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Sports Boycotts

Sport has often been used throughout history as a political tool. In particular, sport boycotts have been effective measures for countries to express disdain and condemnation for the actions of another. In the last half of the 20th Century, the more famous boycotts were imposed as a response to apartheid policies in South Africa during the 1970s and 80s; the USSR’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, which led to the boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow; and the subsequent quid pro quo boycott of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

During apartheid, South Africa was boycotted from several international sports competitions, dating from the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This ban lasted until 1992, when South Africa was welcomed back at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. In 1980, after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and killed President Hafizullah Amin, President Jimmy Carter ordered a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The full-court diplomatic press resulted in only 80 countries participating. Read more

From Russia with Love and Back Again: Rostropovich’s Exile and Return

Mstislav Rostropovich, considered one of the greatest cellists of the twentieth century, was born in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan in 1927. Graduating from the Moscow Conservatory, Rostropovich quickly established himself as the preeminent concert cellist in the USSR, collaborating with composers such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Britten. In 1955 he married Galina Vishnevskaya, a soprano at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Though he was immensely popular as a musician, Rostropovich’s outspoken political views and support of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and other dissidents prompted the Soviet government to restrict his foreign travel and performances within the Soviet Union.

In 1974, while in France for a series of performances, Rostropovich requested permission from his government to travel to New York for a concert at Lincoln Center. The musician made the trip west with his family despite his government’s refusal, and his Soviet citizenship was revoked in 1978. In 1990, as Mikhail Gorbachev worked to reform the USSR, Rostropovich returned to Moscow as conductor of the U.S. National Symphony Orchestra for a series of performances, and in that year his Soviet citizenship was restored.  He died in Russia in 2007. Read more

Hong Kong Returns to China, Part II

As the formal handover of Hong Kong to China approached, many grew concerned about Beijing’s intentions. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens emigrated in the late 1980s and early 1990s for places like the UK and Vancouver while several came to the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong with claims of American citizenship. The event of the formal handover, which took place on June 30-July 1, 1997, was a glitzy affair. The Prince of Wales read a farewell speech on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II; newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, and the departing Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten also attended.

Richard Boucher served as Consul General in Hong Kong from 1996-1999. He describes the crush of Congressional delegations and the fear mongering in the American media, which he found especially frustrating when he learned that no one read his cables. Read more

Shirley Temple Black: From the Good Ship Lollipop to the Ship of State

Shirley Temple Black, born April 23, 1928, served her country in vastly different ways. As a child star in the late 1930s, she cheered up a nation suffering the effects of the Great Depression, making 20 movies by the time she was six years old. Born April 23, 1928, Shirley Temple was known for films such as “Bright Eyes,” “Curly Top” and “Heidi” as well as songs including “On the Good Ship Lollipop” and “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” She ended her acting career at the age of 22 but would return to the spotlight in service to her nation later in life.

In 1968 she was at a conference in Prague when the Soviets invaded. The beginning of her diplomatic career came shortly thereafter, when President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations. President Ford named her ambassador to Ghana in 1974, and later as his Chief of Protocol, the first woman to hold that job.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia, just a few months before communist rule was overthrown. President Reagan asked her to direct the Ambassadorial Seminar at the Foreign Service Institute and she  served as a member of the Board and Advisory Council of ADST. She died February 10, 2014. Read more

George Shultz: “Your Country is the United States”

George P. Shultz was Secretary of State for President Reagan from 1982 to 1989, the longest such tenure since Dean Rusk in the 1960s. As Secretary, Shultz resolved the pipeline sanctions problem between Western Germany and the Soviet Union, worked to maintain allied unity amid anti-nuclear demonstrations in 1983, persuaded President Reagan to dialogue with Mikhail Gorbachev and negotiated an agreement between Israel and Lebanon in response to the Lebanese civil war. After leaving office in 1989, Shultz worked closely with the Bush administration on foreign policy and was an adviser for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign.

Shultz was a no-nonsense manager and highly-prepared negotiator who did not suffer fools gladly, but was compassionate towards those displaced by political upheaval and appreciative of those who served him and the U.S. well. Thanks to his long tenure as Secretary, Shultz touched the lives of many Foreign Service Officers. Read more

One Laptop Per Child — A Paradigm Shift in Education

According to a 2015 Brookings study, while the number of children attending primary school globally has grown dramatically over the past 200 years, the gulf in average levels of education between rich and poor countries remains large. Without a fundamental rethinking of current approaches to education, it will take another 100 years for children in developing countries to reach the education levels achieved in developed countries.

