Tea With the Ambassador from the Republic of Peru

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Challenges are, for most people, what makes life difficult, but for His Excellency Marco Balarezo, the Ambassador for the Republic of Peru, challenges are fuel. “I love a challenge,” he tells me with an easy smile, “I always have done. I just run on adrenaline.”

He has then, it is safe to say, found the ideal career, and his lengthy work as a diplomat has involved all manner of challenges that would leave most ordinary people in a cold sweat. Before coming to Malaysia, he worked as Vice-Minister of Defence in Peru, assessing threats and managing strategies while handling the huge responsibility that comes with national security. “You are very exposed,” he admits, “but it was so interesting.”

Balarezo is no stranger to high-responsibility positions, and his very first posting in the diplomatic service was in Washington, where he had the delicate task of dealing with the US Congress. “Washington is a very important post for any diplomat,” he says, “but I think I enjoyed my time in New York more.” During his time in the Big Apple, this adrenaline junkie was working for the UN, widening his areas of expertise to global issues. “You had to be very involved, very committed,” he remembers, “and you had to really know about everything you were dealing with; sometimes 200 different issues!” Then he breaks into a smile, “I loved it.”

It is clear that it was the nature of the diplomacy and the intricacies of international relations that always appealed to Balarezo more than the travelling potential involved in the diplomatic life. As a young man, he had a zeal for learning and studying. He earned two degrees – one in Business Administration and International Relations, followed by a Masters in Political Economy – before applying to the school of diplomacy in Peru, upon which he was pleased to find that, out of nearly 600 applicants, he secured one of the 15 or so places. His potential was spotted from the very beginning – he was awarded one of the few scholarships for high achievers – and he has proven himself worthy of attention. After more than two decades of hard work, he was informed earlier this year that he was off to Malaysia to take up the position of Peruvian Ambassador, his first time in that sought-after role.

“It’s a great moment as it marks the culmination of all the years of work,” he says. When I mention the vast responsibility that comes with being the country’s representative, he laughs. “Yes, having your President as your boss is as scary as it gets!” It is, he explains, just a different kind of responsibility, and he is quite enjoying having to widen his scope, dealing with Peru as a whole rather than focusing on defence.

While many may envisage the life of an Ambassador as all parties and refreshments, Balarezo has already proven this image unfounded. Despite just being in the country six months, he has organised a photographic exhibition, held a workshop on investment, and run a week-long Peruvian Gastronomy Festival that involved flying in the Executive Chef from the Marriott Hotel in Lima.

“The relationship between Malaysia and Peru is not yet a mature one,” he says, “and there are so many opportunities for development.” His positivity and determination will surely overcome the difficulties he faces in his role, none more so than the fact that Peruvian presence in Malaysia is somewhat small. “There are only about ten of us here,” he says with a laugh, “and not one Peruvian restaurant or bar! I want to change that.”

Tourism is also a big area for development, and with KLM offering a service connecting KL to Lima (via Amsterdam), Balarezo is keen to spread the word on all that Peru has to offer. “We have such a rich history,” he says, “plus a very diverse geography, and the people in Peru are so friendly and welcoming.”

He has the same to say about Malaysia, and he has been charmed with the reception. “I have been meeting with many important officials,” he tells me, “and they all have an open hand for me, and pledge their help if I need it. It’s been wonderful.”

Aside from professional challenges associated with establishing Peru’s place in Malaysian minds, Balarezo admits to finding it hard being so far removed from his three sons. “Two are studying in Lima and one is in Spain,” he explains, “and Malaysia is such a long way from them!” After keeping the family together during most of his years of travel, it is tough to be apart, and his long-term plans are to settle wherever his sons are. “I would love for that to be in Peru,” he admits, “but I would rather be near them. Family is the most important thing.”

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Dealing with the distance between him and his loved ones is just another challenge to add to his hefty pile, and yet his laid-back smile and easy charm show that Balarezo is, rather than being weighted down, in his element.

“Life would be boring without challenges,” he concludes with a laugh.

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Source: The Expat November 2012

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