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John Bushnell, American diplomat in Latin America, dies at 88

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John A. Bushnell, a career Foreign Service officer who played a prominent diplomatic role in the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama that toppled strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega, died March 19 in a hospital of Leesburg, Virginia. He was 88 years old.

The cause was a massive heart attack, his son John M. Bushnell said.

Mr. Bushnell served more than three decades in the Foreign Service, developing a reputation, a Washington Post reporter once wrote, for his “economic and trade policy expertise, enduring bureaucratic power and vast diplomatic experience.”

He spent years of his career in Latin America, beginning with his first overseas posting as an economic officer in Bogotá, Colombia in the early 1960s. He was sent later that decade to similar roles in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

Mr. Bushnell served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs under President Jimmy Carter, who sought to make human rights a concern of American foreign policy. Latin America figured prominently in human rights discussions at the time, with the repressive regime of General Augusto Pinochet ruling Chile, a military dictatorship waging the “dirty war” in Argentina, and the conflicts and unrest in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Political debates have often pitted human rights activists against advocates of heavy-handed US support for foreign governments that resisted communist movements.

Under the Reagan administration, Bushnell served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State before being posted to Buenos Aires as Deputy Chief of Mission in the aftermath of the Falklands War, in which the British military crushed Argentine efforts to claim control of the Falklands. He is.

Perhaps the most dramatic episode of Mr. Bushnell’s career occurred in December 1989, when President George HW Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to overthrow Noriega, who, among other concerns, had been charged in the United States on numerous drug trafficking charges.

Mr Bushnell was then Deputy Chief of Mission in Panama City and said Secretary of State James A. Baker III called him on a secure line to inform him of the impending attack.

“There are only two people in the entire State Department who are going to be aware of this, and we are on the phone,” Baker said, Mr. Bushnell recounted in a oral history with the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. “Operational secrecy is critical to success. Your job is to make a government rise when the troops land. Can you do that?”

Mr Bushnell groomed Guillermo Endara, an opposition leader who had won a previous election canceled by Noriega, to take power, and who was eventually sworn in as president. Mr. Bushnell remained in Panama until his retirement in 1992, maintaining a role that a The Los Angeles Times reporter describes as “the closest the United States has to a proconsul”.

In 1990, Bush appointed Mr. Bushnell ambassador to Costa Rica, but the appointment was eventually withdrawn, apparently in part because of opposition from U.S. Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the most Republican on the Committee on foreign relations.

John Alden Bushnell was born in Glen Cove, NY on July 26, 1933. He grew up in Winsted, Connecticut, where his father owned a store and where one of Mr. Bushnell’s closest childhood friends was future consumer advocate and presidential candidate. Ralph Nader. Mr. Bushnell’s mother was a teacher.

Mr. Bushnell received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Yale University in 1955. He served in the Air Force and went on to study economics at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where he graduated a master’s degree in 1959. He entered the foreign service soon after. after.

In addition to his postings in Latin America, Mr. Bushnell served as an economics officer in Geneva and with the staff of the National Security Council.

Besides his son, of Mina, SD, survivors include his wife of 59 years, the former Ann Morel of Leesburg; two other sons, Mark Bushnell of McLean, Virginia, and Timothy Bushnell of Oxford, Pennsylvania; eight grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.