life, told The Diplomat in 2007 that he considered his experiences to be a cherished blessing.
“I thank God who called me to do this service in the church. I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much about reconciliation, about the world, about human beings throughout the world,” he said. “I’ve discovered that everywhere human beings are born the same way, and what makes them happy or sad is more or less the same. They all die, bringing nothing with them. But if they are to improve themselves and the reality around them a little bit, it will be a good contribution. We cannot change the world. But we can change ourselves. When we improve ourselves, we help improve humanity a little.”
“Religion is — and must be — an instrument of peace,” Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the ambassador of the Holy See to the U.S., told The Washington Diplomat in the December 2007 cover story “Vatican’s Envoy Preaches Peace Through Religious Bridges.”
Photo: Lawrence Ruggeri
U.S. Envoy to China Sworn In
On Aug. 1, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke became the first Chinese American to serve as America’s ambassador to China, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling Locke the “right person” to manage Washington’s “extraordinarily important” relationship with Beijing.
“And there’s hardly anyone we could be sending who has a reputation for working as hard as Gary Locke,” Clinton said at a swearing-in ceremony at the State Department attended by Locke’s wife Mona and their three children, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission Hongbo Deng of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Ambassadors Ichiro Fujisaki of Japan and Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait, U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk and Locke’s former colleagues from the Commerce Department.
Clinton praised Locke, a two-term governor of Washington state who served as commerce secretary from 2009 to 2011, as “an extraordinarily hard worker.” The son of an immigrant family from Guangdong province — “whose father and mother worked in their mom-and-pop grocery store seven days a week, 365 days a year, so their five children would have better lives,” Clinton noted — Locke earned a bachelor’s from Yale and a law degree from Boston University. He served in the Washington House of Representatives and as King Country’s county executive before being elected Washington governor in 1996.
“As a child of Chinese immigrants growing up in the state of Washington, having the opportunity to represent America, the land of my birth, and to represent American values was surely beyond any dream I could possibly have,” Locke said at his swearing-in. “It may be cliché to say only in America, but … it is America’s promise as a land of freedom, equality and opportunity that I will represent when serving the president and the American people as the United States ambassador to China.”
Locke also said he has no illusions about the tremendously complicated, and consequential, relationship he’ll be representing.
“The United States and China have a profoundly important and complex diplomatic, economic and strategic bilateral relationship — one with challenges, no question, but one which also holds great promise for extended cooperation and collaboration,” he said, citing international issues such as climate change and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Of course, at the top of the agenda will be managing one of the world’s most critical and at times thorny economic partnerships — an area Locke is particularly familiar with, having focused heavily on emerging powers such as China and India during his tenure as commerce secretary. He is also widely credited with shepherding the 2010 U.S. Census, which, despite major technological problems, was completed on time and nearly $1.9 billion under budget.
“It’s been my good fortune over the past decade to have had the opportunity to visit and meet with many Chinese government officials and private sector executives in support of greater commercial cooperation and market access for U.S. goods and services,” Locke said.
“In those sensitive areas where America and China have differences or serious disagreement, I will work to keep the lines of communication open, to convey the administration’s positions clearly, and to engage with Chinese government officials at the highest levels,” he added. “At the same time, I hope to do more to communicate directly with the Chinese people to improve understanding between our two great nations.”
Locke’s charismatic predecessor won praise for his ability to communicate directly with Chinese citizens. Fluent in Mandarin, Jon Huntsman resigned as ambassador to China this spring to enter the Republican primary race to challenge President Obama in the 2012 election.
A Democrat, Locke handily won confirmation to the Beijing post by the Senate in a July 27 voice vote. Several other Obama nominees have received or are still awaiting Senate confirmation to take up similarly vital diplomatic postings.
On Aug. 2, right before Congress adjourned for recess, Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat, was unanimously confirmed to become America’s next ambassador to Mexico.
Wayne, most recently deputy ambassador to Afghanistan and a former ambassador to Argentina, replaces Carlos Pascual, who resigned the ambassadorship in March after he expressed concerns about Mexico’s ability to take on drug cartels in private conversations that were made public during the WikiLeaks scandal, revelations that reportedly infuriated President Felipe Calderón.
Before heading into the summer recess, the Senate also approved Derek Mitchell as the first U.S. special envoy to Myanmar and career diplomat David Bruce Shear as the new ambassador to Vietnam.
