The presidents of Chile, Croatia and the Dominican Republic descended on UCLA with their entourages over a five-day span Sept. 24-28. The dignitaries held meetings with Chancellor Gene Block and university, state and city officials and forged international partnerships in education, research, environmental issues and other areas.
Although UCLA has played host to many high-level dignitaries and diplomats — including presidents, ambassadors, supreme court justices and secretaries general of the United Nations — the campus has never before seen three sitting heads of state in the same season, much less in one five-day span.
These unprecedented whirlwind diplomatic visits took place between Friday, Sept. 24, and Tuesday, Sept. 28, when the presidents of Chile, Croatia and the Dominican Republic all came separately with their entourages to meet with Chancellor Gene Block and university, state and city officials to build international partnerships in education, research, environmental issues and other areas.
"Strengthening international relationships is an important and growing focus for UCLA," said Block during one of several ceremonies at which formal agreements were signed.
On Friday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California's first lady, Maria Shriver, arrived at the Chancellor's Residence to meet and lunch with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and two of his cabinet ministers. Then on Sunday and Monday, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic met with UCLA officials and spoke at the opening of a UCLA Hillel exhibition honoring Croatians who saved Jews from persecution and murder during World War II. Finally, late Tuesday morning, President Leonel Fernández Reyna of the Dominican Republic and first lady Margarita Cedeño de Fernández came to the Chancellor's Residence for breakfast and the signing of an agreement to promote educational collaboration and exchange.
"This shows the importance of internationalization and international relations at UCLA," said Randal Johnson, interim vice provost of international studies, who participated in all the events, "and reminds everyone that UCLA and Los Angeles are a global university and a global city."
Hosting such high-level visits is nothing new to the campus, according to the UCLA Office of Special Events and Protocol, the unit that plays an integral role in helping to organize such visits by special guests. Last March, for example, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon came to deliver the Bernard Brodie Distinguished Lecture on the Conditions of Peace and receive the UCLA Medal, the university's highest honor.
In 2009, Haris Silajdzic, a member of the tripartite rotating presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, visited. In 2006, former President Bill Clinton chose to launch a global initiative on climate change at UCLA along with other dignitaries. Earlier, in 2001, Mexican President Vicente Fox came to UCLA to meet with Gov. Gray Davis and UC President Richard Atkinson.
The 1990s was also an era rich with the pomp and pageantry of such visits. President Clinton's visit in 1994 to a packed Pauley Pavilion was the highlight of UCLA's 75th anniversary convocation. The decade also saw campus visits by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Perez, Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide and Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel.
"I've seen many, many dignitaries come to campus, from Vaclav Havel to Benazir Bhutto and Shimon Perez," said Tracy Hershey, executive director of UCLA Special Events and Protocol. "One of my first visits occurred when I was still working at the Chancellor's Residence, and Prince Andrew and Fergie came to visit.
"Having three heads of state within a five-day span was a little stressful," Hershey said, "but we have such an amazing team of experts and colleagues on campus that we were able to pull it off, and I think quite graciously. When an international dignitary comes onto campus, we pull out our protocol books, we contact colleagues on campus as well as the Mayor's or the Governor's Office and the consulate to make sure we're following the proper protocols for that particular dignitary."
Each of the recent back-to-back presidential visits had a different impetus.
In the case of Chile, UC and UCLA have a decades-long history of educational collaboration and technical cooperation, formal ties that were expanded in 2008 in agreements signed with then-President Michelle Bachelet at UC Davis.
The Chileans' visit began Thursday when Juan Andrés Fontaine, Chile's minister of economy, development and tourism, spoke at the Anderson School at the invitation of UCLA's Center for International Business Education and Research.
On Friday, President Piñera and Gov. Schwarzenegger discussed cooperation on education, the environment and energy technology, culminating in the signing of related agreements, including a memorandum of understanding (MOU) by Anderson School of Management Dean Judy Olian and Alfonso Gómez, the dean of the business school at Chile's Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez. The MOU formalizes a proposal for a UCLA–UAI Global Executive M.B.A. for the Americas that will be unique in Latin America; the program is awaiting final approval by the UC Office of the President.
"I am particularly happy that one of the MOUs that we have signed today has to do with education," Piñera later told 150 people at the luncheon, "because that is the mother of all the battles. Basically, whether we win or we lose that battle will be the difference between success and failure in our future."
Gov. Schwarzenegger praised the signing of another MOU on Friday that paves the way for cooperation among UC Santa Barabara, the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the Wildlife Conservation Society-Chile on marine conservation issues. Piñera observed that the similar geography and climates of California and Chile afford opportunities for cooperation.
On Sunday, President Josipovic gave the keynote speech at the opening of the "Croatian Righteous Among the Nations" exhibition at Hillel at UCLA, which honors Croatian citizens who saved the lives of Jews under the wartime Nazi puppet regime of the Ustasha movement. "In front of us are stories about 104 brave individual citizens of Croatia who should never be forgotten," Josipovic said at the exhibition opening. "They should never be forgotten because they demonstrated in the most courageous manner what it means to be a good person, a good neighbor."
Josipovic, whose father was a member of the anti-fascist resistance movement, also paid tribute to Jews, Serbs and Roma people who lost their lives in the successful struggle to drive out the Nazis in 1945. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the war of independence, Croatia has been admitted into NATO and is now a leading candidate for European Union membership.
"Unfortunately, history didn't allow Croatia to be a member of the free world" after World War II, Josipovic said. "But now, after Croatia became an independent state, we are developing a high standard of democracy. We are developing human rights." Josipovic later met with Chancellor Block, School of Law Dean Rachel Moran, faculty members and researchers.
On Tuesday, the final day of state visits, President Fernández spoke to about 100 people gathered at the Chancellor's Residence following the signing of an MOU between UCLA and the Dominican Republic to encourage educational exchanges and cooperation. Fernández said that previous collaboration, including participation by UCLA theater, film and television professors in the Dominican International Film Festival, had already jump-started the agreement.
Presenting Fernández with a sculpture by UCLA Professor of Design Vasa Mihich, Block praised the president of the island nation for providing assistance to neighboring Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January and for his efforts as a mediator between Colombia and Venezuela.
Fernández told the audience that his country's main challenges were economic and social, and that the government's job was to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. "We cannot do it by ourselves," he said.
"UCLA, with all its prestige, with all its faculty, researchers and students, can have an impact on the future of the Dominican Republic and the whole Caribbean as a region. And we can do that through mobility of all these human resources," the head of the Dominican Republic said.
Published: Thursday, September 30, 2010
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