In his first foray into foreign affairs, Sen. LeMieux has placed a ``hold'' on the nomination of President Obama's choice to become ambassador to Brazil, putting a freeze on the Senate confirmation process. This ensures that U.S. relations with the largest country in Latin America are neither efficient nor effective.
Served with distinction
Tom Shannon is a long-time, career Foreign Service officer who has served with distinction in Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala and as the White House's chief advisor on Latin American affairs.
His latest job was assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. His nomination for the Brazil job won approval by a substantial bipartisan majority in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In short, Mr. Shannon has the experience and qualifications for this important post. His nomination would undoubtedly win Senate approval in a floor vote because there is no serious case to be made against it.
Instead, Mr. LeMieux has chosen to side with critics who feel Mr. Shannon was not tough enough on the Castro regime in Cuba during his stint as the top U.S. diplomat in the region, to which he was appointed by President George W. Bush. He told The Herald's Washington Bureau that he has heard concerns about the nominee's record from constituents and fellow members of Congress, including Cuban-American members of the House. ``I feel like I have a role and a responsibility far greater than other senators do in terms of anything that deals with Latin America,'' he said.
If that's the case, he would not stand in the way of this nomination. Brazil, the fifth most populous country in the world, is the most influential nation in our region, an economic powerhouse and Florida's No. 1 trading partner overseas -- by far.
U.S. interests hurt
Last week, nine former assistant secretaries of state sent Mr. LeMieux a letter saying the prolonged vacancy at the U.S. Embassy in Brazil hurts U.S. interests in the region. ``Placing holds on nominees for senior positions in the Western Hemisphere, something practiced by senators from both political parties, sends a damaging message to the governments and peoples of Latin America.''
Among other things, it suggests that the United States places little value on the relationship with Brazil. These kinds of holds rarely happen when they involve really ``important'' countries like, say, Israel, China, or Germany, especially when they're placed by a Senate newcomer who does not serve on the Foreign Relations Committee.