Symposium Speaker Bios

[email protected]: Pathways to Federal Service

Camelia Valldejuly is a staff assistant in the State Department’s Office of Management Strategy and Solutions (M/SS). As a contractor for the Consulting and Advanced Projects (CAP) directorate in M/SS, Valldejuly directly supports CAP’s managing director and provides general office and project management support. Previously, she was a program assistant in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). Valldejuly worked on INL’s Caribbean team, offering programmatic support for foreign assistance programs that build partner nation capacity for law enforcement, counternarcotics and justice. Valldejuly is the current chief of staff of HECFAA. Before joining the State Department in 2019, she was a program associate at the Center for a New Economy think tank based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Valldejuly was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and she received a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard University in 2017.

 

 

Mignon Houston - (DIR South Florida)

Mignon Turner Houston has served as a U.S. diplomat for 15 years. She is currently the Diplomat in Residence in Miami, Florida, recruiting for the State Department in southern Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

As a U.S. diplomat, she has worked abroad promoting U.S. foreign policy and partnerships. She has served in the U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa; the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines; the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé, Cameroon; and the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico. Domestically, she worked in Washington for the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, as well as for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Based on her Spanish and French language abilities, she has served two temporary duty assignments in Madrid and in Libreville, Gabon. She received her undergraduate degree from Winston-Salem State University in 2004 as a double major in Spanish and mass communications, and her master’s degree from the University of Delaware in 2006 in urban affairs and public policy. She grew up in North Carolina and is married, with an infant son named Atlas. 

 

Annika Betancourt currently serves as senior desk officer for Peru in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department. She recently concluded the Council of Foreign Relations’ International Affairs Fellowship at the Brookings Institution, focusing on confidence-building measures between the U.S. and North Korea. Previously at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, Betancourt managed $80 million in rule-of-law programs as the deputy team lead in the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Section. While on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea desk in Washington from 2016 to 2018, Betancourt played a critical role in the release of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier from North Korea and the subsequent release of three other U.S. detainees. Betancourt also served as a consular officer in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and as an economic officer at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, during the tumultuous “Grexit” summer of 2015. Betancourt has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University. A proud Colombian/Japanese American and first-generation college student, as current president of the Pickering and Rangel Fellows Association, she leads the organization’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion broadly at the State Department. She speaks Spanish, Korean and Portuguese. 

 

Eduardo Belalcazar joined the State Department as a Spanish Consular Fellow in 2020. He is a proud, gay, inner city, brown Latinx from Houston, with family roots in Honduras and Colombia. Belalcazar is currently assigned to the U.S. Consulate General in Tijuana, Mexico, where he works in the American Citizen Services Unit and serves as the glifaa post representative. He received his bachelor’s degree in international relations and global studies from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as certificates in business foundations and human rights and social justice. As an undergrad, Belalcazar received a State Department Gilman Grant to study Spanish and social justice in Nicaragua, as well as a Boren Scholarship to study Portuguese and racial justice in Brazil, which cemented his desire to become a diplomat. In addition to being part of the Hometown Diplomats Program and Volunteer Recruiter Corps, Belalcazar serves as president of his high school’s alumni association, where he focuses on raising funds for scholarships for high-achieving students from Houston.

 

 

 

 

David Tagle is a first-tour, political-coned officer currently serving as vice-consul at U.S. Consulate General São Paulo. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, David worked as a civil servant in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), which he joined in 2016 as a Presidential Management Fellow. As a civil servant, Tagle most recently served as the Honduras desk officer, and prior to that, as a WHA staff assistant. His previous assignments include tours in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor’s Global Programming Office, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Mexico desk, and in the INL Section at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Before joining the State Department, he worked for a Washington-based democracy and governance nongovernmental organization on human rights programs in Cuba. Tagle received a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Brown University and a master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University.

 

[email protected]: Diplomacy that Protects the World

Carlos Matus is a special agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), currently serving as the first Hispanic principal deputy assistant secretary for the bureau and director of the Diplomatic Security Service. DS is responsible for leading worldwide security and law enforcement efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy and safeguard U.S. national security interests. Matus is a 34-year veteran of the State Department and a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of minister-counselor. He has served in more than 17 domestic and overseas assignments.