Two other high-profile Obama nominees though face a tougher confirmation process. Both in fact were given temporary recess appointments — which expire at the end of the year — because their nominations had previously been blocked on the Hill (also see “Stumbling Block: Congressional Holds Prevent Confirmation of U.S. Envoys” in the October 2010 issue of The Washington Diplomat).
Last year, the appointment of Francis Ricciardone, the ambassador to Turkey, was blocked by then Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who complained that Ricciardone failed to prioritize democracy promotion while he was ambassador to Egypt. Yet the hold may have come down to the senator’s longtime support for Armenia, whose lobbies in Washington supported blocking Ricciardone along with other Obama nominees that they viewed as antithetical to Armenian interests.
To that end, lobby groups such as the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) have once again launched an email blitz urging their supporters to “call your Senators today and ask them to question Mr. Ricciardone regarding U.S.-Turkey relations and, specifically, U.S. policy on the Armenian Genocide.”
Meanwhile, Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, faced a barrage of criticism that his appointment would essentially reward Damascus for its bad behavior. Supporters of reinstalling a U.S. envoy in Syria (a post that had been vacant since Washington withdrew Ambassador Margaret Scobey after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri) counter that a diplomatic presence in Damascus allows the U.S. to have eyes and ears on the ground during a critical time. It also lets the ambassador communicate not only with the Syrian regime, but with the opposition.
Ford made exactly that point in his testimony on Aug. 3 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during a major spike in violence back in Syria. “An additional focus of my work on the ground, which I do not advertise widely, is getting to know the leading activists and assessing their needs and opportunities for the United States to help,” said the veteran diplomat, whose visit to the restive city of Hama in early July to meet with protestors rankled the government.
Ford didn’t make much headway though in his second attempt at confirmation. Perhaps as a sign of exhaustion from the debt-ceiling debacle, only one of the 18 members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made it to Ford’s confirmation hearing before Congress left for the summer recess.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, officiates the Aug. 1 swearing-in ceremony for Gary Locke, the new U.S. ambassador to China and the first Chinese American to hold the post, with Locke’s wife Mona and children looking on.
Photos: U.S. State Department
Arab Envoys Drum Up Business
Economic grievances have fueled much of the political turmoil that’s upended parts of the Arab world, from masses of unemployed young people to rampant cronyism and corruption. So in addition to introducing political reforms, some Arab governments — more so than others — are working to jumpstart economic growth and spur badly needed employment.
It’s a tough job.
With the United States and European Union floundering in their own economic messes, it’s clear the West won’t be financing a Marshall Plan-like boost toward Arab development needs. There have been offers of loan forgiveness and pockets of assistance to promote entrepreneurship and reforms, but nothing on the scale of what’s needed to revive shattered economies in places such as Tunisia and Egypt, whose tourism industries have been virtually decimated. The challenge is even greater for nations without energy riches to fall back on and buy social stability (i.e. Saudi Arabia).
That leaves governments with the hard work of generating business to bring prosperity to their people and ensure their own survival.
The legwork extends to ambassadors, a small group of whom traveled from Washington, D.C., to Salt Lake City, Utah, last month to attend the annual meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA) and, more importantly, drum up business for their nations by connecting with officials from all 50 U.S. states.
Envoys from Morocco, Oman and Tunisia participated in the July 15 trip, organized by the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce (NUSACC), which is America’s longest-serving organization dedicated to U.S.-Arab business.
“More than ever before, ambassadors and governors alike realize that friendships like these serve as a bridge between cultures and lay the foundation for long-term economic activity that will create jobs in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] region,” said David Hamod, president and chief executive officer of NUSACC.
At an Arab Ambassadors Forum held in cooperation with Utah’s Office of the Governor on the sidelines of the NGA meeting, Hamod told an audience of some 200 business leaders that the unprecedented upheaval sweeping the region is also “remaking the landscape for U.S. business interests in the Arab world” — which, he pointed out, encompasses 22 nations and more than 300 million people, roughly the population of the United States.
“Despite these widespread changes, the MENA region continues to be one of the most attractive places in the world for U.S. exporters,” he added, noting that U.S. goods and services to the Arab world are slated to increase to $117 billion by the year 2013, creating or sustaining more than 1 million direct and indirect U.S. jobs.
“The MENA region is positioned to play a key role in America’s efforts to generate employment here at home through exports,” Hamod said. “If trends continue as expected, U.S. exports to the Arab world will break all records in the next two years.”
