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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 […]

Grains, Cows, and the End of the Cold War

The end of the Cold War is sometimes thought about as a dramatic and rapid event marked by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR. While these were notable moments at the end of the Cold War, the reality was much more complicated. Charles O’Mara’s stunning account of his time […]

In the Heat of the Cold War: Diplomats in a Divided Germany

Ever since the Foreign Service’s infancy, Foreign Service spouses have traveled with their partners to all corners of the world, helping to represent America and her interests overseas. Many of these spouses were former Foreign Service Officers themselves. Helen Brady Lane is one such individual, who entered the Foreign Service in 1957 and left after […]

Operation Sapphire: Nuclear Diplomacy in Kazakhstan

Working with nuclear materials is, by its very nature, volatile. Carrying out diplomacy over nuclear materials is even more so. The 1990s posed a particularly fragile moment as the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving nuclear successor states in its wake. In particular, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan emerged onto the global scene equipped with weapons and […]

National Elections Under Protest

As the United States watches its 2020 election season drag on longer than most presidential elections, the highly charged partisan domestic environment raises concerns over possible protest against the final results. It is an illustration that paints the twenty-first century very well; this century has become an early indicator of electoral revolutions. From across the […]