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Heather M. Hodges:
“My Priority is to Help the Citizens of Moldova Create a Better Future for Themselves and Their Children”
Welcome: Your Excellency, could you please say just a few words about yourself?
Answer; I am proud to be a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and have been in the service for twenty-three years. I have spent most of my career in Spain and Latin America, so Moldova is an area of the world that is new and interesting for me. I enjoy being a Foreign Service Officer because it gives me the opportunity to serve my country and learn about peoples and cultures around the world. I also have the opportunity to contribute to improving ties between the U.S. and other countries where I have served.
What were your first impressions when you just arrived in Moldova and Chisinau?
I felt welcomed immediately. I was very impressed with the beautiful landscape of Moldova and the friendly and warm people. I felt right at home.
What primary sources of information did you use to learn more about Moldova?
The U.S. Department of State and the American Embassy in Moldova gave me considerable information. I needed to learn a lot about Moldova not only in preparation to come here, but also for my Senate confirmation hearing. As you may know, American ambassadors are nominated by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. I had to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I read some other books on Moldova, although there are not many. I also talked to some experts on Moldova.
Were there any challenges you knew you would have to face from the very beginning as the fifth American ambassador?
Of course, any ambassador knows that he or she will be working with the government to maintain good relations between the two countries. Because the U.S. has such a large program of assistance, one of the challenges I knew I would face is continually improving the efficiency and impact of our programs, supporting democracy, strengthening the possibilities for media to inform the Moldovan people, and bolstering the economy.
In addition to consolidating democratic and economic reform, there are two other issues I would like to make note of. First, we want to promote regional stability. We believe resolving the Transnistrian conflict is important to the democratic and economic stability and development of all of Moldova. We fully support the OSCE in its efforts regarding this issue. Secondly, we want to help Moldova in its efforts to combat trafficking of women and children. We are working closely with the Government of Moldova, other international organizations, and civil society to address prevention and encourage law enforcement to combat trafficking.
What have you encountered to be the biggest problem Moldova faces today as a newly independent state?
I believe that corruption is the biggest problem that Moldova faces. Corruption pervasively affects other institutions, and I believe that many of the other problems Moldova faces are made worse by corruption. Corruption affects the economic situation, democracy, and human rights, causing a poor investment climate, damaging public confidence, and enabling trafficking in persons. Until corruption is actively prosecuted in Moldova, it will be difficult to tackle these other problems in a meaningful way.
What are the major points on your agenda as an ambassador?
As Ambassador I will endorse democratic principles, work closely with the Government of Moldova to promote market-oriented economic growth and investment, and assist Moldova in finding a lasting and peaceful solution in Transnistria. In sum, my priority as the U.S. Ambassador to Moldova is to help the citizens of Moldova create a better future for themselves and their children.
What are, in your opinion, the main directions of cooperation between the U.S. and Moldova? What are the prospects of further development?
Moldova and the United States collaborate on many issues; two key issues are terrorism and economic development.
Moldova has supported the United States in the Global War against Terror and in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. The Moldovan soldiers who returned from Iraq earlier this month represented your country very well. We appreciated their demining expertise and humanitarian assistance. The second group of Moldovan soldiers is scheduled to leave for Iraq shortly. The U.S. is extremely grateful to the Government and the people of Moldova for their continued support.
In terms of economic cooperation, the U.S.-Moldova Joint Economic Task Force meeting held last June was the first step in a concentrated effort to assist in the development of a robust Moldovan economy. We are working to promote American – as well as domestic – investment through a reduction in bureaucracy and government interference in the economy.
Do you plan to take an active part in the social and cultural life of Moldova? Are there any particular events that you might be interested in participating in?
I hope to learn more about Moldovan society and cultural life. I have been to several functions where I have been very impressed with the cultural heritage – Moldovan singers, dancers, and musicians – not just in a folkloric sense but also a classical one as well. I have also been extremely impressed by contemporary Moldovan artists. I have already started a Moldovan art collection! I have already traveled to many cities in Moldova, but I hope to see more.
What would you say are some of the most valuable traditions in American culture, and what do they promote in people?
There are two ways of looking at traditions in American culture. One way is by looking at ethnic traditions, the various cultural traditions that the people who make up the United States have brought from places in the world such as Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. I think it's amazing to see how these traditions have come together in the U.S. and been integrated into American culture.
Another way you look at traditions is to look at the traditions that don't have ethnic roots. One tradition in the U.S. is the way Americans give of themselves. American volunteerism, charitable work, helping in the political process is all part of the long-standing tradition Americans have of getting involved. I believe this is why democracy is so strong in our country – people make a commitment to an ideal.
Is it difficult to be a female ambassador?
Being an ambassador, if you are female or male, is a serious responsibility. As ambassador you have the responsibility of promoting American areas of interest in a country and also promoting mutual understanding between the U.S. and that country. Sometimes it is not easy, but nothing worthwhile is easy.
Are Moldovan women, in your opinion, self-sufficient and independent enough?
Here in Moldova I have met women in all walks of life and it's important that there be opportunities for women to reach the highest levels of society. Levels of self-sufficiency for women differ around the world depending on the fewer opportunities available for women. I hope that there will be more and more opportunities in Moldova for all women so they can succeed.
Typically Moldovans traveling abroad bring a bottle of wine with them as a souvenir. What object of cultural value would you bring from the U.S.?
One of the things I love about America is its diversity. I know one person at the Embassy from the American West Coast who brings local candies from her state. I know another Embassy employee from the East Coast who brings maple syrup. There may not be one tangible thing that I bring to represent America when traveling abroad, but I always like to think I bring a love of freedom, a reverence for justice, and a respect for all peoples.
Do you have anything to wish Welcome magazine and its readers?
I hope that if you are visiting Moldova, you will enjoy your stay and that you are able to visit Chisinau and the surrounding countryside. I also hope that you have an opportunity to taste the good food and wine.
Prepared by Vlada Popushoi