One Laptop Per Child seeks to address this by providing thousands of young children in developing countries their own sturdy computer, pre-installed with over 150 applications, several videos and over 100 books. It has built-in WiFi so they have access to the Internet and is thus an invaluable link to the rest of the world. (And yes, it also has parental controls.) This is a revolutionary idea which can help so many children become connected to a brighter future.

For these reasons, ADST presented its 2016 International Business Leadership Award to One Laptop Per Child.  Accepting on its behalf was former CEO Rodrigo Arboleda.

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“One Laptop Per Child was NOT a project about computers but about a change in paradigm in education”

I feel honored by standing here in front of so many accomplished elite former members of the Foreign Service officers and fellow honorees. On behalf of Nicholas Negroponte, I thank you for bestowing upon us this recognition. Nicholas was the mind and soul behind this initiative. I have worked with him on many projects in the past since we know each other from our Architectural studies at MIT in the 1960’s.

On One Laptop Per Child, I was the CEO in charge of deploying and managing the process of manufacturing, logistics, financing, delivery and implementation.

For more than the last 6 years I managed the process that culminated in the delivery of more than 3 million laptops in 51 countries and 21 different languages, including indigenous languages such as Quechua, Aymara, Guaraní, Zulu, Swahili, an many others.

However, One Laptop Per Child was NOT a project about computers, despite the misleading name. It was a project about social equality and, equally important, about a change in paradigm in education from one that for the past 150 years have advocated teaching, versus one we have proposed and supported for more than 40 years at MIT, that of learning.

By doing so, we encourage children as young as in kindergarten age on, to learn to write code or program via a graphical user interface, something one of our professors, Seymour Pappert outlined as early as 1979. Under his vision, a child is in reality Thinking About Thinking, and Learning About Learning when programming.

You may think all this is a matter of a superficial use of words. But when the child is the one that dictates instructions to the computer, rather than the computer giving instructions to the child, instructions that the child then needs to memorize and apply in a form of a test, the entire equation of learning and therefore of how the mind works, changes.

When we empower a child to be the master of this small universe, child-machine, that child becomes the Agent of Change in a society. Nothing better at democratizing a society that giving a child the capacity to participate in the design of the future world in which he is going to be the recipient of either the benefits or the disasters of what we together create today or in the past.

“The most important language of the future will be based on the A,T,C, and G of the biotech and genetic code”

One of the most important issues we discuss with Ministries of Education worldwide is the need for children from K-12 to start, hopefully at kindergarten level, to learn three languages:  First, the language of their country, then the English language, the true and undisputed lingua franca of technology and,  third, the need to learn to read and write code, the third current language, the binary or digital language, that of programming.

Only if they are absolutely conversant in these three languages by the time they go to college will they be prepared to tackle the most important language of the future. That one is not based on the 26 letters of the alphabet nor the 0’s and 1’s of the binary code, but the 4 letters that will dominate that future mode of expression:  the A,T,C, and G of the biotech and genetic code.

Those 4 letters, representing the four molecules that conform the entire human genome, adenine, thiamine, cytosine and guanine, will mark their lives for generations to come. This is where we base our advocacy for a better and more profound education system in the world.

We went to the most remote and difficult corners of the world in order to demonstrate that if in those geographical areas a child could become an effective participant of their society, a radical transformation for the better ensued. There were countries in which significant transformation was obtained.

Uruguay, for one, is one country where 100% of children of primary school (later on of ALL ages) had one of our laptops. When we say 100% we mean that even autistic children, Down Syndrome children, physically impaired children or visually impaired children, owned one of these devices. These laptops were also connected to the internet in the school or in 99% of the open parks in the country. A better example of transformation of a country would be hard to find.

The sense of ownership (the laptops were theirs), the self-esteem, the pride, the empowerment, all were elements of a radical transformation of the society in which they lived. In Nicaragua, a family in the private sector took the project and made it a national symbol of transformation, so much so that even the government, realizing that somebody else was taking an initiative they should have taken, rushed to join the project; now, it has become another symbol of transformation in Central America.

Perhaps the country in which we see the greatest opportunity to transform an entire continent is Rwanda. There, after the most horrendous genocide of modern times, one in which close to one million people were killed by machete by their own countrymen, their president saw a nation at the verge of imploding.

