She’s smart, she’s competent and after nearly a year of hemming and hawing by the U.S. Congress, Roberta S. Jacobson has finally been approved as U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Despite a political mud-slinging campaign against her led by Florida senator and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio — mainly because he didn’t like the fact that she had played a pivotal role in helping to negotiate the restoration of bilateral relations between the United States and Cuba — Jacobson is at long last on her way to the Aztec nation, expected to arrive here later this month.
And her long-delayed confirmation comes none too soon for the much-neglected two-way relationship, which has been especially maligned in recent months thanks in great part to the ethnocentric and anti-Mexican rhetoric of the GOP candidate Donald Trump.
Ever since the very capable Earl Anthony Wayne left in early July of last year, Rubio and his fellow hyper-right Tea Party zealots have put partisan politics ahead of international alliances, severely damaging the two-way friendship that is as important for the U.S. economy and national security as it is for Mexico.
As a result of nearly 10 months of caretaker diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy here, many pressing binational issues such as human rights abuses, immigrant affairs, extradition, border security and drug trafficking have essentially been placed on the back burner, waiting for formal leadership, while resentment among representatives from Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat have slowly simmered as impatience grew.
Fortunately, Jacobson, who is a seasoned career diplomat with nearly 30 years of service under her belt, will not be entering the post as a novice.
She has previously served as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, and spent four years as director of the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and for the last four years, she has served as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
That means she knows Latin America and Mexico and can hit the ground running, which she most certainly will have to do since she has a lot of lost ground to cover in what, assumedly, will be a very short time (since whoever wins the U.S. presidency is likely to name a new envoy not long after taking office).
Also, Jacobson has a proven track record, having diplomatically shepherded through the delicate transition of U.S.-Cuban ties out of an anachronic Cold War-era animosity into a more realistic and upbeat budding rapprochement.
This is not to say that Jacobson will not have a lot on her plate.
Combined bilateral trade — already at a staggering $58 billion a year (roughly $1 million a minute) — is expected to grow even more exponentially once the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is implemented, and so is U.S. investment in Mexico, which currently stands more than $101 billion.
And Mexican companies have likewise invested almost $33 billion into the United States, making it the 15th most important source of foreign direct investment for our northern neighbor.
All that commercial and economic cooperation needs the discrete finesse of expert diplomacy to keep growing.
Then there are the murky issues of human rights abuses, human trafficking and drug-related corruption.
In the last 10 months, some Mexican authorities have turned a blind eye to these topics, apparently no longer feeling the pressure of a Yankee Big Brother watching their every step. (Wayne was a great advocate of human and media rights.)
Jacobson is going to have to pick up where Wayne left off and let the corresponding malefactors know that such abuses and impunity will not be tolerated.
(The State Department has already sent a not-too-subtle message to Mexico to clean up its human rights act by shaving off $5 million of $137 million in aid because of recent allegations of misconduct on these issues.)
So, Roberta, welcome to Mexico. You’ve been a long time coming and we look forward to you getting a whole lot done.