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Lessons Learned: USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake

USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is perhaps the world’s premier international disaster assistance agency.  It was not always that way. OFDA administrator Oliver “Ollie” Davidson knows this better than most. OFDA’s response to the devastating 1985 Mexico City earthquake was ernest and energetic, but not always well-targeted.  In his oral history, Davidson recalls […]

Getting Mexico to the NAFTA Negotiating Table

U.S. diplomats who helped lay the groundwork for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) first had to overcome entrenched Mexican skepticism.  The United States, Canada, and Mexico decided in mid-1990 to start negotiating a free trade agreement.  Discussions began in earnest early the following year.  By mid-1993 the parties were fine-turning a draft agreement. […]

The 1985 Mexico City Earthquake

On the morning of September 19, 1985, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit the western states of Mexico and including Mexico City.  Western Mexico is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes with the Pacific plate and Cocos plate moving against the North American plate actively.  As Mexico City is situated on an ancient lakebed plateau composed of mostly dirt […]

Presidents, Russians, and Diplomatic Wives: Anecdotes from a Voice of America Newsman

Journalist Euguene F. Karst knew the importance of words. He personally witnessed how communication could highlight the opinions of little known Russian farmers but also lead to embarrassing misunderstandings for the President of the United States. Through the Office of War Information, Voice of America, and other reporting, Karst worked to spread the principles and […]

The Question of Puerto Rico: The U.S. Faces International Criticism in the Late 20th Century

As decolonization was embraced on the world stage, the U.S. government and its diplomats had to decide, “How do we deal with the question of Puerto Rico?” The island had been an “organized but unincorporated” American territory since the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. After negotiations between Puerto Rican political leaders and […]

Promoting International Tennis Diplomacy in Bahrain

In the heat of the Iran-Iraq War, paranoia and uncertainty engulfed the region, with many American allies looking to the United States for support and assurance. Fearful that the seemingly dominant Iran would assert its historical claims over the island of Bahrain, Emir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa grew increasingly concerned. U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain […]

60 Minutes in Central America: The Politicization of Development During the Cold War

Complex geopolitical realities, poor leadership, and economic dysfunction characterized the Cold War in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. USAID (United States Agency for International Development) played a crucial role in strengthening the political and economic institutions of these countries. Its ability to work and achieve success in Cold War conditions was nothing short of extraordinary. […]

One City, Two Countries: Manning the Mexican-U.S. Border in Nuevo Laredo

Bustling with commerce, illegal border crossings, and cocaine trafficking, in 2000, Nuevo Laredo was the third busiest visa post in the world. Consulate staff had to balance encouraging commerce between the two countries, managing visa traffic, and preventing the movement of deadly narcotics. During his time as Consul General, Thomas Armbruster quickly learned this was […]

The Fall of South Vietnam and Operation Babylift

The fall of Saigon and the chaotic evacuation of the U.S. Embassy is one of the most infamous episodes in American diplomatic history. For Mary Lee Garrison, it was also part of her first job. At age 22, Garrison arrived in Saigon in June 1974 to an internal political consensus that the conflict was winding […]