Maine’s partnership with Rio Grande do Norte was established in 1967 as part of a hemisphere-wide initiative to create closer relationships, mutual understanding and friendship with our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. It is chartered by Partners of the Americas headquartered in Washington, D.C. and is one of over 60 such partnerships that match states in the U.S. with states or countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Maine and Rio Grande do Norte share several historic and geographic features.
Partners of the Americas has its roots in the Kennedy Administration’s Alliance For Progress created to link the U.S. to Latin America in more cooperative and productive ways. Now an independent, non-profit, non-partisan people-to-people organization, Partners is governed by an international board. It is the largest private voluntary organization in the Western Hemisphere engaged in international cooperation and training.
Kenneth M. Curtis was Governor of Maine and Monseigneur Walfredo Gurgel was Governor of Rio Grande do Norte when the Maine/Rio Grande do Norte partnership was created. The choice of these two states to be linked was dictated by the geographical fact that each is the northeastern most state of its respective country. The two Governors accompanied by their state’s business, governmental and educational leaders exchanged visits. Governor Angus King visited Rio Grande do Norte (RN) in 1997. RN Governor Garibaldi visited Maine in 1999. RN’s current governor, Wilma de Faria, visited Maine as Mayor of the City of Natal (RN’s Capital) in 1998.
Americans and the people of Natal had a close and friendly relationship that preceded the founding of Partners. Natal was a “jumping off” place (O Trampolim da Vitoria – The Trampoline of Victory ) for thousands of World War II fighting aircraft being ferried to Dakar, Africa for the North Africa and European theaters. Several thousand U.S. airmen and sailors stationed in Natal left a history of good will, historic images and friendships that are evident in the city today.
The ME/RN partnership was among the first to be established. Its first chairman, Alan Rubin, then a resident of Lewiston, Maine, so impressed the board of Partners of the Americas with the successes of the partnership and Rubin’s leadership he was appointed POA’s first president of the international body. He served in that capacity for more than two decades. An aide to then Governor Curtis, Neil Rolde, assisted the governor in getting the new ME/RN chapter underway. Rolde was a well-known figure in Maine’s literary, political and environmental landscape. He was a former president of the Maine chapter and author of Rio Grande do Norte – The Story of Maine’s Partner State in Brazil – unfortunately out of print but available in some libraries.
Note: Much of the above history was taken from Rolde’s book.