And Utah wouldn’t mind tapping into some of that growth. “Not only is now the time for Utah companies to compete globally, but today’s proceedings showed that now is the time for them to look at market opportunities in the Arab world,” said David Fiscus, director of the U.S. Commercial Service in Utah. He noted that from 2006 to 2010, the state’s exports to the world doubled and specifically, its exports to the Middle East and North Africa skyrocketed by 130 percent.
Bev Perdue, governor of North Carolina, echoed the view that international competitiveness and exports directly translate into U.S. jobs. Her state, for instance, is home to 3,600 international firms and manufacturing facilities from 39 nations, generating $9 billion in investment and 40,000 North Carolina jobs over the past 10 years.
In fact, the economies of some U.S. states easily dwarf those of entire nations, which is why ambassadors routinely crisscross the United States to promote trade and investment opportunities with individual states. On that note, in June the State Department’s Protocol Office took dozens of ambassadors to Alaska as part of its “Experience America” initiative that pairs diplomats with public and private sector officials throughout the country (keep an eye out for the September issue of The Washington Diplomat for a story on the trip).
Over the last five years, the NUSACC has hosted similar trips, leading Arab delegations to cities such as Traverse City, Mich., Philadelphia, Penn., Biloxi, Miss., and Boston, Mass. Though smaller in scale than the State-sponsored trips, the Arab Chamber delegations have helped to foster valuable business ties for a region on the cusp of historic change.
One country in particular need of an economic jolt is Tunisia, where the Arab revolutionary spark was lit. Although protests in January toppled Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power, setting the stage for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall weeks later, the fledging caretaker government has since struggled to address the underlying issues that drove the unrest.
Sporadic protests and riots have in fact continued in the wake of persistent unemployment and poverty, complicated by political uncertainty over elections scheduled for October.
Tunisian Ambassador Mohamed Salah Tekaya told the National Governors Association that his country “is at a crossroads” but insisted that the “revolution has created real opportunities for business.”
Indeed, many experts have suggested that a relatively modest investment in Tunisia — already known as a modern, progressive society — could yield big dividends in creating a free market, democratic Arab state (also see “Tunisians Tell the World: Don’t Forget About Us” in the March 2011 issue of The Washington Diplomat). A bill has been introduced in Congress that would create a Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund to inject between $10 million to $20 million of capital toward new businesses in Tunisia.
But much more will be needed to fulfill the expectations of young protesters who won their freedom from a repressive regime but are still clamoring for work. To that end, Tekaya outlined the interim government’s ambitious five-year plan, which seeks to invest $125 billion into shoring up the economy, $100 billion of which will come from Tunisia itself and the rest from foreign investment. Among other things, the plan would upgrade infrastructure, develop human capital, and reform the financial sector.
“The new Tunisia will strengthen good governance and transparency and will be an attractive place for business,” Tekaya pledged, adding that his country “looks forward to attracting American investment, promoting trade and business opportunities, and establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with the United States.”
Perhaps Tunisia could look to another North African nation for inspiration on that front. Morocco’s commercial relations with the United States go back more than 230 years. According to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), Morocco was the first nation to recognize the sovereignty of a newly independent United States in 1777, and a Treaty of Peace and Friendship, negotiated in 1787, remains the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history.
More recently, Morocco signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States in 2004, marking the first such agreement in Africa. According to the NUSACC, Morocco is expected to import approximately $3 billion in U.S. goods by the year 2013.
Moroccan Ambassador Aziz Mekouar told U.S. state officials that with steady annual growth of 5 percent over the last five years, and FTAs with the United States, Europe, Turkey, Africa and a number of Arab nations, Morocco provides duty-free access to 1.2 billion people throughout the region — making the kingdom a lucrative market for U.S. exporters. The country is also on track to attract 20 million tourists by 2020, the ambassador added, and its Tanger-Med port is on its way to becoming the largest of its kind in Africa and the Mediterranean.
Mekouar also outlined eight national investment priorities in Morocco, including plans to generate $10 billion in additional growth to Morocco’s GDP and 440,000 jobs; tripling retail outlets by 2020; and expanding Morocco’s renewable energy supply to meet 15 to 20 percent of its total energy demands.
