As a foreign diplomat in service to the U.S., Laura Dogu has pulled quite the spectrum of duties.
She has served as deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Mexico.
Dogu has been assigned to Cairo, Egypt; San Salvador, El Salvador; and Ankara, Turkey.
The government put her through accelerated courses in Spanish, Turkish and Arabic languages, and a master’s degree program at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.
President Obama nominated and the Senate confirmed her in 2015 as ambassador to strife-torn Nicaragua.
“I’ve had one employer for almost 30 years,” Dogu told her audience last week at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus. “But I’ve never had the same job for more than three years. So it’s very interesting as well.”
Dogu, a guest of the Latin American Studies program, brought a frank assessment of a life in Foreign Service on behalf of the U.S. — stipulating that her opinions were hers alone and not the company line or formal U.S. policy.
Dogu’s talk was every bit encouraging for a lecture hall with students, staff and faculty as diverse as the opportunities of work for the Department of State — and many other departments in the administration.
“You name the department, I can assure you they have something going on overseas if you’re interested in that type of work,” Dogu said. “I really don’t think there’s a better way to shape your future than being involved in the work the U.S. government does both at home and abroad. I encourage you to strongly consider that as a career opportunity.”
There are two main paths someone could follow to become an ambassador. About 30 percent have been those with personal, business or political ties to the president and party in power, while about 70 percent have been, like Dogu, those who rose through the ranks as professional diplomats, consuls and embassy officers in the Foreign Service.
“I would encourage all of you to consider employment in the United States government,” Dogu said. “It doesn’t a have to come in the form of diplomacy. It has been a real honor to represent the United State in a broad variety of ways, and we need people with broad backgrounds.
“I broke in through the standard way to get into the Foreign Service, which means I spent most of my career overseas.
“You need to have a broad interest in what’s going on around the world, and no particular background exactly fits all of that. You would be surprised. You name a degree and I have a colleague who has studied in that field,” she said.
Of particular interest to students earning credits in Latin American Studies was Dogu’s extensive reflection of three years in Managua, where she maintained bilateral relations between Washington and embattled President Daniel Ortega during the crumbling of the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
She offered insights into the economic and political climates that have driven northward migration, especially the caravan of thousands that fled Central America through Mexico to the U.S. border late last year.
“One of the big areas that I think is a challenge but also an opportunity in Latin America right now are the counties in the northern triangle — Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. We hear about them here in the United States because of the migrant caravans, but what people don’t focus on a lot is what’s driving a lot of that migration. A lot of that is being driven due to extreme violence, extreme economic challenges in those countries. People don’t feel safe and they decide to leave,” Dogu said.
“The United States government is focusing a lot of our efforts to try and solve some of the problems because you can’t just solve the migration issue at the border. You have to solve the problem back in those countries as well. So we have significant investments going on to try and help communities to learn how to reduce violence, how to professionalize policing programs, and in those communities where our programs are working, I think that the violence levels and homicide levels have dropped 65 to 70 percent,” Dogu said. “But the challenge is to replicate those across an entire country and not just in a few communities, and the challenges are different in each community.”
Trouble in Venezuela has dominated recent headlines, Dogu said.
“A very wealthy country, huge oil supplies, but they’ve managed to drive their economy into the ground,” Dogu said. She said the national security adviser puts Venezuela into a group called the “Troika of Tyranny” along with Cuba and Nicaragua.
“There’s a synergy between those countries, unfortunately it’s not a positive one,” Dogu said. “With Venezuela, the problem for us is that there’s a large amount of narcotics smuggling coming out of there, and they’re triggering huge migrant flows into the surrounding counties which is causing instability there, which is a problem for us as well in the United States.”
Heads up: Russia recently sent several hundred troops to the Venezuela.
“We’re back to the Cold War. Actually, we never left the Cold War in Latin America.”
Next to Venezuela, Dogu said, is Colombia, with predominant problems with terrorist groups and narcotics production and transportation to the north.
The challenge there is to get farmers to give up their current livelihoods — products that go into drugs — and raise something else.
“We really have to find a new economic model because you can’t tell people who are just trying to feed their children to stop producing something and starve their children. You’ve got to be able to say ‘stop producing that and produce this, and there’s a market for it.’ And you have to make sure they have the technology and training to be able to do it,” she said.
The importance of maintaining good relations with Central and South American nations is largely economic, she said, in view of the large share of American products traded to the south and the impact on more than 20 states that heavily rely on trade with Mexico as the first or second destination for goods they produce.
Dogu’s three years as ambassador to Nicaragua, “a period that started out pretty calm and ended literally with a bang,” gave her a front-row seat to the strife and civil unrest.
“A very difficult moment for Nicaragua and a very difficult moment for me and my team working there on the ground,” she said.
She outlined the series of political and legal maneuvers that led to a system that allowed Ortega to return to power with only 38 percent of the vote and the transition of control to the Sandinistas.
Although the Ortega government converted Nicaragua’s suffering economy into annual growth of about five percent and made peace with bordering countries, Dogu said, Ortega orchestrated the loss of personal freedoms.
Her task, upon arriving as the new ambassador, was to tell the Nicaraguans that the U.S. would no longer interfere in how the country operated.
April marks the first anniversary of the start of an ongoing uprising against the controlling Sandinistas including a government-led university, where Dogu said a student achieved national hero status in a matter of minutes upon delivering a critical confrontation on campus that was shared nationwide on social media.
“For those of you who speak Spanish and want to see a moment in history, there’s a video of the opening of the national dialogue event,” Dogu said. “I encourage you to watch it. I had the opportunity to sit in that room live. The power of youth, and many of you fall into that category, cannot be understated.
“This young man, Lesther Aleman, stood up and confronted the president, called him an assassin, told him they were not there to negotiate, and they were there to arrange for his departure.”
The remarks changed the Aleman’s life.
“It still gives me goosebumps to think about that. It was extraordinary. On Monday when all this started he was a student. On Wednesday and Thursday he watched his friends get gunned down beside him. And by Friday he was a student leader … in a civil alliance team trying to bring peace back to Nicaragua.”
Before she left her assignment as ambassador, Dogu said, she had been targeted in an assassination plot against others, including Bishop Silvio Jose Baez, who were or thought to be part of the anti-government movement.
Dogu was assigned in October to her current position as the acting director of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, an interagency group of law enforcement, diplomatic, military and intelligence experts responsible for the recovery of Americans held hostage abroad.
Most have been taken captive by terrorist organizations, she said.
“It’s not all bad news. We just got a hostage back, somebody who was held in Yemen,” Dogu said, showing photos of the recovered American, Danny Burch, meeting with President Donald Trump in Washington.
“We have a policy that we don’t negotiate with hostage groups. We will talk to them, but we cannot negotiate with them. We don’t pay ransom, we don’t give concessions,” she said. “It comes in a broad variety of ways; some of it is covert, some of it might be military action, some of it is that we manage to convince the group that they won’t get any concessions and they decide to let them go.”
Dogu, from Texas, earned two bachelors and a master’s degrees from Southern Methodist University, worked six years for IBM and joined Foreign Service in 1991.
Dogu’s sister, IUP professor Katie Farnsworth, of the Department of Geoscience, introduced her presentation Wednesday at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.