An Interview with Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl and His Working Relationship with Ambassador Joel Nagel

By Scott Lambert

I recently had the great pleasure of talking with the retired Austrian Ambassador Kurt Hengl about his time as an Austrian Ambassador and his working relationship with Ambassador Joel Nagel.

Ambassador Hengl and Ambassador Nagel worked together at the UN. Ambassador Hengl has been the Austrian Ambassador to Israel and the Austrian Ambassador to the UN. Joel is the former Ambassador for Belize to Austria and the current Ambassador to the UN for Belize. In addition, Joel is the founder and managing partner of the international law firm of Nagel & Associates, LLC, which focuses primarily on international commercial transactions, international asset protection and estate planning.

Here is my conversation with Ambassador Kurt Hengl:

Scott Lambert: Hello Ambassador. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I’ve had the opportunity to look at your impressive background, but I also wanted to give you a chance to tell me about your experience as an Ambassador over the many years that you’ve been a diplomat.

Ambassador Hengl: Hello Scott. Well, the first thing is that a diplomat is something like an emissary. They represent their own government to the government of another country. They are also accredited by the President or the head of state. But 99% of the Ambassador’s job is to represent the government and the administration of his or her home country.

As the Ambassador of Austria, my job duties involved promoting the people and a life in Austria. More specifically, to give information about political stability, economic development, social unrest, social peace, and how to visit the country as a tourist, diplomat, civil servant, or businessman or woman.

The Ambassador also gives insight on our cultural activities, technology and how to do business in the country. The Ambassador prepares people on what to expect by asking them “Why do you want to come to this country as a tourist, economist, or trader?” while showing how open our country is to others. It’s also to defend the country in case there are some misgivings about Austria, such as corruption, a broken infrastructure, or communism.

Visitors tend to be interested in government bilateral agreements, visa abolition agreements, investment possibilities, tourism, and tourist investments. An Ambassador needs to be open, have a good ear, and convey the reality of the host country by reporting whatever is interesting to your own country.

Scott Lambert: It sounds like a lot of responsibility representing your host country and promoting information about the advantages, benefits, culture, and all other positive aspects of the country, as well as addressing any key questions or issues that people might have about the country.

Ambassador Hengl: You must mingle and get involved in the host country’s society. You cannot just expect the information to come to you. You must get the information, you have to talk to journalists, you have to talk to the media. You must go on television because you’re in competition with other countries. Every country wants to show why it’s the best country in the world.

Scott Lambert: Yes, absolutely. And so, the promotion of your country, the values and the positive aspects that people can experience, are obviously a key part of that job. Correct?

Ambassador Hengl: Yes.

Scott Lambert: I understand that in your job you worked with the former Ambassador to Austria for Belize, Joel Nagel. Please describe your relationship and your work experience with Joel.

Ambassador Hengl: So, let’s talk about what Belize is offering to Austria. A lot of people know now that Belize is not just some obscure place south of Mexico. Belize is one of the former English dominions, making it an English-speaking, and English-related country, which is quite different from all the other countries in Latin America, which are all mostly Spanish. This frames how you view Belize, if you know they operate under an English judicial system and democracy, which is different than some other Spanish-speaking countries.

Belize, being a small country like Austria, shows that small countries can be small but beautiful. And they offer something that you may not get in big countries such as interesting archeology, natural beauty, and one of the world’s most famous diving spots: The Blue Hole, which it seems is the only maritime point which you can see from outer space.

The Blue Hole

Belize is known for this natural wonder, so it is ideal for them to promote tourism. And with tourism comes tourist investments such as hotels in Belize or, let’s say, an air-traffic agreement to get chartered flights to Belize, or vice versa.

Since Vienna, Austria is one of the three most important United Nations headquarters along with New York and Geneva, this is a great place for an Ambassador to be to help reach bilateral agreements and bilateral relationships with other nations. For example, the United Nations Industria Development Organization (UNIDO) is seated in Vienna along with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the United Nations.

Vienna, Austria

And this brings me to my work relationship with Joel Nagel, the current Ambassador for Belize to the UN and former Ambassador for Belize to Austria.

As an Ambassador of another country to Austria, you have to participate and make your voice heard. His voice represented the country of Belize within the concert of nations in Vienna.

All of the Latin American Ambassadors, or the embassies, are linked in a very good way and with strong cooperation, in a club named the GRULAC, which stands for the Group of Latin America and the Caribbean. The GRULAC had regular consultations on every aspect of multi-lateral problems including drug-control. Joel worked closely with this group for development assistance to Belize, and with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which, through Joel has offered support to Belize for a medical program linked to the peaceful use of atomic energy.

Joel has a little bit of a Germanic background in his heritage. I think his ancestors might have come from Germany or somewhere else because he is a very serious, quiet person. He does not raise his voice, he has rational ideas, and he’s very polite. He is a very good host and he and his wife invited people very often to charming places. If you sit back in the embassy and wait for news or for contacts, you won’t get it. Creating relationships is important for an Ambassador.

He is very outspoken and was very interested in Austrian affairs. He actively toured different Austrian provinces and regions such as Salzburg. And he is a very agreeable Ambassador.

Whenever I see him, mostly in the GRULAC at the UN headquarters, he is a welcomed colleague, and someone to whom one always listens to, perhaps because he doesn’t come from a diplomacy background. Sometimes the diplomats can be rather high-nosed.

Instead of coming from a diplomacy background, he comes from a real profession. He has a law office dealing with International business, and he also worked to interest people in Austrian circles to invest in Belize, which is his job as an Ambassador. This is what all of the countries try to do more or less openly.

