Senator Chris Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966-68) of Connecticut puts it this way: “The Peace Corps took a nice kid from suburban Connecticut, whose father was a United States senator, and sent him to a remove part of the Dominican Republic to ‘do something good.’ I may have done some good, but mostly I learned. I learned about the complexity of a culture that is close to us geographically, but far, far away from our understanding. I learned to speak Spanish, the language of our neighbors. I learned to teach others some of the skills most of us take for granted. I learned to organize people to help themselves. Most important, I learned that one person can make a telling difference in the lives of those around him.”
Dodd, who is 65, sounds like almost any other RPCV, but isn’t. As a Senator and Congressmen of Connecticut since 1974, he is one of the most important friends the Peace Corps has in Congress and this Wednesday afternoon, January 6, 2010, he announced he is retiring from the Senate.
“Dozens of times,” Dodd says, “I have been asked in interviews how my service in the Peace Corps affected me. I’m sometimes reluctant to answer because I know I can never fully explain how profoundly the experience shaped my life and career-the truth sounds too altruistic, even corny. When President Kennedy asked, ‘How many [of you] are willing to spend two years in Africa or Latin America or Asia working for the U.S. and working for freedom?’ When he asked that question, it was like getting a genie out of a bottle.”
There will be a lot of stories over the next few days how Dodd helped the Peace Corps, much of it will be true, though I always thought he could have done more, raised more hell on our behalf, fought earlier and often for an RPCV to become the Peace Corps Director, but that is just me….
Here, however, is a small story tucked away in the achieves of the agency that is important to say again about Dodd and the Peace Corps. It shows the value of having One-Of-Our-Own in the House and Senate.
In 1979 Dodd testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, more questions about whether there were CIA agents in the Peace Corps. It is a question all of us as PCVs had to answer.
“Last year  I was in Cuba with a delegation from the Congress and spent 6 hours with Fidel Castro. In our conversations, he learned that I was a former Peace Corps Volunteer and had worked on a neighboring island, the Dominican Republic. He was fascinated with the program and what it had done. He said something to me that I thought was quite revealing. He said, In all the years I have been in office, despite rumors that have flowed from all sources, we never once have had one piece of specific information to ever link any Peace Corps Volunteer or any person who worked with the Peace Corps with any foreign intelligence operation. Castro said that on his own free will. I didn’t probe him on it at all.”
Even Fidel Castro knew the CIA left the Peace Corps alone.
So, if someone asks about the Peace Corps and the CIA you can tell them the Castro story. And you can tell them you heard it from Chris Dodd, another PCV.
In the photo above — Senator Dodd with PCVs and Staff in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1994