Everyone at the U.S. Embassy has an important role to play. Learn more about what our Political and Economic Section Chief does on a daily basis in the article below. It's pretty impressive!
U.S. Embassy Belize
from the Washington Post
Nathan Bland: Working hand in hand with the government, people and institutions in Belize
Nathan Bland works on a head-spinning number of political, economic and law enforcement issues at the U.S. embassy in Belize.
One day he may be keeping Washington in the loop on the country’s border disputes, investment climate and human rights situation. The next, he may be focusing on training for Belizean police, lawyers and judges.
“You have to have a good amount of knowledge about a wide range of things,” said Bland, the embassy’s political, economic and law enforcement section chief.
Americans typically think of Belize as a vacation spot, but the country has many pressing societal issues that have the potential to affect the United States. Considered both a Central American and a Caribbean nation, Belize has the third highest murder rate in the world.
Bland helps the U.S. counter this menace, overseeing funds from a State Department program called the Central America Regional Security Initiative. It’s a coordinated effort with numerous countries, international financial institutions, the private sector and others to supplement strategies and programs Central American countries use to fight crime and make their streets safer.
“We train police and equip the police force, providing trucks and vests and handcuffs to help them do their jobs more efficiently,” Bland said. “We focus on training judges and lawyers and improving the whole judiciary system as well.”
Bland also oversees work to improve prison management and the court system, and to increase security at the border.
Opening opportunities for residents, and for Belize to provide for its own people, “is in the interests of both countries,” he said. “We want [Central American countries] to be strong, well-governed, transparent countries that are economically prosperous.”
For one, thriving countries supply markets for U.S. goods, he said. “We’re trying to promote U.S. products to Belizeans and help U.S. companies that are trying to enter the market,” he said.
Bland also has been investigating training and educational opportunities for at-risk youth to keep them from joining gangs. Bettering their job prospects could help prevent unaccompanied children and others from trying to enter the United States, he said, as happened last summer from several Central American countries.
The embassy is using additional funding from the security initiative for economic support. Last year, $1.7 million went to seven organizations running programs to help educate and train vulnerable youths.
“It gives economic opportunities to these youth,” Bland said. “They’re training youth in various skills they can use to enter the job market.”
Bland now is working on a $900,000 grant opportunity for nongovernmental organizations to run programs for at-risk youth. Grants from $100,000 and $400,000 will go to several organizations, he said.
Another matter on Bland’s agenda centers on international banks cutting ties to local banks, a move that could hurt the local economy. The bank issue also is important to many Americans who have invested in Belize, said Phil Folkemer, political section chief.
“He spearheads a lot of that, the fiscal transparency and investment climate reports,” Folkemer said, trying to make sure Americans don’t get “queasy” about their investments.
The same as any U.S. embassy, the embassy in Belize writes and sends reports Congress requires, and responds to information requests. But with about 120 embassy employees, far fewer people do that work.
“You really need to have a sharp mind to organize and prioritize it all,” Folkemer said. “He keeps an eye on everything coming in and going out. In a place like this it matters a lot.”
Previously, Bland worked in State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, a good education for the environmental issues that face the Caribbean. In his nine years as a Foreign Service officer, he also served in the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and in the consulate in Shenyang, China.
Bland grew up in Leesville in rural Louisiana, which he says seems akin to Belize. “The culture is not too terribly different. There are similarities in the warmth of the people here, the laid-back approach to life and openness to others.”
He’s proud to be able to tell his children that he works on issues that can better the world, Bland said, issues that “help to save lives, protect the environment, can improve livelihoods for people, can give youth a brighter future, can help protect marginalized groups, can help save trafficked victims.”
He added, “I get great job satisfaction from knowing that while we work to advance U.S. interests, we also contribute to making the world better.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to the Fed Page of The Washington Post to read about other federal workers who are making a difference. To recommend a Federal Player of the Week, contact us at [email protected]