Being the current Ambassador for Belize to the UN, Joel Nagel has put Belize back on the map at the UN. You know, normally, just as a sort of a joke, every embassy gets a little plate with the name of the embassy. And when you are in the conference room, you put this little plate in front of you, so the president is seeing who is who, who wants to speak and so forth.

When Joel came, there was no plate for Belize. Nobody knows why. So, we said “Hey, Belize belongs to the GRULAC” and Joel had to motivate the UN administration on the lower level to accept that Belize exists.

So now, whenever we go into the meeting rooms at the UN, he has the name-plate of the country of Belize ready. He also has good relations with the Deputy Director General for Latin America in UNIDO.

Another thing I recall is that the Foreign Minister of Belize was here two or three months ago, and I had the impression that this Foreign Minister was rather impressed by Joel, and they had good communication. And recently, the wife of the Prime Minister of Belize was in Vienna, and it seemed like it was a very good encounter, because he said the wife of the Prime Minister gave a key address at the International Atomic Energy Agency conference. Here, she obviously showed interest in Belize, the part Belize is playing in the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the support the agency can give to small countries in the medical field.

Joel Nagel

Scott Lambert: That is awesome. So, your impression of Joel Nagel is that he actually created greater awareness within Austria and the UN about Belize, its interests, and was actually very well-respected there. Plus, he was pro-active. As to your point, if you sit back waiting on people to call you, nothing is going to happen. So, it sounds like he was very pro-active in promoting the interests of Belize, and that was well-received. And actually, the viability of Belize within the group in Austria, is that correct?

Ambassador Hengl: Right. Because very often the GRULAC coordinates as a single voice, just like other groups such as the Asian or African groups. So, it’s very important that the Latin American and Caribbean group is unified and not splitting its votes.

I also recall, and what I liked very much, was that just shortly after he came he gave a very nice interview to one of the diplomatic magazines where he didn’t avoid difficult or funny questions. He was willing to make some points very clear, which is important. For instance, there were two points that this journalist of the magazine said. Something along the lines of: “Excuse me Ambassador, can I ask you something a bit intimate? There is the slogan that Belize has been selling citizenships for investment.” And obviously Joel is a specialist in answering these questions as an attorney in international affairs. But Joel answered very boldly and honestly with something like, “Listen we know about this, we knew about it in the past, but Belize has taken steps to avoid this now. We have clear legislation, so what has been done in the past is not repeated.”

This is a very important step towards something that Belize wants to achieve, which is a visa-abolition agreement between Belize and the European Union.

In fact, I remember when I was in Mexico and visiting Belize, and the Belizeans talked about this: why do Belizeans need a visa to visit Europe, while other Caribbean countries do not? And I was told by European diplomats that it was because Belize was selling citizenships. So, it was very important. Very cleverly done, that Joel did not just say, “No, no, it is not like that.” But he showed that he knows about the issue and he knows what had perhaps been done in the past, which is still being done by some other countries. But he stated that Belize is taking this thing very serious.

Scott Lambert: That’s good. Would you say Ambassador, that Belize has benefited from Joel’s representation to Austria and his diplomatic efforts?

Ambassador Hengl: Yes. The former ambassador of Belize to Austria was somebody from Lithuania. He had a lot of legal and some commercial problems. And the minister of foreign affairs said, “Listen you cannot be a trader, a dealer, or doing economics and private dealings while you are here.” So, Belize was not presented in the most brilliant way here in Austria. When you look at Joel, he looks like a serious businessman who knows that he is not a diplomat, but he tries to be a good diplomat, and a good representative of Belize.

Scott Lambert: Excellent. Well Ambassador, I do appreciate you taking time in your day to talk to us about the important job of being an Ambassador, and how through your experience you had the chance to work with Joel. Before we finish, I know you mentioned that you have been to Belize and that you have been to San Pedro, so I would like to hear about your experience visiting Belize and what you did while you were in San Pedro.

Ambassador Hengl: My family and I loved Belize. Small countries have something special because they are not corrupted by a lot of mass-tourism. The nature is beautiful and the archeological findings impressive. On the mainland, the jungle is great and for people who love water, San Pedro is wonderful. It’s like a little paradise. When we think back on our time there, we say, Belize is small and lovely. It reminds us of our small and lovely Austria.

Ambassador Hengl: I’d like to say one more thing about Joel. One of the things I admire about him is that he has lots of children and he brought all of his younger children with him to Vienna. So, he has a big family here, which makes an Ambassador more sympathetic and caring than if he had left his entire family somewhere back in the states, or in Belize, and was just moving around alone. It makes a nice atmosphere for an Ambassador to do a great job.

Scott Lambert: Good. Thank you so much Ambassador. I know that you’re taking time out of your personal vacation to speak with me today, and I sincerely appreciate your time.

Additional information about Joel Nagel:

Joel’s international business acumen includes structuring the 2,500-acre Gran Pacifica resort complex in Nicaragua for an investor group. He has also structured a three-acre boutique resort in Ambergris Caye, Belize and has been a major player in the creation of offshore banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and mutual funds abroad.

Joel Nagel currently sits on the boards of 15 companies, and is involved in strategic planning and U.S. compliance for countless others.

Joel Nagel has been quoted in U.S. News & World Report and has been featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Pittsburgh Business Times. He has also published articles on over 20 well-respected websites on living, working, and doing business abroad.

Cementing his position as the go-to guy for offshore banking, Joel Nagel is the Chairman of Caye International Bank. This is the leading investment bank in Belize, which has been in operation for over a decade.