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US Consul General to end tenure when Biden is inaugurated

Lee Rizzuto, the US Consul General to Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

The US Consul General will leave his post in Bermuda after just six months, he said yesterday.

Lee Rizzuto’s appointment will end when the new Democratic administration in the United States is sworn in next week.

Joe Biden will take over as President from Donald Trump, who chose Mr Rizzuto for the Bermuda role last year.

His Vice President will be Kamala Harris.

Mr Rizzuto said yesterday: “The United States Congress has certified the election and on January 20, we will welcome a new administration.

“I congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris on their achievements and stand ready to provide any assistance that may be required to facilitate the transition and pay tribute to the special US-Bermuda relationship.

“Our democracy will emerge stronger with an orderly transition of power.”

He added: “Serving as the US Consul General to Bermuda has been a privilege and a great honour.

“I am grateful to President Trump for selecting me to serve my country in this role.

“As the new administration is sworn in next week, my service in Bermuda will come to an end.

“Although my time in this beautiful country was somewhat brief, it was very significant.”

In a statement last month, Mr Rizzuto pointed out that he had helped to get Bermuda moved to a lower travel advisory in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that he helped to bring back US mail after American Airlines suspended flights to the island, also because of the pandemic.

Mr Rizzuto said yesterday he has had the opportunity to "work on many projects and contribute to the bilateral relations of the United States and Bermuda“.

He added: “It has also been most enjoyable to build relationships, strengthen ties between both countries and to have met so many dynamic people.

“My wife Denise and I will continue to cherish the memories we have made here and extend our well wishes to everyone.

“Bermuda has found a special place in our hearts.

“During our time here, we also had the opportunity to visit 103 houses of worship – a true gem of Bermuda and reflection of the people.”

The Bermuda Government thanked Mr Rizzuto “for his service” to the island.

A spokeswoman added: “We wish him and his wife all the best as they return home.

“The working relationship with Mr Rizutto on behalf of the United States has been constructive and we look forward to building and strengthening that relationship and working with the incoming administration.”

A Government House spokeswoman said yesterday: “We understand that it is normal for heads of US missions to change with the change in an administration.

“We thank Mr Rizzuto for his service to Bermuda and wish him well in his next endeavour.”

In a tweet last Friday, the US Consul General posted on Twitter: “Freedom of speech is a critical component of a vibrant, functioning democracy and this freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

“This past year we witnessed unfortunate actions around the country that goes beyond peaceful protesting.”

He added: “We must set the examples of character and integrity and move forward with hope, peace and unity as our democracy continues to show strength and resilience.

“Let us also give recognition and support to those empowered to protect us for their untiring efforts and bravery.”

His comments came after rioters stormed the US Capitol in Washington DC.

The UK's MailOnline reported last year that Mr Rizzuto contributed $449,000 to Mr Trump's presidential campaign political action committee in 2016.

Mr Rizzuto, who has a business background in Conair, his family’s personal care products company, was nominated by the President two years later for the ambassador's post in Barbados, but Mr Trump failed to secure Senate confirmation.

CNN said in an article about Mr Rizzuto published online in 2018: “President Donald Trump's nominee to be the ambassador to Barbados and several other Caribbean countries spread fringe conspiracy theories and unfounded attacks about Trump's political opponents on Twitter, including ones about senator Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, during the 2016 presidential election.”

Protesters campaigned outside the US Consulate in Devonshire last June after Mr Rizzuto’s appointment on the island was revealed.

A petition with more than 93,000 signatories was later presented to John Rankin, then the Governor, by Social Justice Bermuda.

The campaign group asked Mr Rankin to reject the appointment of Mr Rizzuto and declare him “persona non grata” on the island.

In a letter to the Governor, SJB highlighted the “controversial tweets” and claimed that Mr Rizzuto was “unacceptable and unfit for a diplomatic post”.

Mr Rankin said on Facebook at the time: “Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the appointment of a Consul General is for the sending state to make. So the decision to appoint Mr Rizzuto as US Consul General is one that is made by the United States Government.”

He added: “ … I think it is important that we have an effective relationship with whomever represents the United States in this country and my job as Governor will be to achieve that effective relationship.”

Mr Rizzuto declined to comment yesterday on the protests, which took place about six weeks before he assumed his role as US Consul General last July.

SJB said they had opposed Mr Rizzuto’s appointment, and welcomed his departure from the island.

The group added: “We wish our American cousins the best of luck in their ongoing challenges with rightwing populism, especially in light of the recent Trump-led coup attempt.

“Advancing the cause of social justice is key to the USA resolving their core issues.

“In Bermuda we remain committed to working for social justice here as well.”

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Published January 14, 2021 at 9:01 am (Updated January 14, 2021 at 2:47 pm)

US Consul General to end tenure when Biden is inaugurated

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