 

 

 

 

Isabel Romero is a security program officer in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Overseas Protective Operations. She implements policy standards and provides management oversight for local guard programs at embassies in the Western Hemisphere. Her portfolio covers Bolivia, Costa Rica, Peru, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Honduras.  Romero started her State Department career as an unpaid intern at the Foreign Service Institute. She worked as a program analyst within the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, supporting Afghanistan and Iraq Familiarization courses, and in the Consular Training Division supporting mid- and senior-level consular courses. She holds a master’s degree in international security and a bachelor’s degree in global affairs from George Mason University. Romero is the former president of the HECFAA executive board, where she worked on the recruitment, retention and promotion of Hispanics within the State Department.

 

 

 

Maria Amaya is a special agent serving as the deputy to the Functional Training Operations (FTO) Division at the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in Blackstone, Virginia. She is responsible for the six functional training units that provide training to the Diplomatic Security Service’s special agents from their initial Basic Special Agent Candidate course through the remainder of their career. Driving, firearms, operational medicine, explosives, room entry defensive tactics and fire as a weapon are the six units housed by FTO. She has served in Slovakia, Afghanistan, New York and Seattle. Prior to working in DS, she was a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, a police officer and a detective near Seattle. She also spent nine years in the military. Amaya immigrated to the United States at a very young age; she and her family are from Colombia.

 

 

 

Alberto Cruz is a special agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. He was born and raised in New York City to Puerto Rican parents. Cruz has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in accounting and financial management. 

He is currently serving as an assistant regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia. His previous postings include the New York Field Office, the San Juan Resident Office in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

 

 

 

 

Brianna E. May has been a special agent with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security since 2013. She is currently in language training studying Burmese for her next assignment as an assistant regional security officer (ARSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Burma. Her previous assignments include ARSO investigator at the U.S. Consulate General in Shenyang, China, ARSO at the U.S. Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, and special agent at the Boston Field Office. Prior to joining the Diplomatic Security Service, May worked in the human resource office at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. She earned her undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary.

 

 

 

 

Damaris Garcia, chief of field support logistics, joined the State Department after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico. Her 21-year service in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security has taken her to assignments in China, Greece, Sweden and Pakistan, as well as diverse tours in the Washington area. She completed her master’s degree in strategic intelligence at the National Defense Intelligence College (now the National Intelligence University).  

Most recently, Garcia teamed up with other colleagues to create the Women in Security Engineering (WISE) affinity group, which provides support and advocacy for their members, as well as community involvement. She previously chaired the DS Diversity Working Group and served as representative for the DS Training Directorate, working closely with the head of the Diplomatic Security Service . She is currently a member of the DS Peer Support Group.

ClassAtState: U.S. Commitment to Economic Prosperity for All

Heather Joy Thompson is a diplomat, international affairs expert and attorney. She has spent a decade as a career Foreign Service officer at the State Department. Thompson has lived, worked and traveled in nearly 40 countries on six continents. She has received numerous commendations from the State Department and has twice received its prestigious Meritorious Honor Award. She is currently a diplomat in residence and senior fellow at UCLA, where she provides guidance on careers, internships and educational fellowships to students and professionals who aspire to careers in diplomacy. Thompson is a 2018 State Department International Career Advancement Program Fellow at the Aspen Institute. Thompson served for two years at U.S. Embassy Mexico City, where she worked as an economic officer focusing on Mexico’s booming automotive sector, the North American Free Trade Agreement and bilateral trade. In addition, she covered the structural, educational and social barriers stifling Mexico’s economic growth. Thompson previously served at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington as staff assistant to Thomas Kelly (now ambassador to the Republic of Djibouti) in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, where she managed operations and outreach. Her first assignment took her to the U.S. Consulate General Johannesburg, where she served as the chief of American Citizen Services and cofounded Abafazi Ambassadors, a mentorship program between female diplomats from the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa and students from the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls.

