By Karen Shishiptorova, Contributing Reporter

Thomas A. Shannon, pending approval as the 54th US Ambassador to Brazil, photo by US Department of State.
Thomas A. Shannon, pending approval as the 54th US Ambassador to Brazil, photo by US Department of State.

RIO DE JANEIRO – The last vestige of the Bush era in Brazil clung on for four solid months of Obama’s presidency. Clifford M. Sobel, nominated by President Bush on May 23, 2006, continued his ambassadorship to the country until May 27, when Obama announced his pick for the post.

Thomas A. Shannon has been put forward, and now awaits U.S. Senate confirmation later this summer. Unlike other nominees, which have been criticized for fitting into the scorned category of fund raisers with no political experience, Shannon has a solid diplomatic resume under his belt.

Last week, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing about Mr. Shannon´s appointment. His final approval should occur this coming August. Pursuant to the U.S. Constitution, ambassadorial appointments require confirmation by the United States Senate.

During the announcement President Obama said, “I am grateful that these distinguished Americans have agreed to help represent the United States and strengthen our partnerships abroad at this critical time for our nation and the world. I am confident they will advance American diplomacy as we work to meet the challenges of the 21st century. I look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”

Mr. Shannon´s nomination is seen by analysts here as a positive message regarding the importance of Brazilian bilateral relations for President Obama, due to his solid track record as a career diplomat seasoned in Latin America affairs. It represents a gradual and positive change for Brazil. Between 2001 and 2003 the post remained technically empty for nearly two years, when the world’s attention was focused on the events of September 11.

During the Senate hearing, Mr. Shannon stated seeing Brazil as a “strategic partner”, defending the decrease of import taxes on Brazilian ethanol. However, he believes current production is not enough to supply its own market. Therefore, removing the taxes would not create immediate impact. Shannon also spoke about the importance of US cooperation with Brazil in oil exploration, stating its important role in creating stability in oil prices as another solid source outside the Middle East.

Shannon, a B.A. in Government and Philosophy (College of William and Mary) and a PhD in Political Science (Oxford), has been Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council since 2003, appointed by George W. Bush.

He has held numerous positions within the State Department, including Deputy Representative to the OAS, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. His career in Foreign Service has spanned both Africa and Latin America, having served in South Africa, Cameroon, Gabon, Venezuela and Guatemala.

His current post will lead him to partake in diplomatic meetings in Bolivia with President Evo Morales, as well as other official engagements in South American countries, such as Argentina with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

No stranger to Brazil, from 1989 to 1992 he served as Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, where he shall now serve as Ambassador. In 2007, he was one of the authors of an agreement memo between George W. Bush and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to stimulate the integration of the bio-oil industry between the two countries. While the memo did not move forward, it nevertheless showed the importance of the Brazil-U.S. relationship between the two countries and highlights Shannon’s experience for the role at hand.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Shannon will be the 54th Head of Mission to Brazil.


  1. The question of whether the Ambassador to Brazil should be a career diplomat or a political appointee is not an easy one to answer. Typically, the political appointee has the ear of the President of the US, whereas the career diplomat has the ear (perhaps) of the Secretary of State. Political appointees are usual for (a) the most important countries (UK, France, Russia) or (b) those that don’t really count on the world scene. Otherwise, career diplomats are the rule.
    Ambassador Sobel, a political appointee, has done a very good job of institutionalizing a number of changes in the US/Brazil relationship, and has been aided in this because the Brazilians have known that he had the ear of the President. We shall see if Mr Shannon, who has an outstanding record as a diplomat, will have the same success.


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