Monday, August 29, 2016

99 Brasilia 02837: Background and Talking Points For Meeting of DAS Eddleman with Brazilian Ambassador Barbosa

Note:  This cable was probably requested by the Brazil desk in the State Department to assist them in drafting the briefing memo for the referenced meeting.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

From Journal Entries for July 17 & 25 and August 1, 1999

July 17: Just got back from our Saturday passeio, to the Park Shopping mall and to the Embassy, where I worked a little.... The folks next door, who I think just moved in, are still singing karaoke and doing it badly. Started way before noon and it’s coming up on six. I understand music is in the Brazilian soul.

Went out on my bike today. (I could not get any pliers and had to make do with a huge wrench to tighten the last bolts on my bike. I think there may be a market here for good, old-fashioned adjustable American pliers.) Didn’t go far, just around the neighborhood. None of the streets have names, the whole city is laid out by letters and numbers, like our house is in Q9, I think. And all the neighborhoods are identical in layout with the houses often being of the same style. Stalinists designed Brasilia and it shows. But our house has a privileged site, on top of a hill and surrounded by mostly vacant plots behind hedges. A spot of paradise, as long as the karaoke singers eventually tire out. Anyway, finished the morning exercise with a dip in the pool....

Made some domestic decisions this week. Changed the domestics hours a bit to allow our cook to go home at nights. At work, trying to move forward on a few things and dealing with others. Had a nice lunch at home with the Assistant Secretary for the Americas. Knew him in DC. Brazilians value people who seem to like them and who listen as well as talk. I think I meet those qualifications. Members of my staff have reminded me that we are not here to be anybody’s friend but to represent US interests. I think we can try to do both.

July 25:  It was a good week....  I continued my stately pace of contacts with the host government and diplomatic colleagues while dealing with various bureaucratic matters within the Mission and vis-à-vis Washington. Seem to be making headway. It is a humbling experience representing the preeminent First World power in a country like Brazil that combines potential greatness with a huge complexity of problems associated with underdevelopment. Brazil is a lot like us, continental in size, and with an intelligent and diverse population with a sense of the future. But it does not have the advantages that we have, especially in that it – unlike us – does not print the world’s gold standard (i.e. the dollar) and that it started about 100 years later than we did in opening it’s economy and developing its capacity to compete in the global economy. To put it in other words, America is the most advanced capitalist society on earth. Brazil wants to be. Thus to represent the U.S. and its interests here is always to come face-to-face with a less advantaged version of yourself.

August 1: My first full month here has gone okay. I seem to have gotten ahead of the issues I knew I’d have to deal with. Washington sent me a cable this week congratulating me on our reporting. Sort of to make up for some initial doubts in some quarters perhaps. But it is a big job ... the secret is not to feel you need to know – and certainly do not – everything, you also need to wonder about what you don’t know but can still get you. Had a good meeting with the anti-drug czar and a pleasant and useful lunch with the number three from Itamaraty. The staff seems pleased so far with the change. The old leadership appears to be an easy act to follow but newness alone will wear off at some point and I’ll have to make it on my own. But I do believe that listening is something done so little that I may be able to get considerable more mileage from doing just that.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Interlude: March 8-11/1999 Trip to Central America with the President

I served on the National Security Council 1998-99 covering Latin America.  This comes from my journal entry for a trip to the Central America Summit held in Guatemala.

Monday afternoon, Hotel Princess, El Salvador. The ride in from the airport was something else. I really had to whiz, drank a lot of water to hydrate myself. It was a rough ride over the mountains. Looking out now, reminds me of Third World tropical cities I’ve seen elsewhere with pleasant parts -- this is one of them -- and some interesting buildings. The ride on the Air Force plane was neat. Got one of the older models of Air Force One but were still treated nicely. Had great seats and it was like super first-class. NSC takes care of its own staff and we outranked a deputy assistant administrator of AID. Even got in a nap after a filling lunch.

Later same day. El Salvador is quite nice, weather is warm but dry and very comfortable. I have been reading my classified email and cables. Looks like my job will be to introduce good sense where it's needed and not much more. The hotel is first rate and my room is nice. I should have brought more money since we get no advance.

Tuesday. It is 8:30 am here and I had a light breakfast -- several muffins and pastries -- which will be perhaps my only free meal of day. Last night, I smoked a Cubano with a reporter from AP before the presidential party arrived. Had to eat in the hotel since once the President returns, all hell breaks out. Finally got to bed around 12:30 local time. I will be checking items -- calling [Ambassador] Don Planty to read him the riot act -- and trying to get a tour of the town for us from the Embassy. Tomorrow, I'll be with the "party" for event here. San Salvador looks lovely from the admittedly privileged area in which hotel is located. Air smells nice and clean and tropical. Reminds me of good side of going to such places.

Having a great time. Just got back from a tour through San Salvador in an embassy car. A big, spread out city with lots of traffic and sun. Walked through a market and ate some "apple bananas" and local cheese. Toured the new cathedral and saw the grave of Archbishop Romero, who was murdered by the military bad guys in 1980. Finished up with a nice lunch in a Peruvian restaurant (there being no "typical Salvadoran" places that anyone could recommend) complete with cool beer. (Until last night at midnight, it was illegal to drink alcohol here because of the presidential election on Sunday.) Now to work again.

Wednesday morning. Today will be a busy day and I will leave shortly as part of my first presidential motorcade. My chief concern at this point is that I don’t get left behind or go into the wrong vehicle, that I simply find a vehicle, because none of this stuff is clear to me.

