Thursday, March 02, 2017

Latin America in the Trump State Department

An article in The Atlantic provides a pessimistic picture of a State Department in disarray. Positions are intentionally left unfilled, directives don't come down, lines of communication are cut, and career officials are ignored.

We Latin Americanists always pay attention to who will fill key positions like Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. There currently is an interim, Paco Palmieri. Here's a quick glimpse at what life is like for that position:

A State Department public-affairs officer was on the line with us when we talked. Another public-affairs officer was also on the line when I spoke to Paco Palmieri, a career foreign service officer and the acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Palmieri has had plenty to keep him busy, from Tillerson’s meeting with the Brazilian foreign minister in Bonn, Germany to his trip to Mexico, but he is an acting assistant secretary and he doesn’t know how long it will take for a political appointee to take his place. “Sometimes as an administration gets started, it takes some time to get a definitive answer but that just means you work harder to get to it,” he told me. “Every transition is unique.” Then the public affairs officer hustled him off to his next meeting.

Trump has given every indication that the State Department is unimportant and deserves to be chopped by a third (!). Without those committed, day-to-day, on the ground sort of connections, Latin American relations will suffer.


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