Perhaps more than any year since we started tracking it, the revolving door of the Atlanta Consular Corps rotated rapidly in 2016, with key arrivals and departures among the city’s always churning cadre of diplomats.
Notably, the deanship — the title of longest-serving member, who runs the communal functions of the consular corps — was passed to El Salvador’s Claudia Valenzuela from Gandy Thomas, the Haitian consul general who was transferred to a post in Miami. Ms. Valenzuela has been in Atlanta since 2011.
But leadership changes occurred elsewhere across the community, which also experienced a few out-of-the-ordinary happenings in what turned out to be a turbulent year in the global economy.
Brazil’s Hermano Telles Ribeiro, an outgoing advocate of the South American nation in Atlanta, passed his torch to Maria Stela Pompeu Brasil Frota, a former Brazilian ambassador to Switzerland, amid a strike in Brazil’s foreign ministry that left the Atlanta consulate temporarily short-staffed on the visa processing side.
Ms. Frota isn’t the only consul general in Atlanta with the rank of ambassador. Judith Varnai Shorer, Israel’s consul general who arrived in the fall of 2015, formerly was her country’s top diplomat in Hungary.
Detlev Ruenger, the German consul general who arrived in the summer of 2015, was ambassador to both Norway and Austria before beginning his term heading the country’s Atlanta post. This April, Mr. Ruenger was honored by Austria’s ambassador to the United States during a ceremony in Atlanta for his contributions to ties between the countries.
In 2016, new European arrivals included William De Baets, Belgium’s new consul general, who replaced Genevieve Verbeek in the spring. Mr. De Baets on Jan. 20 will join Global Atlanta’s Consular Conversation series to discuss the issues facing his country as Europe looks toward an uncertain future.
Later in the year, it was Louis de Corail of France who found himself facing a baptism of fire. Mr. Corail came in August, just before the start of the seventh France-Atlanta, a yearly program coordinated in partnership with Georgia Tech that fosters business and research exchanges. He complimented his staff for their steadfast preparations, which made the transition easy even amid a busy time.
Likewise, United Kingdom Consul General Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford found himself busier than he might have ever expected when June 2016 brought the “Brexit” bombshell.
The country’s vote to leave the EU, while far from becoming a reality just yet, created a wave of uncertainty that required frequent explanations by the diplomat at various seminars around town. One bright spot of Brexit, he says, is that the country will control its own destiny from a trade perspective.
Despite the uncertainty, and perhaps in some ways because of it, the U.K. consulate office continued to grow this year, as Erica Stevens, an Atlanta native, was tapped to lead investment outreach in the Southeast U.S. for Wales. Following up on her appointment, the first minister of the country, Carwyn Jones, visited Atlanta in September to assure investors Wales would still be welcoming for American companies, Brexit or not.
Latin American Connections
But it wasn’t just a big year for Atlanta’s European connections. Beyond Brazil, two other major Latin American posts were filled: Javier Diaz de Leon became Mexican consul general in Atlanta, taking the helm of an office that works with nearly a million people of Mexican origin across three states. Jorge Lopez Menardi arrived from Argentina, appointed after the election in late 2015 of Mauricio Macri, who is aiming to refresh the country’s reputation in front of global investors.
Two important Atlanta posts remained unfilled at the end of the year. Nigeria has not appointed a new consul general since the departure in early 2016 of Geoffrey Teneilabe, who returned to Nigeria to take up a foreign ministry posting. D.O. Falowo is serving as acting consul general. Haiti’s consulate is being run by acting consul general Faustin Lebon.
Taiwan’s local office is not technically considered a consulate, as the U.S. withholds recognition from the self-ruled island, but it functions as a diplomatic outpost. Steven Huei-Yuan Tai, who has served as director-general of Atlanta’s Taipei Economic and Cultural Office since 2013, is headed for a new role as deputy director of its de facto embassy in Singapore. His spot has already been filled by Vincent Jing-Yen Liu.
Abby Turano, Georgia’s chief of protocol, said these relationships are important for the state’s tourism and investment outreach, often welcoming international businesses and visitors to the state.
“Their offices serve as centers for business, culture, and information, but what’s more is that, especially in recent years, we’ve seen a trend of consuls taking on more and more responsibility for economic development and trade,” Ms. Turano told Global Atlanta. “They recognize that this is a region where companies from their home countries can flourish, and they help Georgia companies enter new markets as well. The Consular Corps helps us cultivate the relationships that make Georgia more and more competitive in the global marketplace, and they don’t stop touting our state’s advantages when they leave and go on to other posts.”
Global Atlanta’s Outreach
Global Atlanta in 2016 intensified its own outreach to local diplomats, whom we see as essential allies in telling the stories of Atlanta’s connections with the world, both here in town and when we travel abroad.
We continued to publish the monthly Diplomacy newsletter, a compilation of stories each month tracking ambassador visits to Atlanta, new consular appointments and departures, policy issues and speeches and interviews by international affairs experts. [Sign up here]
We also started Consular Conversations, a series of events to introduce local diplomats to our community of readers through a public interview during a small roundtable-style networking luncheon.
Sponsored by the law firm of Miller & Martin LLP, we have already welcomed consuls general of the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Mexico and France, with Belgium slated for January and Canada for February.