In the epic Latin poem “The Aeneid,” written between 29 and 19 BC, the Roman poet Virgil coined the phrase “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes ” which translated into English means “Be wary of Greeks bearing gifts.”
The adage is commonly used to warn of a supposed gift or act of virtue that is a hidden threat. This timeless warning has even more import today in Italy as we face one of our greatest historical challenge due to the coronavirus public health crisis.
I send many “Thanks” from myself and my country to all the citizens of Connecticut and the United States for their help, support, and prayers in this fight. More than ever, my country needs the strong support from all of you to help in the COVID-19 fight.
While health and safety are priority issue number one, we also need your help as other countries attempt to use the current crisis in Italy to reshape the geopolitical order.
Russia has begun rushing aid to Italy, as well as mounting an aggressive public relations campaign highlighting this work. Vladimir Putin sent 15 military planes full of supplies and medical personnel in an operation called “From Russia with Love” followed by a massive propaganda campaign portraying Russian troops as coming to our rescue while the United States had chosen not to help.
We have also become the recipient of China’s first attempt at “PPE diplomacy.” Three hundred intensive-care doctors and staff from the China Red Cross, arrived in Italy armed with four tons of medical supplies. The material displayed the words “The friendship road knows no borders” (La strada dell’amicizia non conosce confini) and was presented as a gift to the country going through the emergency. China claimed this aid was evidence of the growing relations and connections between Italy and China as they try to rebrand itself internationally from coronavirus source to friendly helper.
But the citizens of Italy know better and can see when we are being used a prop in an international diplomacy theater. We know that the relationship between Connecticut and Italy is long standing and strongly rooted between all our citizens. Your small State has the largest number of residents of Italian origin in the United States per capita and the ties between Connecticut and Italy are based on shared values and common interests that are embedded in a common history deeply rooted our shared mutual experiences.
Now more than ever, we need the support of the many Italian Americans, and all the citizens, living in the Constitution State.
A recent announcement that the United States will direct military personnel stationed in Italy to provide telemedicine services, help set up field hospitals and assist in transporting supplies was a desperately needed. This supported to Italy, helps to strengthen the deep friendship between the two Countries, especially in this dark hour.
This support highlights the intention to contrast the aggressive policy by Russia and China to manipulate the situation in Italy and has reinforced the critically important strategic and economic ties between Italy and the United States.
Italy needs the help and support of our friends in Connecticut and the United States more than ever. While the public health crisis grows around the world, the diplomatic ramifications of the next few months will also have long term strategic implications for world order for years to come.
We must not be fooled by the “politics of generosity” and should rather heed the words of Virgil from thousands of years ago and be skeptical of the “politics of generosity” that has come rushing to Italy. We would be wise to work with the state and country that have the deepest historical, cultural, and familial ties to Italy, that of Connecticut and the United States, and who have stood with us throughout this crisis.
Francesco Salimbeni is an attorney from Rome who represents many Connecticut and Italian businesses and citizens in his legal practice and serves on the International Committee of the Rome Bar (Ordine Avvocati di Roma).