Dr Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo, ambassador of the Dominican Republic to Qatar, is a man with vision. His extensive experience in international relations and economic affairs speaks volumes about his statesmanship.
Community recently interviewed him about his life and times. Excerpts:
Please tell us about your journey so far.
The journey so far has been incredibly rich. I am the eldest of three brothers. My parents have a high public profile. My father, José Israel Cuello, was always in politics, writing opinion columns in the editorial pages of our main newspapers and is still active on a live, early-morning TV programme three times a week, at 81.
My mother, Lourdes Camilo de Cuello, became vice minister for Cultural Heritage at the Ministry of Culture, after a long and successful career as a professor of the Spanish language and, editor of primary school textbooks.
Together they set up a publishing house with a catalogue that included the most important works of written Dominican culture, which my brothers Ernesto and Pablo later expanded and diversified. My grandfathers from both sides of the family were also pillars of their communities.
With this heritage it was natural for me to be concerned from a very early age with matters of public policy. My vocation for studying economics crystallised during the economic crisis that hit my country during the oil shock of the early 1980s. I graduated magna cum laude at the Technical Institute of Santo Domingo (INTEC) in 1987 and attained my Masters’ and PhD degrees in 1990 and 1994 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, majoring in regional science, development economics and econometrics.
I have five children. Catherine, born in 1988, is a successful public relations consultant and expert on food science now based in New York. Felipe, who carries degrees in economics, philosophy and public policy, is in civil service in the Dominican Republic. Camille is about to graduate in the UK as an industrial designer. Four-year-old Alejandro and three-year-old Leonardo are from second marriage with Natalia Federighi de Cuello.
In my country, I first worked with UNDP. I worked with the minister of economics as his adviser. Later, I was promoted to the rank of vice minister for International Cooperation and Economic Reforms. By early 1999, I become ambassador to the WTO and the European Office of the UN in Geneva. In 2002, I resigned from the Foreign Service.
Since then I am the Research Professor of Development Economics and Economic Policy at the Pontifical Catholic University, a post in which I am on leave without pay since January 2005, after my return to the Foreign Service as ambassador to the European Communities, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland. My next appointment was as Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations. From UN, I was appointed as ambassador to the UK and Northern Ireland. I moved to Qatar as ambassador last year.
How do you best define diplomacy? What are its basic tenets?
Diplomacy is what diplomats do: promoting and defending their countries’ interests, negotiating on their behalf, informing about what they do as well as about what happens in their destinations and, of course protecting their countries’ reputation as well as their residents. In performing their duties, diplomats have to master a number of disciplines, including but not limited to public relations, history, international relations, international public and private law, international relations, economics, management and trade. To be successful, diplomats must excel in at least two of these disciplines while having good interpersonal skills. In diplomacy, as in politics, personalities matter. This human element is absolutely essential.
What has been your most challenging career assignment?
Achieving the unanimous ratification of the WTO Agreements that created the WTO was my greatest challenge: the formulation and implementation of the legal and institutional reforms required for globalisation. It required much patience, intense consultations and interpersonal skills to build confidence and pull it all through. Still many of the reforms took years to implement fully.
What are other highlights of your career?
Being present in so many momentous events of the last 25 years has been a privilege. In Geneva, I was part of the creation of the WTO and the accession of China to the WTO. In Brussels, I participated in the negotiations of the CARIFORUM-EU EPA [Economic partnership agreement between the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) — a subgroup of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States — and European Union and its member states].
In London, I witnessed winning gold and silver medals in track and field and, later, positioning my country in a very demanding market while doubling trade and tourism. And now being in Doha — the centre of Arab learning and visionary socioeconomic development policies for compliance with Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 — is nothing short of a privilege.
What is your take on Qatar-the Dominican Republic relations? How many expats from your country are living here and what professions they are in?
