The Foreign Service Journal, February 2011

W hen news of the 1984 U.S. invasion of Grenada came out, I was on a pouch run in Mexico City. I was principal officer in Merida, our smallest consulate inMex- ico, and had stopped at the commissary to pick up butter and other items not available there. I heard only snatches of information before rushing to the communications section, grabbing the orange canvas bag (full of secrets) and heading for the airport. Shortly after 5:00 a.m. the next morning, a cryptic call from the em- bassy ordered me to proceed immedi- ately to Merida’s airport. An Air Force plane was due to arrive within the hour. The caller couldn’t say anything more on an open line, but the pilot would fill me in. An American plane was taking off as I arrived. Inside the airport, an aide to Yu- catan Governor Graciano Alpuche Pin- zon explained that because U.S. forces were now in full control of Grenada, it was imperative to get non-combatant foreigners, largely from Eastern Eu- rope, out of the country. American planes were allowed to pick them up in St. George’s, but only Aeroflot could travel to Moscow via Cuba. Accord- ingly, a neutral location was required for the transfer of passengers: Merida. Passengers from the now-departed American plane crowded the airport— Cubans, North Koreans, Russians, East Germans and Bulgarians. Aeroflot had not yet arrived. The governor’s aide pointed to a high-level Mexican diplomat who was, he said, the secretary for Soviet affairs in the Mexican Foreign Ministry and his country’s designated observer. The Soviet ambassador to Mexico had also come. The governor was due shortly. Journalists and photographers from Merida’s two daily newspapers and all seven of the local television stations were there. The governor’s aide asked if I’d like to meet the Soviet ambassador. Star- tled, I said, “Sure.” Followed by re- porters and cameras, he walked me over to the Russian envoy. The ambassador was not at all inter- ested in talking to me — but with the press surrounding us, he could not just brush me off. Pointing a finger directly into my face, he said, “ War is war, but peace is peace.” No dispute there, I thought, and nodded. His voice shaking, he said the United States had no right to treat his diplomats despicably. The U.S. ought to be ashamed. He glared at me. I had no idea what we had done to his citi- zens or anyone else in Grenada. “Entiende?” he asked, finally. Did I understand? “Si, entiendo.” There being nothing either of us could add at this point, we turned away. The aide motioned me to a seat of honor where folding chairs had been hurriedly set up. Television cameras whirred as the governor and then the ambassador said a few words. Aeroflot arrived and took on its passengers. When I got back into town, I called the embassy and recounted what had happened. That afternoon we received an unclassified cable sent worldwide from Mexico City on the events. Thrilled to have been where the action was for a couple of cable pages, I was disappointed to be identified only as “Merida consul” for my small but cru- cial part in the Cold War. Merida’s two major papers did cite my name, though, and the Diario de Yucatan reported the brusqueness of the Soviet ambassador’s remarks on the front page. It commended U.S. Consul Ginny Carson de Young for her “diplo- matic cool.” I filed away this experience for fu- ture reference. On occasion, “diplo- matic cool” just means keeping your mouth shut — especially when you don’t know what is going on. Ginny Young joined the Foreign Service in 1974, serving in India, Hong Kong, Mexico and Romania be- fore retiring in 1992. Her memoir, Peregrina: Adventures of an Ameri- can Consul , will be published by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training this year. “War is war, but peace is peace.” 88 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 1 R EFLECTIONS The Russians Are Coming B Y G INNY Y OUNG