Patricia Butenis and Paul Carter: American Duality
Posted on March 30th, 2019

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

Given what Dayan had told me about what the Americans were up to, given too that Bob Blake, who had been more positive about us previously than the British, had changed and explained that this was because he now served a different administration, I was wary about the new Ambassador, Patricia Butenis. And the first time I saw her in action seemed to justify this, for she was clearly plotting with the EU Ambassador, Julian Wilson, a crafty creature, and Mr Sambanthan, the leader of the Tamil National Alliance.

This was at a Boxing Day party given by the American Political Affairs Officer, Paul Carter. He had been cultivating me assiduously, doubtless having noted that the Embassy had a very positive view of me – Blake having asked me, along with just a few others he described as close friends of the United States; to the party he threw for Obama’s inauguration, way back in January. And again I was one of the few people asked to dinner by his Deputy, Valerie Fowler, to meet him informally, when he paid a visit to Sri Lanka in December 2009. He had by then been elevated to the position of Assistant-Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs.

Carter soon enough found that, though I was committed to pluralism, I was not the sort who would let down the Government I worked for to other countries. While, I would argue for more forceful efforts to promote reconciliation, which included investigation of particular incidents during the war, I was certainly not going to acquiesce in indiscriminate attacks on our forces as having engaged in war crimes.

By 2010 Carter had realised this, after one more lunch meeting at which I was brusque with him than previously.

This was because I had sensed what he was up to at the Boxing Day Party, which he had been keen I attend, to enjoy what he called traditional Southern hospitality. He was from Georgia, and served excellent mint juleps, but I was surprised to find that I was about the only person there from the Government. And it was clear, when I went to join Patricia and her friends, in the garden, that I was intruding.

Paul steered me away and I spent some time talking to Shavindra Fernando, a Thomian I had known previously, who now worked in the Political Affairs section. And then I left quite early, to get to my cottage that night, but when the TNA soon afterwards announced that it would support Sarath Fonseka, who had expressed excessively chauvinist views during the war, I realised what had happened.

American plans

I should note though that I believe initially the Americans had had a different plan, which was getting Sarath Fonseka to stand to split what it thought of as the chauvinist vote.

I say this because, at a Christmas drinks party given by the British Deputy Head of Mission, Mark Gooding, and Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who was evidently not happy about having to support Sarath Fonseka, told me that it was all Ranil’s fault for withdrawing.

Ranil had of course realised that he had no chance of winning, but the Western hope had been that he would come through with Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka splitting the Sinhala Buddhist vote. I think they had assumed extremists such as Champika Ranawaka and Wimal Weerawansa would support Fonseka, and perhaps it was because they stuck with him that Mahinda allowed them undue influence after he won the election.

They had been given great prominence during the campaign, as when Weerawansa dominated the press conference to deal with Sarath Fonseka’s allegations about the killing of those who surrendered, instead of the moderate Mahinda Samarasinghe.

Gooding’s party had been small and again, I was, I think the only person from Government who had been asked. Amongst the other guests was the American Deputy Chief of Mission,  James Moore, whom I rather liked though I knew he was more critical of the Rajapaksa Government than Bob Blake had been.

Patricia Butenis

But Moore too soon went away and was replaced by a lady who seemed more moderate. And Patricia Butenis also seemed to change after Mahinda Rajapaksa won the Presidential Election easily. She was a professional rather than a partisan diplomat, and knew she had to work with the new Government. While obviously she would have wanted it to move on a political solution to Tamil problems, and to work positively towards reconciliation, she was not the sort to, therefore, concentrate on support for the Opposition.

So, I think on Jeff’s recommendation, she hosted several gatherings to bring Government and Opposition personalities together, and in fact participated more actively in discussion, than other diplomats did. 

Obviously, she had a particular perspective to advance, and this sometimes led to criticism, I suspect because some of those I asked, such as Thilanga Sumathipala, knew that what happened would be reported back to the President, and they wanted to affirm their own total support for him. But on the whole the meetings were lively and productive, and as time passed she and I got quite close. I still recall her being quite solicitous when I dropped in on her to discuss progress just before I was due to go abroad.
I was suffering from a bad cold, and was fed hot lemon and honey with great care and attention.

I would like to think we might have been able to do much together to develop better understanding between the two countries as well as facilitating provision of American support for those who had suffered in the war, without seeming to be partisan and hyper-critical of the forces that had won. She was deeply concerned for instance about the former combatants who were being rehabilitated, and quite prepared to accept what Government was doing. This was made easier, I should add, by the International Organisation for Migration, essentially a body the Americans had set up when they thought the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was unreliable, being actively involved in the rehabilitation process.

This was what made nonsensical the claim of the Europeans that we were ill-treating the former combatants, who were held in secret. Unfortunately, because of suspicions about the conduct of some ICRC officials during the war, the ICRC had been banned from the centres, even though it had been initially involved in the registration of these combatants. But IOM was in regular attendance, and confirmed that the combatants were able to have visitors, and indeed when I checked I found that practically all those being detained had been in touch with their families.

Paul Carter

But Patricia’s positive approach was set at naught by Paul Carter. He was determined to undermine the Government, and for this purpose he sought to subvert officials, still thinking on the lines American covert agencies had adopted with regard to Sarath Fonseka.

I have no idea what else he did in this respect, but matters came to a head when he tried to win over the military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe, by offering him passage to America and care for his family.

Sadly, Gotabaya was not able or willing to raise the issue publicly, and G.L. Peiris was quite incapable as Minister of External Affairs of advising him sensibly or taking up the issue himself. So Patricia could take the initiative, when she realised Carter had blundered, and she went to the Ministry of Defence and told Gotabaya that there had been a misunderstanding. Gotabaya did not take the matter further, but it obviously simmered, and that put paid to any hopes of a better relationship between the two countries.

My view was that such matters needed to be exposed and so I wrote about the incident. The result was that, when I was next due to meet Patricia, I was asked to come to the Embassy, where Jeff told me that she was deeply upset. So she was, and there almost seemed a catch in her voice when she told me that she could not work with me again, because I had made an allegation that was untrue.

Both she and I knew what had happened, but obviously Carter had demanded action and, given his position, she had to stand by him. Jeff seemed very upset and, though he could not take my side, he did say when I left that there were some very strange people in the Embassy.
Carter was not deterred by Prasad reporting him, for some months later it was reported that he had tried the same thing with Maithripala Sirisena, who was the Secretary of the SLFP. Sirisena promptly reported the effort to suborn him to the President, and once again Patricia had to engage in damage control.

Though we were no longer working together, we were civil when we met – and indeed I kept in touch with her after she had gone back to the States – and I asked her what had happened. Her answer was that Sirisena did not understand English, and the conversation had been through interpreters so a misunderstanding had occurred. But when I checked with Sirisena, the first time indeed that I spoke to him, he told me there had been no misunderstanding at all, and an effort had been made to get him to dissociate himself from the Government. 

One Response to “Patricia Butenis and Paul Carter: American Duality”

  1. Christie Says:

    I do not know who this character Professor is?

    The USA duality arises from the fact of Indian influence; the same when it comes to the West.

    India and Indians overseas play a vital part when it comes to affairs affecting Non Resident Indians and Indian Colonial Parasites.

    That is my experience and observation from living in the West for almost half a century.

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