Expat Life was sat down with the elegant and gracious Ambassador of Argentina to Thailand H.E. Mrs. Alicia Cuzzoni de Sonschein. She has a small staff in Thailand and is kept very busy looking after four separate countries, but she found time to talk to us and the rest of the affluent expat and diplomatic community resident in Thailand.
Good afternoon Alicia may I start by asking how long you have been in Thailand.
I have been in Thailand for three and a half years. Being Ambassador of Argentina to the Kingdom of Thailand is a dream come true for me as I consider Thailand my second home and love Pratet Thai and Kon Thai very much.
My story with Thailand started in 1998, when I came for the first time with my late husband, it was love at first sight!
Since then, I managed to visit the country regularly then, in 2008, I was sent as Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy in Bangkok. I stayed until 2012 and came back every year for holidays passing through Bangkok to go to India, Nepal or Bhutan, until I was appointed Ambassador.
Did you arrive to Thailand from home, or were you posted somewhere else before?
Directly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Buenos Aires.
Where are you born and brought up?
In Buenos Aires. I did my studies there. I studied Political Science at the Catholic University in Buenos Aires, with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and International Relations. I am a career diplomat officer.
At which age did you decide you wanted to become a diplomat?
I decided early to be a diplomat and studied Political Sciences with the purpose to continue my diplomatic career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. My career started in 1980, after graduating from the Foreign Service Institute of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, which is the our diplomatic academy.
In 1982 I had my first post as a diplomat in Switzerland. It was at the General Consulate of Argentina in Zurich.
I have worked in different roles at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the departments of International Cooperation, Politics, Human Resources, Africa amongst many others. But I spent most of my time at the Protocol Department heading the direction of international visits that dealt with the visits of high-ranking officials and heads of states from all over the world as well as the Argentine Presidential visits abroad.
That post allowed me to travel thoroughly. My profession took me as part of official delegations to places like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Canada, Washington D.C., New York, Singapore, India, Tokyo, Seoul, Vatican, Rome, Switzerland, and several countries in Latin America as well.
Normally, I arrived at destinations before the President and his delegation in order to prepare and arrange with the local protocol department all the details of the official visit. It was an extremely challenging and risky role, but I enjoyed it immensely. It was a pleasure for me meeting different people from other countries, cultures and languages.
However, my career was not homogeneous or indeed a classic one. I got married to an Ambassador, so decided to follow him and when he was posted abroad, I took leave of my duties as a diplomat and became an Ambassador’s wife. I swapped my “chapeau” once back in Buenos Aires and started working again. I enjoyed being with my husband complementing his posts, both being diplomats we were the perfect couple! He was a remarkable senior diplomat with a lot of experience, culture and knowledge. I learnt many things from him.
We stayed in Dublin, Ireland, actually we got married there. After that, we moved to Yugoslavia, Belgrade. The first 2 years were very interesting, as the Balkan countries have a special charm but then, the Kosovo war broke. My husband refused to leave the capital even though the government advised us to return home. So I decided to stay with him and we spent 72 days of bombardment of NATO. It was a very tough period, but we survived, and it was an extraordinary experience.
How do you look at Thailand today? Have you had any obstacles since you arrived?
I know Thailand very well and have adapted accordingly.
Asia has rapidly become one of the most important regions in the world, not only in demographic and economic growth terms but also due to a growing international presence. In this framework, the continent in general and SE Asia in particular constitutes one of Argentina’s top foreign policy priorities.
Given the undeniable regional importance of Thailand – as a founding member of ASEAN; as well as the “gateway” to the countries that make up the regional group; for its key geostrategic position; and future potential – and that of our country in Latin America, it is essential that both nations continue their efforts to further strengthen these bonds of friendship, especially after the accession of Argentina to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in SE Asia.
In 2019 Thailand celebrated the general elections and was also the chair of ASEAN, which constituted a milestone of enormous importance for the relations not only for SE Asia, but with the rest of the world. It was also an opportunity to position itself in the economic, commercial and investment levels.
Do you see any similarities between your country and Thailand?
As developing countries, Argentina and Thailand have proved to share similar views of the world, enabling them to act jointly in international forums on many key issues on the international agenda, especially those concerning the search for a more just and inclusive society.
With regard our national cultures, they might be totally different, but such diversity is precisely the fascinating part of working here and one of the main driving forces.
Distance is not – and should not – be an obstacle in our relations, on the contrary the most important element to enforce and strength our partnership.
Finally, allow me to highlight that the governments of Argentina and the Kingdom of Thailand agreed to establish diplomatic relations on February 2, 1955. This means that Argentina and Thailand have enjoyed a long lasting and cordial relationship over sixty five years of bilateral ties.
Not only that, but Argentina was the first Latin-American country to establish diplomatic relations with Thailand and chose this country to establish its first Embassy in SE Asia.
