From the US State Department’s Diplomacy website.
“EMBASSIES HELP AMERICAN CITIZENS in many ways. The effects of some are in plain sight, issuance of visas to promote international visits to the United States while maintaining our border security. Other effects are less obvious but can have an even more direct impact: a trade agreement worked out at the U.S. embassy in Japan, for example, might well affect you personally in the lower cost of a car, but you would probably never know it. Close consultations with foreign governments and international organizations can stop an illness from becoming a pandemic. Skillful negotiations can prevent a small conflict from spiraling into a war.
While the Consular officers provide immediate and personal assistance to American citizens every day around the world — replacing lost passports, assisting injured or ill travelers, and assisting with marriages, births, and adoptions, other sections of the embassy provide more specialized assistance. The Foreign Commercial Service or Foreign Agricultural Service helps American businesses connect with local counterparts to increase American exports. The economic section works with local political leaders to ensure that finance laws and regulations remain friendly for American businesses. The public affairs section presents U.S. policy, values and culture to local media and public and helps visiting American journalists get background, official interviews, and information for their stories. The U.S. Agency for International Development works with host country institutions to encourage agrarian and business enterprise and to enhance infrastructure. Military attaches and drug and law enforcement agents manage programs and conduct exercises which create better coordination between army and police services.”
I get that they have a bigger mission than just helping little ole me and my family. But there is a part of this explanation that suggests that they are available to help with some issues that befall a US citizen in a foreign country. There is a whole department dedicated to this called the American Citizen Services Unit.
“The United States government has no higher responsibility than to serve and protect its citizens, including those who reside or are temporarily abroad. To this end, the American Citizen Services Unit in Guatemala provides prompt, courteous, and efficient services to United States citizens and other clients, consistent with U.S. laws and regulations.”
OK. So why do I bring this up? I have found that this isn’t generally the case. I certainly believed that they would help in situations where a US citizen needed some counsel or someone to walk me through some of the various tedious procedures that they have seemed to cause.
As you may know, my father was in the hospital in Guatemala City in September 2016. I speak some Spanish but not enough to understand complex conversations. Luckily, I have learned enough about medicine and terminology from watching ER and Grey’s Anatomy that I could understand some of what was going on. I had the help of a translator but things get lost when it comes to life and death situations. Then came the bit about the hospital and their administration. I won’t bore you with the details (afraid I already have with the above quotes) but every time I relayed my story it was suggested I call the Embassy for help.
So I did.
When you call the main number, you are offered the option of pressing 2 for a “life or death emergency involving a US citizen.” Since it was after normal business hours, I felt I had no other choice but to press it. The phone rang 10 times (!) before someone picked up the phone. Thankfully I wasn’t calling from my kidnapper’s lair. I explained the situation and I was asked to call the next day during business hours. When I did finally talk to someone in the American Citizens Services Unit I was asked if I was asking the US for a loan. WHAT??
I’m not sure what I expected to happen. Maybe they would send someone to talk to me. I was after all only about a half mile away. Maybe they would offer to have a translator help talk to the hospital. Maybe they would offer wisdom and guidance in a hard situation. You know what they say about assuming? This was just another instance where that was proven correct.
To be continued…