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US ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman with former US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Photo: Wikipedia/Getty Images. 
US ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman with former US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Photo: Wikipedia/Getty Images. 

Biden looks to formalize his diplomatic agenda with Mexico and Brazil

The White House announced its intent on Tuesday to nominate nine people to serve as ambassadors, three will hold posts in Latin America.

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While president Joe Biden was traveling across Europe to meet with various world leaders, the White House announced on Tuesday, June 15, his nominations for nine new ambassador positions. 

Three of the posts to be filled are the heads of U.S.-led missions to Mexico, Costa Rica and Paraguay. All nominees need to be confirmed by the Senate. 

Among them, Ken Salazar was nominated to serve as the next ambassador to Mexico, America’s largest trading partner. 

He knows Biden from his time in the Senate, where he represented Colorado from 2005 to 2009. Prior to that, Salazar became the first Latino elected to statewide office in Colorado when he ran for Attorney General. 

After his election victory in 2008, Barack Obama tapped him to work in his cabinet as the Secretary of the Interior. The former senator served in the role for four years, and one of his notable accomplishments was implementing a 20-year ban on mining uranium from public lands in 2012. 

Since leaving politics, he joined the law firm WilmerHale and anchored their Denver office. There, his law practice was focused on energy, environment, natural resources, corporate governance and Native American matters. 

Salazar is also a founding member of the Latino Corporate Directors Association (LCDA). 

Given that Mexico shares a nearly 2,000 mile border with the U.S. and accounts for 14.8% of America’s total trade, the position Salazar has been selected for is one of the most high-ranking posts in the foreign service. 

He will work with the Mexican government to stem migration from Central America and ensure new labor regulations in the USMCA are followed. There might also be room to work on climate policy given how prevalent it has been in his career. 

The nominee’s first position in politics was as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. 

The Colorado native had been rumored to be Biden’s pick for the job since last month, but other names in the running were former 2020 presidential candidate Julian Castro and former U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, Bill Richardson. 

A New Ambassador to Brazil 

The retirement of Todd Chapman from foreign service means the Biden administration will also have to look for another American ambassador to Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy. 

He made the announcement last week, citing personal reasons, and has informed President Biden he will carry out his duties for another month. 

Chapman was appointed by Trump, and served for 14 months in the position. The career diplomat was an expert on the country since he finished secondary school there, and served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the embassy in Brasilia from 2011 to 2014. 

Last summer, he faced an inquiry from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for potentially using his post to benefit Trump’s reelection campaign. 

Brazilian newspaper O Globo published a story that suggested that Chapman centered his pleas to the South American country’s government to lower their ethanol tariffs around keeping Trump in office. 

Former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Fmr. Rep. Elliot Engels (D-NY), said that if the ambassador did have this intent, then it would have violated the Hatch Act of 1939 — a law that excludes federal officials in the executive branch from engaging in some partisan activities. 

Iowa and Minnesota, two 2020 battleground states, rank top and fourth respectively for annual ethanol production capacity. 

His replacement is likely to be more combative with President Jair Bolsonaro to signal a contrast from the 59 year-old’s friendly relationship with the right-wing leader. 

Chapman hosted the president as his residence for a 4th of July barbeque, and both men were photographed without wearing masks despite the country reporting some of the most staggering COVID-19 numbers in the region. 

A likely priority for the next ambassador will be climate change, since Biden and Bolsonaro have been trying to reach an agreement on an environmental deal since February. 

Under the current Brazilian president’s reign, Amazon deforestation has surged to a 12-year high. The former military officer assumed the presidency on Jan. 1, 2019 and 4,281 sq miles of rainforest were destroyed from August 2019 to July 2020 alone. 

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