Obama names ambassador nominees: Goodbye to Mr Wayne and Welcome to Vilma Martinez

Vilma S. Martinez, Nominee for Ambassador to Argentina
Ms. Martinez has been a Partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson since 1982, where she specialized in federal and state court commercial litigation. Currently, her practice focuses on providing advice to companies enhancing their equal employment opportunity policies and building diversity and inclusion initiatives into their business plans. She served as President and General Counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) for nine years. Previously, she was a litigation associate at Cahill, Gordon & Reindel in New York and also a staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Ms. Martinez was Chair and a Member of the University of California Board of Regents. She also chaired the Pacific Council’s Study Group on Mexico and served on the advisory boards of Columbia Law School and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California. Ms. Martinez holds a B.A. from the University of Texas in 1964 and a LL.B. from Columbia Law School.

May 27, 2009

Ambassador Wayne offered on May 27 a farewell reception to the Argentine media as he prepares to conclude his term and depart the country. Ambassador Wayne and Press Officer Mara Tekach who is also concluding her mission in Argentina gave some brief remarks highlighting the fundamental role of a free and responsible press as the foundation of democracy and thanked journalists for their contributions to the strengthening of bilateral relations.

“Our interaction with all of you has contributed significantly to the strengthening of the bilateral relation. I am very thankful for your contribution.” said Ambassador Wayne at the farewell reception in his honor.

Ambassador Wayne underscored the role of the press as the guard dog for democracy. “Democracy functions better when the public is well informed.” Press Officer Mara Tekach, quoting Walter Cronkite, one of the greatest American journalists said: “Freedom of the press is not just important; it is democracy.”

Following the event, the Ambassador took the opportunity to tell the guests about his next destination at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he will serve as Coordinating Director of Development and Economic Affairs for civil aid programs.

Mara Tekach will continue her foreign service career as U.S. Spokeswoman at the United Nations in New York.

Ambassador's Speech

May 27, 2009

Welcome, and thank you all for being here on the occasion of my departure from Argentina.

As you know, after almost three years as ambassador to this beautiful country, the time has come for the normal rotation of Ambassadors and, in my case, assuming some new functions. I will continue my career in the U.S. Foreign Service in one of the priority regions for the foreign policy of my President and my country, serving as Coordinating Director of Development and Economic Affairs at our mission in Afghanistan. I will be in charge of coordinating the United States’ non-military assistance programs. In this capacity, I have committed to provide my utmost efforts to achieve the goals of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton in this sensitive region.

As I face this challenge, I appreciate deeply my years in Argentina, when I have enjoyed the warmth, talent and creativity of the Argentine people, and worked with my colleagues in the Embassy to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.

One lesson I have learned here is that Argentines, like Americans, like to talk about their values. I have tried to share as much as possible about my country’s values, in both words and deeds while showing full respect for the rich traditions of Argentina. It is no secret that my most satisfying work has been supporting Argentines who are working for the advancement of the disadvantaged in their country. And during my time here we have been diligent in informing you about steps we have taken to advance bilateral relations whether it be in the fight against drugs or in providing more scholarships for young people to study English.

Last week, President Obama delivered a wonderful speech about the values and ideals of American society. He talked about enlisting the power of our most fundamental values – as engraved in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – the foundation of liberty and the balance of powers in our country. President Obama made clear that our values are not simply a matter of idealism to cherish, but a practical guide for democracy, since doing what is right strengthens our country. Putting our values into practice protects the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for, some in the fields, others in the courts, and still others on the printed page.

One critical value in my country is our appreciation for free and responsible media. This Embassy’s relationship with the media has been one of my highest priorities.

Just as the media in a healthy democracy require government respect for freedom of speech, the public depends on the media to exercise that freedom in a balanced, responsible manner -- upholding the highest standards of professional ethics, maintaining its independence, operating transparently, aggressively ferreting out the good and the bad and exposing wrongdoing in all of its forms. And there is much to be said for striving for balance -- trying to portray both sides of the story as fairly and objectively as possible so the citizen can judge. In turn, governments must honor and respect the loyal watchdog role of the journalists in a democracy. The public's right to be well informed depends upon it. Democracy functions best when the public is well informed.

When I came to Argentina, I was able to tell you I had worked as a journalist; that I have been in your shoes. And I invited you to put yourselves in mine, to look at the United States through fresh perspectives and to open yourselves to the values we all know our two countries share.