Looking out the window of my hotel room on the 8th floor. San Salvador is a large town. It’s not like it is all Manhattan or Chicago or even Washington, but it is a crowded town. Here in the rich section where the hotels are, there are houses with walls and a few with pools. Naturally enough, the higher up the hills you are, the richer you are. Downtown -- where we went yesterday -- is a good bit of a ride through some very heavy traffic passing through mostly narrow streets. Going downtown means going down the hills. San Salvador -- nestled among the hills and mountains and with all the sights and smells -- is really quite attractive. The most striking building in the city is a mirrored high-rise of some 20-25 stories that reflects the hillsides around it and seems almost invisible. At night, they highlight the various shapes of the building with lights and the building assumes an entirely different aspect. Also looking down at the street in front of the hotel. It is closed off with hundreds of cops and cars positioned for the motorcade. In a little while there will be little crowds of people waiting to catch a glimpse of the President. Meanwhile, about two blocks away, just behind one of the neighborhood’s main streets, I can see the tops of what looks like one of the small shantytown I have seen here and there in the city. The city is green with all sorts of different buildings. There are Pizza Huts, Coca-Cola and Yoplait signs; it’s as if -- and this must be true -- a bunch of Salvadorans liked what they got used to in the United States and thought “gee, we can take this home.” It is an interesting exchange of cultural icons and items that we in the U.S. usually see only one side of.

Wednesday afternoon, Guatemala. Arrived and are now going through what I’ve just described to someone on the staff bus as the “route one” of Guatemala. Passing McDonalds, Burger Kings, Dominos Pizza, 3M, Abbot Labs, Texaco, Nestle and Bayer Aspirin factories. Cleaner that San Salvador, lots of activity and businesses. Lots of cars but wider roads than San Salvador. Traffic moving around us even though we have a police escort. The Jacaranda are blooming. Going through the cuts in the mountains toward Antigua, you can see the same compressed volcanic ash rock that we saw in Salvador. Lots of volcanic history here. In some places you can see the layering of ash from repeated eruptions. Approaching Antigua, the countryside is beautiful. Passing through a valley between green mountains with flowers blooming and little houses, something like Cayo in western Belize but more.

Sitting in my room at the Casa Santo Domingo, around midnight. Got done with work about 10pm and got to dinner just before the hotel restaurant closed. Dined until just after 11 with some NSC colleagues. This is probably the most amazing hotel I have ever seen. Built on the ruins of a convent and/or monastery. The ruins are actual ruins with only a bit of reconstruction. The hotel blends almost seamlessly with them. It is spread out with areas in the back where I went walking tonight. It was lit just right, enough so you could see where you were but not so much that you could not have a sense of the mysterious walking through the ruins coming on things like a partially reconstructed altar (see daytime Summit picture below). Antigua was destroyed in an earthquake or eruption when it was the old capital of Guatemala (thus its formal name, Antigua Guatemala). The place is just marvelously done. (The price list on the back of the door says $200 a night but because tourism is slack, the running price is apparently just $130.) My room has a high wooden ceiling, stucco walls and a fireplace with wood I am tempted to light because of the mountain chill. Tomorrow I’ll be doing some note taking at the Summit. We were working late tonight redoing some memos for the President. But walking through the ruins tonight, the stars were bright, Orion was up.

Thursday morning. Took a walk through the town. Simply amazing. It is a working town with regular people that just happens to be built on ruins. It has not yet been made over into a “theme park.” This makes it very attractive. Indeed the main attraction is a beautiful little town built on ruins. It is surrounded by hills that look to me to be the remaining walls of a huge collapsed volcano, which means Antigua sits inside an ancient caldera. And then there is a majestic volcano -- Volcan de Aqua -- with a ring of clouds around it. Antigua is green and blooming, a beautiful little town. Walked down cobblestone streets that were literally cobbled with stones only roughly smooth from the years of traffic. Passed quite a few schools with students practicing their Spanish over coffee with their instructors. That’s the way to do it.

Later in the afternoon. Standing in a courtyard of the hotel. We were supposed to have left earlier for the airport but there were demonstrations that the Secret Service thought might impede traffic. So we are waiting to join the presidential motorcade. Just had one of the more bizarre experiences of my life. I was the note-taker at the Leaders’ Lunch at another set of ruins. I sat right behind the President, although with the wind and the music I had to strain to hear. Having a note-taker at lunch seemed to me a bad idea and I tried not to be conspicuous. So I sat right behind him, watching him make small talk, watching him chew and spew his food, and watching the back of his neck all against the backdrop of beautiful ruins and cloud-shrouded volcano in the distance as a marimba band played and other people ate lunch. It was a real moment. They were taking photos and I hope I can get one. As the dessert course was coming out, the President had somehow gotten a signal that he was supposed to leave. He gets up, turns around and looks at me and asks, “Am I supposed to leave.” I nodded my head so he gets ready to go. I was just guessing. But he turns to me again as if waiting for me to lead him out. But he must have been able to tell that I had no idea what to do -- leading the President around is not my usual job -- so he decided to thank the band (see photo of band below). As he did that, I made use of the opportunity to just run for the exit.

Afterword. Got home after midnight on the 12th very tired. (Had a good martini on the plane. The Air Force has many talents.) The trip was an intense and very busy time and I -- somewhat to my surprise -- enjoyed it.