The highly regarded Foreign Policy magazine has published a list online of several nominees that await Senate confirmation to assume their positions as U.S. ambassadors to various nations across the world. In some cases, candidates have been waiting for over a year – one prime example is John Hoover, who was first nominated in July 2013 to become the ambassador of Sierra Leone, a nation that is making international headlines today due to a regional Ebola outbreak.
As for Latin American and the Caribbean there are numerous nations that still lack a U.S. ambassador. These include:
John Estrada – Trinidad and Tobago – First nominated on July 31, 2013
Noah Mamet – Argentina – First nominated on July 31, 2013
Luis Moreno – Jamaica – First nominated on September 11, 2013
Cassandra Butts – Bahamas – First nominated on February 10, 2014
Leslie Bassett – Paraguay – First nominated on June 4, 2014
Todd Robinson – Guatemala – First nominated on June 4, 2014
Scott Fitzgerald Haney – Costa Rica – First nominated on July 8, 2014
Perry Holloway – Guyana – First nominated on Monday July 28, 2014
Mari Carmen Aponte – Organization of American States – First nominated on July 31, 2014
To look at the situation another way: the Western Hemisphere has a total of 35 independent nations, including the U.S., and Washington does not have an ambassador in eight of them (it is worth noting that Cuba and the U.S. do not have embassies in each other’s capitals, but they do have interests sections ). Moreover, Washington has yet to appoint a representative to the Organization of American States, the oldest bloc in the Americas and the only multinational organization in the region that has all Western Hemisphere states as members (minus Cuba).
Most countries where there is not a U.S. ambassador could generally be regarded as “minor players” in the inter-American system. Apart from the OAS, another exception is Argentina, a country with which the U.S. has a complicated history, including Washington’s role during the 1982 Falklands War, which pinned Argentina against the United Kingdom. More recently, Argentina’s relations with the U.S. have become even more troubled due to the infamous vulture funds, and a ruling by a New York judge that will have repercussions in Argentina’s economy for years to come.
In a February 2014 commentary for Blouin News, I discussed how in spite of a gaffe by Noah Mamet, the U.S. nominee to become ambassador to Argentina, who admitted that he has never visited that nation, the real tragedy of Washington-Buenos Aires relations is that the U.S. has not had an ambassador in the South American nation in over a year. The aforementioned issue over the vulture funds adds additional importance to having a senior level official commanding Washington’s embassy in Buenos Aires.
Furthermore, there is another factor to keep in mind: Russia has banned exports from the West in retaliation for the U.S. and Europe’s sanctions against the Russian government and their position regarding the ongoing developments in Ukraine. Hence, Russia is now looking for nations that are not U.S. allies (i.e. most of Europe or Australia) to supply the massive Eurasian state with the imports that it requires to sustain its population. And one potential supplier could be Argentina. A mid-August report by Reuters explains how Argentina is preparing to send a delegation to Russia to explore greater commercial ties, namely Argentina’s exportation of beef and soymeal to Russia. In other words, geopolitical developments relating to Russia should serve as a way to begin fixing U.S.-Argentina relations, starting with ratifying a U.S. ambassador to the South American nation.
One additional situation that deserves some discussion is the case of Stafford Fitzgerald “Fitz” Haney, who has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica. Haney is not a diplomat or politician, but he does have some experience with the region as “his first job out of college was as an assistant brand manager for consumer giant Procter & Gamble in San Juan, Puerto Rico.” He has also worked “in Israel as a senior associate at Israeli Seed Partners, a venture capital firm.”
Haney’s nomination has not been without criticism. A brief Washington Post commentary describes him as “yet another blunder” by President Obama. The criticism focuses on the fact that Haney raised only $35,800 for the President’s re-election bid (through September 2012) and just under $200,000 since 2007. The point being that if Haney will receive an ambassadorial position as a reward for raising funds for the U.S. president, he did not raise very much. Interestingly, the Costa Rican media looks at Haney’s nomination not as a blunder but rather as a change of objectives. A July 8, 2014 article in the Costa Rican daily La Nación explains how his nomination means that the U.S. is looking to increase commercial relations with San Jose rather than focusing on political initiatives. If nothing else, ambassadorial nominations can be interpreted in vastly different ways depending on one’s point of view and interests.
Whether it is Argentina or Costa Rica, the fact that the world’s political, economic and military superpower does not have an ambassador in almost ten nations in the Western Hemisphere (in addition to the region’s major multinational organization) only sends the wrong message regarding Washington’s interests and priorities towards its continental neighbors.