Thompson is a native of Southfield, Michigan. Her interest in international affairs began in early childhood, during summer trips abroad, and took root during her junior year at Spelman College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and completed studies in Renaissance art and Italian in Florence, Italy. Thompson started her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. Thompson earned a juris doctorate from Wayne State University Law School, where she was the Kenneth V. Cockrel Scholar, and worked under the tutelage of famed attorney Geoffrey Fieger after winning a prestigious summer internship. As a law student, she studied international trade and negotiations in Thessaloniki, Greece, and Passau, Germany. She is a member of the Michigan Bar Association.

Prior to joining the State Department, Thompson worked for Sean “Diddy” Combs, a position she won after beating out thousands of competitors in a nationwide YouTube search to find his next personal assistant. She went on to lead his “Vote or Die!” get-out-the-vote campaign. Thompson has appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? and in the pages of The New York Times, Town & Country Magazine, EBONY, JET, Essence and People.com. Thompson has worked for two decades on programs to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and access. She has advocated for health awareness, safeguarded reproductive rights and expanded educational opportunities for marginalized communities. In 2017, she was recognized by Ambassador Roberta S. Jacobson for her mentorship of young diplomats and for her leadership of U.S. Embassy Mexico City’s Black History Month Committee. During Thompson’s presidency, the Committee expanded its programs and sponsored a robust year-long schedule of events, which included bringing the Southern Poverty Law Center to Mexico City for a week-long slate of activities focused on race and equality at the Museum of Memory and Tolerance and the National Autonomous University of Mexico — Mexico’s premier public university. Thompson is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated; in 2011, she cohosted “Reintroducing Rosa,” a celebration at the National Press Club which reexamined the civil rights movement and the pivotal role Rosa Parks played as an NAACP investigator and champion for women. Thompson is passionate about the arts, design and food, and speaks fluent Spanish, conversational French and some Italian.

 

Rodrigo Garza is currently a special assistant to the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, which leads policy on economic, energy and environmental issues. He is responsible for the Western Hemisphere, department-wide administrative/management issues and special projects as assigned by the under secretary. Prior to joining the Under Secretary team, Rodrigo served as the director for the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Section (INL) at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. His immediate assignment prior to INL director was the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Affairs senior officer in the office of Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department in Washington.

He joined the State Department’s Foreign Service as an economic officer in September 2003 and completed his first assignment at the U.S Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City as the sole general services officer, akin to a deputy chief of operations at a mid-size company. Rodrigo subsequently served as vice-consul at the U.S. Embassy in Peru from November 2006 to June 2008; energy, extractive industries, and natural resources officer at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan (2008–2009); and served a three-year assignment at the U.S. Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (USNATO) in Brussels (2009–2012), concentrating on energy security, de-mining, women in peace and security, and partnerships with non-NATO members from the Caucasus and Western Europe. Rodrigo has also spearheaded trade policy at the State Department, coordinating its participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement while in the Department’s Economic Bureau (2012–2014).

Before joining the Foreign Service, Rodrigo worked in the private sector as a regional sales manager for Raltron Electronics, a privately owned manufacturer of electronic components, where his main customer accounts were Honeywell, Bose, Garmin and Scientific-Atlanta.

Rodrigo received his bachelor’s degree in history from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, and a master’s degree in international relations from the School of International Studies at the University of Miami, in Coral Gables, Florida. Rodrigo speaks fluent Spanish and some Vietnamese and French. Rodrigo is active physically, participating in basketball, weightlifting, running and softball. His other interests include reading, computers, and the technology and renewable energy sectors. He is married with a 15-year-old son.

 

Karl Rios is the director of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s Office of Economic Policy and Summit Coordination. He was previously the deputy director of the Office of Investment Affairs in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. Prior to that, Rios served as a political and economic counselor in San Jose, Costa Rica; deputy director in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere’s Office of Central American Affairs; and U.S. team lead in a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Logar province, Afghanistan. He served in Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Guinea, and as a Pearson Fellow on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has received five State Department Superior Honor Awards and is the recipient of the U.S. Army Commander’s Award for Civilian Service and the Secretary of State Award for Expeditionary Diplomacy. He has a master’s degree from the College of William & Mary and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Virginia Tech University. He speaks Spanish, French and Dari. Rios is married to Faith Corneille Rios and has two children.

