US President Joe Biden has said he will use the June 6 Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles to give new impetus to relations with Latin America. I find that fascinating, but the fact that Washington has not appointed ambassadors to eight countries on the continent raises serious questions about the US interest in the region.
There are currently no US ambassadors to Brazil, Chile, Panama, Uruguay, El Salvador and Haiti, or to hostile governments in Cuba and Bolivia, according to the US Foreign Service Association (AFSA). Some of these countries, such as Chile, have not had an ambassador to the United States in the past four years.
In addition, the US ambassadors to Colombia and Ecuador have either been reappointed or are about to step down, and it is not clear when their successors will take over.
More importantly at this time, there is no US ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), the institution that organizes and usually helps set the agenda for the Summit of the Americas.
This summit, the only one attended by heads of state from the Americas, is held every three or four years. It is a rare opportunity for Washington to turn its attention to Latin America, and it has been attended by every US president recently except for Donald Trump, who has shown little interest in inter-American relations and did not attend the 2018 summit.
Biden’s proposed ambassador to the Organization of American States, Florida International University (FIU) professor and former Defense Department official Frank Mora, was nominated in August 2021, but his nomination remains blocked in the Senate.
Vacancies in US embassies in the region are mainly due to political infighting between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, bureaucratic obstacles and White House delays in nomination processes. According to many diplomats, ambassadors are necessary to defend American interests because their influence is much greater than that of ambassadors or a charge d’affaires. They say that ambassadors are taken very seriously by the governments of the host countries.
“Since I’ve been ambassador and chargé d’affaires, I can tell you that there is a big difference,” former US ambassador to Panama John D. Villi told me. “The ambassador is the official representative of the president: everyone answers your calls faster.”
Eric Farnsworth, director of the Washington, D.C. Bureau of the Association of the Americas/Council of the Americas, told me that the lack of ambassadors in many countries sends a “horrific message” to the region.
“It sends a message that Latin America and the Caribbean are a low priority for the United States, at a time when the United States is looking for allies to address difficult issues such as immigration, Venezuela or the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” he said. me.
“It could be argued that the lack of an ambassador in Brazil, for example, made it more difficult for the United States to persuade Brazil to take a stronger stand against Russia,” Farnsworth added.
Indeed, the same can be said of the need for US ambassadors to help organize the upcoming Summit of the Americas. With only nine weeks left before the summit, high-ranking officials in Latin America tell me they have not been consulted and do not yet know what the meeting’s agenda will be.
There is little time left before the summit, but Biden should make a greater political effort to pressure the Senate to confirm more ambassadors in the region.
It is understandable that the Biden administration would focus its time and energy on Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and prevent the imperialism of Vladimir Putin – who had already conquered Georgia and Crimea before Ukraine – from spreading to other Eastern European countries. Precisely for this reason, Biden more than ever needs US ambassadors to Latin America. Any high-level representatives whose calls are answered by governments.
© New Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
“Coffee fanatic. Gamer. Award-winning zombie lover. Student. Hardcore internet advocate. Twitter guru. Subtly charming bacon nerd. Thinker.”