We pulled together a hard-working team in our Press Office under the tireless, round-the-clock leadership of our press attaché, Mara Tekach, to promote transparency and accuracy. Mara, as many of you know, will leave this July to the press spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. Mara is leaving Argentina for two reasons: first, because she’s the right woman for a very important job, and second, because I’m leaving Argentina, too. Otherwise, I would never permit her to leave this post! She is one of the very best we have in our diplomatic service and as most of you know, a wonderful individual.

As Mara and I worked with our other Embassy colleagues and you, our colleagues in the press, the U.S. experience with the First Amendment to our Constitution was our inspiration. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe." John Kennedy also saw a secure democracy in freedom of the press, when he urged “We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms.” When reporting misrepresented the facts, we engaged with you in a constructive and positive way. And I believe we achieved a healthy and invaluable relationship with the media in Argentina.

My personal relationship with journalists and the media in Argentina has been enriching. Many ofyou have been my teachers and often a key source of insight on this fascinating country, and you are our prime intermediary with the Argentine public. What we gained from you allowed the Embassy to fulfill our diplomatic function: to solve problems, help to build mutual understanding, and discover opportunities for cooperation between our two countries. In sum, the interaction between all of you and us at the Embassy has contributed importantly to strengthening the bilateral relationship. I am so grateful for your contribution.

I’m pleased to observe that the relationship between the United States and Argentina is at a good point. We have established an important, solid foundation. I believe the relationship is poised to grow stronger, as cooperation deepens and as work to pursue a common agenda internationally, as our leaders did in the Summit of the Americas and the G-20 Summit.

As we work to restore robust growth in the economy, , to address energy, security, climate change challenges, to eliminate poverty and to enhance the security of our citizens, there is much that Argentina and the u.S. can do in partnership.

I would like to emphasize the enormous pleasure I had in working with you during these years. My experience with the Argentine media has been a unique and unforgettable part of my diplomatic career. You have a tremendously important role to play in Argentina’s democracy.

I say good-bye to Argentina, carrying memories of the great creativity and kindness of your people; the beauty and richness of your landscape; and of the good progress we made to further improve the close ties of friendship and mutual understanding between our peoples and between our governments.

Now, I invite you to join me in this toast, as Mara and I bid farewell to you, the professionals we have greatly appreciated and admired during our time in Buenos Aires.

About Vilma S Martinez

Vilma S. Martinez was born October 17, 1943 in San Antonio, Texas. During her childhood, much of Texas was openly segregated.

“We weren’t allowed to go into some of the parks,” Ms. Martinez recalls. “When we went to the movies, we had to sit in the back of the theater.”

At the age of 15, she had the opportunity to work as a volunteer in the firm of a local Hispanic lawyer, Alonso Perales.

“I was very much impressed with the way he was able to help people as a lawyer,” says Ms. Martinez. The experience led her to focus her sights on becoming a lawyer.

“Many people at school tried to discourage me,” she explains, “but I was very stubborn.”

After graduating from high school, Ms. Martinez enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, earning a B.A. degree in 1964. She went on to Columbia University School of Law, receiving her L.L.B. degree in 1967.

Ms. Martinez began her career as a staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1967.

“I joined the staff at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund when Title VII was new and I worked on Title VII cases throughout the South and an early Northern school desegregation case in Denver, Colorado,” says Ms. Martinez.

In 1970, she became Equal Employment Opportunity Counsel for the New York State Division of Human Rights in New York City and in 1971, she joined the firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel in New York as a litigation associate.

Ms. Martinez was one of the first two women elected to the Board of Directors for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (MALDEF). In 1973, she was selected president and general counsel. She served in that capacity from 1973-1982.

During her tenure at MALDEF, Ms. Martinez worked on a number of issues. She is proud of MALDEF’s major victory in Plyer v. Doe which guaranteed undocumented children the right to a public school education. She was also instrumental in MALDEF’s effort to expand the Voting Rights Act to Mexican-Americans in 1975. They had not been included when the legislation was passed in 1965.

Since 1982, Ms. Martinez has been a partner at the Los Angeles law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, where she specializes in federal and state court litigation, including defense of wrongful termination and employment litigation and other commercial litigation. In 1994, she was hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District to challenge that portion of Proposition 187 which denied a public school education to California’s undocumented migrants. While her suit filed in the state courts successfully won a restraining order, a similar case was filed soon afterwards in the federal courts by MALDEF and other civil rights groups. The federal class action suit, Gregorio v. Wilson, ultimately resulted in nearly all provisions of Proposition 187 being declared unconstitutional in 1998.