From the very beginning of my tenure as head of mission in Qatar there was a clear vision communicated to me by His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani that we should work together for Qatar to become the hub for Asian and Middle Eastern tourism heading to the Dominican Republic and for the Dominican Republic to become the hub for Qatar in the Americas.
In less than a year, I was fortunate to take bilateral relations to the highest point ever. In 19 years of our bilateral relations, there had never been political consultations until our first dialogue took place in Doha on July 8, 2019 when our Vice Minister of Foreign Relations, Carlos García visited. It was the moment everything clicked.
Now, we are ready to sign some eight agreements covering all areas of common interests including; investment, culture, education, health, tourism, legal co-operation, sports and suppression of visas for diplomatic, official and special passports.
To my pleasant surprise there are 79 registered Dominicans living in Qatar. All of them are performing important jobs, whether as architects, engineers or doctors of medicine, or working in Qatar Airways, in tourism and hospitality and even in other diplomatic missions. Their indefatigable efforts in contributing to the rise of Qatar is living proof of their integration in this country.
Where does the bilateral trade currently stand and what are the potential areas for investment? In which areas can Qatar benefit from your country and vice versa? What is the tourism potential?
The potential of our bilateral relations is immense. We are talking about the economy with the fastest average yearly growth rate of the Americas, and the country with the highest per capita income level of the world, respectively: the Dominican Republic and Qatar.
We are ready to sell in Qatar an additional US$230 million of goods, including hospital products, electronics, jewellery (of which our amber and larimar deserve special mention), textiles and apparel, shoes and leather and of course, the best cigars in the world.
Conversely, Qatar has in the Dominican Republic its potential hub in the Americas for expanding Qatar Airways, for developing an international port network and for supporting our ever-growing energy needs while catering to those of the surrounding region. Be it through an LNG distribution hub or through investment in energy infrastructure, the opportunities are there to catch.
The most immediate opportunities however are in tourism, a sector presently affected by the short-term impact of the coronavirus. Until now, tourism had been growing at over 8% per year, overcoming 7 million visitors in 2019. We have top projects operating already that are ripe for expansion in partnership with interested Qatari investors such as Katara Hospitality.
In the meantime, I have set up a Dominican Chamber of Commerce for the Middle East and North Africa (DoMENACham) and with the Madaeen Al Doha Group are setting up a counterpart here in Doha — the Dominican Chamber of Commerce in Qatar — which will be the first from a Latin American country.
How would you describe your experience of living in Qatar? What places do you venture out the most?
Qatar is that country where there is always something to do with our kids. Natalia and I have two babies, ages 4 and 2 and they just love it here. It is a very children-friendly place. They are always asking to go back to MIA Park.
We are delighted to enjoy the cultural scene, including world-class institutions such as the Qatar National Museum and the Museum of Islamic Art. We have lost count of the many times we have been there.
Most of the times however, we are either in Katara or in Souq Waqif, where there is always something exciting to do, something delicious to eat or something wonderful to experience.
What piece of advice you will give a budding diplomat?
Training in international relations is not enough. Another profession is required. Also, never to rest on your laurels. Never stop learning. Satisfaction with your achievements and your knowledge leads to rapid obsolescence. And isolation prevents you from building your network in an activity that presumes good and wide relations if you are to achieve anything important for your country.
What is that one lesson in life that has always held you in good stead?
The best answer to this question is Blaise Pascal’s dictum, which, loosely translated from my memory of it in French, says that “we are the masters of our silence and the slave of our words”.
What are your future plans, post-retirement?
No Dominican ever retires. We like to keep on contributing in any capacity until the very end. Of course, at 53, after serving as a vice minister, as an ambassador in five postings, it is impossible for me to betray my preachings by resting in my laurels, by stopping learning or isolating myself.
My dear colleague Ivonne Baki [former ambassador of Ecuador to Qatar] put it most eloquently in a recent interview with Community: “success is a process, never an end”. I couldn’t agree more!”
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