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December 07, 2011

MSASS Hosts U.S. Ambassador Heather M. Hodges

Case Western Reserve University students enrolled in the MSASS study travel course to Ecuador got an inside view of international relations from a special guest on December 3. Former U.S. Ambassador Heather M. Hodges gave a presentation at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences on the current political situation in Ecuador and offered insights into her expulsion from the country earlier this year.

Hodges, a native of Cleveland, arrived shortly before 1:30 p.m. to meet with students and MSASS faculty members Mark Chupp, Sonia Minnes and Debby Jacobson. Professor Chupp set up the visit through the Cleveland Council of World Affairs, where Hodges recently began as president.

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Her perspective included details about trade, humanitarian aid and diplomatic relations through the years. But the most compelling part of her presentation involved a discussion about the WikiLeaks scandal that led to her removal. The story began in November 2010, when numerous diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department were released by WikiLeaks, a non-profit media organization. The cables, which were assumed to be classified, provided details about diplomatic relations and were not intended to be made public.

Because her visit on Saturday was designed to help students prepare for what they will be exposed to during their two-week stay in Ecuador, she wanted to give them a clearer understanding of how politics, suspicion of corruption and anti-U.S. sentiment all came to a boiling point.

“It was like having your diaries opened for the world to see,” Hodges explained. “As these cables started coming out, they were being published in newspapers, and there was a lot of things that weren’t particularly positive. People were making assumptions and had completely missed the message that we could still work together despite our differences.”

Although journalists covering the story had assumed the cables were written by Hodges, she said that much of the information had been written by others, including previous staff. But the damage had already been done, and Hodges was declared “persona non grata” and forced to leave the country on April 12. As she boarded her plane home, she was given an emotional farewell by Ecuadorian citizens who respected and honored her work.

While U.S. ambassadors across the world were under scrutiny after WikiLeaks released more than 250,000 cables to the international news media, Hodges was the only U.S. ambassador to be expelled by the host government. Her removal was initiated after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa became angered over references to corruption among police leaders and more specifically, former commander Jaime Hurtado Vaca. In response, the U.S. expelled the Ecuadorian ambassador in Washington.

The 22 students from across CWRU and MSASS faculty will make a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Quito as part of their in-county orientation.