Although politically progressive, the kingdom hasn’t escaped the contagion of social unrest seizing the region. An April 28 terrorist bombing in the heart of Marrakesh rattled Morocco’s all-important tourism industry, and the country has been shaken by months of demonstrations that have at times devolved into violence. Unlike other Arab Spring-inspired protests though, Moroccans have not been calling for the ouster King Mohammed VI, who remains largely popular, but rather have been demanding greater democratic freedoms.
The king has answered some of those demands, and on July 1, Moroccans approved a new constitution that includes real executive powers for a prime minister elected by parliament instead of a royal appointee, and secures the rights of women and non-Arabs (also see “Morocco Tries to Reform, While Preserving Stability” in the June 2011 issue of The Washington Diplomat). “Of course, not everything is rosy. But the king and everybody is trying to do their best,” Mekouar told his Salt Lake City audience.
Another Arab nation buffeted by turmoil is Oman, where violent protests erupted in February over a lack of jobs. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who’s ruled the country for the past 40 years, quickly sought to quell the uprising and address the grievances — raising the minimum wage, among other measures.
Despite having ruled the country for the past 40 years, Qaboos is widely credited as a moderate leader who turned Oman into a well-run, tolerant and economically vibrant state. And since the initial outbreak of violence earlier this year, the sultanate has been relatively quiet.
“Under the thoughtful leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, Oman has been transformed from an economic backwater to one of the most progressive and attractive nations in the region,” said NUSACC’s Hamod. “And unlike some of its neighbors in the Arabian Gulf area, Oman has achieved this status without the benefit of huge energy reserves, relying instead on the resilience, determination and entrepreneurial spirit of its people.”
That entrepreneurial spirit is embodied by the country’s ambassador in Washington, Hunaina Al-Mughairy, who was instrumental in sealing a U.S.-Oman FTA that was signed in 2006 and entered into force three years later.
Today, the sultanate is on track to receive more than $3 billion annually in U.S. goods and services by the year 2013, according to the NUSACC. Al-Mughairy cited her country’s trade pact with the U.S., its stable and business-friendly government, and its highly educated workforce as reasons why Oman offers “unmatched” business incentives to foreign investors and is “ideal for long-term investment.”
The ambassador has extensive experience in attracting investment to her nation of 3 million. Prior to her arrival in Washington as ambassador at the end of 2005, she served as representative in New York of the Omani Center for Investment Promotion and Export Development (OCIPED). Al-Mughairy in fact has spent a total of 16 years in the United States, including two years at New York University, where she earned a master’s in economics.
Her business acumen helped Al-Mughairy land the “Ambassador of the Year” award from the NUSACC, which fêted her during a luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in D.C. on July 20. Among the more than 200 business and government leaders who turned out to honor Al-Mughairy were corporate sponsors whose companies are doing business in Oman, including Boeing, Citi, Booz Allen Hamilton, L-3/MPRI, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum, Baker Donelson and DLA Piper.
George Salem of the DLA Piper law firm praised Al-Mughairy as an “architect” of the U.S.-Oman FTA and said that her posting to Washington “provided a huge boost to the United States, to the Arab world, and to Arab women. She exemplifies an effective ambassador.”
George “Cran” Montgomery, former U.S. ambassador to Oman and now a representative of the Baker Donelson law firm, added: “Hallmarks of Ambassador Al-Mughairy’s tenure will certainly be the honor of serving as the first lady ambassador from the Arab world to Washington, and imbuing the Oman Embassy with a new sense of energy and purpose.”
“I have been in my current post as Oman’s ambassador to the United States for the past five years, and it has truly been an amazing and enriching experience,” Al-Mughairy said in her remarks. “It has given me an opportunity to meet with a wide range of U.S. government representatives and business leaders in order to build upon the already excellent relations that exist between our two countries.
“In my travels from coast to coast, especially in my role as chair of the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center, I have found the American people to be friendly, family-oriented, and eager to learn about other cultures,” the ambassador added. “I have visited 35 states all across this great nation, and the hospitality of the American people is truly remarkable.”
Top photo: From left, Franz Kolb, director for the Middle East in the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, leads an ambassadorial panel featuring National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Hamod, Ambassador of Morocco Aziz Mekouar, Ambassador of Oman Hunaina Al-Mughairy, and Ambassador of Tunisia Mohamed Tekaya, who all attended the National Governors Association conference held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Photo: Bellissima Images
Bottom photo: Ambassador of Oman Hunaina Al-Mughairy, left, receives the “Ambassador of the Year” award from National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Hamod at a luncheon held at the Four Seasons. Past award recipients include top diplomats from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
Photo: National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce
Peruvian Ambassador Welcomes
Special to the Diplomatic Pouch by Jacob Comenetz
As a Fulbright grantee in flute to Peru more than a decade ago, Cathy Ann Collinge Herrera had the privilege of playing in the Peruvian National Symphony Orchestra and teaching at the national conservatory.