 

 

 

ClassAtState Pt.2: Human Rights

Rima Mandwee Rima Mandwee is a campaign manager covering human rights for the Bureau of Global Public Affairs (GPA) at the State Department. In that role, she focuses on driving long-term strategic messaging around racial equity, support for underserved communities, and advocating for diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. Prior to her work as a campaign manager, Mandwee led the Media Monitoring Unit in the Research and Analytics unit of GPA. From 2017 to 2019, Mandwee served as the primary analytics advisor to White House senior advisors leading the Middle East peace plan for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, supporting the 2019 transition of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Mandwee received her master’s degree in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown University, where she served as the first female president of the Graduate Student Government. Mandwee received her bachelor’s degree from DePaul University.

 

 

Greg Pardo is currently an international affairs officer with the Migration Working Group in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Prior to this assignment, he served as a political officer in the Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, where he covered Israeli and Palestinian internal politics and U.S. security coordination with Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). He was part of the administration’s efforts to reestablish U.S.-Palestinian ties and U.S. security assistance to PA security forces after a period of dormancy. Previously, he served as the public diplomacy officer for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives. In that role, Pardo developed a $2.1 million U.S.-India university research partnership initiative in addition to establishing exchange programs for emerging leaders from the government, civil society and media in the South Asia region focused on regional connectivity and entrepreneurship. He has served as an assistant public affairs officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata, India, a consular officer and staff assistant to the ambassador at U.S. Embassy New Delhi, and a political officer in the Office of Cuban Affairs. He served as president of the HECFAA from June 2019 to May 2021. 

Pardo is also a 2008 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellow, a fellowship that allowed him to intern on Capitol Hill for the House Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, and in the Political/Economic Section at the U.S. Embassy in Burma. Prior to joining the State Department, he served as a legislative assistant for Texas state representative Joaquin Castro and volunteered for two years in Bangladesh doing rural development. Originally from San Antonio, Pardo holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and a master’s degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He speaks Spanish, Hindi and Bengali. Pardo was named a 2019 Latino National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader and was included in the 2012 Forbes “30 Under 30 in Law & Policy.” Pardo was selected as a 2020 International Career Advancement Fellow. He returns to San Antonio regularly to encourage students to consider careers in public service.

 

Lidice Calero Calafell is a foreign affairs officer in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Office of Multilateral and Global Affairs for the State Department. She is part of the Global Affairs team working, primarily, on civil society and human rights defenders' issues. During her tenure with the Department, Calero Calafell has also served for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, Bureau of Intelligence and Research and Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The Department has given Lidice the opportunity to learn new languages, serve overseas and hone in on her professional skill set. 

Calero Calafell holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Central Florida, a master's degree in intelligence from Michigan State University, and a juris doctor from Mitchell Hamline School of Law. Her passion for knowledge stems from the understanding that receiving an education, without having to swear allegiance to a political ideology, is one of the best privileges afforded to her by her parents' decision to immigrate. A Miami native, Calero Calafell is a first-generation Cuban American and the proud daughter of a Cuban mother who, at 15, was on the maiden voyage to freedom in April 1980 during the start of the Mariel boatlift, and a Cuban father, a political prisoner — jailed at 16 for his desire to leave the island — who was given the opportunity for freedom following the 1985 prisoner exchange agreement between the U.S. and Cuba.

