The Latest on Hispanic Appointments in the Obama Administration

December 5th, 2008 · 11 Comments

Seneca, our Washington, D.C. contributor, has an update on the latest Latino appointments in the Obama administration. There’s a lot of history here. Read and learn!

Gov Bill Richardson’s appointment (after having been derailed from becoming the first Latino Secretary of State)  for the Secretary Commerce demonstrates that President-Elect Obama will continue the tradition of appointing at least one Hispanic or Latino to the Cabinet. The first President to appoint a Latino to the Cabinet (Lauro Cavazos) was Ronald Reagan back in 1988. Actually, Senate Confirmation Appointees level Hispanics began in the Kennedy Administration with Raymond Tellez to be Ambassador to Costa Rica followed by Teodoro Moscoso as Ambassador to Venezuela. In 1967, the first Hispanic career Foreign Service Ambassador was John Jova (Ambassador to Honduras, OAS and Mexico). The first Assistant Secretary level appointee was under Gerald Ford when he named Alberto Zapanta to be Assistant Secretary at Interior in 1975. Carter named the first Hispanic Chief of Protocol, Lalo Valdez and the first service secretary, Edward Hidalgo as Secretary of the Navy in 1979. Several Federal Judges have been named since Reynaldo de la Garza of Texas was named Federal District Judge in 1961, yet none have ever been named to the Appeals or Supreme Court. Miguel Estrada, the Honduran American, was blocked from becoming a Federal Appeals Judge. As for additional Latinos in the Obama Cabinet yet to occur, speculation focuses on Federico Pena, former Mayor of Denver and later Clinton’s Secretary of both Departments of Energy and Transportation, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz is often mentioned, as is another prospect Mayor Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. ‘Tino’ Cuellar, Stanford Law Professor is being bandied as the new Immigration Director (CIS/DHS), which is at the Under Secretary level in Homeland Security.

It is interesting how the Obama transition team was feeling the heat to come up with more visible Latino appointees and readily announced NCLR Vice President Cecilia Munoz as Director of Inter-Government Affairs at the White House, as was also announced former Army Secretary under Clinton, Louis Caldera as the Director of the White House Military Office, which traditionally has been occupied by a high ranking military General. Caldera was viewed as having done a so-so job in the Army Secretariat, but many consider he bombed out of the Presidency of the University of New Mexico where he later was awarded a tenured position in is law school — probably to comply with the terms of the contract. Let us hope that both Munoz and Caldera get the official White House title of “Assistant to the President.”

On the National Security side, there are no rumors of a Latino at Defense, at least not in the Deputy Secretary slot or at the under secretary and assistant secretary level. At State likewise except for the strong rumor of Tampa lawyer Frank Sanchez  to be named Special Envoy to the Americas following the Clinton practice of having an envoy to Latin America. The substantive question here is: Will Frank Sanchez report to the President as Mack McLarty and former Florida Governor Buddy McKay did?…Or will he report to the Secretary of State or even worse to the Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America (a fourth rung bureaucratic level after Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary)? Ideally, one would hope he will report to the President. Former Congressional Staffer Dan Restrepo is another name consistently heard in the Obama circles as the incoming NSC Director for Latin America.

Hopefully, Obama will improve on the career ranks of ambassadors and general/flag rank officers. The outgoing Bush Administration has a shabby record at State for having named only three visible Latino career foreign service officers as Ambassadors – the worst record in over three decades: Colin Powell only named one, Lino Gutierrez, Cuban American to Argentina now working for Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez as his top adviser on Cuba policy. Gutierrez like Mel Martinez (HUD)  was deliberately granted the gatekeeper role on Cuba and over-all Latin policy for the George W Bush Administration. Now that Richardson gets Commerce, will Obama follow the practice of having him (Richardson) be the lead on Mexico and US Latin American relations? Condi Rice named only two additional Latino career foreign service professionals to be ambassadors: Hugo Llorens (Cuban American) to Honduras  and the first female Hispanic (visible) career officer Carmen Martinez (Puerto Rican) to Zambia, where she was proclaimed by the local media as the best US Ambassador ever.

As for our Latinos in the military ranks, much remains to be remedied. Latinos comprise about 15 to 17% of the over 1.2 million active duty US soldiers and African Americans are about 25% of the active duty ranks, yet Latinos have only three general/flag rank officers, none with three or four stars. The African-Americans have 26 general/flag rank officers. The one Latino was LT GEN Ricardo Sanchez, who was slotted to be the first four star general in years. Only two Latinos have ever been four star officers: Admiral Horacio Rivero of Puerto Rico and Army General Richard Cavazos (brother of first Latino cabinet head Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos).  Sanchez took the hit for the disastrous torture episodes in Iraq while he was three star army commanding officer of US Forces, as they say in Spanish:  ‘el perro flaco recibe las pulgas’  (the skinny dogs gets the fleas). Sanchez obviously had no real ‘top cover’ because none of the other top rank officers paid the price like him, worse yet Sanchez had no ‘top cover’ from the Hispanic caucus in Congress nor does the Caucus as a whole appear to interest itself in these low promotion numbers of Latinos at State and the Defense Department.

