Diplomatic Pouch / September 4, 2009
By Larry Luxner
Sen. Ted Kennedy wasn't a head of state, but he might as well have been, given the accolades and condolences pouring in from Washington's diplomatic community following his death from brain cancer last week.
From Bangladesh to Ireland, the 77-year-old lawmaker made his presence felt around the world, and he seemed to touch people in distant lands in ways that few other senators or representatives have done in their lifetimes.
Said Tayeb Jawad, ambassador of war-torn Afghanistan, said the Massachusetts Democrat was a champion of his troubled country.
"I will always remain deeply touched by his friendship," said Jawad. "He provided clear leadership on the issues related to Afghanistan, and his unwavering commitment to equal rights for men and women reverberates deeply in the hearts of all Afghan leaders. His belief that the world can be a better place resonates across the mountains of Afghanistan to people of every tribe and language; to all who seek to realize his dreams of equal rights, fairness and freedom."
Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, ambassador of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, also praised the lawmaker.
"Sen. Kennedy came to our embassy right after the tsunami to express his sympathy to the people," he said, recalling also how the likeable senator visited an Indonesian tall ship that participating in the 2007 Boston Festival. "The late President Kennedy was a friend of our president, Sukarno, and his family is regarded by Indonesians as making a big contribution to friendly relations between our two countries."
Equally warm words were expressed by Raymond Joseph, Hait's ambassador in Washington.
"We feel that we have lost a big friend," Joseph told Diplomatic Pouch. "Our relationship goes back to President John F. Kennedy, who was the first to espouse the cause of Haitian exiles in the United States, along with his brother Bobby. As the main spokesman for the weak, he often talked about the situation in Haiti, and the Haitians considered him and his two brothers friends."
Likewise, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs says Sen. Kennedy did more for Latin America and the Caribbean than any other legislator in recent U.S. history.
"From the first days after its founding in 1975, COHA worked closely with Sen. Kennedy's office — often on an urgent basis — when the lives of various embattled Latin Americans were at risk as a result of dirty wars being waged by the region's military and other authoritarian regimes against their own citizens during the 1980s," said the organization's director, Larry Birns, in a Sept. 2 press statement.
"Along with a handful of other invaluable senators serving in the same way, like Tom Harkin of Iowa and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Sen. Kennedy was one of the best-informed and most caring U.S. legislators when it came to the humanitarian tragedies being perpetrated in Argentina, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia and El Salvador."
Akramul Qader, who presented his credentials last week as ambassador of Bangladesh, said his country's foreign minister, Dipu Moni, visited the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka last week to sign the official condolence book.
That act has a great deal of personal meaning to Qader, who lost two of his brothers in Bangladesh's fierce 1971 war of independence.
"Sen. Kennedy will be well-remembered by Bangladeshis for his contribution towards our iberation," he said. "He helped us morally, and through his presence in the refugee camps of India, where hundreds of thousands of our people took shelter. He also visited Bangladesh immediately after its inception, which was a source of great courage for Bangladesh as a nation."
But perhaps the most moving tribute came from another country once embroiled in civil war: Ireland.
In fact, the national flag flew at half-staff over the Irish Embassy in Washington following Kennedy's funeral in Boston, which was attended by both Ambassador Michael Collins and Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
"Ted Kennedy, who hailed from the most famous Irish-American family, will be remembered with great affection and enduring respect in Ireland," Cowan said in a tribute to the late senator.
"In good days and bad, Ted Kennedy worked valiantly for the cause of peace on this island. He played a particularly important role in the formative days of the Northern Ireland peace process and maintained a strong and genuine interest in its progress. He was the voice of moderation and common sense, and he was unequivocal in his rejection of violence at all times and from all quarters. America has lost a great and respected statesman, and Ireland has lost a long-standing and true friend."