Dr. Baldomero Lago has had quite the impressive career in international diplomacy. He currently serves as the Assistant Vice President for Global Engagement at Utah Valley University, Vice President of the World Trade Association, and an Honorary Consul of Spain. Throughout his career, he has hosted an impressive array of foreign dignitaries and is one of Utah’s resident experts on the topic. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and learn more about his experiences.
Dr. Lago came to the US in the late 1980s to pursue his college education. He graduated from Utah State University with a BA in Languages and Literature. He continued his formal education at Brigham Young University, graduating with a master’s of Spanish Pedagogy. At the tail end of his studies at BYU, he became President of the graduate society, which is where his career in diplomacy first began to form. In this role, he was asked to invite the Ambassador of Spain to visit the campus. Without much hope of receiving a response, Dr. Lago wrote the Ambassador a letter inviting him to visit. Much to his surprise, the Ambassador accepted his invitation. After a successful and enjoyable visit, several months went by without a word, until their paths crossed again at a conference in California. After exchanging pleasantries, the Ambassador informed his Consul General that Dr. Lago was the point man in Utah. While this came as a surprise, the next request was even more unexpected. The Ambassador asked Dr. Lago to create a Spanish community group in Utah. Another six months went by without much thought about this request until the Consul General called and asked how the preparations were going. What started out as a small group of 10 individuals turned into 130 by the inaugural meeting of the group. After a successful first meeting, Dr. Lago set out to create bylaws and register the organization as a formal nonprofit. After a few more visits and the success of the Spanish community group, Mr. Lago was asked to become the Honorary Consul of Spain in 1998.
A few years after his appointment, the 2002 Winter Olympics came to Salt Lake City. This event created a demand for a unified group of honorary consuls that could help facilitate the large influx of foreigners that would visit the state for the Olympics. In collaboration with Charles Dahlquist, then Honorary Consul for the Republic of Germany, Dr. Lago became one of the founding members of the Utah Consular Corps. At its inception, Mr. Dahlquist served as President with Dr. Lago as his Vice President. In accordance with the organization's guidelines, Dr. Lago assumed the presidency after two years. I asked him what he feels the primary importance of the Utah Consular Corps (UCC) is. He responded by saying that the UCC functions best when they maintain close ties to the community; namely, with police chiefs and law enforcement officers, the press, government officials, and community representatives. There are a lot of people that don’t know what we do and how we can help.
Apart from his role as an honorary consul, Dr. Lago serves as the Assistant Vice President for Global Engagement at Utah Valley University (UVU). In this role, he has developed a relationship with the UN and hosts several UN Ambassadors and other diplomatic officials every year. Each of these events takes months of planning and involves a lot of negotiations and scheduling. While it may be hard to believe, these events are by and large planned by two people, Dr. Lago and his assistant Amy. Dr. Lago is primarily responsible for recruiting and developing the agenda. He works closely with Franz Kolb, the Director of Diplomacy and Protocol at the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and a fellow consular corps member, as well as other state, business, and community leaders that would be interested in meeting with the dignitary. Amy, on the other hand, handles all of the administrative and logistical tasks such as booking flights, hotels, preparing meeting materials, and much more.
When a dignitary visits, Dr. Lago says, “we roll out the red carpet” for them to ensure that they have a positive experience. We know that if one ambassador has a good experience, he/she will be more likely to recommend a visit to Utah to their colleagues. Some visitors have requested to visit Moab while others wanted to go to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival, each visit is tailored to accommodate each guest. Dr. Lago’s goal is to ensure that they are treated with the utmost respect and hospitality. Regardless of what is on the agenda, it is always finalized and squared away at least a month in advance.
On the day of a dignitary’s arrival, Dr. Lago will typically meet them at the airport, review the agenda, go over the little details, and answer any questions that they may have. Many visits include a speech or panel presentation at UVU which are typically followed by a Q & A session. Dr. Lago remembers a time when the Ambassador from Germany visited and was faced with some pretty intense questions from a pair of students. In true diplomatic fashion, the Ambassador provided calm and appropriate responses. Afterwards, the Ambassador mentioned that he appreciated the challenging questions and commented that it wasn’t anything in comparison to some of the debates that occur at the UN.
When asked what the most rewarding part of planning such high-profile visits are, Dr. Lago responded by saying, “For me, it is to get to know the individual.” He goes on to explain that he has had the opportunity to develop close friendships with many. He also is privy to many intriguing closed-door conversations that he would otherwise not be able to attend.
On that same note, I asked if there were any visits that stood out in his mind above the rest. To that, and without hesitation, he referenced the Diplomatic Conference on International Trade Relations that was held this past October. The event was so special because it was the first time that 12 diplomats came together to discuss trade, network, and collaborate with Utah individuals and entities. He acknowledges that planning this large of an event was very challenging, but he notes the invaluable support he received from Brett Heimburger and Franz Kolb at GOED.
Regardless of the planning, there have been a few instances where last minute conflicts arise and the visit has to be canceled or modified with little time to spare. One event that came to mind was a meeting of the Pacific Alliance, which includes Peru, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico. This event alone took 19 months to plan, primarily as a result of scheduling difficulties. Six months before the event all the major participants had video conferences on a monthly basis. As the event drew nearer they increased those teleconference calls to every other week and then in the last month the frequency increased to every week. With less than 48 hours to go before their anticipated arrival, the Ambassador from Mexico developed a serious illness and was unable to travel. However, because of the intense planning and the relationships that had been built along the way, the Mexican Consul General was sent in place of the Ambassador and the event went off without another hitch.
I have had the pleasure of attending one of these events and can say that the planning and preparation beforehand is evident to all of the attendees. The UCC and the state of Utah are lucky to have such a seasoned professional working to build ties with key diplomatic allies around the globe.