In the Intelligence Community, it is rare to find any Latinos. Only two have ever risen to the highest circles of the Community (they remain nameless), and only one Latino was ever named to the prestigious and high powered  President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), a former career Foreign Service Officer Ambassador Cresencio Arcos. He was named to the Board once by President Clinton and re-appointed by President George W. Bush. It should be noted that the Latino advocacy groups are rarely seen interesting themselves to check on the progress of moving Latinos up the career ladder. If they were to examine the ranks of SESers (Senior Executive Service)  in the Civil Service, the numbers may be even more appalling. The paucity of high ranking Latino career professionals is obscured by some glittering political (non-career) Hispanic appointment to the Cabinet or Embassies. Then again the rap on Latin Americans (ergo Latinos) is that we do not concern ourselves institutionally only personally…that is at the personal level.

Tags: Antonio Villaraigosa · Barack Obama · Bill Richardson · Carlos Gutierrez · Congressional Hispanic Caucus · diversity · Federico Peña · GWB · Iraq War · Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez · National Council of La Raza · Puerto Rico · Sen. Mel Martinez · Seneca

11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Johnny Dilznik // Dec 5, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Wow. The racism here is incredible. Appoint more latinos or else! Are you kidding? A VP for the NCLR is in a inter-govmt. position? NCLR is a racist orginazation. I guess a Bush appointment of David Duke would have been appropriate. This is nothing more than the polotics of ethnicity. Sad.

  • 2 Anna // Dec 6, 2008 at 10:15 am

    NCLR is not a racist organization. It was created to fight racism against Latinos.

  • 3 Anna // Dec 6, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Here are some other people being considered:

    Interior–Raul Grijalva

    HUD–Manny Diaz

    Labor Secretary–Linda Chavez Thompson, Maria Echaveste

    Agriculture Secretary–John Salazar

  • 4 Johnny Dilznik // Dec 7, 2008 at 11:02 am

    “NCLR is not a racist organization. It was created to fight racism against Latinos.”-Anna.

    Anna if you believe that you ARE part of the problem. NCLR is the best example of open racism in America. Government sanctioned and o.k. because it is undercover of “brown”.

  • 5 webmaster // Dec 8, 2008 at 11:27 am

    NCLR is largely funded by corporate America (Ford Foundation, Coca Cola, GM, Wal-Mart, etc.). When have these big corporate entities and their foundations been “brown”?

    Johnny seems to be hung up on the “la raza” part of the name, but NCLR is hardly a fringe group. It is part of the corporate establishment.

  • 6 jammer // Dec 8, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Johnny, do you ever speak out when only whites are considered or appointed? That is racism sanctioned by whites…., but thats ok isn’t it?

  • 7 Seneca // Dec 8, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Johnny, let me point out that after decades of affrimative action battles and efforts, scores of law suits by Afican Americans and women (Hispanics are notoriously known not to sue)…the real winners of the affirmative action wars have been white women…primarily because they have sued, work with white guys, marry them and go into business with them as under-representaive group…in fact minority women especially Latinas are grossly underrepresented…

  • 8 Gringo Girl // Dec 12, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Question: How many White Americans are in the Mexican Parliament?

    The NCLR is a racist, separatist organization and the only reason it is supported by Corporations and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is because of CHEAP LABOR…not love of hispanics!

    I am sick of hispanics not assimilating and demanding “Latino rights”. This is America…go back to Mexico if you want “Latino rights”.

  • 9 Janet // Dec 15, 2008 at 6:24 am

    I’m a Latina born and raised in Los Angeles , college educated and speak ENGLISH. What you people are saying is racist. Villaraigosa is a perfect example of why electing a Latino just because of his race can be dangerous. When you think of all the Latinos elected in LA and look at the mess our city is in it is clear they have no business in office. None of the Latinos in LA have done anything for their own people. The Latinos who are 3td & 4th generation in LA are now the minority. The illegals get more support from the politicans then we who are here legally do.

  • 10 lusonotlatino // Dec 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    Rice also appointed Liliana Ayalde, a senior Foreign Service Officer in USAID, as ambassador to Paraguay. This in addition to Martinez and Llorens, who you name.

  • 11 Johnny Dilznik // Dec 22, 2008 at 3:44 pm


    Give me some recent examples when “whites” only was being considered. I’m guessing by your post that you are assuming I am white. Be carefull. This site is one of the most racist I have ever seen. Concerned only with latinos.


    You are another one on here who seems only to care about an excelerated “brown” out of everything in the US. Like all groups it takes time. What you should be worrying about is what is best for the US not just the brown US.

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