KJZZ Radio’s Steve Goldstein recently interviewed NARP Executive Director Erik Lee about the recent resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson. Below is the transcription of the interview of Lee by KJZZ’s Steve Goldstein. You can find a link to the audio of this interview here.
Transcription by NARP intern Jaylia Yan.
Uncertainty Grows As U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Resigns From Post (Transcript)
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ: Tensions between the U.S. and Mexico have been heightened since President Trump took office in 2017 and uncertainty may be growing, thanks to U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson’s decision to resign her post—she’ll leave in May. Jacobson is one of the most experienced people in the State Department when it comes to Latin America. And with me to talk about Jacobson’s departure is Erik Lee, Executive Director of the North American Research Partnership. Erik, first, were you surprised by Roberta Jacobson’s resignation, and how significant is it?
Lee: I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen ambassadors named by a previous president hang on by a year or two under a new president, so in many ways it’s not surprising in that way. Also Roberta Jacobson was one of the premier U.S. diplomats who focused on Latin America, bar none, particularly in respect to Mexico. And there was just an obvious clash there with President Trump, who is not a policy person but a politics person in every way.
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ: How much does this indicate the struggles we’ve seen between U.S.-Mexico relations since President Trump took over? Is this just another sign that there is a strong disagreement over what should be done or is there even concern over whether relations are really rough at this point?
Lee: I think the relationship is as rough as it’s ever been, as I’ve ever seen it. This is yet just another additional indicator that this is the case. I don’t think that is a surprise for anyone; we’ve seen a whole series of retirements within the State Department including senior diplomats who work on Mexico and Latin America, so just add this one to the list.
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ: We’re talking about a time where relations are especially tense between U.S. and Mexico. How important is it to have an experienced hand in there or frankly, is it more important to have someone that agrees with the President’s philosophies?
Lee: We never have a lightweight in that particular ambassadorship. The U.S. always sends heavies: either career diplomats–I’m talking about folks with 20, 25, 30 years of experience in the State Department and quite a bit of experience in Latin America, or major donors or bundlers who are very close to the President and have followed their political career over years and have the trust of the president, or politicians that are very close to the President. Tony Garza from Brownsville, Texas is a good example of this; he was named by President George W. Bush as the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and he stayed in that position for many years and actually lives in Mexico City now. Jeffrey Davidow was named by President Clinton in 1998 and hung on until I believe 2001 or 2002 under President George W. Bush and then Garza came in. And Davidow was designated a career ambassador within the State Department. So it’s always somebody who has a lot of experience or a lot of money.
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ: So the fact of this comes on the heels of President Pena Nieto and President Trump having a long phone conversation and decisions were made to not meet or reschedule or cancel some meetings that were planned. What do you see? You did mention that this is the worst time as far as relations between the two countries that you’ve seen—are we at a perfect storm for the timing of this? Do you see this possibly getting worse?
Lee: Well, President Trump and President Peña Nieto never saw eye to eye and they never will see eye to eye. The collapse of their upcoming meeting is no surprise to me. President Peña Nieto is an extreme lame duck at this point, Mexico is heading to an election season here, and will have presidential and other elections this summer…This is a very complex relationship. The U.S. Ambassador does not call all of the shots. He or she has to contend with the National Security Agency, folks at the White House, folks at the State Department, and elsewhere in DC. So this is a complex management scheme we have for managing the U.S. Mexico relationship.
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ: And Erik, we’re aware that there are others are handling the NAFTA negotiations, does this put a crimp in that?
Lee: It is yet one more complicating factor. I would think that Ed Whitacre, who several news reports have named as the front runner for this position and who is a retired executive and lives in San Antonio Texas, would have a good idea of what this trade agreement means, particularly in the energy and trucking industries. It’s not a lucky bounce for Arizona in that it’s another Texan named U.S. Ambassador to Mexico rather than someone with a West Coast view of how this relationship runs or should run.
Steve Goldstein, KJZZ: Alright, Erik Lee is the Executive Director of the North American Research Partnership. Erik, good to talk with you as always.
Lee: Thanks Steve.