After 31 years with the U.S. State Department, and witnessing the transition of six presidents and six secretaries of state, Roberta Jacobson can say with certainty she has never seen anything like the transition into the Trump administration.
Jacobson, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from April 2016 to May 2018, says President Donald Trump’s comments when he was a candidate, such as calling Mexican nationals who come to the U.S. rapists, made relations between the two countries difficult, and more challenging for diplomats like her.
“This is an administration which doesn’t seem to credit U.S. ambassadors very much, doesn’t seem to listen to them as much,” Jacobson says. “There are very few things that Mexicans all agree on, but one is that they will not pay for a wall.”
She says while serving as ambassador, she reached point when she disagreed with Trump’s policies but stayed in her post because she hoped that her access to the White House, secretary of state and the State Department would enable her to change things. But Jacobson says she ultimately decided she could make a bigger difference outside the government.
“I got to a point where I both disagreed with the policies, but I also felt that I wasn’t having the influence I could have, and you do the cost-benefit analysis of, could you have more influence outside than in?” Jacobson says.
With the upcoming inauguration of Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Jacobson says a clear renegotiation of NAFTA between the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be beneficial to establishing a good relationship with the new Mexican administration. Another key element, she says, would be respect.
“To have conversations that are respectful and don’t result in tweets, outbursts that revert to yelling about the wall, or criticizing Mexico for narcotics or security when there is no way we can fight the opioid crisis or any of our other problems without cooperation,” Jacobson says.
When Jacobson was sworn in as ambassador, she was optimistic about the potential for bilateral cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. With the current political atmosphere, she says she still believes in the relationship but that there’s room for improvement when it comes to treaty negotiations, especially NAFTA.
“I simply think that even though the U.S. and Mexico have come to some form of an agreement to update NAFTA, it is not going to flourish with our Congress or be as effective unless it is a trilateral agreement,” Jacobson says.
Written by Acacia Coronado.