Story and photos by Isaac D. Pacheco
Situated along a busy thoroughfare in Tegucigalpa’s upscale Colonia San Carlos neighborhood, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras is tucked away in a nondescript complex adjacent to a canary-yellow office building that houses the Mission’s USAID team. The embassy’s unremarkable exterior belies a transformational shift taking place within—a reimagining of how and where the work of diplomacy can be accomplished. Even as the steel beams, concrete girders, and sweeping glass facade of a bespoke new embassy campus rise dramatically into the skyline half a mile down Avenida Los Proceres, the workplace evolution taking place inside the existing Mission promises to reshape Department of State operations in Honduras and beyond.
“Here in Tegucigalpa we are building the workplace of the future,” said Ambassador Laura Dogu. “We are committed to creating a work environment that empowers our employees and offers appropriate workplace flexibilities to support our team and their families while they work hard to advance a full range of important U.S. policy objectives. We strongly believe this has been instrumental in our employees’ morale, and is the future of our workforce.”
Leveraging the Microsoft suite of cloud-based apps, Dogu has implemented a completely digital clearance process that encourages collaboration among embassy officials at all levels of leadership and reduces stovepiping. U.S. direct-hire and locally employed (LE) staff serving at Embassy Tegucigalpa describe the new workplace flexibilities as a paradigm shift. The ability to work on projects in the field, or from home when appropriate, eliminates many of the inefficiencies associated with commuting to and from the embassy in a mountainous city where traffic congestion and frequent protests often obstruct roads. These reclaimed hours add up to substantive time savings, resulting in greater productivity, more opportunities to work outside the embassy with partners, and improved work-life balance for Mission staff.
“In the past, we printed every single piece of paper, physically brought it to the deputy chief of mission and ambassador for clearance. Now, all of this can be done online. It’s a truly collaborative process that I haven’t seen before at other posts,” said Dana Sutcliffe, the ambassador’s office management specialist. “Ambassador Dogu has empowered me and other colleagues to step up if we see something that can be improved. She listens to anyone that has an idea about how to improve processes at post. That has changed the culture of what it means to seek front office clearance. She makes everybody’s work easier with how flexible she is, and by entrusting people to do their jobs.”
An empowered and efficient team is essential to success in Embassy Tegucigalpa’s fast-paced work environment, where a complex set of issues and the region’s highest throughput of official visitors can lead to employee burnout if not managed correctly. Ongoing security concerns and its location in Central America’s tumultuous Northern Triangle—flanked by Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala—have given Honduras the justifiable reputation of being one of the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ most challenging and high-profile assignments. Simply put, the Mission’s work is of daily interest to the Department and the White House.
“Where we sit—geographically and politically—drives interest throughout the interagency and in Washington. It’s tough because of the high op-tempo, but it’s also rewarding,” said Christopher Edgecomb, assistant general services officer. “Migration, drugs, security, great power competition—all those issues are sitting right here in this country. If we’re not working in this space and winning this space, somebody else is going to enter and take it over.”
The logistical challenges facing embassy officials, and the grim statistics that often make headlines, do not paint a complete picture of the professional development, cultural engagement, and outreach opportunities that a tour in Honduras offers, nor do they fully convey the supportive and empowering environment in which embassy personnel conduct their important work. Mercedes L. Crosby, deputy director of the embassy’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) office, describes Embassy Tegucigalpa as a place where Foreign Service officers (FSOs) can flourish personally and professionally. Her INL team is helmed by four dynamic women from different professional backgrounds, which Crosby sees as a perfect example of the embassy’s diverse, inclusive, and supportive community.
“We have officers from many professional cones on this team,” said Crosby. “I benefit every day from serving at a mission where our leadership seeks input from all voices, promotes ingenuity and empowers individuals, and supports its team. From managing millions of dollars in security assistance to developing mission outreach activities for indigenous groups, our leadership has supported us all the way.”
While digital tools and forward-thinking policy are rapidly redefining the way Mission personnel work, the country outside the embassy’s walls is undergoing its own evolution, albeit at a more gradual pace.
“I was born in the United States but am a descendent Honduran, and I grew up in Tegucigalpa,” said Zoila Edgecomb, the embassy’s community liaison office (CLO) co-coordinator. “I worked as an LE staff member at the embassy beginning in 2007. But then in 2010 I got carjacked, and decided to move to the United States. Eventually I married, my husband joined the Foreign Service, and we returned when he was assigned here in 2022. Honduras has changed dramatically from when I left over a decade ago. Security-wise there are less concerns now.”
The embassy’s CLO office leads regular weekend hikes, picnics, and family outings to some of the colonial-era towns and parks surrounding the capital. Tegucigalpa’s ideal spring-like climate makes outdoor activities enjoyable throughout the year. Nighttime temperatures rarely dip below the 50s and daytime highs typically peak in the 80s thanks to the city’s elevation and southerly latitude.
“Most [eligible family members] that I speak to about quality of life issues say they’re surprised that Honduras is actually a hidden gem,” Zoila added. “It’s green, it’s lush, there are things to do for families and singles alike.”
