Lessons from a Life of Service
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
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I first met Ambassador Ortiz in 1974, just after my graduation from the Fletcher School of Tufts University and had begun work in the Congressional Relations Office of the Department of State in Washington. Ambassador Ortiz had recently returned from three difficult years of service in the American Embassy in Montevideo, Uruguay. During those critical years democratic Uruguay was under attack by one of the most dangerous terrorist threats our Americas have known.
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One of the few advantages of reaching an advanced age is that one knows not only the beginnings of stories, but also their middles and, most times, how they end. This knowledge brings a sense of completion. One can reflect on the lessons that life’s experiences teach. Such is the vantage I enjoy as I reflect on some of the extraordinary events of my life.
1: Origins in Santa Fe
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Political turmoil and armed violence came into my life before I was two years old. I cannot recall that dramatic event, when my mother and I hugged the floor of a train to dodge bullets as we escaped Mexico City during the Cristero Revolt. That experience presaged what I would sometimes face during my four-decade career in the American Foreign Service, when my official duties placed me in close contact with great ...
2: Out Into the World: Washington Politics and Wartime Horror
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When I finished high school, I was the youngest boy in my class. All my pals had gone to war. This was in May of 1943. I was just seventeen, too young to enlist, but I desperately wanted to go to war, too. I was a dedicated patriot and felt that I wasn’t doing my duty. So I went to the Naval recruiting office and fibbed that I was eighteen years old. I enlisted in the V-12 program and was all set to be sent to Chicago to train for ...
3: Into America’s Front Line Trenches: Passing the Exams and a Special Mission to the Sudan
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A medical discharge from the Air Force allowed me to come home to continue my TB treatment regime. I went out to the ranch to recuperate between treatments. Since I was immobilized, I used the time to read War and Peace, The Remembrance of Things Past, Don Quixote, The Education of Henry Adams, and many other great books that I had always wanted to read. I read and read and my condition improved steadily.
4: Reassignment Ethiopia: At the Emperor’s Court and Following in Burton’s Footsteps
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When we learned of our assignment to Damascus, Dolores and I began intensive courses in Damascene Arabic. When our course was done, the Syrian Embassy gave us a farewell party sending us off to Syria. But just at that time there was a reduction in force, and the job in Damascus disappeared. We were assigned instead to Ethiopia— where Arabic is not a common language.
5: Mexico City the First Time Around: A Prideful Mistake
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When we arrived in Mexico City in 1955 with two kids, I was well known in the Foreign Service because of my fan dancer report. We were received “with interest,” you might say. The Ambassador first assigned me to the economic section, but as a bilingual with political experience, I was moved to the political section almost immediately. I did pretty well. Within a short time, Dolores and I were accepted in ...
6: In the Heart of the State Department
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The Undersecretary of State, Christian Herter, who was my new boss in the State Department, was a former Governor of Massachusetts and a gentleman of the old school. President Eisenhower had created the Operations Coordinating Board as an action arm of the White House. The board was comprised of the undersecretaries of key departments and the heads of other agencies. The Board’s primary responsibility was to oversee the implementation of the foreign policies determined by the National Security Council and approved by the President.
7: Mexico for a Second Time: A Successful Negotiation
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Not much had changed in Mexico in the three years we had been away. There was a pleasant new president, but the autocratic, corrupt, statist system still prevailed. My special task in Mexico the second time around involved a serious, longstanding border dispute. Ambassador Mann believed that if we failed to solve this problem it would permanently damage our relations with Mexico. Resolving the issue became my number one priority.
8: A Time of Transition in Spain—Department of State
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The Cuban Missile crisis gave me some of the most dramatic moments in my career, but of more enduring substance for me was the Chamizal Treaty, which was my crowning accomplishment in Mexico. In 1963, after my work on that treaty, I received a new posting in Washington. I was assigned to the Spanish Desk at the State Department, in part because I was bilingual and as a young man had studied in Spain and had dated girls in the Spanish embassy whose fathers now held important positions in the Spanish government.
