Diplomatic Dance: Earthquake Diplomacy

by Editorial

Chilean and Haitian ambassadors scramble in the wake of tragedy at home; a new Chinese envoy arrives; and a capital cycling event

By Gail Scott


Loreto Leyton Goñi and Chilean Ambassador José Goñi

Chile’s 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck on Feb. 27, just 15 days before Chilean Ambassador José Goñi and his vivacious wife, Loreto Leyton Goñi, were planning to leave after spending less than one year here as newly-weds. A political appointee of center-left President Michelle Bachelet, José Goñi, a former Chilean minister of defense, was headed home to head the Santiago branch of the University of Concepción, while his spouse, a career diplomat, was set to return to a post in the foreign ministry.

Speaking only hours after the quake hit, Loreto Goñi calmly praised her country’s disaster plans. “Chile is well prepared for this kind of catastrophe; we are very organized and should be able to return services to the community rather soon. Our main highway to the south will take time, but as President Bachelet has declared a ‘state of catastrophe,’ all the armed forces will come together in a huge effort.”
She pointed out that the March 11 change in government should pose no major problem since the new ministers appointed by President Sebastian Pinera, a billionaire Conservative, “are already working with our current ministers to help our country in this emergency.”

Pinera’s election in January ends two decades of center-left rule since democracy was reinstated in Chile.

While Haitian Ambassador Raymond Joseph has been consumed 24/7 with helping hundreds of thousands of Haitians recover from the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, his wife Lola focused on Petit-Goâve, an historic community 42 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince and the site of the epicenter.

Before the temblor hit, Lola Joseph was already helping Petit-Goâve rebuild after four separate hurricanes ripped through the community two years ago. Now she has bigger plans. “I want P-G to be a model city for Haiti. I envision a kibbutz-type village for women and children to grow with dignity and become self-sufficient with all needs met – jobs, schools, recreation centers, good governance – and for people to live as decent human beings.”

Madame Joseph and her Children & Families Global Development Fund are holding a “Tribute to the Resilience of Haitian Women” to help mark International Women’s Day on March 11 with Archbishop Barney Auza, the papal nuncio to Haiti. Supporters include Deborah Sigmund’s Innocents at Risk Foundation, which has expressed concern about Haiti’s poor displaced women and children becoming unsuspecting prey.

For the first time and amid increasing tensions between the two countries, China has chosen a non-U.S. specialist to be its ambassador in Washington. Zhang Yesui, currently China’s U.N. representative, is expected to take over the reins here mid-March from departing Ambassador Zhu Wenzhong.

Zhang, an experienced internationalist, previously served as a diplomat in Great Britain where he studied at the London School of Economics. Another first: his wife also comes with the title of ambassador. Chen Naiqing was China’s ambassador to Norway and has also been an envoy on Korean affairs.

A small but influential group of local cyclists led by Washington attorney Mark Sommers and including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, Washington Convention and Sports Authority officials, and Italian Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, are vying to host the first “stages” of the century-old Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) in 2012. This would be the first time any noted cycling tour started outside of Europe.

Second only to the older Tour de France, which is held in July, the professional cyclists’ race would wind around many Washington landmarks, especially those donated by Italy or made by Italian Americans: Luigi Moretti’s Watergate complex, the U.S. Capitol (with Constantino Brumidi’s frescos), the Lincoln Memorial (carved by members of the Piccirilli family), “Valor” and “Sacrifice” bronzes at Memorial Bridge, and the Italian Embassy itself.

Relax, commuters. They’re definitely planning a weekend race.

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