WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump’s nominee for Ambassador to Argentina, Judge Edward Prado, was well received at his nomation hearing before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Wednesday.
The senators leading the nominations hearing, Republican Senator Marco Rubio (Florida) and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin (Maryland), praised Prado’s credentials, saying they were confident they would serve well in a country that has become a strategic regional ally for the US. The exchanges were a marked difference to the grilling former US ambassador to Argentina Noah Mamet had received from the same committee before his own nomination some years ago during the Barack Obama administration.Referencing Prado’s position as a circuit judge sitting on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Cardin declared: “We don’t normally have a fifth circuit judge, and your experience is really to be admired, for taking your talent to Argentina.”
Cardin emphasised that a high priority for the ambassador's mission should be assisting the investigation into the 1994 terrorist bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre. The Democratic senator underlined that justice should be served, referencing criminal charges related to an alleged cover-up by the previous administration of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
On Monday, Argentine Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio approved a request to send the former president and a number of ex-government officials and social leaders to trial for participating in an alleged cover-up scheme designed to overlook Iranian involvement in the crime.
“The United States needs to play a role in helping Argentina find closure on that issue,” said Cardin.
The Democratic senator for Maryland also voiced his concern about the increasing economic power of presence of China in Argentina, telling Mr Prado he would play a critical role in this context.
Senator Rubio focused on how Argentina has become a regional leader in South America after recovering from what he called “poor economic leadership” under Fernández de Kirchner.
“The president [Mauricio Macri] has returned to the United States, while the charges against the former democratic administration show how precarious democracy can be, in regards to the cracks which can happen in even our institutions,” he said.
When it was Mr Prado’s turn to testify, the judge recalled how he had visited Argentina several times in the past to deliver presentations and attend legal workshops. He said he had made friends in the legal community in Argentina.
“I hope to assure you that my career as a judge, my work ethic, and my resolve make me well qualified to be America’s voice in Argentina,” he told the committee. “I know how important the rule of law is and how important a strong, independent judicial branch can be to a country if it is to be a solid democracy.”
Prado, 70, said he hoped to continue working with Argentina’s prosecutors and judges to improve the country’s judicial system. He also promised to help the country rebuild the capacity of its police force and said the United States should continue its support of the Argentine military.
“I intend to work closely with the Argentine administration, to not only assist them with these efforts but to strengthen the mutual, beneficial trade and commerce between our two countries,” the nominee to head up the Embassy in Buenos Aires said in his closing remarks.
In spite of that declaration, the Trump administration’s growing protectionism has hurt Argentina’s trade balance, with bio-diesel and now Aluminium and steel exports facing steep tariff hikes – these products represent over 30 percent of Argentina’s exports to the United States.
The US president is expected to sign off on the aluminum and steel tariff hikes on Thursday.
Another important item on the committee’s agenda was Venezuela.
Rubio, a fierce critic of the Venezuelan government, noted the crucial geopolitical role Argentina has played in encouraging other nations to put pressure on President Nicolás Maduro’s administration. He asked if Prado would continue to be supportive of the Macri administration's efforts to press Caracas.
The Texan judge responded in the positive, recalling how Macri was a prominent critic of the Maduro administration and referencing the efforts he made to isolate and remove Venezuela from the Mercosur trade bloc.
“The Argentine government is making some positive moves in its criticism of how the Venezuelan administration is treating its citizens and the lack of democracy [there] – I will do all I can to support their efforts to remedy the situation,” he answered.
Returning to the AMIA investigation, Prado – who is said to speak fluent Spanish – said he was encouraged by how the Macri’s administration has refocused attention on the the terrorist attacks and the mysterious death of late AMIA special prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in 2015.
“I hope to get down there and help the process in any way I can, whether it be with the prosecutors or the Judiciary,” Prado said.
He called on the Iranian government to cooperate with the investigation.
Along with Prado, two other nominees for ambassadorial positions testified before the committee on Wednesday.
Joseph E. Macmanus, a career member of the Foreign Service, has been nominated to be Ambassador of Colombia, while Ms. Robin Bernstein of Florida has been chosen as Ambassador of the Dominican Republic.
Proposed funding cuts
All three nominees – Prado, Macmanus and Bernstein – are expected to pass the Senate confirmation vote, but they may soon face problems of their own sorting. If the Trump administration’s proposed budget is passed, it will cut US diplomatic funding by a whopping 75 percent, a move that would severely diminish the capabilities of US embassies throughout the world.
Senator Cardin promised the nominees that he wouldn’t support the bill, but he called on the ambassadors to help advocate for their cause.
“We need a friend to advocate with us, so you can have the resources you need to carry out these very important assignments, he said.”
Cardin also expressed his worries over the Trump administration’s slow pace in choosing nominees. Of the 188 countries with a US Embassy, to date 41 countries still do not have an ambassador.
“I can assure you that we will work with the chairman to expedite all the nominees that are brought forward, because we desperately need your presence in these areas,” Cardin said, as Rubio nodded in agreement.
Nominees for US ambassadorial positions must receive approval from the Foreign Relations committee, before their nomination is confirmed by the US Senate.