By Appointment Only

What could be more exciting and fulfilling than the life of a consul? Well, lots of things, actually.

A Prelude
Nineteen floors above the gum-stained sidewalks of downtown Miami, in a private room within the First Union Financial Center's exclusive Miami Club, an assembly of South Florida's most important but least known individuals gathered recently for their monthly luncheon. Between them they represented some 40 nations, and each spoke several languages, though none so fluently as protocol, their lingua franca. It was protocol that bound them as diplomats and protocol that, after twenty minutes of subdued socializing, gently called for an end to the tinkle of liquored ice and the titter of false modesty.

There were matters of global import to be reviewed -- the business of nations brought face to face over starched tablecloths -- and protocol demanded that Nabil Achkar, the Lebanese-born secretary of Miami's Consular Corps, open the proceedings. The Corps, by now seated, favored Achkar's pronouncements with one of two responses: polite applause or, more rarely, grave nods.

Achkar began by acknowledging the passing of the King of Belgium (grave nods) and honoring the new king (polite applause). He then listed those nations that had celebrated national holidays during the Corps' summer hiatus (polite applause for each). Next he introduced the manager of the Miami Club (polite applause) and the honored guests on hand: the local head of a federal agency (polite applause); a magazine editor (polite applause); a visiting consul of Malta (polite applause). Achkar delicately lamented the tragic shooting of a German tourist (grave nods) and hailed German consul general Klaus Sommer's triumphant handling of the crisis (polite applause).

Gustavo L centspez, consul general of Guatemala and dean of the Corps, introduced the new Canadian consul, Doug Campbell (polite applause), who promised a fully operational office by November (polite applause). Only as L centspez announced the City of Miami's intention to issue local consuls ID cards did the Corps' bedrock of propriety begin to fissure.

Perhaps it was the pressure of spin-doctoring yet another dead countryman. Perhaps the tedium of mixing with fledgling envoys. Perhaps simply an excess of vinegar in the salad dressing. Whatever the reason, Klaus Sommer, the German, shot up. "Why do I need an ID card from Miami?" he asked, throwing down his napkin. "I have already three cards from the State Department. Why do I need another? Am I expected to get a card from Coral Gables and Hialeah, as well?" His blue eyes glared through owlish spectacles. "What is the purpose of this activity?" he barked.

The Corps fell mute, groping for an appropriate response. A few colleagues laughed politely. Others nodded gravely. L centspez, a small and smiling man, took a step backward to compose himself. "Yes, well, you are very frank, Klaus," he stammered. "We don't necessarily need the ID. But perhaps it would help the local police. Anyway, I think it is more a gesture by Miami to show us they are willing to cooperate with us. Of course, it is up to every delegation to decide if they would like such IDs."

Without a perceptible pause, L centspez whisked on to other matters. There was still the Consular Ball to be considered, the presentation of a silver plate to the departing British consul, Philip Grice, and the introduction of the day's guest speaker, Miami Herald publisher Roberto Suarez. But the magnate's cloying speech -- rendered practically incoherent by a malfunctioning microphone -- did little to quell the tension.

No sooner had Suarez made his way back to his seat when the bickering began anew. Richard Allan Nixon, newly appointed consul of Grenada, carped ardently about airport staff, who had the audacity to question his passport. Madge Barrett, Jamaica's regal consul general, complained that a police officer had, in violation of immunity laws, issued her driver a parking ticket. "We must be recognized," she snapped. "And that is not going to happen simply by having people come talk to us."

As the luncheon dissolved into awkward small talk and Suarez dug into his tepid fish, a confused portrait of Miami's Consular Corps emerged. They were, on one hand, esteemed members of the fastest-growing diplomatic outpost in the world, the vanguard in post-Cold War expansionism. And yet....

And yet they whined about parking tickets.
Sommer's indignant speech was the quintessential reflection of this tug of war between grandiosity and insecurity. Which is one reason the Corps was still clucking over the outburst weeks after the luncheon. The other, more obvious reason, was left unspoken: No one likes to see a diplomat snap.

A Parable
Two camps of prehistoric men are engaged in an ongoing battle over hunting turf. Midnight raids are carried out, traps set, clubs swung, corpses stacked. Eventually a realization dawns on the larger-brained combatants: not much hunting is getting done. In a bold move, one side sends a special representative to the opposing cave to resolve the situation. In his best opposing-caveman dialect, the envoy explains his mission. He is quickly clubbed to death.

This should clear up any lingering questions about the concept of diplomatic immunity.

A Polemic
History is full of instructive lessons detailing how warring clans and states have come to terms peaceably. Homeric scholars will recall, for instance, the many diplomatic missions undertaken in the Iliad, all of which failed until the Greeks convinced the Trojans to accept a large wooden horse as a gift, at which time the Greeks poured out of the horse and burned Troy to the ground.

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