By Pedro Widmar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – On December 24th after nearly 7 months of deliberation in the U.S. Senate, Thomas A. Shannon Jr. was confirmed as the 54th U.S. Ambassador to Brazil. Shannon is the former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, or the Latin American Czar, as the post is commonly referred to.
Shannon also served as a Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador in Brasilia from 1989 to 1992, during a period of considerable turmoil in Brazilian politics known as the “Collor Era”.
Shannon’s appointment to the office was made as early as May 27, 2009, however the nomination was challenged twice, first in July and then again in November. The first obstacle came when opposition Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) placed a Hold on the designation due to worries about the Obama administrations policies towards the Honduran crisis.
The Hold is an informal process whereby a senator can prevent a motion from reaching the senate floor indefinitely. This measure can only be undermined by a call for Cloture, which would limit the Hold to a predetermined time frame. However, instating Cloture requires 60 senate votes and is seen as a hostile act, which has dissuaded its use by Senate Democrats.
DeMint openly criticized the administration for condemning the coup in Honduras and calling for the reinstatement of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who he accused of having close ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s administration. In a July 8th speech in the Foreign Relations Committee hearing over the candidacy, the Senator stated, “The country (Honduras) acted in accordance with its constitution, and our government has inexplicably sided with Chavez.”
The Hold was dropped however on November 5th shortly after the Obama administration’s announcement that it would recognize elections in Honduras. But Shannon’s appointment was immediately re-placed in Hold by Senator George Lemieux (R-FL) who argued that the Obama administration was taking steps against democracy in Honduras by not normalizing diplomacy with the South American country. The senator categorized the U.S. decision to deny visas to Honduran citizens as “wrong”.
Lemieux’s Hold was a bartering point for gaining assurances that the Obama administration would take steps to motivate democracy in Honduras and also to liberate democracy grants to non-profit organizations directed at Cuba. The Senators stance was seen with some criticism from government officials as an attempt at gaining favor with his Florida constituency over the Castro government.
On December 17th Lemieux dropped his Hold on Shannon’s appointment after a meeting where he claimed that he had “won assurances” from Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, over areas of concern. The government’s position was less clear. But with the Hold rebuked the senate confirmed the appointment one week later in its last session of the year.