Duddy is well aware of the personal clashes between Chávez and President George W. Bush over American policy in the Southern Hemisphere and over Chávez’s campaign for 21st-century socialism in his oil-rich nation. Duddy also understands the robust economic relationship between the two countries, fueled, so to speak, by Venezuela’s petroleum and natural gas reserves.
“The current administration in Venezuela has argued for a different vision for the hemisphere and has frequently positioned its vision as an alternative to ours,” said Duddy, in a telephone interview from Caracas. “That’s explicit. So in this context, and acknowledging the tensions and the connections, we are looking for ways that our interests manifestly overlap. I want to find ways to cooperate in the interest of both nations.”
Patrick Duddy ’72, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, at a baseball clinic for children in Caracas. Sponsored by the Narcotics Affairs Section of the embassy, the clinics encourage youth and teens to resist drug use and feature baseball skills taught by well-known professional baseball players.
For Duddy, a Bangor, Maine, native, the ambassadorship caps a diplomatic career in Latin America and in Washington that he began more than 25 years ago as a Foreign Service officer in the United States Information Agency, a then-independent entity that supported U.S. State Department cultural exchange and information programs. The agency was abolished in 1999, when its information and exchange functions were folded into the State Department.
Duddy came of age in the late 1960s, and he was among those who viewed public service as both an attractive career and a calling that was “inherently important for us to do.” As he was contemplating how he would serve, it’s unlikely he would have dreamed of the scene on the evening of October 29, when he was in Caracas with his wife, Mary, to officially present his diplomatic credentials to President Chávez. First Duddy attended a ceremony at the presidential palace with ambassadors from Italy, Chile, and Vietnam, who also made their official presentations. Duddy had a 40-minute private conversation with Chávez, which press reports noted was the first between the Venezuelan president and a U.S. ambassador since 2002. The meeting five years ago came shortly before a short-lived coup d’état temporarily removed Chávez from power.
The pair discussed narcotics trafficking as well as baseball, one of Chávez’s passions. Duddy, who called for improved ties between “our sister nations,” pledged cooperation with Venezuela to combat drug trafficking.
Then they traveled to the National Pantheon to lay a wreath at the tomb of Venezuelan national hero Simón Bolívar. There, the honor guard played the national anthems of both countries in a solemn ceremony.
This was a new beginning for the United States and Venezuela. Chávez, who has become the developing world’s sharpest critic of U.S. imperialism, has made a name for himself bashing Bush—and sharing his nation’s oil wealth with the poor. The U.S.-Venezuela relationship bottomed out in September 2006, when Chávez likened President Bush to “the devil” in a speech at the United Nations in which he railed against U.S. imperialism.
“He has risen to the top in a very competitive culture. It shows the level of trust the administration has in Patrick, to be entrusted with heading up such a difficult and challenging embassy.”
-Andy Koss ’73, counselor for public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, commenting on Duddy’s appointment as ambassador to Venezuela
Thirteen months later, the October ceremony was an auspicious start to Duddy’s term as ambassador, which typically runs for three years. If that is the case, Duddy’s term would extend 20 months into the administration of President Bush’s successor. Patrice Franko, Colby’s Grossman Professor of Economics and an affiliate of the international and Latin American studies programs, said Duddy’s diplomacy during Bush’s final year in office will set the stage for changes when a new U.S. leader takes office in 2009. “It will be interesting to see what kind of groundwork he can lay for the next administration,” Franko said. “The tensions today are clearly personal between Chávez and Bush. I think Patrick is well cut out for the job. He’s the consummate career diplomat.”
Duddy, an English major, discovered a hankering for foreign affairs at Colby. And after obtaining a master’s degree in English at Northeastern, he taught in Germany at the European division of the University of Maryland and at the American College of Switzerland.
His first foreign service posting came in 1983 in the U.S. Embassy in Santiago, Chile, during the rule of President Augusto Pinochet. Duddy spent time in both political and public diplomacy sections, laying the groundwork for the career to come.
Over the next two decades, his assignments took him to U.S. embassies in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, and Bolivia. From 2002 to 2005 he was counsel general at the U.S. consulate in São Paolo, Brazil, a diplomatic mission larger than many U.S. embassies.
Then he was called back to Foggy Bottom in Washington to serve as deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs until his appointment by President Bush and confirmation in August by the U.S. Senate.
“That’s the brass ring,” said Andy Koss ’73, counselor for public affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, who knew Duddy at Colby as a wire-rim glasses-wearing serious student of literature and poetry. “He has risen to the top in a very competitive culture. It shows the level of trust the administration has in Patrick, to be entrusted with heading up such a difficult and challenging embassy.”
Duddy replaced William Brownfield, whose three-year term was marked by Chávez’s threats to expel him over charges he was meddling in Venezuelan affairs after he expressed concern over the government’s plans to nationalize certain private companies.
The stakes are high. The United States is Venezuela’s leading trade partner, with the Latin American nation exporting $36 billion in goods to its northern neighbor in 2006, according to a U.S. State Department report. The United States, meanwhile, sells $9 billion worth of goods to Venezuela, making it the 22nd-largest market for U.S. products. Among the U.S. firms with facilities in Venezuela: Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, and Archer Daniels Midland.