By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On June 25th James “Jimmy” Story arrived as the new Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro, just in time to celebrate the July 4th holiday in Rio and poised to stay in Rio through the 2016 Olympic Games.
Mr. Story’s last position was in Washington, DC where he served as the Director of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) Western Hemisphere Programs. Previous assignments include service as the Director of the INL Office in Bogota, Colombia, Senior Civilian Representative to Task Force Rakkasan in South-Eastern Afghanistan, Political-Economic Chief and Deputy Principal Officer in São Paulo, and Regional Environmental Affairs Director for South America based in Brasília.
Consul General Story describes his impressions of Rio so far, “My family and I arrived in Rio in late June, and we were immediately attracted to Rio’s beauty, diversity, and dynamism. It is indeed a Cidade Maravilhosa.”
He adds, “I’ve met so many incredible people since our arrival – civil society, NGOs, businesspeople, local and state authorities, and artists – all of whom have been incredibly generous with their time and very welcoming to us. I was also pleased to find a vibrant and growing baseball community in Rio and want to welcome you all to join us on the field in Lagoa.”
In terms of bilateral relations between the United States and Brazil, he explains, “It’s a great moment to be in Rio and in Brazil. The recent meeting between President Rousseff and President Obama, as well as President Rousseff’s meetings with investors and innovators underscored the depth and breadth of our bilateral relationship and served notice that there is much we can and will be doing together.”
“The possibilities of cooperation are virtually unlimited, which I think means my team and I will be pretty busy at the Consulate as we seek to work across many areas to include trade, investment, energy, sustainable development, sciences, technology, public security, human rights, racial equality, gender issues, education, culture, and sports. These are all areas that will continue to strengthen our relationship and create opportunities for our peoples,” Consul General Story said.
As Rio de Janeiro prepares to host another mega-event, the 2016 Olympic Games in August, Story described, “I’m definitely looking forward to the Olympics and Paralympics, and just like the World Cup I know Rio will host the Games and the hundreds of thousands of visitors, including numerous Americans, in style. This is an incredible moment for Brazil and in particular for Rio with the entire world seeing the natural beauty of the city as well as experiencing the warmth and hospitality of its people.”
“Part of the legacy of the Games will be the increase in international visitors, which will keep pushing Rio to be its best and offer employment opportunities in the tourism sector. While we have a number of partners in English language instruction programs, we need to continue to encourage this area and seek to expand access for more of Rio’s citizens to participate.”
“I’d like to take a moment to say that the safety of our resident and visiting citizens, during the Olympics/Paralympics as well as at all other times, is our number one priority. I encourage them to register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program on our website and to frequently return to the website where we will post more Olympics/Paralympics information as it becomes available.”
A big part of the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro’s efforts are directed towards visa services which has been expanding in the last five years. Despite some temporary delays and technical issues, the amount of visas processed has increased dramatically in recent years.
Story explains, “Wait time for a non-immigrant visa interview used to be an impediment for many Brazilians wishing to travel on tourism or business to the U.S., and now this problem is behind us, as we’ve been trying to keep wait time below one week while interviewing over 1,000 applicants every day in Rio alone. With investments in staff and infrastructure, we are providing ever better services, and this is giving a welcome boost to the U.S. economy as well.”
In terms of U.S. citizen services offered by the Consulate, “Our Consular team has gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide services to American citizens, and we boast an excellent track record after Rio hosted the Rio+20 environmental conference in 2012, the World Catholic Youth Day in 2013, and the 2014 World Cup. In all these mega-events, our team rose to the occasion and I’m sure that it will be no different during the 2016 Games.”
In addition to the U.S. citizen services and visa services offered to Brazilians in Rio, the Consulate has several social programs underway, and Story said, “I would say the area of social inclusion has been a success story for the Consulate – by this we mean promoting basic human rights and combatting prejudice, with a specific focus on racial, gender, sexual orientation, and disability rights.”
“We hosted two key visitors who helped bring even more attention to these issues in just the past three months – U.S. Department of State Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judith Heumann was in Rio last month for a series of conversations to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities – very timely with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this year. In June, to coincide with U.S. Pride Month, we also had the visit of U.S. Department of State Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, Randy Berry, who raised the LGBTI flag at the Consulate.
Story also explained, “We also promote Black History month (in February in the U.S.) throughout the entire year with a range of programs that share MLK Jr’s legacy of pacific civic activism through poster shows, speakers, and other programs. There are many initiatives that we’re proud of, and there are many more to come this year and the next.”
“We are also still active in promoting English teaching in disadvantaged communities in Rio through our UP With English and Access programs with the help of binational center IBEU and the State Secretariat of Education. Next year, we definitely plan to take advantage of Rio being the host city of the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics and have Olympians and Paralympians help the U.S. Government promote understanding between our two peoples through sports diplomacy.”
Finally, in closing, Consul General Story adds, “I would be negligent if I didn’t make a plug for the Consulate’s Facebook – Consulado Geral dos Estados Unidos. Like us today at www.facebook.com/consuladoeuarj.br.” Those interested can also follow news from the Consulate here at their web site.