U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley announced his decision to resign on Thursday, the same day that President Donald Trump used the word "shithole" to describe Haiti, El Salvador and African countries at a meeting with members of Congress, U.S. officials say.
But that was mere coincidence. In fact, officials say he tendered his resignation to the White House Dec. 27.
In his resignation letter, the career diplomat and former Marine Corps helicopter pilot said his decision to leave public service after 35 years was due to his inability to continue to faithfully serve under Trump.
“As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies,” Feeley said, according to an excerpt of a resignation letter made public on Friday. “My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come.”
Feeley announced the decision on the U.S. embassy website citing "personal reasons," effective March 9.
He did not return messages from Univision seeking comment.
It was unclear how the resignation letter became public. Feeley has not commented publicly about his reasons for leaving. Some observers speculated that it may have been made public by officials in the State Department as a warning to others not loyal to Trump. The State Department has hemorrhaged an unprecedented number of top diplomats in recent months, some leaving by choice and other forced out.
Latin America has been especially hard hit. Among them is noted drug warrior William Brownfield, the former ambassador to Colombia and head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Lisa Kubiske, the former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, also departed in September.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made reorganizing the U.S. Department of State a top priority, seeking to increase efficiency, including a hiring freeze, pushing out top career officials, and curbing promotions for those who stay.
Department morale has plummeted, while Tillerson has come under widespread criticism.
U.S. officials declined to discuss Feeley’s reasons for leaving the department where he was a Latin America specialist having served previously as deputy chief of mission in Mexico and as number two in the Western Hemisphere department. A fluent Spanish speaker married to a Puerto Rican, he delighted Panamanians with folky social media posts.
Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein told reporters on Friday, “If the ambassador feels that he can no longer serve ... then he has made the right decision for himself and we respect that.”
Trump’s foreign policy has created a firestorm in Latin America, especially over immigration from Mexico and Central America. This week the Trump administration announced the cancelation of a 17-year-old protection from deportation for 200,000 Salvadorans. On Thursday El Salvador was one of the countries he singled out as being a "shithole."
Trump has denied using the word.
Thousands more migrants from Haiti and Nicaragua have already lost their protected status.