President mixes business, vacation in North America

Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga will spend the next two weeks in North America, half of the time on official business in Texas and Mexico, and half of the time vacationing in Canada, according to her press office.

The president is expected to meet May 25 with Houston-area business people and with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). On May 26, her schedule includes a visit to the Port of Houston, a stop at the Baker Institute and a meeting with Sen. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), the U.S. Senate’s majority leader.

Vīķe-Freiberga also plans to meet May 26 with Houston’s small Latvian community. According to the 2000 federal census, the greater Houston area is home to 525 persons who claim some Latvian ancestry.

This will be the president’s second trip to Houston. She lasted visited in 2002.

While Houston is not known as a major center of Latvian activity in the United States, it has several ties to the Baltic nation. Kārlis Ulmanis, the last pre-World War II president of Latvia, from about 1910-1912 lived in Houston and unsuccessfully ran a dairy, according to Edgars Dunsdorfs’ 1978 book, Kārļa Ulmaņa dzīve (The Life of Kārlis Ulmanis).

One of Latvia’s five honorary consulates in the United States is found in Houston, according to the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stephen P. Payne, a lobbyist and business consultant, is the honorary consul.

Houston also is headquarters for Baltic International USA Inc., a company that was an early investor in the predecessor to Air Baltic, Latvia’s national airline. It sold the last of its interest in 1999 to Scandinavian Airline Systems for USD 2.1 million, according to a company press release.

From May 27-29, Vīķe-Freiberga will be in Guadalajara, Mexico, attending the European Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit meant to foster closer ties between the two regions. The Latvian president also is expected to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox.

After the conference, Vīķe-Freiberga heads to Canada for a week’s vacation. —Andris Straumanis

(UPDATED 02 JUN 2004)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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