The Diplomat

The Diplomat

Ambassador Patrick Duddy '72 looks for common ground with Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez.

By David McKay Wilson '76 | Photos by Pedro Rey, Getty Images


 

Chávez, whose campaign to improve health and education for the poor has boosted his popularity in Venezuela, has championed economic policies that he maintains will empower the South American economies, including the Caracas-based Bank of the South, a regional lending institution with $7 billion in capital that was to open in December. It will be a financing option for South American nations that in the past have relied on the World Bank, which is perceived to be controlled by the United States. Chávez’s close ties to leaders in Iran and Syria also have rankled U.S. leaders.

Robert Gelbard ’64, the former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia and Indonesia, worked with Duddy in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they were both serving in Latin America. Gelbard says Duddy is the right man for the high-profile job—a highly respected diplomat known for his deep knowledge of the region and his calm approach to charged situations.

Ambassador Duddy at a lecture sponsored by the Fulbright Association in Caracas. Duddy opened September’s lecture with a few words about remembering the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
Ambassador Duddy at a lecture sponsored by the Fulbright Association in Caracas. Duddy opened September’s lecture with a few words about remembering the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

“Patrick has gravitas,” said Gelbard, chairman of Washington Global Partners, an international consulting firm, and a member of Colby’s Board of Trustees. “He’s taken very seriously by the Venezuelan press, and, given the positions he has had in Washington and Latin America, he is clearly seen as a senior representative of the American government. His arrival has been welcomed.”

Gelbard has firsthand knowledge of Duddy’s ability to resolve international disputes. In 2006 one of Gelbard’s corporate clients faced the arbitrary imposition of substantial taxes on its product by a country in Central America. Gelbard went to Duddy, who mobilized his staff and requested that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak to that country’s president.

“I went to Patrick, and he and his staff were tremendously helpful in developing the circumstances where my client could negotiate an equitable solution to the problem,” Gelbard said.

Duddy says his interest in foreign affairs began around the dinner table in Bangor in the 1960s, when his family would discuss international issues. At Colby Duddy gobbled up courses in government and international relations, including several with Professor of Government Guenter Weissberg. While a freshman, Duddy took a Jan Plan set up by Weissberg at the United Nations, where Duddy interviewed Belgian diplomats involved in writing the U.N. Law of the Sea Treaty.

(The treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 1982 but has yet to be ratified by the U.S. Senate. In late October, as Duddy was presenting his credentials to Venezuelan President Chávez, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was debating whether to vote on the treaty the ambassador studied almost four decades earlier.)

“We were freshmen, so going to New York was a bit daunting,” recalled Swift Tarbell ’72, who was on the U.N. trip and later, in the 1980s, worked in the Reagan administration on international trade. “The Belgian diplomat working on the issue gave us tomes of material. It was a great introduction to foreign affairs that I’ve never forgotten.”

Over his quarter century in the Foreign Service, Duddy has learned the art of diplomacy on the job. He was public affairs officer in Panama City beginning in 1997, serving as the spokesperson for the U.S. embassy, which comprised 20 different government agencies. He was the international media’s main source of information on the hand-over of the Panama Canal to Panama. In São Paolo, Brazil (the largest city in South America and home to the largest U.S. consulate in the Western Hemisphere), as consul general from 2002 to 2005, Duddy worked with thousands of U.S. corporations active in Brazil, either looking to invest in Brazil’s booming industrial region or trading with the country. While serving as deputy assistant secretary at the State Department in Washington from 2005 to 2007, he worked with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, which was helping to restore democracy to one of the region’s poorest nations.

“The peacekeeping mission had soldiers from two or three dozen countries, so it’s a fascinating process how you all work together,” Duddy said. “The work was such a challenge because you have so many different ways of doing things. Then there were language issues, with a Brazilian commander overseeing troops from Argentina and Jordan.”

Serving as ambassador taps Duddy’s skills as an administrator, negotiator, and conversationalist. On a typical day in mid-October, Duddy met with his senior staff to discuss the projects they were involved in. He met with the leader of a major Jewish organization, had a staffer contact the Venezuelan government to check on the protocol for the presentation of his credentials, and worked with his public affairs staff to plan a few media events. He then had informal meetings with Venezuelans outside the office to learn their views and provide his perspective on U.S. policies.

Evening receptions or luncheons are forums at which Duddy, who is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, can engage in such candid conversations.
“If the U.S. ambassador goes to the office of a minister, that’s a formal exchange, and I’m presumed to be going on behalf of my government, so notes will be taken and memos written,” Duddy said. “Being at a reception permits a different conversation. It’s like background in anticipation of an interview. You not only get to express your view of x, y, or z, but you also get to understand their reality and the dynamic of their political moment.”

“He’s taken very seriously by the Venezuelan press, and, given the positions he has had in Washington and Latin America, he is clearly seen as a senior representative of the American government. His arrival has been welcomed.”

-Robert Gelbard ’64, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia and Indonesia
In Venezuela, that political moment will test Duddy as he seeks out venues to promote cooperation between the nations. In one initiative, the embassy holds baseball clinics for Venezuelan youths, encouraging them to both play sports and steer clear of narcotics.

“Drug use is something that concerns people throughout the hemisphere, both north and south, and over the years we have learned, much to our sorrow, that it’s not something that can be addressed quickly or unilaterally with any great effect,” he said. “So we are working hard to support an investment in people and the kinds of programs that materially improve the conditions of people’s lives.”

The baseball initiative, which received coverage in the Venezuelan press, was just one effort to make connections with the Venezuelan people as Duddy begins his toughest assignment yet. He does so with optimism, determined to move forward, seeking constructive engagement with Venezuela on a wide range of issues—from oil production in the Orinoco oil fields to instruction in fielding ground balls to the manufacture of auto parts at factories owned by U.S. automakers.

His work so far seems consistent with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s assessment of him as a “fine and inspirational leader” at his swearing-in ceremony in Washington August 9.

“I am just certain we are sending the right man to Venezuela,” Rice said. “So I know, Patrick, that you will reach out to the Venezuelan people. I know that you speak strongly for the values that we hold. I know that you will tell them that they have a friend in America and in Americans.”

 
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