Peace Corps Writers
Lipez on Vasquez

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Talking points on the Vasquez nomination

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Suddenly the Peace Corps is more important than ever. Wrenched horribly out of its long, isolationist reverie, the United States is now attempting to engage the larger, messy, complex, often violent rest-of-the-world in ways the Peace Corps has been learning about and eagerly grappling with for more than 40 years.
     Far more than just military — which ought to be the least of it — this multi-faceted re-engagement with the rest of the planet needs a Peace Corps that is as brave, committed and vital as ever. That means it also requires a Peace Corps leader with judgment, imagination and vision. Sadly, President Bush’s nominee to lead the agency, Gaddi Vasquez, is not that person. We urge you and others who care about the way the United States conducts itself in the community of nations in the next several years to join the campaign to persuade Mr. Bush to appoint a well-qualified leader for the Peace Corps at this critical moment.
     Mr. Vasquez is, by some accounts, an amiable fellow. But his serious shortcomings are numerous and his pluses nonexistent.

    Item: Mr. Vasquez has no international experience. Just when Peace Corps planners will need understanding of other cultures that is especially broad-ranging and subtle, Mr. Vasquez would show up knowing essentially nothing. Unlike Volunteers, who often take a year to figure out how to do their jobs well, the head of the institution must “get it” right away, and be prepared to make hard, good decisions. If this well-motivated neophyte wants to help, perhaps Mr. Vasquez should apply to become a Volunteer.

    Item: It’s hard to imagine a worse choice to manage an agency with a budget of $275 million. In his only public office, as an Orange County, California supervisor, Mr. Vasquez barely escaped prosecution after the county was bankrupted in a scandal involving fraudulently invested securities. Not quite a crook, according to the SEC, Mr. Vasquez was merely incompetent and clueless. He resigned his office in disgrace just ahead of a 1995 recall campaign, and since then has involved himself in power-company PR work and Republican politics.

    Item: In Orange County, Mr. Vasquez twice voted to deny housing rights and job protection to people with HIV/AIDS. Orange County was the only urban county in the state to reject such protections. A sizeable part of the work now performed by the Peace Corps involves AIDS education and prevention, especially in Africa. Mr. Vasquez is obviously not the man for that job, either.

    Item: Mr. Vasquez has no experience leading an aid or humanitarian agency. He has served on a few local boards, such as the Salvation Army and the Boy Scouts, but that’s all. He has never articulated a philosophy or vision that would even begin to suggest that he could lead the Peace Corps. The closest he has come to a major expression of moral principle may have been his $100,000 contribution last year to the Bush campaign.

Since Gaddi Vasquez lacks the experience, skills, vision, and — there is no avoiding this — the character to head the Peace Corps, whom then should President Bush choose? The list of qualified candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, is long. It includes RPCVs such as Ron Tschetter, Ginny Kirkwood, Mike McCaskey, and Jody Olson, whose names were submitted to the White House by the NPCA. The administration should return to this list and nominate a man or woman who will not require a protracted Senate confirmation struggle and who can quickly move into the job as the Peace Corps mobilizes to meet its most urgent challenges ever.
     To help save the Peace Corps from this disastrous appointment, please do any or all of the following:

    1. Write a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ( pointing out that Gaddi Vasquez will endanger the best impulses of U.S. foreign policy as well as the safety of the Volunteers and the agency itself. Mention that the editorial pages of The New York Times (August 24), the Los Angeles Times (August 20) and the Boston Globe (August 6) have all pronounced Mr. Vasquez unfit for the Peace Corps job. Please write specifically to Senators Joseph Biden (DL), the chairman; Christopher Dodd (CT), an RPCV; Barbara Boxer (CA); Jay Rockefeller (WV), an early Peace Corps staff volunteer; Paul Wellstone (MN); Paul Sarbanes (MD), who likes to examine nominees’ qualifications for federal appointments; Jessie Helms (NC); and Richard Lugar (IN).
    NOTE: Congress plans to adjourn in late October, so take action ASAP. If you know RPCVs in any of these senators’ states, get them calling and writing. Letters are most effective, then phone calls, then e-mails. Or do all three.

    2. Write President Bush and outline all the reasons the Vasquez nomination should be withdrawn.

    3. Pass this letter on to all the RPCVs you know and to all the other people and organizations that share Peace Corps values and beliefs.

    4. Sign the petition on opposing the Vasquez nomination

    5. Write an op-ed piece or letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Richard Lipez (Ethiopia 1962–64)

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