No Good Deed – Cattle, the French, and Getting PNG’ed from Madagascar
While U.S. diplomatic missions attempt to build relationships with the nations in which they maintain embassies, these relationships don’t always work out. Sometimes, diplomats are PNG’ed or declared persona non grata – a nice way of saying they’ve been kicked out of the country. Such was the case with Ambassador Anthony Marshall.
While serving in Madagascar from 1969-71, Marshall worked with the government, the French, and some Americans to create a cattle project for the island. However, as well-meaning as the project was, it met with some resistance from the French, who were concerned about what the potential threat American success with the Malagasy could mean.
The tensions between the French and even some Malagasy government officials led to Marshall’s forced removal. After a Malagasy newspaper reported that he and others were conspiring to enact a coup against the Malagasy president, Philibert Tsiranana, Marshall was PNG’ed. Once he left Madagascar, Marshall went on to become the Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya, and Seychelles. He later concluded that the French ambassador was complicit in getting him thrown out.
After his retirement from the State Department, Marshall became a Tony Award winning producer before facing elder abuse allegations. In 2006, Marshall’s son accused his father of mistreating Marshall’s mother, the famous philanthropist Brooke Astor, and mishandling her funds. In 2009, Marshall was found guilty on 14 of the 16 counts brought against him. He served a short sentence before being granted parole; he died in November 2014.
In his interview, Ambassador Marshall discusses the state of Malagasy politics and economics upon his arrival at post and his plans for an ill-fated cattle project, which was not viewed favorably by the French. He was interviewed by Richard Jackson beginning in February of 1998.
“’I want more people, and every 12th child can be named after me.’”
MARSHALL: I was asked, “Would you like Malawi or Madagascar? I said, “To be truthful, I know where they are and I know something about them, but I don’t know that much. I’d like to have a briefing from the country director on both.” So I did.
That’s when I met a person who became a lifelong friend, John McKesson. I got to know John and he briefed me on Malawi, and he also had somebody else brief me on Malawi and Madagascar. Malawi seemed to me sort of a sleepy little place. Madagascar attracted my attention for both its people and its mixed natural life, both the wildlife and the flora and the fauna. So I said yes to that.
I packed up and went off to Madagascar with an interest in seeing what I could do for American business. Our former ambassador there, Ambassador King, had been asked by the Malagasy government to organize a cattle project. As President Philibert Tsiranana said, “We have more cattle than people. We have 14 million cattle and six million people. I want more people, and every 12th child can be named after me, and I will give out honors every national day to the women who produce twelve children.” Hardly the formula for the rest of the world.
He was fading. His health was fading. He had to go to Europe to get medical attention. He had to go to Paris, France. But also his mental facilities were failing. When I arrived there, I thought it was an absolutely delightful, and it is a terribly interesting country…
When we got there, Madagascar obviously was politically independent. They made it very, very clear that what they wanted was economic independence, which was stupid, if not realistic. Their thinking was they didn’t want to be dependent on anybody, they wanted total freedom to decide what they wanted to do in economics as well as politics.
What that in real terms meant was – this was after I left, but it was churning as I left – that they’d broken the French franc, and that was stupid. They kicked the French Army out, which was stupid only in my mind in very practical terms, because the French Army was taking care of defense, while the Malagasy Army were building roads. That’s an oversimplification. And then they nationalized a number of companies, and, of course the French didn’t like it, but they were kicked out of the glorious building at the end of the square which was the residence of the French ambassador. They took away his right to have a plane. And a number of other things.
When I was there, I had a plane. I went all over the place. We had an operational mission, an Air Force plane. Somehow or other, where I wanted to go, their operational missions seemed to mesh most of the time…
David King had been asked to start a cattle project, not to start it, but for the United States to see what it could do to help Madagascar in regards to its cattle. And he didn’t do anything. I couldn’t not do something. First of all, I wanted to do something. I didn’t want to just go sit, although maybe sometimes that’s what one should do. For people representing our country abroad, maybe sitting is the best policy, but it is neither in my nature, nor did I believe it was the right thing.
