Q&A with visiting professor Peter DeShazo

by Aryeh Lande | 10/5/18 3:00am

Peter DeShazo ’69 is a visiting professor in the Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies Department. DeShazo began his career serving in the United States Foreign Service, working primarily in South America. After nearly 30 years of service, DeShazo transitioned to academia, serving as the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’s Americas Program in Washington, D.C. from 2004 to 2010. He then taught at both Harvard University and Boston University while working in Cambridge, Massachusetts at a nonprofit. His research focuses on Latin American history, government and U.S. diplomacy.

How did you first become interested in government service?

PD: I became interested in the Foreign Service as a result of living abroad and thinking about the relationship of the U.S. to the rest of the world. I was fortunate to have a scholarship from Dartmouth in 1970 and 1971 — a Reynolds scholarship — to study for a year in Chile. That sort of steered me in the direction of learning more about Latin America, and as I was preparing for a Ph.D. in Latin American history, I had the opportunity to visit the region for research. I was always very much interested in international policy and world affairs. It struck me that I would find a career in the U.S. Foreign Service. I really did want to do something to be able to serve my country in a way that I thought would be most effective. So I applied for the Foreign Service, took the test and when I had the opportunity, when I was invited to join a Foreign Service Junior Officer class, I decided to do that. It ended up being a career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

Where was your favorite posting?

PD: That’s really hard to say, because each one was enjoyable and certainly very challenging. I ended up living six or seven years in Chile, which is perhaps the foreign country that I know best. I was there at different times during Chile’s history, so I got an especially rich feel for that country and for U.S. relations with that country.

Can you tell me about your work at the Center for Strategic and International Studies?

PD: CSIS is a think tank that, as its name implies, is focused on defense, security and international issues. I was the director of the America’s program at CSIS. This came after I had retired from the Foreign Service — that was my first sort of new career after the Foreign Service — but it was a perfect sequence to my work in diplomacy because I was able to continue to study the region, write policy papers about the region, do research and be relevant in the foreign policy discussion on Latin America. It was a very interesting and stimulating sort of follow on to a Foreign Service career.

What do you love most about your work at Dartmouth?

PD: The interaction with the students. That’s the most important part. I feel very privileged to be able to work with young people who are very aware, very interested in the subject matter, but who are in a period of formation as people, as citizens. They come from different backgrounds, they will go in different directions, but for me it’s a challenge to be as good a teacher as I can be. Secondly, it’s a real pleasure to be able to work with young people to try to help them to understand the world as it is, and to prepare them for the world as it’s going to be.

Can you summarize what you see as the biggest challenges facing the Americas from a foreign policy lens?

PD: In general, Latin America is going through a period of inward-looking examination of its own institutions of government. In country after country, there are scandals involving corruption or barriers to effective economic growth because of poor governance or lacking institutions. There’s been a lot of progress, but in many countries in the region, the key [challenges] are putting in place effective institutions and government administrations, justice, effective law enforcement, transparency, as well as a government that produces sound economic policies but also looks out for the well being of the people. The people want democracy that works — they want government that’s effective and that’s really the key challenge throughout the region.

What are you currently researching?

PD: I am most focused on issues related to one, economic development in Latin America and two, governance. The countries that I focus the most closely on are ones that I have a particular background in — the Andean region of Latin America, the Southern Cone — but it’s a big region, so I’m trying to keep current on issues, try to see the big picture. Most of my work is related to my teaching, trying to harness what I am investigating and put it to good use in the classroom.

What will professors in your field be looking at in 10 to 15 years?

PD: Ten to 15 years from now, the relationship of Latin America to the rest of the world will be related to long-term economic development and environmental issues, which will be big all around the world. Big global issues will [also] affect Latin America — migration, international cooperation. A lot of big issues looking ahead. Latin America has advantages, and some issues that still need to be worked on for the region to progress beyond the state that it currently is.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.