 

Francisco Bencosme is a senior advisor for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. Prior to joining the Department, he was a senior policy advisor at the Open Society Foundations covering Asia and Latin America. During his time at Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Bencosme led a program on U.S. human rights policy and advocacy toward the Asia Pacific. Bencosme has testified before Congress and has provided media commentary on multiple outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. In 2018, Bencosme was named one of The Hill’s Top Lobbyists for 2018 for a campaign on Rohingya issues. Before joining AIUSA, he served as a professional staff member on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, where he assisted Democratic senators on issues related to East Asia/Pacific, South Asia and State Department/U.S. Agency for International Development oversight. Bencosme also served as the president of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and as a board member of the Foreign Affairs Congressional Staff Association. Bencosme is also a Truman Security Fellow, a Penn Kemble Fellow, and an International Career Advancement Program alumnus. Bencosme received his master’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, a graduate certificate from the United States Air Force Air University, and his bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University. 

 

 

Meeting the Need: Creating Equity, Access and Prosperity for Hispanic Voices

Emmanuel Caudillo is the senior advisor to the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics. Previously on detail to the initiative in 2012, he transitioned to full-time in 2013. From 2009 to 2013, he was a budget analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, overseeing the Student Aid Administration account. He has held research positions in various organizations, including Abt Associates and the National Council on Teacher Quality. For his commitment to his community, Caudillo was named one of the 40 Under 40 from the Leadership Center for Excellence in 2015. He also was a 2017 Ricardo Salinas Scholar at the Aspen Institute and a 2019–2020 Excellence in Government Fellow at the Partnership for Public Service. Originally from Los Angeles, he holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in public policy from the George Washington University. His passion for education is due to the strong sense of duty and commitment his parents instilled in him.

 

Lena T. Rodriguez, Ph.D., is the senior vice president for policy and government relations at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. She joined the Association on March 8, 2021, and serves as the senior official for the association’s Washington office. In this role, she is responsible for addressing, developing and evaluating legislation affecting Hispanic-Serving Institutions. She serves as a direct liaison with government officials, federal agencies and other educational organizations to help develop policies and positions that support the educational success of Hispanic students. She has more than 20 years of experience in higher education and the nonprofit sector, serving in management and leadership roles that have focused on data-driven initiatives to expand, support and enhance programs directly affecting student success. In her previous position, she led the Angell Snyder School of Business at Ottawa University as the school dean for campuses in Kansas, Wisconsin and Arizona, and as the chief academic officer for two campuses in Arizona, with duties encompassing curriculum and program development, budgeting, fundraising, advocacy and establishing partnerships with external stakeholders. Other past positions include leadership roles at San Diego State University, a large public land grant university, and the Kauffman Foundation, a leading private foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship. She also has experience serving as a consultant for institutions of higher education, and served as the endowed chair of a nonprofit institution.

Rodriguez earned a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in public administration from Arizona State University, and a doctorate in business from the University of Nebraska.

 

Ethan Rosenzweig recently joined the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs as deputy assistant secretary for academic programs. Rosenzweig was the associate dean at Atlanta’s Emory University School of Law, overseeing enrollment management and student services, including international recruiting and engagement activities. Also a graduate of Emory Law, Rosenzweig clerked for the Honorable G. Ernest Tidwell of the U.S. District Court of Northern Georgia, and then practiced law in Charleston, South Carolina. Before Emory, he completed a Presidential Management Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education, and received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in public policy from American University. Originally from Louisiana where his family still resides, he says he doesn’t return often enough and misses the crawfish and jambalaya. 

 

 

 

Megan Lysaght is a program officer in the Multi-Regional Programs Branch in the Office of Academic Exchange Programs for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the State Department. Lysaght manages the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program; is lead coordinator on Fulbright Pre-Departure Orientations, enrichment conferences and gateway activities; and serves as vice chair of the Office of Academic Exchanges’ Programs’ Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. Hailing from Ventura, California, Lysaght is the first in her family to go to college and earned both her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in public policy and administration from California Lutheran University, which is a Hispanic-Serving Institution. She is also an alumna of the Department of Education’s TRIO Student Support Services program and a Council for Opportunity in Education Keith Sherin Global Leaders Program scholarship recipient. Lysaght served as a Peace Corps Community Economic Development Volunteer in Azerbaijan where she met her now-wife and fellow State Department employee, Amanda

 

Caroline Gonzalez Scott is vice president of programs at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In this capacity, she leads a team that manages and develops leadership and professional development programs for emerging Latinx leaders. For nearly 20 years, Scott’s career has centered on education and engagement, supporting the leadership and professional development for individuals of the global majority. This includes training and coaching political candidates, organizers and advocates, supporting parents and paraprofessionals with early childhood language and literacy development efforts, and working as a middle school teacher at a public school. A native of California, Scott is a very proud Uruguayan American. She is a graduate of American University and the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development and currently resides in the Washington metro area. 