Were you and your late husband blessed with children?
My husband was an outstanding Ambassador and was committed to his role in international relations. We had a fabulous marriage and were immensely happy. I accompanied him when he was appointed Chief of Mission in some countries in Europe. We never did have children.
How do you look upon your work here? What does an average day look like?
I start my days early clearing emails, paperwork and my instructions from Buenos Aires. Then I must apply myself to the role of politics in Thailand. Make official visits with the various Thai government departments – trade, culture, cooperation and sports.
My role gives me an opportunity to fully engage in my job to which I have dedicated my life too. It could not be more interesting and overwhelming.
I assume you have some goals you really would like to fulfil before you leave your post?
I think that I have reached several goals during my posting here and the whole team at the Embassy work very hard to enhance our friendly and long lasting bilateral relations.
We make a special emphasis to diversify and grow trade and commerce, as a priority of our government, as well as to detect investments in the field of energies amongst others. In September 2019, after many years of hard work, Thailand opened the market for Argentinian grapes and cherries, we are looking forward to seeing this product alongside our meat and wines in the local market.
I was also appointed as Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the Kingdom of Cambodia. I have to understand the complexities and cover them accurately, politically, economically and culturally. But I am fascinated with this part of the world and dedicated to my duties. In over sixty five years of fruitful relationship, several visits have been exchanged. The most relevant, President Arturo Frondizi, made the first Head of State visit to Thailand, in December 1961. He was received by King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit and Prime Minister Sarit Tamarat.
In October 1996 Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, made an official visit to Argentina, where he met with President Carlos Menem and inaugurated an exhibition on Thailand on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the coronation of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Later, President Menem officially travelled to Bangkok in February 1997, an occasion in which he was received by King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Prime Minister General Chawalit Yongjaiyut.
Several others took place, by Members of the Royal Family as HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and HRH Princess Chulabhorn.
As Chief of Mission, I have, since the beginning of my tenure, been dedicated to maintaining links
with the highest authorities of Thailand and to representing my country with pride. I have had interviews with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and numerous members of the cabinet, amongst many other political, professional and commercial bodies.
The two countries have held four political and economic consultations over recent years – the last ones were held in Buenos Aires in 2017 – and we expect to do the same in Thailand during this year. This mechanism is very useful for both parties to exchange views on international, regional and bilateral matters of mutual interest and also to exchange ideas on ways and means to strengthen and expand that relationship.
12 bilateral agreements have been signed in very diverse areas such as trade, culture, science and technology and other topics.
Cultural and educational activities promote mutual understanding and awareness of our people. We must ensure that distance between our countries is a driving force – and not an obstacle – for both peoples and societies to meet and get acquainted.
In that sense, The Embassy has a very active cultural agenda – cinema festivals, tango performances, exhibitions, artists’ visits, etc. Also, several agreements have been signed between Thai and Argentine universities in the last years.
In December 2019 we celebrated the 14th Polo Cup “Embassy of Argentina” at the Thai Polo and Equestrian Club in Pattaya. This prestigious event is organised annually and has been successful in promoting and growing this fabulous engaging sport in particular and Argentinean gastronomy, culture and tourism in Thailand.
Last year was a great event and everybody enjoyed it very much. My country made really the headlines and I was very happy and delighted.
We have received several requests in the last few years from different Asian countries regarding the provision of training football managers and trainers, due to the high level of the sport played in Argentina.
We acknowledge the interest and importance of the practice to develop the level of the sport but also as a tool for social inclusion.
With a view to foster a desire to discover works of Argentine literature and thinking abroad, in
2009 we established a translation subsidy programme “Programa Sur” to promote and strengthen the publishing of Argentine works in a foreign language. This project was launched as a result of the commitment made by the Argentine government to promote the translation of works by Argentinian authors and to encourage their printing in foreign languages and to disseminate our imagery, ideas and values overseas. Since it was created, the programme has awarded 800 works by more than 300 Argentinian authors and has been translated in to almost 40 languages.
As for international cooperation, Argentina has had for nearly 30 years the Argentine Fund for South-South and Triangular Cooperation (FO.AR) as its main tool to establish and to develop partnerships for development.
FO.AR is the foreign policy instrument whereby the Argentine Republic implements joint technical cooperation projects with other countries through mechanisms of association, collaboration and mutual support.
Thailand has been our most important partner in this field in SE Asia. We are, of course, keen to expand this cooperation and open to receiving new proposals.
The latest project is related to forensics, called “Missing migrants and non-identified human skeletal remains: exhumation and analysis skills development” between the Central Institute of Forensic Science Thailand (CIFS) and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (AFAT). Another, is related to biotechnology, “Genetic variability of sugar cane for bioenergy” between the Thailand Sugarcane Breeding Centre (TSBC) and the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).
