Black saw big changes for Czechs
PRAGUE, Czechoslovakia — The Czechoslovakia that Shirley Temple Black is leaving is much changed from the former communist-controlled country that Black found when she arrived there three years ago as U.S. ambassador.
Democracy and a free market can do that to a country.
"It was a phenomenal event that this whole part of the world changed," Black said last week in her office at the U.S. Embassy. "It was hard to take it all in."
With Black's help, the Czechoslovakian economy has received a strong boost from U.S. investors. When she arrived in the country in August 1989, three months before the revolution, there were fewer than a dozen American companies operating in the Central European nation.
Currently, more than 300 U.S. firms are pumping $1.4 billion annually .into Czechoslovakia, making the United States the No. 2 investor in Czechoslovakia behind Germany, she said.
"I have another 30-some deals that are in various stages of being reviewed here by the Ministry of Privatization and other ministries. And if we get those deals through, we'll have another $6 billion," said Black, 64, the former child film star.
Companies including Westinghouse, General Electric, Dow Chemical, Kmart and Procter & Gamble have invested in Czechoslovakia. A McDonald's franchise has opened near Wenceslas Square in downtown Prague.
The United States is also involved in trade and development programs in Czechoslovakia as the nation struggles to recover from 61 years of control by Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union. More than $6 million has been pumped into feasibility studies of energy, telecommunications and transportation projects.
Some proposals include rebuilding power plants, technical assistance in telecommunications and upgrading the country's railroads.
The studies are aimed at shifting more of the nation's industries from public to private hands.
"They're doing very well with their privatization," Black said. "The inflation figure is down, and investment by U.S. corporations is really taking off. It's very upbeat."
After enduring a 57.8 percent inflation rate last year, the nation's economy has stabilized and the rate is projected to be 9.4 percent this year.
The United States granted most favored nation trade status to Czechoslovakia in 1990. Since then, Czechoslovakian exports to the United States have risen dramatically, including a rise of 65 percent last year.
"What this country needs is investment right now and joint ventures. Trade is important, but investment is (more) important. They don't have the money to buy things," Black said.
Black has been left little time to reflect on the changes. "It's very hard when you're working every day, and you have no time to relax, to take a deep breath, to see the amazing impact of what has happened over here," she said.
When she returns to her home near San Francisco in July, Black said she plans to take time to put her experience in Czechoslovakia in perspective.
Black said she plans to work with the Republican National Committee on President Bush's re-election campaign.