Officers serving at Embassy Tegucigalpa have discovered that the vibrant capital city is the beating heart of a country forging a new path forward after decades of instability driven by natural disasters, corruption, and domestic upheaval.
“This is one of the most fascinating places to do political work, where we have close relationships with contacts and excellent access,” said Nate Macklin, political counselor. “This country has a history of a traditional two-party system, but now there’s a multi-party system, and that impacts everything that we do in the political section. Our top priority is to address the root causes of irregular migration by advancing good governance, for example, through the installation of a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission, and the selection of a new supreme court. Ultimately, the political issues that Honduras faces all have to do with weak governance.”
Embassy Tegucigalpa has partnered with Honduras’ Special Tactical Operations Group, an elite unit of the Honduran National Police, to improve frontline anti-trafficking efforts by donating millions of dollars’ worth of scanning equipment and hands-on training. These aim to stem the flow of narcotics and trafficked persons across the nation’s borders. The embassy team is also collaborating with other Honduran law enforcement entities and government officials to address the staggering prevalence of gender-based violence in the country—an issue that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Group describes as Honduras’ “other pandemic.” Reducing gender-based violence is also part of the Strategy for Addressing the Root Causes of Migration and a key element of U.S. government policy and development work in Honduras.
Safety and security factors are intertwined with a complex set of political, social, and economic issues that have driven the irregular outward migration of Hondurans for years. The majority of these migrants have headed to the United States. Hondurans attempting the treacherous journey north often face violence and exploitation from gangs and corrupt officials along the way, and only a small percentage of those who successfully navigate their way to the U.S. border are able to enter through legal means. Addressing the resulting influx of undocumented immigrants into the United States is a Biden-administration priority, resulting in high-level leadership engagement like Vice President Kamala Harris’ official visit in January 2022 for Honduran President Xiomara Castro’s inauguration.
While migration affects many facets of the bilateral relationship between the United States and Honduras, deep cultural and economic ties between both nations and their people create a strong incentive for continued collaboration between governments. Utilizing the Root Causes Strategy, U.S. diplomats are working with their Honduran counterparts to target the underlying factors that have driven Hondurans to flee their home country.
“Since the start of the Castro administration in January 2022, the U.S. government has given Honduras more than $500 million in programs and assistance, principally to address the root causes of migration in cooperation with the government,” said Michael Wisner, a first and second tour (FAST) officer serving his first assignment in the embassy’s political section. “There is a set of policies that we’re pursuing to help stem the flow of irregular migration to the United States, build rootedness, give people hope, and help them see they can have a future here in Honduras.”
For the last three years, as legislation creating a comprehensive protection mechanism for internally displaced persons languished in the Honduran National Congress, Embassy Tegucigalpa’s political section urged government officials to take action, and worked with authors and sponsors to advance the legislation.
“[The] legislation was Honduran-written, Honduran-built, Honduran-owned,” said Wisner. “But we did what we could behind the scenes to help push it across the finish line.” For the 247,000 Hondurans displaced by violence between 2004 and 2018, 55% of whom are women and 43% children and adolescents, this legislation could provide a much needed lifeline.
The United States has also demonstrated its commitment to the Honduran people by confirming an ambassador to the nation after a five-year vacancy, and through its $429 million investment in a stunning new embassy campus that significantly expands the Mission’s footprint while providing its workforce with greater accessibility and collaboration opportunities. The new facility is on track to achieve LEED Silver certification and will host a number of energy efficient and environmentally friendly design features, including a massive photovoltaic array atop a new multi-level garage. The garage will provide significantly better on-site parking for Mission employees, many of whom will work under the same roof for the first time.
“Being co-located will be great. I think it will be a huge morale boost to the community to have that space. That [facility] benefits both of our countries over the long term and is worth the marginal investment if you look at our foreign assistance here compared to other places around the world. There’s a deep affinity for the United States here, and that is something that we have to take care of,” said Macklin. “I’ve already seen how we are attracting great talent to this embassy. Word gets out, and I think that makes it a really exciting time to be here.”
Leveraging cloud-based technology and flexible policies that are redefining the workplace, as well as an innovative new facility that will provide a better platform for in-person engagement, Embassy Tegucigalpa is leaning into challenges and opportunities in Honduras. The Mission team is participating in constructive dialogue with its government partners to advance human rights priorities, promote economic initiatives, and sustain vital security partnerships. These efforts address the root causes of irregular migration, and lay a solid foundation upon which the Honduran people can build a better future for themselves at home. FSOs seeking the opportunity to make an immediate impact at a high-visibility post that is tackling substantive policy issues need look no further.
“To be successful here, you need to be okay with the fact that things move at a different pace and can change at the last minute,” said Gian Gozum, a FAST officer serving his first assignment in the embassy’s consular section. “As an entry-level officer, you’re tasked with more responsibility than your typical first job out of college. I spent years in the private sector prior to joining the Foreign Service, and made more money, too, but it was never as rewarding as the things that I’ve been able to do in my short time at this post. I relish the opportunity to be at the front and center of fast-moving, high-profile issues.”
Isaac D. Pacheco is the editor-in-chief of State Magazine.