Staying in a family-owned guesthouse run by two older women, she would get up early to practice, to the chagrin of two brothers who were university students and lived next door. “I wasn’t popular at first,” she said, “but we had a good time getting acquainted over breakfast.”
Eventually the acquaintance became more than that; one of the brothers is now her husband. He teaches Hispanic literature at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, while she works for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her job takes her around the state as she goes into schools and teaches about Peruvian culture and music while playing from what she calls her “orchestra” of about 25 different ethnic flutes.
“Everybody talks about [Fulbright] changing your life,” she said. “And it certainly did for me.”
The Fulbright International Educational Exchange Program, the U.S. government’s most prestigious international exchange program, was established 65 years ago and has involved more than 300,000 people to date (also see “Fulbright Exchange Program: Bridging the ‘Last Three Feet’” in the January 2011 issue of The Washington Diplomat).
Herrera was among several dozen members of the Fulbright community —American alumni of Fulbright exchanges to Peru, administrators from the State Department and Fulbright commissions, current Peruvian grantees, and others — who gathered at the Peruvian ambassador’s residence in early June for a reception on the eve of the quarterly Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board meeting.
Ambassador Luis Valdivieso — whose tour in Washington ended in July, shortly before the swearing-in of Peru’s new president, Ollanta Humala — opened the reception by saying that in a world characterized by ever greater competition, one possible response was greater education as “a way to nurture our capacity to innovate, to enrich our human capital.”
The ambassador noted that since it was founded in 1956, the Peruvian Fulbright Commission has awarded more than 2,000 scholarships to Peruvian citizens, and more than 1,000 to Americans.
Valdivieso, a former finance minister, and his wife Cecilia are two of those Peruvian grantees. They became close while studying economics as Fulbright scholars at Boston University in 1973, getting married at the end of that year.
“Cecilia and I are Fulbright alumni and for that reason this occasion has a special meaning to us,” the ambassador said. “We’re part of a privileged group that was given an extraordinary opportunity. And I feel that we made the most of it.”
Coming to the University of Kansas in the early 1970s to study English before going to Boston to study economics, Valdivieso said he discovered a “totally different world” from the public schools he had attended in Peru. For Cecilia, the transition was less abrupt, because she had previously attended an American school in Peru.
“Our lives changed completely. We not only studied here, but we met a number of very hospitable American families. We started absorbing and sharing our values. And I think today we are very grateful to that kind of experience,” the ambassador said.
For Cecilia, the Fulbright year began at the Economics Institute in Colorado. “Living together in a dorm with people from all over the world, it really started opening my horizons,” she said. “It makes you a citizen of the world.”
The program has affected many others similarly; there are currently nine ambassadors around the world, two Americans and seven non-Americans, who are Fulbright alumni, according to the State Department.
Anita McBride, the current chair of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FSB) — the 12-member, presidentially appointed panel responsible for selecting Fulbright grantees and overseeing the overall direction of the program — said she had the idea to host receptions with various ambassadors before each board meeting after hearing from students that the one regret they had when their Fulbright scholarship was over was that they hadn’t been able to meet the ambassador of their country to the United States.
“When I became chair, I suggested to the board that it would be good to do this before our [quarterly] board meetings, to work with different ambassadors, bring together Fulbright alumni, current students, university admissions directors and other people needed to make the program work.”
The FSB has already hosted three such receptions, which Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock deemed a success.
“I always love coming the night before a Fulbright board meeting to an ambassador’s house,” to meet with Fulbrighters and board members, “without whom we wouldn’t select the almost 8,000 scholars, students and researchers each year,” she said.
Shelby Lewis, vice chair of the FSB, said that reviewing hundreds of Fulbright applications was difficult, but rewarding work. “Having traveled and done work in around 80 countries, there are not many things you can talk about where all of the people that you meet are positive about it. But that is what I found with Fulbright,” she said.
Working on the board, she said, “has been a truly inspiring and enriching experience so far.”