Hundreds of thousands of orphans, displaced families and entire villages destroyed was the diabolic legacy of 90 days of horror. He realized he did not have seaports, navigable rivers, extensive agriculture, gold, silver, uranium, oil, gas, diamonds – both blessings and curses — as other neighboring nations had, so  the best and perhaps only true natural resource he had was the minds of these young orphans.

To see today children in rural schools, all of them proud of their personal “window to knowledge”, that green and white laptop, which they took home, is a matter of pride and joy for Nicholas, myself, and hundreds of many others in the organization that often, at great sacrifice, undertook the challenge and indeed planted a seed to change the world.

Advocating that free internet should be considered a human right at the level of public schools was an idea we took to the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva much earlier than the recent bold approach of being considered a human right for all humanity. We found that the best strategy of diplomacy the U.S. can deploy is that of advocating education as the prime engine of fostering democracy.

All the above should be an element of pride to us as Americans and I imagine it was one of the reasons you choose to honor us tonight. As experienced diplomats faced with difficult decisions, this one should be a no-brainer, albeit others in power may not grasp it so easily.

But the best reward and recognition Nicholas Negroponte, myself and all the people that work at One Laptop Per Child could aspire to have, other than recognitions as the one being given to us tonight, was to see the faces of the children when the laptop becomes theirs.

It was the realization that our revolution was not one of arms or political ideologies. It was a true Revolution of Hope. It was sort of an Education For Peace. Making children become the true Agents of Change by empowering them was, perhaps, the true and ultimate realization of our dream.


“Austria is Free!” Post-War Vienna Escapes the Soviet Bloc

May 15th, 1955, was a momentous occasion for a war-battered Europe, and for the national history of Austria as the Foreign Ministers representing the Occupying Powers  gathered to sign the Austrian Independence Treaty. Leopold Figl, the former Chancellor and then the Foreign Minister, famously appeared on the balcony of Vienna’s Belvedere Palace (now home to a dazzling Klimt collection), waved the signed paper and uttered the words Österreich ist frei! (“Austria is free!”),

This treaty reinstated Austria’s sovereignty for the first time since the March 1938 Anschluss with Nazi Germany, which had annexed Austria and made it the province of Ostmark.  It called for the withdrawal of the four occupying state’s forces, outlawed any future Anschluss with Germany, and banned Nazism. The newly independent country formally declared its neutrality in October of that year. Read more

A U.S.-Chinese Mid-Air Collision and “The Letter of Two Sorries”

A collision in the air, a destroyed Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. ‘spy’ plane forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airbase — mix together to create a maelstrom of chaos and outrage. Add in the fact that the U.S. had accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just two years earlier and you have the makings of a real diplomatic challenge.

On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet some 70 miles off the Chinese island of Hainan. The Chinese jet had actually harassed the EP-3 just days earlier, getting so close that the Chinese pilot held up a piece of paper with his e-mail address, which was visible to the American crew. The collision caused both planes to lose altitude quickly — the Chinese fighter was unable to recover and was killed. Against all odds, the EP-3 somehow rolled out of its nearly inverted dive and managed to limp towards the closest air base without its nose. This airbase, however, was on Hainan, the same site that had sent the downed fighter. Read more

Laying It Between the Lines: Music Diplomacy in Shanghai

“But if I really say it/ the radio won’t play it/ unless I lay it between the lines.”  This song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary was about rock & roll music, but the same principle was applied in conducting public diplomacy programs in Shanghai at a time of censorship and chilly bilateral relations. China had officials whose job was specifically to guard against “American spiritual pollution,” so overcoming these challenges called for a creative bent.

One way to get around censorship was to convey the message indirectly, by talking about music. Lloyd Neighbors used not only his fluency in Mandarin but also his love of American folk music and jazz to get the message across about U.S. history, society and culture to students eager to listen. Read more

Ping Pong Diplomacy, April 1971 — Opening the Road to China

Following the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, a “Bamboo Curtain,” the Chinese equivalent of Russia’s “Iron Curtain,” was established, closing off China from the non-Communist world. The 1966 Cultural Revolution only served to strengthen the Communist Party’s commitment to isolation from the West. However, by 1971 China was growing desperate for foreign investment while the United States sought an end to the Vietnam War as well as ways to increase its leverage vis-a-vis  the Soviet Union. These diplomatic objectives led to President Richard Nixon’s historic opening to China.

But before his February 1972 to Peking there was ping pong diplomacy. Sports had long been a diplomatic tool for the Chinese under the slogan “Friendship First, Competition Second.” Thus, on April 6, 1971, the Chinese national ping-pong team invited the American team to visit China while the two teams were at the World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. Read more