9: Peru: A Bizarre Accusation
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Peru is one of the world’s most varied, fascinating and challenging countries. Within its borders lie a section of the Andes, a mountain range that defies description; an arid coastal zone lined with lush, irrigated valleys; and a vast, nearly impenetrable rainforest in the Amazon drainage. The country’s history is deeply layered. Lima, a great city still, held sway for nearly 300 years as a sophisticated vice-regal capital in ...
10: Uruguay: Living with Terror
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My posting in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1970 was a really rough experience. Uruguay is one of the most admirable countries in the world, with some of the most educated and ethical people I know. Uruguay effected comprehensive state welfare programs in the nineteen-teens, just shortly after Sweden established a groundbreaking system of general social welfare. Uruguay also is one of the most democratic countries in the world, ...
11: Back to the Home Office: The Southern Cone and Working with Kissinger
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In 1973, after our Montevideo posting, I was assigned to Washington to be in charge of the Southern Cone—the countries of Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. Chile, although geographically part of the “cone,” presented a unique situation, so it was dealt with separately. I was only in that office for about a year, but it was a very eventful year.
12: Barbados and the Caribbean: Reaching the Top Rungs of the Ladder
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Dolores and I shall always remember our stay in the Caribbean, my first ambassadorship, for the wonderful people there, who were so kind to us. They made us feel we were a part of their remarkable communities. My embassy was in Bridgetown, Barbados, but my posting was Ambassador to Barbados and Grenada, and special representative to Antigua, St. Kitts-Nevis, Anguilla, Dominica, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent. Each one of these beautiful little tropical islands had a prime ...
13: Guatemala: The Failure of a Mission
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President Carter sent me to this lovely country in 1979. From the first day of my arrival I witnessed an ongoing tragedy.My posting there threw me into a cauldron of conflict. For twenty-some years a low grade civil war had been raging as far left groups fought to seize power. The Marxists believed violence was the only way to change a very iniquitous situation. The people who had money and property, the oligarchs, ...
14: Panama to Peru: A Tropical Interlude and a Contentious Return
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At Southern Command headquarters I was assigned a large office and worked with a wonderful commanding general, Wallace Nutting, who was responsible for U.S. military affairs in all of Latin America. Nutting listened to and respected my opinions. We worked with the U.S. military attach�s in Latin American countries, directing our efforts at using intelligence operations and military assistance ...
15: Argentina: The Pinnacle of a Career
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My giddiness over an appointment to Spain lasted only a few weeks. While in Spain on a discreet exploratory visit, we traveled to Granada to tour the southern part of the country. Very early one morning the telephone rang. It was the White House, conveying a question from President Reagan:Would I object to going to Argentina instead of Spain? It seemed that the White House had another candidate for Madrid.
16: Home at Last—But Not for Long
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In 1986 the University had granted me an honorary doctorate, but I felt less than honored as I returned to the campus. I soon found out that carrying out my assignment at UNM would not be easy. Many faculty colleagues were products of the raging 1960s. They tended to regard any U.S. government official as an agent for all that is “evil, brutal, corrupt, mendacious, stupid and dangerous,” as I reported to ...
17: Home to Stay: More Lessons to Learn
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After the trip to the USSR, we began our move to New Mexico for the final time. We always knew Santa Fe would be our final destination, so we put our house in Washington up for sale. Although comparable in price with others on the market, our house languished for several months without a sale. Dolores recalled a tradition among the devout of burying an image of St. Joseph in the yard to induce a sale.
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Upon reviewing the draft transcripts of these recollections, I find many painful omissions that make it an incomplete and superficial rendering of my life experiences. But since the story encompasses seventy years of memories, omissions are inevitable. What cannot be permitted is the absence of tribute to a few special, very exceptional individuals that Dolores and I came to know and love.
Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 36 halftones
Publication Year: 2005