The Foreign Service Journal - December 2017

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | DECEMBER 2017 31 A Flag Is Better than a Thousand Words Soviet Union 1991 • By Raymond Smith On the morning of Aug. 19, 1991, hard-line Soviet leaders were attempting to solidify their coup against Soviet President and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. At the U.S. embassy, we were scrambling for information, advising Washington on the conditions that could lead the coup effort to collapse (large- scale public resistance and doubts that the military would follow orders to crush the resistance to it), and recommending that the U.S. government refuse all contact with the coup leadership. I was about two weeks short of completing my three-year tour as head of Embassy Moscow’s political section. We were between ambassadors, and Jim Collins, normally the deputy chief of mission, was in charge. At about midday, Jim told me that he had gotten a request from Russian President Boris Yeltsin (the centerpiece of resistance to the coup) to call on him at Russian government headquarters, which overlooked the embassy compound from a couple hundred yards away. Crowds had converged on the headquarters, locally known as the White House, and were building barricades around it with whatever materials they could find. If the coup leaders tried to use force, this was where it would happen. Jim asked for my views, and I told him that I thought we should go see Yeltsin. We had long supported Gorbachev’s reform effort, although we had also advised Washington that the effort was in trouble and that even the continued existence of the Soviet Union was in doubt. Success of the coup would mean the end of reform and, probably, a reversion to hostility between our countries. There was no doubt the coup leaders would be well aware of our visit to Yeltsin and would understand how the United States felt about their effort to grab power. Jimmade a call to the State Depart- ment on the embassy’s secure line and obtained agreement to accept Yeltsin’s invitation. A fewminutes later, we climbed into the ambassador’s limousine and, American flag flying to show that the head of the embassy was aboard, made the short drive to the White House, moving carefully up the ramp as cheering crowds pulled down their makeshift barriers to allow us entry. It was as clear to them as it was to the temporary occupants of the Kremlin what this meant. Two days later, the coup collapsed. Gorbachev was released from house arrest in the Crimea and returned to a capital that he no longer ruled. Yeltsin was now the dominant leader, and a few months later he led Russia out of the Soviet Union, consigning the 1917 communist revolution to the dustbin of history. The coup collapsed for the reasons we said it might: the bravery of the Soviet citizens who risked their lives to resist it and the unwillingness of key members of the Soviet military to use force against their own people. We at the embassy had done what dip- lomats can. We provided our leaders with information and advice. We recognized and took advantage of the opportunity to demon- strate publicly where the United States stood at this critical junc- ture in the political life of the country to which we were accredited. Raymond Smith worked in the State Department for more than 30 years, retiring from the Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor. His areas of specialty were the Soviet Union, Russia and Africa. Smith is the author of two books, Negotiating with the Soviets (Indiana University Press, 1989) and The Craft of Political Analysis for Diplomats (Potomac Books, 2011), and numerous articles. Señora Luna’s Cooking Pot Bolivia 2003 • By Alexis Ludwig One afternoon in late November 2003, Pete Harding, then human rights officer at U.S. Embassy La Paz, was returning to his office after a working lunch with one of his social sector contacts. As he entered the chancery lobby and made his way toward the elevators, Harding noticed a middle- aged woman of indigenous ethnic origin stepping away from the embassy cashier’s window. She was dressed non- descriptly, in jeans, a long-sleeved white T-shirt and blue vest. But something about her was off. She held a large black cooking pot in her arms, and tears were streaming down her face. Harding felt the stirrings of sympathy and curiosity. He introduced himself, and guided the woman to a seat in the back corner of the lobby. Harding discovered that the woman, Señora Gaby Luna Velasco, had recently lost her home to a fire. Señora Luna’s two- story home in the Eloy Salmon commercial neighborhood near downtown La Paz doubled as a small business: the structure’s ground floor was a shop fromwhich she and her family sold “ ”