HECFAA All-Stars: Highlighting Hispanic Leadership in Foreign Affairs

Carmen G. Cantor, a career member of the Senior Executive Service, is the U.S. Ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia. Previously, she served as director of the Office of Civil Service Human Resource Management in the Bureau of Human Resources, executive director for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Bureau of International Information Programs, and executive director of the Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) at the State Department. In this capacity, in pursuit of U.S. national interests in the fight against global terrorism, she provided support to the coordinator for counterterrorism and senior staff; management and oversight of CT’s executive office operations; and collaborated and coordinated with other agencies and organizations. Cantor also served as the deputy director of the Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment. During this time, the State Department organized and implemented the largest expansion of recruitment, assessment and hiring in its history. Before rejoining the State Department, Cantor worked as director of the Office of Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agricultural Foreign Agricultural Service and director of the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity of the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission in Washington. Her 30-plus-year federal career also includes several positions in the Office of Civil Rights, the Bureau of Human Resources at the State Department, and at the U.S. Postal Service. Cantor was the leadership liaison and formerly a past president of HECFAA. Previously, she was on the board of the Association of University of Puerto Rico Alumni and Friends Abroad in Washington and has been a member of Girl Scouts, the National Association of Hispanic Federal Executives, the Gallup Panel and Civil Air Patrol.

In 2014, she received the Secretary of State’s EEO Award for her work with HECFAA. Previously, she received a Superior Honor Award for her outstanding performance as the first executive director in the Bureau of Counterterrorism and a Meritorious Honor Award for outstanding performance and for providing inspiring leadership and management in the Bureau of Human Resources’ Office of Recruitment. In May of 2014, Latina Style Magazine named her one five Latina trailblazers of American foreign policy at the State Department. Cantor was raised in Puerto Rico and earned a Certificate in International Migration Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, a master’s degree in labor relations from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus. She has attended executive courses at Harvard University’s Kennedy School; Cornell University; the Center for Creative Leadership; the Air War College; Department of Defense Vanguard Program; and others. She is also an alumna of the National Hispana Leadership Institute and the Aspen Institute’s International Career Advancement Program. She speaks Spanish.

 

Maria E. Brewer, current nominee as the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho, recently served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone. During her 25-year career, Brewer has served in the Office of Career Development and Assignments, as deputy chief of mission of U.S. Embassy Nigeria, as well as in Islamabad, Pakistan, Colombo, Sri Lanka, Mumbai, India, and several stints in Washington. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Valparaiso University and a master’s degree from National Defense University. She is married to a Foreign Service information management specialist and they have a middle school-aged daughter.

 

 

 

 

Joaquin Castro has worked hard to seize the opportunities created by the sacrifices of his grandmother and prior generations. After finishing high school a year early, Castro left San Antonio to graduate with honors from Stanford University in 1996. He then went on to attend Harvard Law School where he received his juris doctorate degree in 2000. Upon his return to San Antonio at 28 years old, Castro joined a private law practice and was elected to the Texas legislature. He served five terms as state representative for District 125. In 2012, Castro was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives as the representative of Texas’ 20th Congressional District, which covers a large portion of San Antonio and Bexar County. His identical twin brother, Julián Castro, was a three-term mayor of San Antonio, and later, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Castro’s respect for public service developed at a young age and was deeply influenced by his parents’ involvement in political movements and civic causes. His father, a retired teacher, and his mother, a renowned community activist, instilled in him a deep appreciation for the democratic process and the importance of serving one’s community.