Ms. Martinez is currently a board member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and several major corporations, including Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc., Shell Oil Company, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. She served on the President's Advisory Committee on Trade Policy & Negotiations from 1994 to 1996 and was Chair of the University of California Board of Regents from 1984-1986, a board she served on from 1976 to 1990. She has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. Hispanic-Mexican Government International Commission, the Presidential Advisory Board on Ambassadorial Appointments, and the California Federal Judicial Selection Committee.

Ms. Martinez has been awarded the American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Award, the Medal for Excellence from Columbia Law School, the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Texas, the Lex Award from the Mexican-American Bar Association, and the Jefferson Award from the American Institute for Public Service.

Ms. Martinez suggests that those considering a legal career today “persevere and work hard on their grades and on improving to the maximum extent possible their test-taking ability.” Admission to law schools today is very much influenced by grades and scores on the Law School Admissions Test, she points out, “so it’s important to do the very best you can.”

Reflecting on the challenges she faced and overcame, she has one other piece of advice for young people: “Don’t give up on your dream.”

Thomas A. Shannon, Nominee for Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil
Mr. Shannon has served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs since October 2005. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. Shannon entered the Foreign Service in 1984. Mr. Shannon also served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council from 2003 to 2005. From 2002 to 2003, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State, where he was Director of Andean Affairs from 2001 to 2002. He was U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS) from 2000 to 2001. He served as Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council from 1999 to 2000; as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela from 1996 to 1999; and as Regional Labor Attaché at the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg, South Africa from 1992 to 1996. During his career as a Foreign Service Officer, Mr. Shannon also served as Special Assistant to the Ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil from 1989 to 1992; as Country Officer for Cameroon, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe from 1987 to 1989; and as the Consular/Political Rotational Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala from 1984 to 1986. Mr. Shannon holds a Doctorate and a Master's degree in Politics from Oxford University, and a B.A. in Government and Philosophy from the College of William and Mary.

President Obama this evening announced a slew of nominations for high-profile ambassador posts, including those to Britain, France, India, and Japan.

The nominees:

Michael A. Battle, Sr., ambassador to the African Union. Battle is president of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Vilma S. Martinez, ambassador to Argentina. Martinez is a lawyer and president of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Thomas A. Shannon, ambassador to Brazil. Shannon is assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs.

Laurie S. Fulton, ambassador to Denmark. Fulton is a Washington lawyer.

Charles H. Rivkin, ambassador to France. Rivkin is a former president and CEO of the Jim Henson Co.

Louis B. Susman, ambassador to the United Kingdom. Susman is a retired vice chairman of Citigroup, a Chicago fund-raiser for Obama, and was national finance chairman for Senator John F. Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.

Robert S. Connan, ambassador to Iceland. Connan is a minister for commercial affairs to the US mission to the European Union.

Timothy J. Roemer, ambassador to India. Roemer is a former congressman from Indiana who also served on the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

John V. Roos, ambassador to Japan. Roos is a Silicon Valley lawyer.

Christopher William Dell, ambassador to Kosovo. Dell is a career Foreign Service officer who is now deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Afghanistan.

Patricia A. Butenis, ambassador to Sri Lanka. Butenis is deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Baghdad.

Miguel H. Díaz, ambassador to the Vatican. Diaz is a Cuban-American theologian at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minn. who advised Obama's presidential campaign.

If confirmed, Diaz would be the first Latino in the posting. He would replace Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard University professor who turned down the University of Notre Dame's top honor, the Laetare Medal, after the Catholic school invited Obama to give the commencement address earlier this month and awarded him an honorary degree.

“Catholics United is thrilled to learn that Dr. Miguel Diaz has been nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Dr. Diaz is a devout Catholic, a respected theologian, a leader in the Catholic Latino community, and a dedicated husband and father of four children. We have full confidence that he will serve our nation well and we invite all Catholics to join us in celebrating this historic nomination,” Chris Korzen, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

“The Administration and the Holy See share many common concerns, such as protecting the environment, fostering peace in the Middle East, disarming nuclear arsenals and cultivating international development, especially for the poorest nations of the world. Dr. Diaz’s ability to work constructively for common ground makes him a superb choice for this position."

“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 years and months ahead,” Obama said in a statement.


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