Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

X

From Vice-Consul to Ambassador: The Story of William Swing’s Return to South Africa

When William Lacy Swing left Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1966, he vowed to never return until the end of Apartheid. Twenty-three years later, Swing did just that, returning to South Africa as the United States ambassador. Thanks to the relationships he had formed early on in his Foreign Service career, especially throughout his time in Port Elizabeth, Ambassador Swing was one of the first people outside the African National Conference (ANC) to welcome Nelson Mandela back to freedom.

F.W. de Klerk, left, the last president of apartheid-era South Africa, and Nelson Mandela, his successor, wait to speak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (1993), Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress.
F.W. de Klerk, left, the last president of apartheid-era South Africa, and Nelson Mandela, his successor, wait to speak in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (1993), Carol M. Highsmith, Library of Congress.

During his first tour in South Africa, Swing served as the second of two members of the Port Elizabeth Consulate. This assignment allowed Swing to build relationships with founding members of the ANC, who were concentrated in the nearby Bantustans. At this time, Nelson Mandela was already on trial, preparing to spend the rest of his life in prison for his protest against Apartheid. When William Swing returned, South Africa was nearing the end of Apartheid and nearing Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. Meanwhile, F.W. De Klerk and the ANC were beginning private negotiations to end Apartheid. In this “moment” in U.S. diplomatic history, we see that while the U.S. was not a party to the negotiations, Ambassador Swing leveraged his connections to gain important information from key members of the ANC and his neighbor and friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Read more

Life as a Diplomatic Courier: Connecting China to the World

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jet off across the world continent-to-continent at a moment’s notice? Before the days of instant electronic communications, the role of a diplomatic courier would be to deliver classified information back and forth as quickly as possible. Earl Kessler was a diplomatic courier stationed in Shanghai during the late 1940s. As a courier, he traveled and connected consulates and embassies across Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, India, and even Russia.

Tamil coolies helping to launch a Catalina flying boat down the slipway for a patrol mission in the Far East (1941/1942) United States. Office for Emergency Management | Library of Congress
Tamil coolies helping to launch a Catalina flying boat down the slipway for a patrol mission in the Far East (1941/1942) United States. Office for Emergency Management | Library of Congress

The situation in Shanghai and across China at this time was tenuous, and traveling out of Shanghai became a dangerous affair as the civil war between Chiang Kai-shek and the communists raged on. By 1949, the situation had deteriorated so dramatically that Kessler and the consulate had to evacuate from Shanghai to Honolulu. While abroad, Kessler would have the strenuous task of safeguarding classified materials everywhere he went. Once he reached his desired location, Kessler had to navigate his way through unfamiliar environments to deliver crucial information to both U.S. and foreign residences. Along the way, Kessler met and befriended various individuals, from foreign government officials to playing tennis with local warlords. Following the evacuation from Shanghai to Honolulu, Kessler spent his later career as an administrative officer. He served in Athens (1949–1952) and Madras (1952–1954). Later in his career, Kessler returned to Washington, D.C., and taught administration courses at the Foreign Service Institute.

Read more

The “Leaky Bucket”—Brazil and the Cuban Missile Crisis

In the early 1960s, President John F. Kennedy sought to maintain an open dialogue with Brazil with the intent to create an intermediary in communications with Fidel Castro in Cuba. However, the troubled U.S.-Brazil relationship was riddled with distrust and hidden motives. In particular, the Brazilian president at the time, João Goulart, was infamous for his financial mishandling and leftist leanings, ultimately prompting anxieties and doubts concerning the use of U.S. foreign aid in Brazil among American congressional leaders.

