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Monday, March 12, 2012

Dominican Republic honors University professor

President Leonel Fernández of the Dominican Republic awarded his country’s highest honor to a University professor in a ceremony held Feb., 10, according to a University press release.

Howard J. Wiarda, Dean Rusk Professor of International Relations in the School of Public and International Affairs, received the “Order de Colón” for his research on the Dominican Republic.

“It feels wonderful because I’ve been working and studying Latin American politics for a long period of time and writing about Latin American politics and American foreign policy for a long period of time,” Wiarda told the Red & Black. “So this is really the culmination of a long career.”

Professor Howard Wiarda wearing a medal that he received when honored by the Dominican Republic. Courtesy Bill Zachmann

The ceremony was held in the diplomatic room of the National Palace in the Dominican Republic. About 150 people attended.

“A lot of them were my friends from my earlier studies there as diplomats and people from the presidential office,” Wiarda said.

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Wiarda has written 7 of his 70 published books on the Dominican Republic. He has also visited and conducted research in the area 33 times, according to the press release.

“To be honest, I’ve kind of lost track [of the number of books I’ve had published],” he said. “I just very much enjoy the research work that I do — and I very, very much enjoy the writing that I do.”

Wiarda began his interests in both writing and Latin American culture as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. There he took some courses on the region.

“When I was a student the Cuban revolution was just occurring. A lot of people were really excited about the overthrow of the dictatorship in Cuba and the rise of a new regime,” he said. “Latin America in those days was a very exciting place to study because all kinds of things were happening in the region.”

While attending the University of Michigan, Wiarda also worked as an editor at a “really good” publication called the Michigan Daily.

“It was the Michigan equivalent to the Red & Black,” he said. “So I really learned how to write as a college newspaper writer and editor.”

Wiarda’s talent with writing and interest in the affairs of Latin America led him to graduate school at the University of Florida.

At the time, that university had the best Latin American studies program in the country, he said. His professor there was working on a textbook about Latin America and had enlisted graduate students to work on individual countries within that region.

“[My professor] said, ‘Why don’t you write about the Dominican Republic?’” Wiarda said. “So that’s what I did – and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made.”

In 1962, Wiarda wrote his master’s thesis on the Dominican Republic. The paper turned into his first book – “Dictatorship and Development” — and looks at the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

While researching and teaching in the Dominican Republic, Wiarda taught the Dominican Republic President and later worked on his presidential campaign.

“When he was about 20 years old … I had him immediately spotted,” Wiarda said. “He was clearly the smartest guy in the class. He knew things that the other kids didn’t know and he raised his hand — and asked good questions.”

As of now, Fernández is in his third presidential term in the Dominican Republic. He is considered “among the best and brightest” of the new Latin American presidents. He also may be a leading prospect for a high-ranking United Nations position, according to a press release.

Wiarda came to the University from the University of Massachusetts to work as the head of the Department of International Affairs in the School of Public and international Affairs, said Thomas Lauth, dean of SPIA. He then served in that position for six years before stepping down.

While Wiarda considers himself “very much an American,” he also maintains strong ties to the Dominican Republic.

“I love this country,” he said. “On the other hand … I lived in the Dominican Republic when I was very young and my wife and I actually had a baby that was born [there]. We have many good friends there and so often times we feel very close to the countries we study.”

Wiarda teaches a class in American Foreign Policy and a graduate seminar called Culture and Foreign Policy at the University.

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Source and Photo: Red and Black

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