In another blow to U.S. diplomacy, the top career U.S. diplomat and Latin America specialist, Tom Shannon, announced Thursday he will step down.
As Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Shannon, 60, is a near 35-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service who helped steer the State Department during the stormy transition under President Donald Trump.
Shannon said he was retiring for personal and not political reasons. “My decision is personal, and driven by a desire to attend to my family, take stock of my life, and set a new direction for my remaining years,” Shannon wrote.
In an interview with AP he said the death of his mother late last year and his own 60th birthday last week contributed to his decision.
But his comments only sparked debate about whether he too had given up on the Trump administration, leaving him unable to honor his oath to serve faithfully the president. His announced departure comes less than a month after the U.S. ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, tendered his resignation saying he could no longer serve Trump.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has come under fire for forcing out senior career diplomats at the State Department, admitted Shannon’s departure would be a loss. “Thirty-five years of experience is not something you replace overnight,” he said. Shannon has agreed to stay on until a replacement is found.
Latin America has been especially hard hit by resignations and forced departures. Noted drug warrior William Brownfield, the former ambassador to Colombia and head of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs resigned in September, while Lisa Kubiske, the former U.S. ambassador to Honduras, also departed the same month. The U.S. ambassador to Haiti, Peter Mulrean, resigned in February 2017 after serving just 16 months.
Tillerson is embarking Thursday on his first multi-country trip to Latin America and the Caribbean, with stops in Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Jamaica. Officials say he will discuss the surge in cocaine production in Colombia, the question of NAFTA in Mexico and cooperation to prevent illegal migration from Central America.
A fluent Spanish and Portuguese speaker, Shannon had extensive diplomatic experience in Latin America and led U.S. delegations to Russia last year, told AP he had confidence in younger foreign service officers to carry on despite today’s “hyper-politciized” American politics.
Shannon served as ambassador to Brazil for four years as well as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2005 to 2009, and Director of Andean Affairs from 2001 to 2002. He also had a stint as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, from 1996 to 1999, and well as serving in Guatemala and the Organization of American States.