Forget About Susan Rice, Maria Otero Could Become The First Latina Secretary of State


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement, that she plans to resign her post at the end of the year, has led to speculation that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is the front runner to replace her at the State Department. 

Rice, who has drawn a lot of fire because of her involvement in advancing the Obama administration’s talking points on the Benghazi attack, is unquestionably the favorite to receive the nomination from President Obama. And Republican Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have made it clear that they intend to fight vigorously to prevent the confirmation of Rice should she be nominated for the position. 

However, after initially saying that Rice was “not qualified” and “not very bright,” McCain has now issued a sought of olive branch to Rice. On CBS’ Face the Nation, McCain said, “if Rice came back on Face the Nation and acknowledged she was wrong it would help her case.” Meanwhile, Graham who recently said, “Rice is so disconnected to reality I don't trust her,” told ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, “when she comes over, if she does, there will be a lot of questions asked of her about this event and others.” Clearly Graham is still smarting from Obama’s remarks chastising him, McCain, and Senator Kelly Ayote (R-N.H.) for attacking Rice. Graham responded to Obama’s admonition to not “besmirch [Rice’s] reputation” and “go after me” by saying, “we’re not going to let up on this.”

Under Secretary of State Maria Otero is a name you may not be familiar with, but is a good candidate to replace Clinton should Rice not receive the nomination. Otero is the first Latina Under Secretary in the state department’s history and is the highest ranking Hispanic in the department. Otero was born in La Paz, Bolivia, and moved to the United States when she was 12. She speaks four languages, has a masters in literature from the University of Maryland and a masters in international relations from Johns Hopkins University. In 2005, Newsweek selected her as one of the United States’ 20 most influential women; Hispanic Business Magazine named her ‘Elite Women of 2007;’ and she was awarded Notre Dame University’s Distinguished Service in Latin America Award.

Otero is a leading subject matter expert on sustainable microfinance. As president and CEO of ACCION International, “their network of microfinance institutions expanded its reach from serving 460,000 people to over 3.7 million, through a combined portfolio that grew from $274 million to nearly $3.6 billion.”

Otero is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and worked at the U.N. for Secretary General Kofi Annan. As Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Otero’s department “helps countries build democratic institutions, deepen respect for universal human rights, strengthen civilian protection and security, and advance United States humanitarian policies and practices around the world.”

The Daily Beast wrote that Otero’s agenda includes “human rights, science and technology, and climate change.” For those who prefer a “hard-nosed realpolitik, focused on nuclear treaties and Mideast peace” consider that across the Mideast one of the biggest issues are the emerging democracies resulting from the Arab Spring, human trafficking in Asia and the emerging economies in Latin America. Otero’s experience in these areas would show that Obama is less interested in drone warfare and nation building and more interested in establishing partnerships that promote better standards of democracy. Consider for example Otero’s work with the Open Government Partnership. OGP is a “multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.” OGP brings together a cross functional group of proven performers and subject matter experts in the public and private sector to manage the complexity of open government and democracy e.g. internet freedom, “ensuring public integrity, delivering services more efficiently and promoting corporate responsibility.”

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) has emerged as the leading choice to replace Clinton by many inside and outside of Washington. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I think he’d be much more easily confirmed in the Senate than Susan Rice.” “I’d rather have John Kerry,” said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Democrats support Kerry, but they are concerned about losing a senior voice in the Senate and the prospect of losing a seat in a Massachusetts special election. They are keenly aware that in 2010, Republican Scott Brown won in a Massachusetts special election to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Brown lost in his reelection bid to Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren.

John Heilemann wrote in New York Magazine of another factor that could weigh in Otero’s favor. Obama, ever with his eye on his place in history, may not “want to have a less diverse Cabinet in his second term than he did in his first one, which means at least one of the big four departments being presided over by a woman.” If that were indeed a consideration then nominating Otero to be the first Hispanic Secretary of State would certainly satisfy that concern.