In a move that some diplomatic sources say was not entirely unexpected, Roberta Jacobson, the highly respected U.S. ambassador to Mexico for the past two years, has announced she will be leaving the post in the first week of May.
Her exit will be the latest in a line of departures of senior U.S. foreign service officials since the onset of the Donald Trump administration.
The timing of the announcement is perhaps no surprise. U.S.-Mexico relations find themselves in freefall after President Enrique Peña Nieto last week cancelled a visit to Washington following a testy phone call with Trump who, according to the Washington Post, lost his temper after refusing to acknowledge that Mexico would not pay for the border wall.
During the past 13 months, Jacobson has had to call on all of her diplomatic skills to soothe ruffled feathers in Mexico caused by Trump’s constant belittling of its southern neighbor.
In a statement issued Thursday, Jacobson did not mention Trump by name, and said the reason for her leaving is to “pursue other opportunities and adventures.” However, she pointedly noted “how great” Mexico and the United States both are, and how they are “stronger together.”
According to reports on both sides of the border, Trump has already decided on a replacement for Jacobson. Mexico City daily Reforma suggested that Ed Whitacre, the former chairman and chief executive officer of General Motors Co., will be nominated. This has not been confirmed.
Nominated by President Obama, Jacobson took over the U.S. mission in Mexico City after a prolonged confirmation process in Washington lasting almost a year. As the assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, she played a key role in Obama’s policies to improve the relations with Cuba. Many of these achievements have now been rolled back by the Trump administration.
Jacobson’s decision to quit comes at a moment when talks over the future of the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) have reached a critical stage. This week, the seventh round of negotiations started in Mexico City. Trump has repeatedly declared that he will walk away from the table if Mexico and Canada refuse to accede to his demands.
According to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the union that represents U.S. diplomats, the U.S. State Department has lost 60 percent of its career ambassadors since Trump took office. “Leadership ranks are being depleted at a dizzying speed,” Barbara Stephenson, head of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), wrote in a recent open letter to the media. “The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate, and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” she said.