By Joanna Bender
The new U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Todd Chapman speaks softly and has an easy smile that makes him immediately approachable. He’s the kind of man you would invite to dinner at your house, just because you know he would be a good addition to any mix of company.
The ambassador was in Cuenca late last week, introducing himself to local authorities, expats and media while becoming more familiar with the city.
Spend more than five minutes with Ambassador Chapman and you begin to realize that his warm manner is only part of why he was chosen by U.S.President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve in Ecuador. He has a long history of service abroad, including posts in Afghanistan, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Mozambique, Nigeria and Taiwan, to name a few. There is also a quiet resolve that rests under his friendly exterior and shows up most when he looks directly at you — a strong commitment to his work and purpose: to build relationships founded on respect and openness and, at the same time, make sure that U.S. interests are served.
On last week’s trip to Cuenca, Chapman met with the prefect and the governor of Azuay Province to ask about the American community. Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera was traveling, so that introduction must wait for another time. So far, it has been a smooth start for the ambassador to building the relationships that he views as critical to his work.
“The prefect and the governor presented me with no complaints,” he said. “I really tried to get them to tell me if anything was not going well, and they said ‘no, the Americans are great city citizens.’ And that’s wonderful to hear, because I like to brag about our community and highlight our cooperation with the local authorities.”
In an expat media interview Saturday morning, Chapman did have a suggestion on what U.S. citizens could do to advance the work of the U.S. State Department. “I would like for citizens to continue encouraging and developing community activism — to find a structured way to link individual efforts with what’s going on city-wide. The authorities are very interested in having American Cuencanos integrated into the city and its efforts — education, health, stray dogs, whatever they may be.”
The ambassador also had two suggestions for expat media that would support his work in Ecuador. “We would like to be able to rely on expat media as channels for communicating messages from the consulate and the embassy, whether it’s on voting, taxes, passport applications or some other subject,” he said. “We do try to be responsive if we can, and being able to use expat media to share information accurately helps us a great deal.”
“Also, whenever Americans come to a new country, there are always things that are different and things we don’t like — it’s just natural,” Chapman said. “I would hope that expat media would not use its platform for complaining about Ecuador. Saying ‘why don’t they have this here’ or ‘why don’t they do that’ makes our job as relationship builders more difficult.”
After his presentation Friday night to U.S. citizens at the Cuenca Chamber of Commerce, the ambassador fielded questions from the audience and encouraged attendees to contact the American embassy or consulate with any ideas or concerns through email for the American Citizen Services office in Guayaquil at ACSGuayaquil@state.gov.
And how does Chapman feel about his new posting in Ecuador? “I’m excited about our relationship and happy to be here,” he said. “I’m definitely not looking backward, only forward to the many wonderful opportunities we have.”