I thought that by creating closer economic ties we would have better relations between the two countries, and I say that for anywhere. Maybe timing is wrong in some instances, but I believe that’s the truth. So I went about trying to find out who and where and how much, and talk to people. So I talked to Malagasy. This is condensing it a lot. I talked to the French, whose agreement on doing the project.
“Sometimes the French can be ‘very French’”
My proposal was one-third, one-third, and one-third. The Malagasy provide land and whatever, the French have the abattoir, and the Americans have the ranching.
Where was I to get the American side? That was the next thing I was faced with. I made contact with some companies – American – but wasn’t able to really find one. I thought of contacting Bob Anderson – Robert O. Anderson of Atlantic Richfield [ARCO], but also, at the time he, and may still be, the largest owner of land in America. With cattle.
He, after sending somebody out to Madagascar, a man by the name of Sid Goodlow from Roswell, New Mexico representing Bob Anderson’s company, the “Dotted A,” decided that we would meet in Paris with the Malagasy and the French – Bob Anderson and Sid Goodlow. I mean, a lot of work went into it. He decided to go ahead with the project. I continually coordinated it in Madagascar.
That, in addition to being in contact with all American companies in Madagascar, going to Kenya a number of times (also for other reasons, there was a UNIDO [United Nations Industrial Development Organization] conference that took me there), getting in contact with African regional representatives of American companies who were and are headquartered in Kenya, and talking with them and seeing if they would take a look at Madagascar. Then, we had ship visits, we had CODELs [Congressional delegations].
Q: In trying
to get something done there, in trying to reinforce the American presence, were you up against the French? Were they suspicious of your activities?
MARSHALL: I don’t know whether you’d call it suspicion or jealousy, or just French. I think I’d call it just French. I wouldn’t accuse all the French nation, but sometimes the French can be what we would call “very French.”
There were two factors that were working. One was Malagasy politics. The other was the French not liking the Americans succeeding in their area. The Malagasy politics were quite complicated, but there was a man by the name of [Minister of Interior] Andre Resampa.
He helped [President Tsiranana] get to be what he was. But then Tsiranana became suspicious of his motives; his actions. He was a likely candidate to take over from Tsiranana but Tsiranana did not want that while he was still alive. There were others – I think more than Tsiranana, who was really failing – much, much more.
“You haven’t done anything wrong, except that you’re the captain of the ship and you have to go and these people also have to go”
At the top of the list was the fact that there were people down the ladder from Tsiranana who were playing politics. They were both egging Tsiranana on to thinking there was going to be a coup and they were planting themselves into a proper position no matter what might happen.
There were some riots. There was a Maoist riot in the south of really no consequence. But reportable. I thought I had good relations with Tsiranana. I thought how could I improve? This probably aggravated the French. But it was what I thought should be done. I said I would like to pay a call on Tsiranana’s home village. Nobody else had done that. Even the French hadn’t thought of it, regrettably.
When Tsiranana heard about this, he was absolutely delighted. He said, although he would not be there, I would be a guest of his and his wife’s and he would send his half-brother, a non-entity in all other respects, to be with us. He would send him with me, as well as a Protocol officer, in his plane.
We went up … and there were speeches, and there was a meal cooked out on the outdoor stove, and toasts, and the whole business. I saw the hospital, the new dentist’s chair they had just bought, and it was what should have been a totally successful day.
Two days later, I was visiting a non-resident diplomat who was at the Hilton Hotel and we were talking about what had appeared in the paper that day and the day before, and that was that a foreign power was trying to incite a change in government. I said I’d already called several of the other ambassadors and we were trying to get the government to say what they were talking about because otherwise we were all accused.
We know the Germans were giving the Socialists money. We’re not certainly. While I was talking to him, I got a call from my secretary saying the Foreign Minister wanted to see me right away. So I trotted around and saw him, a man by the name of Jacques Mantasara. He was and is a very nice man.
He said, “I have to tell you that you must leave the country.” And I asked why. And he said, “I can’t tell you why. I’m just the messenger.”
“Well, I’d like to see the President.”
“He won’t see you. I’ve already asked.”
I said, “You’re making a terrible mistake.”
He said, “There’s some evidence of people in your embassy who have been acting against the government. And the President has been shown evidence of this.”
