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Max Labaton | 2019 Summer Fellow

Max LabatonFinal Thoughts

Disclaimer:  The views expressed here are in my private capacity and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Department of State.

I just completed my two-and-a-half month internship at the State Department, where I worked in the political section at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru. The experience gave me a greater understanding of how embassies carry out foreign policy objectives and react to national and regional developments.

Peru is undergoing significant changes, as it transforms into an upper-middle-income country and seeks to combat narcotics trafficking and transnational organized crime.  While most of the remnants of the Shining Path, a Maoist terrorist group from the 1980s and 1990s, have been defeated, there are fighters left (including severalwho were recently captured) in the “Valle de los Ríos Apurímac, Ene y Mantaro” (Valley of the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers – VRAEM) region, a major global hub for coca production and narco-trafficking.

Anti-corruption efforts and good governance reforms remain a key U.S. priority in Peru.  The current president, Martín Vizcarra, has sought to push through a series of anti-corruption reformsand announced his proposal on July 28 for a constitutional reform to advance general elections by one year.

Easing the strain of the Venezuelan crisis on Peru’s institutions remains a shared goal.  Currently there are over 850,000 Venezuelans in Peru, making Peru the second-largest destination for Venezuelan migrants and refugees in the region.  Not surprisingly, the rapid increase in Venezuelan migrants and asylum seekers has imposed challenges on the government, as it considers how to integrate Venezuelans while mitigating xenophobia.

The visit of the USNS Comfort was a highlight of my experience.  The Comfort, a U.S. Navy hospital vessel that provides medical assistance, is currently on a five-month, twelve-country tour through South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.  It stoppedat a port outside of Lima for five days in July, where medical staff from the U.S. and Peruvian navies, as well as from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico, along with U.S. medical volunteers, jointly conducted walk-in treatment (such as optometry, dental care, physical therapy etc.) and surgeries.  The Comfort team treated over 4,500 Peruvian and Venezuelan patients—most of whom were from the poorest parts of the Lima metropolitan area—and provided over 130 surgeries.  I was assigned to serve as the Ambassador’s control officer during the opening and closing ceremonies. I also wrote the reporting cable to keep officials in Washington abreast of the visit’s success.

I did manage to have some fun outside of work.  Visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu was a highlight.  Of cities with a population over 100,000, Cusco is at the ninth-highest elevation in the world, at an altitude of over 11,000 feet.  In Cusco, the former capital of the Incan empire, I saw incredible Incan remains, including a fortress and the first Catholic church (including the oldest cross) in South America.  The church, built in the 16thcentury, combined Incan and Catholic artifacts. I was also fortunate to visit Machu Picchu, one of UNESCO’s Seven Wonders of the World, which was constructed as a royal estate in the early 1400s for the Incan emperor, Pachacuti.

I was incredibly fortunate to intern for State at U.S. Embassy Lima, where I gained a greater understanding of the inner workings of an embassy, and the ways in which dozens of agencies work together to carry out mission objectives and implement American grand strategy abroad.  I would like to thank AGS for providing a generous stipend that helped make this wonderful experience possible.


Week 1: 
June 6, 2019

I arrived in Lima, Peru, last weekend to begin my internship at the U.S. Embassy. I was particularly excited about the prospect of interning at the State Department, and especially intrigued to learn more about how an embassy operates. Having interned on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and having spent my previous summer in Jordan, I wanted to learn more about U.S. policy in Latin America. I explored the city over the weekend and particularly enjoyed jogging along the malecón (basically, a cliff over the Pacific Ocean). Peru is known for its food, and Lima is home to some of the best restaurants in the world. I tried ceviche (probably the most popular dish, which consists of raw fish and shellfish marinated in lime juice and chili peppers) and enjoyed sampling the local sandwich shops.

I started work last Monday, interning in the Political Section. Upon entry into the Foreign Service at the State Department, officers select one of five cones, or career tracks – political, economic, public diplomacy, management, and consular – but may serve in several over the course of their careers. In addition to the State Department, other agencies, including the Department of Defense, Foreign Agricultural Service, and Foreign Commercial Service, are housed at Embassy Lima.

In my first week, I received numerous briefings related to personal security, health, IT, and more. I have already begun drafting cables (essentially State Department memoranda) and providing other assistance to the embassy’s political officers. I expect to help provide support to Embassy Lima’s efforts to report on and analyze human rights and corruption issues. Monitoring Peru’s response to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, including the impacts on migration, is a priority for the Embassy’s political section. I have begun learning about the Leahy human rights vetting process. Under the Leahy Amendment, passed by Congress in 1997, the State and Defense departments are prohibited from providing military assistance to foreign security forces that violate human rights.

I look forward to diving more deeply into my work this upcoming week and assisting the Political Section in any way I can.