Top and front page photo: From left, Ambassador of Peru Luis Valdivieso, Cecilia Valdivieso, Richard Shea, Ninoska Shea attend a reception at the Peruvian Residence to honor the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board as well as the U.S.-Peru Fulbright Program. Ambassador and Mrs. Valdivieso are both Fulbright Program alumni.
Middle photo: From left, Benedict Duffy, Assistant Secretary for Education and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock, and Executive Director of the France Fulbright Commission Arnaud Roujou de Boubée attend a reception at the Peruvian ambassador’s residence to celebrate the Fulbright Program, the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program.
Bottom photo: From left, Lilliam Malavé, Director of the Fulbright Scholar Program Debra Egan, and Sarita Samora attend a reception at the Peruvian ambassador’s residence to celebrate the Fulbright Program, which, since 1946, has provided more than 300,000 participants from more than 155 countries with the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research and exchange ideas.
Photos: Jacob Comenetz
Exhibit Chronicles Chilean Miners’
Rescue, One Year Later
It’s been one year since 33 Chilean men became trapped deep underground after a copper mine collapsed in San José — re-emerging 69 days later as heroes after a dramatic rescue that riveted the world.
That rescue and their ordeal is chronicled in a new exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History called “Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine,” which is the first-ever museum display to recount the inspiring event in English and Spanish.
The items on display include one of the rescue capsules used to hoist each miner up 2,300 feet back to the surface, personal mementos and stories from the miners, and rare rock samples from the mine itself.
Four of the miners were on hand in Washington, D.C., for the exhibit’s official opening, along with Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno and Chilean Ambassador Arturo Fermandois.
“The mine collapse that trapped men in Chile’s San José Mine, Aug. 5, 2010, set the stage for one of the most extraordinary rescue missions in history of humankind—a triumph of technology and science, sustained by the endurance of the human spirit,” said Cristián Samper, director of the National Museum of Natural History. “This exhibition not only depicts the remarkable efforts that brought the miners to safety, but with the help of Smithsonian science, it provides a window into the harsh yet fascinating geological world that exists beneath the Earth’s surface.”
That glimpse into the geology of the Andes Mountains region where the San José mine is located also examines how the mine collapsed and how the miners managed to survive in the dark, humid, cavernous mineshaft where they were initially presumed dead.
It was indeed an amazing story of survival and cooperation — both among the miners and above ground among all the people trying to stage one of the most daring rescue operations in modern history (also see “For New Envoy, Miners’ Rescue Showed Sky’s the Limit for Chile” in the January 2011 issue of The Washington Diplomat). The mission was led by Chile but it was also an international endeavor, with workers and drilling equipment from the United States, Canada and other nations, technical advice from NASA, and even antifungal socks sent by an Israeli company for the miners to wear in the steamy environment where they were confined for nearly two months.
Those mines are home to huge stores of copper and other metals that are invaluable to Chile’s economy. “Chile not only leads the world in copper production, but copper is essential to its economy,” said Sorena Sorensen, research geologist at the National Museum of Natural History and curator of the exhibition. “In these deep places of Earth, the potential for prosperity and the risk of tragedy balance on a knife’s edge. Sometimes, such as last summer, triumph occurs against all odds.”
A year on, however, that triumph has been tinged with continued hardship. The 33 miners became instant global celebrities, traveling the world as talks of book and movie wealth swirled in the afterglow of their rescue.
Since then though, many of the miners have struggled with financial issues and the psychological fallout of their trauma. Some have returned to mining, others now sell groceries, while others have taken sick leave — and most of the men say that after the limelight faded, the money, gifts and goodwill from people around the world also quickly vanished.
“We were like rock stars. People climbed trees to see us,” Samuel Avalos recently told the Guardian’s Jonathan Franklin. Avalos, who’d only been at the mine a few months before the collapse, has since returned to hawking pirated CDs on the street.
Some of the miners did profit from their newfound fame, becoming motivational speakers for example, and a lawsuit against Chile’s National Geology and Mining Service is still pending, as are book and film contracts, so a bigger payday may lie ahead for the 33 men.
But what the next chapter of their lives will be remains to seen. What is certain is that their remarkable story will go down in history — including the annals of the Smithsonian. Hopefully their futures will be just as uplifting.
José Henríquez, one of the 33 Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed mine for nearly two months last year, views the National Museum of Natural History exhibit “Against All Odds: Rescue at the Chilean Mine” that documents his ordeal.
Photos: Daniel Taylor