New US Consul Eager to get involved

New United States Consul General Mary Ellen Koenig said she hopes to get directly involved with the Island and its people.

Speaking yesterday, she said that her new position is very different from her last post as a cultural attaché at the US embassy in Moscow, although she was not sure the new post would be any easier.

“Just knowing that we are coming from the largest country in the world to a relatively small place in the middle of the Atlantic, I think the challenges are going to be different,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to having such a manageable size that I really will be able to get involved in issues and get involved with people and institutions.

“Russia was such a large palette and this is going to be a smaller palette which I think offers opportunities for me.”

Mrs Koenig has spent 22 years working in the United States Foreign Service, primarily in the field of public diplomacy. Before Moscow, she spent time working in South Africa, Switzerland, Germany and Washington DC. While she said she had not visited the Island prior to her assignment, she said it has always been on her list of places to visit, adding that she is now enjoying exploring Bermuda’s history and culture.

Asked about Bermuda’s status as a financial jurisdiction in the wake of the District of Columbia placing the Island on a list of tax havens, Mrs Koenig said she has already had meetings with Bermudian authorities and believed they were taking the right approach to deal with the issues.

“It’s always going to be a challenge for Bermuda to fight the misconceptions and to always be working,” she said. “I have had a few meetings now with Bermudian authorities and I listened very carefully to the work that they are doing to ensure Bermuda’s reputation is sterling, remains sterling. I think it’s a challenge for them but it sounds like they are doing the right thing.”

She said the issue of the stop list, which prevents Bermudians convicted of crimes from entering the US without special permission, was a difficult one, but said there is currently little wriggle room.

“It’s a worldwide system that’s based on our laws and our regulations in terms of who is allowed to enter the US,” she said. “I recognise that there has been a special relationship with Bermuda for so many years that people can travel freely to the US, unlike most places in the world where a visa is quite a difficult thing to pursue.

“The fact that when someone has had trouble with the law in the past, that puts them in a different category. They cannot simply get on the plane.

“My hope is the people who have that, it might have been a youthful indiscretion, we hope that people will give the process time because it’s a process that has to be gone through.”

When questioned if the stop list policy might be changed regarding cannabis convictions, given that several states have already legalised the drug, she said: “I never say never. This is one issue that’s evolving in the US and other places. It’s hard to say.”