On March 26, 2021, President Biden announced his intent to nominate senior career diplomat Brian A. Nichols to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA). The WH released the following brief bio:
Brian A. Nichols, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Career Minister, currently serves as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe. He was U.S. Ambassador to Perú from 2014 to 2017. Previously, Nichols served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Prior to that he was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in INL. He also served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs, and Counselor for Political Affairs at the American Embassy in Indonesia. Earlier in his career, Nichols served as Deputy Political Counselor in Mexico. He also worked in the Office of UN Political Affairs, the Office of Central American Affairs, and the Executive Secretariat. Nichols began his Foreign Service career as a Consular Officer in Perú and then as a Political Officer in El Salvador. He received the 2016 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, two Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, and 13 Senior Performance Awards. He speaks Spanish. A native of Rhode Island, he is a graduate of Tufts University.
According to history.state.gov, the Department had first established a Division of Latin American Affairs in 1909. The Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs during the general reorganization of Dec 20, 1944, after Congress had authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries of State from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). On January 12, 1999, the Bureau assumed responsibility for Canada and was renamed the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. More here.
The most recent career diplomat confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the Western Hemisphere bureau was Thomas Alfred Shannon Jr. who served from 2005–2009. He was succeeded by political appointees: Arturo Valenzuela (2009–2011), Roberta S. Jacobson (2012–2016) under the Obama Administration and Kimberly Breier (2018-2019) under the Trump Administration. At least four designates have also served in an acting capacity: political appointee Mari Carmen Aponte; SES Michael Kozak, career diplomats Francisco “Paco” Palmieri and Julie J. Chung .
According to AFSA’s appointment tracker going back to 1975, the Western Hemisphere bureau has a 50 percent split between career and political/other appointees.
The AP notes that Ambassador Nichols would be the first Black assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs since Terence Todman in the late 1970s (see Terence Alphonso Todman ).
Congratulations to Amb. Brian Nichols @usembassyharare on his nomination as Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs!!@WOLA_org @LatinamericaR @rpsp_pajph @OAS_official @pahowho @Cartajuanero @ABANatSec @ABAInternatl https://t.co/kTaER7aZ5j
— Steven E. Hendrix (@hendrixse) February 3, 2021
Brian Nichols, who has been tapped to be Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, made headlines last year with this powerful letter after the George Floyd killing. https://t.co/AMZsJp0c4s
— Michele Kelemen (@michelekelemen) March 26, 2021
- Oct 2018: New Ambassadors Saying Hello: Poland, DR, Luxembourg, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Rwanda, Lesotho
- July 2018: What did we miss?
- Dec 2015: Whoa! That’s a Pretty Thin Senior Foreign Service Promotion List You Got There!
- June 2014: US Embassy Peru: The Ghost of Ambassador Past
- Dec 2013: Senate “Nuclear” Fallout Snares State Department Nominees