Professor becomes head of Organization of American States

Former professor Miguel Angel Rodriguez landed a new job last month that will not keep him far from his former office in the Elliott School of International Affairs building. The former president of Costa Rica was elected secretary general of the Organization of American States.

Rodriguez, who had been the Elliott School’s J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro visiting professor for the past two years, said he is excited to head up the international organization, which seeks to promote peace in the Western Hemisphere.

“I was campaigning on values that all American nations have in common,” Rodriguez told The Hatchet in a phone interview from the OAS’ F Street office complex, located only a block from Thurston Hall. “Growth and wealth have not been forthcoming in all American nations, but I am proud of the advancements that have been made and am happy to see important progress.”

Rodriguez, who beat out four other candidates to win the OAS’s top post, said he is ready and willing to promote stability, peace and economic growth in the Western Hemisphere.

“I understand that the challenges are very large, but I am very optimistic that the values we share in our hemisphere we can also progress in,” he said.

Citing terrorist threats around the world, Rodriguez also said security will be one of his top priorities.

“After the terrorist attacks of September 11, we must all be aware of the possibility of terrorists,” he said. “These are issues that risk the lives of our people, and we must take special care in dealing with them.”

Rodriguez said his tenure as the president of Costa Rica from 1998 to 2002 provided him with the experience needed to lead the OAS. He said that his achievements he is most proud of as president includes modernizing social and economic institutions, passing a law that made it easier for single mothers to declare a biological father and updating the social security system.

“The general secretary job will be much different from my past job of president of Costa Rica,” he said. “As president you are fully responsible for a government, (but) in my next job I will be not be in charge of a specific government.”

Having received his law degree in Costa Rica, Rodriguez went on to earn a doctorate degree in economics from the University of California-Berkeley. He then worked in the agriculture business and taught economics at the University of Costa Rica before being elected to lead his native country.

After serving a four-year term as Costa Rica’s president, Rodriguez accepted an invitation in summer 2002 to teach at GW as the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro professor, a position for experts in the field of international affairs.

Rodriguez kept a very visible profile while at GW, teaching several classes each semester and speaking at conferences, including a gathering of former presidents of Latin American countries at the Elliott School earlier this year.

Elliott School Dean Harry Harding said he is sad to see Rodriguez leave GW, but is excited about the former presidents’ new position and hopes for a continued relationship with him in the future.

“He contributed a lot,” Harding said. “He is a scholar and a political leader with a broad range of international education and governance. He was one of the most successful Shapiro professors we have had at the Elliott School.”

Cynthia McClintock, an Elliott School professor who worked with Rodriguez for two years, also praised Rodriguez’s commitment to academics, which she said “is not often seen in former presidents.”

“He couldn’t have been a better scholar and colleague,” she said.

As leader of the OAS, Rodriguez would deal primarily with conflict resolution, McClintock said. During its 54-year existence, the organization has been a mediator in dozens of conflicts, including the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and England’s invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

“The OAS plays an important role, like the UN, in finding peaceful ways to resolve internal conflicts within nations,” she said, emphasizing that Rodriguez will have to handle warring factions in Venezuela and violence in Haiti. n

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