Furthermore, the Embassy has organized several events to promote Argentine gastronomic products, with the aim of increasing visibility and spreading their name amongst the Thai public.
In this sense, as an example, numerous beef and wine tastings took place in important hotels in Bangkok, as well as at the Official Residence of the Ambassador.
I must highlight the role of Argentina as one of the largest food producers in the world and one of Thailand’s main trading partners in Latin America.
During THAIFEX Argentina organised an Institutional and commercial mission of the Central Region to the Kingdom of Thailand, which was headed by the three Governors of the Provinces of Córdoba, Santa Fe and Entre Ríos, in the company of provincial officials and agri-food companies, with the objective of increasing exports and attracting investments to the sector.
I am proud that Argentina was the “Partner Country” of this annual exhibition and that we had a 300sqm pavilion, which was inaugurated by the Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak, the Argentine head of delegations, myself and other officials.
My country has several investment opportunities in multiple fields. The power of its rivers, the ocean tides, the strength of its winds and the fertility of its soil are only some of the wonders offered by a wide variety of opportunities in energy generation and access.
The ample availability of natural resources added to the outstanding technical skills of human capital and the longterm public policies establish an excellent scenario for the materialisation of investment in Argentina.
The largest opportunities that my country provides in this field are renewable energies, oil and gas, mining, roads, railways, water and sanitation, irrigation, ports and airports, urban mobility, telecommunications and public housing.
Have you been travelled around Thailand?
I constantly travel around Thailand, North, South and I like to discover new places off the beaten track. Thailand is a truly amazing country full of history and tradition which offers a wide range of possibilities to explore.
The extraordinary nature of the tropical fauna and flora, the turquoise waters of the Andaman sea make a landscape of exquisite beauty.
As a Buddhist I appreciate the magnificence of the Wats in the North as well as the majesty of the jungles and the beaches of the South.
When you have a day off, what do you do? Do you have any special hobbies?
It is not easy to have a day off having 4 countries to take care and a small team at the Embassy. I am really a very happy person full of joy and gratitude, to be here is a blessing. For my holiday I travel back home to visit my dear Mother.
How many of your countryfolk are living in Thailand? When and why did Thailand become a desirable destination for your people?
The Argentinean community living in Thailand is only around 150 people. But we have many tourist visitors – over 60,000 a year because Thailand is one of the most desirable destinations in Asia.
Do your country and Thailand have any exchange programmes for students today?
Under the American Field Service (AFS) programme many high school students travel to Argentina to complete an entire academic year. This growing number – since 2001, the Embassy has granted visas to almost 700 students under the framework – shows a keen interest in Argentina, not only for the language but also for our culture, customs and habits. Argentina is the preferred option for Thai students that choose to study in Latin America.
If you could choose your next destination, where would you like to go?
I do not choose a country or a place. I am a civil servant; therefore, I go where my government sends me. I am a career diplomat who loves her career and country and since the beginning I have been sure of what I am doing, so, irrespective of when and where I serve my country, I am happy.
Any memory from Thailand that you’d like to share with us?
Obviously the most important event in the Kingdom of Thailand was the passing of His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Great Monarch with the unique “Barami”, like the King Mogut or Chulalongkorn, was not only the Father of the Nation but also a great inspiration for the world.
I have never seen a whole country mourning the way the Thai people did. It was emotionally a dark period in Thailand’s history and I personally mourned the whole year alongside the Thai people in their sorrow, sadness and loss.
May the good deeds of H.M. the late King and the guiding light of the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn bring wellbeing to the Thai people.
The Coronation Ceremony of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, was a joyous and wonderful event that I will always treasure.
On both occasions – of course with different moods – I followed them from the depth of my heart. As a Buddhist I fully understand the religious Buddhist rituals and I was intensely moved.
Do you regularly meet up with your community?
I meet the community on the National Day. My fellow Argentinian’s are of course always invited to cultural, sport and other events, and, of course, the Embassy and Consular Section is always open and available to them.
What do you believe is your most important task as Ambassador?
The most important task is to bridge the gap amongst our two nations in order to develop and build strong relationships in all areas between Thailand and Argentina for the benefits of our countries and wellbeing of our people.
I always ensure that the Argentine Embassy in Bangkok is focused on the importance that our government places in Asia in general and SE Asia in particular, and, therefore, I have set clear rules to strive and to advocate for a realistic, proactive and complementary relationship with one of the most important countries in SE Asia, Thailand.
What else would you like the expat community to know about your efforts?
I congratulate King Maha Vajiralongkorn on his coronation and wish happiness, wellbeing for the Thai people.
I would like also to send my great appreciation to the government of Thailand for the successful job during the chairmanship of the ASEAN 2019.
My assignment could not be better and I put the best of my knowledge to keep fostering the bilateral relations between Argentina and Thailand.