 

 

Francisco Palmieri assumed duties as civilian deputy to the commander and foreign policy advisor, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Miami, Florida, in July 2021. In his duties, he is responsible for overseeing the Command’s Human Rights and Women, Peace, and Security programs, and building trust and strengthening relations with foreign and interagency partners. He also plays a proactive role in message development and strategic communication, driving integration, alignment and collaboration across the SOUTHCOM enterprise and with interagency partners. As foreign policy advisor, Palmieri provides the commander and other senior command staff with geopolitical, political-military and economic counsel. He also leads the Command’s relationship with the State Department and U.S. embassies abroad. Palmieri  arrived at SOUTHCOM after serving as a senior fellow and faculty member at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs (2019–21) at Yale University. He served as acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs from January 2017 to October 2018, where he led the State Department’s efforts to advance U.S. foreign policy goals in the region. He managed the successful 2018 Summit of the Americas in Peru; U.S. engagement with the Lima Group unifying 15 Western Hemisphere democracies in a multilateral diplomatic response to the crisis in Venezuela; the reorientation of U.S. foreign assistance in support of the Colombia peace process; the formulation and adoption of a new comprehensive U.S. political and economic Caribbean 2020 strategy for the Caribbean; and the multiagency response to the ongoing migration challenges emanating from Central America. He also was responsible for the daily management of the Bureau’s 53 overseas U.S. diplomatic missions, 12,000 employees, and implementation of the Bureau’s $1.58 billion foreign assistance and $290 million operating budgets. Palmieri served as principal deputy assistant secretary from January 2016 to January 2017 and as deputy assistant secretary for Central America and the Caribbean from January 2014 to January 2016. In this role, he helped negotiate on the Alliance for Prosperity Plan adopted by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. 

Palmieri also served as the director of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Office of Policy Planning and Coordination in 2011–2012. From 2012 to 2014, Palmieri served as deputy executive secretary in the State Department’s Executive Secretariat, where he managed the flow of information to Secretaries Kerry and Clinton and coordinated their overseas travel. He also served in the Executive Secretariat as deputy director of the Staff Support Office (2000–2001), and as a senior watch officer (1999–2000) and watch officer (1990–1991) in the Operations Center. Also, while serving in the Executive Secretariat, he directed and worked on the evacuation of more than 23 U.S. embassies due to war, terrorist attacks, internal political conflicts and natural disasters through his crisis management response. Palmieri led the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Latin American and Caribbean Programs Office, where he was responsible for Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative and 19 Narcotics Affairs Offices throughout the Western Hemisphere, as well as more than 1,500 employees. He was the director of U.S. Embassy Baghdad’s INL Office from 2010 to 2011. In Iraq, he managed more than 1,000 employees. He also served as director of the Near East and South and Central Asia Office in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Overseas, from 2001 to 2005, Palmieri served as political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. He also served in San Salvador as the human rights officer at the end of El Salvador’s internal conflict (1988–1990), in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as a vice consul, and in Madrid as a political-military affairs officer. Palmieri earned a master’s degree in international strategic studies from the National War College in June 2006. He received his bachelor’s degree in politics from Princeton University in 1983 and attended the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin from 1985 to 1986, where he studied under the Honorable Barbara Jordan.

 

Hugo F. Rodriguez, Jr. became deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs for the State Department in May 2019. A career member of the Foreign Service, Rodriguez served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Asunción, Paraguay, from July 2016 to April 2019, and as the Embassy’s chargé d’affaires from January 2017 to March 2018. During his career as a Foreign Service officer, Rodriguez served as consul general at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City from July 2014 to June 2015, and as the Mission’s acting minister counselor for consular affairs from June 2015 to June 2016. While there, he led the effort to document and gain social service access for the estimated 500,000 U.S. citizen children of Mexican parents living in the country. He previously served as deputy director of the Office of Mexican Affairs, as division chief for the Western Hemisphere in the Bureau of Consular Affairs Office of Overseas Citizen Services, and as watch officer and senior watch officer in the Executive Secretariat Operations Center. Rodriguez has also served abroad at U.S. embassies in Lima, Peru, and Rome. He was born in Philadelphia and holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Hampden-Sydney College.