My first week interning for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs of the State Department was jam-packed and interesting. Upon arrival to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, I went sight-seeing in the capital and found an apartment within a few blocks of the embassy.
On my first day, I was briefed on many different aspects of the embassy. The American Embassy in Santo Domingo has one of the highest approval ratings around the world: over 90%. Considering this and the fact that there is a large contingent of Dominicans living in the United States, the Ambassador and this embassy are very influential in the country. The DR has one of the highest Visa demands in the world as well.
The security briefing was the most interesting briefing, for sure. Although Dominicans love America, SD is a very dangerous post due to narcotrafficking and the resulting violence, compounded by corrpution. To paraphrase, “You won’t be robbed because you’re an American necessarily, but you might be if you wave around that ipod.” With that said, Dominicans are very welcoming, friendly and have good senses of humor.
The State Department is comprised of five general “cones” as their called among foreign service officers. I am working in Public affairs. Public Affairs is a combination of press relations and cultural affairs. I have been working on both sides. The interesting thing about public affairs, as my boss noted to me today, is it requires being well-versed and up to date in all aspects of foreign affairs, wether it be smart grid technology, treasury strategies, combating narcotrafficking strategies, or the political situation around the region.
We are currently short-handed on the cultural affairs side so I am actively participating in the planning and logistics of a 4th of July concert. We are bringing in two prominent Latin American musicians from the States for a huge concert at the National Theater. Surveying the venue with the regional security officers was really interesting. Suffice it to say they leave no ends untied.
Ambassador Yzaguirre has also commissioned the Public Affairs section to write the History of the Embassy in Santo Domingo. Your’s truly is undertaking this endeavor, and it’s been a cool project. The project allows me to travel around the city collecting research and to meet with prominent Dominican political, historical, and architectural scholars. The language learning curve is steep and I’m starting to understand the Dominican accent pretty well.
Yesterday was a busy day. I was invited to the country team meeting, where the heads of all the agencies in the embassy meet to brief the ambassador. The DEA briefing was particularly interesting. Fast boats headed to the U.S. are routinely caught, and the DEA and the Dominican equivalent have a good working relationship.
I attended a USAID scholarship event to recognize Dominicans from all parts of the country that received scholarships that allow them to study health science, agriculture and other disciplines in the United States for six, 12, or 24 months. The DR is just emerging from a presidential election. The ambassador played an important role in certifying the results after some questioned them even though they were performed with complete transparency. His actions played a huge part in restoring order. The press is still hot on the subject, though and will do anything to get a comment from the ambassador, which is why there were over 30 cameras there hoping to get a comment from the ambassador.
It’s been a great experience so far, and I’ve got plenty more to learn.
More to come in the next couple of weeks,