Ambassador Charles Shapiro: Bringing Atlanta to the World, and the World to Atlanta

Rotarian Kyra Solomon invited Ambassador Charles Shapiro, career diplomat and President, World Affairs Council of Atlanta, to speak to our club. In 2011, Ambassador Shapiro retired from the Foreign Service. During his time at the Foreign Service, he held numerous positions including ambassador to Venezuela and principal deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere. Other foreign postings included Chile, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, and Denmark as well as several assignments in Washington, D.C. Also in 2011, Shapiro became president of the Institute of the Americas, a think tank at the University of California San Diego. Ambassador Shapiro’s life in the U.S. Foreign Service has enabled him to work effectively with Atlanta business leaders, government, and civil society to address international issues critical to Atlanta’s businesses, government and communities. Ambassador Shapiro described his job at the World Affairs Council as "bringing Atlanta to the world … and the world to Atlanta."  He described a whirlwind of activity despite the restrictions of COVID-19 resulting in some 55 programs since March 2020. Speaking of COVID-19, he said that it has revealed structural discrimination and advanced a hunger crisis with 200 million people actually facing starvation. He emphasized the need to increase access to credit in support of the skills and needs of marginalized persons. Regarding Cuba, Ambassador Shapiro noted that since the advent of its takeover by Communist Dictator Fidel Castro there had been no progress on the relationships between the U.S. and Cuba in fifty years, which prompted President Obama to change strategies by restoring diplomatic relations. President Trump has dialed some of these back. The situation has not changed much. Literacy rates are at 98%, higher than in the U.S. Its health system is more effective for the masses and runs at a fraction of the cost compared to the U.S. Cuba has clean water and a good sewage system. Childhood mortality is very low. Nevertheless, Cuba also proves how extreme socialism does not work, as the government will not promote and actually prevents formation of a strong private sector economy. In fact, Ambassador Shapiro said one cannot utter the term ‘private sector’ in business or economic discussions. Regarding Venezuela, U.S. Ambassador Shapiro again stated that extreme versions of socialism can fatally undermined a once quite prosperous society. Former leader, the late President Hugo Chavez, began the destruction of its financial strength by squandering its earned revenues from oil (it has the largest oil reserves in the world – more than Saudi Arabia) through vast programs giving money to the poor, but with no plan to fund the government, resulting in deficits. The economic situation has even worsened under Nicholas Maduro, whose administration has witnessed at least 10% of its population fleeing the nation, many of whom represent its administrative and intellectual strength. Ambassador Shapiro said, “People are starving.” Further on Venezuela, Uku Urb, our most recent and AWER’s most excellent GRSP student from Estonia, now attending school in France, asked Ambassador Shapiro about the environmental situation in Venezuela and whether or not it is comparable to that of Brazil (where they are burning the Amazon forest to make more land available for livestock farming). The Ambassador answered that the Venezuelans currently do not have any prospects for using the same strategy as in Brazil because they are simply too poor to afford such methods. He illustrated that with an example of how Venezuela, the country with the world's largest proven oil reserves, imports gasoline from other countries because they lack refineries. Kyra Solomon asked why people in the U.S. are moving to Columbia. Ambassador Shapiro said it is a beautiful country, wonderful climate, U.S. dollars are greatly expanded; it’s a #1 vacation area. Some return to Columbia to where their parents lived. Drug gangs are a menace, though they do not substantially alter the quality of life, similar as in the U.S. Because of time limitations, the flurry of questions posed were not answered. President Kimberly asked Ambassador Shapiro, therefore, to accept an invitation to return to our Club, which he graciously agreed to do.

Posted by Neil Shorthouse
November 13, 2020 2:00pm


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