Kennedy and Goulart review troops 1962 | Wikimedia
Kennedy and Goulart review troops 1962 | Wikimedia

Washington also wanted to ensure that Brazil would not be gradually influenced by Cuban communism. However, Brazilian politicians desired a healthy relationship between the United States and Cuba. At the same time, they hoped that by serving as a successful mediator between the United States and Cuba they would secure their standing and prove Brazil’s legitimacy as an exemplary, Latin American powerhouse in the international community—showing that they could maintain significant influence in the international system beyond Latin America. As such, they viewed the relationship as a primary diplomatic bridge between the United States and other Latin American countries. However, Brazilian and American intentions clashed with each other. Specifically, Brazil wanted to bring Cuba into Latin American politics, and the United States worked to ensure that Cuba would not spread communism throughout the southern hemisphere. These difficult dealings required a very intricate and carefully executed approach.

Read more

Women Working Together to Rebuild Liberia after the Civil War

The Liberian Civil War was doubtless one of the most devastating conflicts in recent history. Spanning from 1989 to 2003, an estimated 250,000 Liberians were killed during the war, and countless more were victims of atrocities. Liberia was founded in 1820 by freed enslaved people from the United States and Carribean, and had long struggled with tensions between the settlers—who traditionally dominated politics—and indigenous ethnic groups.

President Sirleaf Welcomes Pamela White’s Investment to Liberia (2016) | Front Page Africa Online
President Sirleaf Welcomes Pamela White’s Investment to Liberia (2016) | Front Page Africa Online

In 1980, Samuel Doe, a member of the Krahn ethnic group, came into power after leading a coup d’état against the government, ultimately triggering tensions with other ethnic groups. In 1989, Charles Taylor, a former government official, launched a rebellion against the Liberian government. The country descended into chaos as government forces and various ethnic militias battled for control. The war was characterized by atrocities such as mass rape and the use of child soldiers. In 2003, the violence became so intense that ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) troops arrived in the besieged capital of Monrovia to stop the attack and depose Taylor.

In addition to the role of the international community, the peace activism of Liberian women was instrumental in ending the war. Having been the victims of some of the worst atrocities of the conflict, the women of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace campaign captivated the international community with their sit-ins, protests, and insistence on peace negotiations that ultimately helped bring an end to the war. When the war ended, politician and economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected as president, making her the first female head of state in Africa. But although the conflict had ended, the scars left on Liberian society would persist. This was the case when USAID director Pamela White arrived in Liberia in 2008. Despite the challenges, Pam was inspired by the reconstruction efforts of women from Liberia and the international community.

Read more

“I Get It:” Experiential Learning in Ecuadorian Narcotics Control

In the late eighties, drug trafficking into the United States from Latin America came into the spotlight with Reagan’s War on Drugs, a global campaign led by the United States aiming to reduce the illegal drug trade. 1986 saw President Ronald Reagan declare drug trafficking a national security threat, immediately amplifying national attention and resources distributed to tackling the issue. Budgets surrounding anti-narcotics assistance ballooned, just as foreign service officer Yvonne Thayer stepped into a new role as the chief anti-narcotics officer for Ecuador.

International Visitor Leadership Program logo | U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
International Visitor Leadership Program logo | U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Ecuador was a small piece of a much bigger network of drug transportation, production, and sales; but it served as a key hub for the transit of coca paste out of Colombia, Bolivia, and especially Peru. Combatting the flow of drugs through the region then made Thayer’s new role in Ecuador important, all the more so in the relationships she would need to develop with her new counterparts in the Ecuadorian government.

Read more

Of Labor Parties and Movements Across the Atlantic

World War II brought great uncertainty in its aftermath. The rise of Anti-Right and Anti-Left wing movements, for example, contributed to the hegemonic battle between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics. These events, in turn, had an effect on labor.

70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan, June 2017, Photographer Unknown, US Mission
70th Anniversary of the Marshall Plan, June 2017, Photographer Unknown, US Mission

Following the Second World War, the United States launched the European Recovery Program. Better known as The Marshall Plan, this initiative represented the largest aid package received to date by the European nations. It had significant consequences for the economic development of European economics and industries. Much of these industries’ growths would affect scores of labor unions, which would later pose movements across Europe. Regional and international labor organizations rose up to fight for the rights of laborers as well as for the direction in which their party politics would dictate future labor policies.

Read more