I said, “Can I see the evidence?”
“No, you can’t.”
So I said, “You have the right to do this. But it’s all wrong.”
And he said, “I’m afraid you must go immediately.”
I asked what was “immediate.”
And he replied, “What would you like?”
“Two weeks.” Word came back that afternoon for me, giving me five days. The next morning, he called me back to the Ministry and simply got out the printed diplomatic list of all the embassies, opened to the U.S. embassy page, and there were little ticks beside five names.
He said, “These people also have to go. You haven’t done anything wrong, except that you’re the captain of the ship and you have to go and these people also have to go.”
So anyway, I went back, packed up and left. There was great confusion in Washington about what to do about this. There were many talks about it. I said that I wanted to go back and make farewell calls. So this became a point which we were asking for.
They said they would like another ambassador sent and replacements for all of these five that were sent out. We were pretty firm on the issue.
[Malagasy Major General] Ramanantsoa came to the United States for the UN General Assembly meeting and he met with Secretary [William P.] Rogers, but that didn’t really get anywhere. Before that, they’d sent a mission which was supposedly to show the evidence, which they did not bring with them. So we really weren’t getting anywhere.
I met with Ramanantsoa clandestinely. He established the place and the time. So he was doing this really as a friend to tell me there was nothing he could do and that I probably could not come back.
Finally, they did agree to my coming back – this was October, November – coming back in February. We said this was out. I was going on to another post. Meanwhile, the whole issue was hanging.…
“Absolute confirmation that the French ambassador was involved”
So I went on to Trinidad and my story of Madagascar really continues to Trinidad because I found out later – and I’d just as soon not reveal how – very precisely, who were the two Malagasy who had brought this forgery – we’ll call it that, it’s as good a name as any – to the attention of Tsiranana. I found out exactly who they were.
They were rather high-up people in the President’s office. And what I would call, although I couldn’t go to court to prove it, absolute confirmation that the French ambassador was involved both by what he didn’t do and by what he did do.
What he didn’t do was that he took off on holiday for a week – went to the beach in Madagascar – while all this was going on, rather than taking some part. He’d been told by Paris to get this matter settled. Paris – the Quai d’Orsay [the French Ministry], at least – was telling him to do something about it, to get it settled somehow. But it was clear that he was taking his orders from [pictured, Chief French Adviser on Africa] Foccart – clear to me and clear to others.
I then got a copy of the forgery, which was absolute nonsense. An illiterate would not believe it. Absolute, absolute nonsense! Unsigned, pure garbage. And then, finally, almost a year to the day (I was in Trinidad at the time), I got a cable saying that President Tsiranana had held a press conference. I’m glad he held it then because just a few months later he was no longer in office. It said that God had come to him in the middle of the night….
Dave Newsom was in AF [Bureau of African Affairs] then. There was a question of what was going on at the Department, yes indeed. I, as I said, wanted to go back to Madagascar if I could to make my farewell calls and do sort of a clean close on Madagascar. There were certain people in the Department who believed that we should go ahead and send an ambassador out right away. The principal one was the Secretary of State – Rogers. He didn’t tell me this, but it was quoted to me that we have too many bridges that are being burned and here these people want to reestablish relations and so I want to send out an ambassador. I thought that was entirely wrong.
[New York Times Publisher Arthur Ochs] Sulzberger wrote a piece in the paper saying that Uncle Sam was having egg thrown in his face. If this was the image, we shouldn’t allow a country, any country, to throw egg in our face.
Somebody said, “Oh, well, never mind. Go about business as usual.”
I had two very strong supporters for my position – my position being, “Yes, fine. That is, certainly keep relations, but build them up later, send in an ambassador, but let there be a good cooling-off period and, hopefully, in that time we will – which we did – begin in a different way and get things straightened out. By that I mean that we were not at fault and we would see the evidence.
The two supporters were U. Alexis Johnson, who was Deputy Secretary of State, and Marshall Wright. Marshall Wright was in the White House. Between the two of them that was the position we took. The next ambassador we sent out was Joe Mendenhall, who, in fact, had had a preview of the post because he’d been the inspector at the post while I was there. He gave very good ratings, which was very nice, and he became our next ambassador.