US ambassador to Panama resigns saying he can no longer serve Trump

UN condemns US president’s reported comments on ‘s***hole countries’ as ‘racist’

The US ambassador to Panama John Feeley has resigned telling the State Department he no longer feels able to serve US president Donald Trump.

The resignation of the career diplomat - the first since Mr Trump’s appointment as president almost a year ago - came as the uproar over Mr Trump’s alleged description of African and other countries as “shitholes” reverberated across the world.

Mr Trump appeared to deny that he used vulgar language to describe immigrants from Africa and other regions on Friday, saying in a tweet: “the language used by me… was tough, but this was not the language used.”

But almost immediately a senator who attended the meeting said it was “the exact word used by the president - not just once but repeatedly.”


House speaker Paul Ryan -the most senior Republican in Congress -described Mr Trump's comments as 'unfortunate' and said he immediately thought of his own family who had come from Ireland

Senator Dick Durbin also condemned Mr Trump’s language during the meeting as “hate-filled, vile and racist.”

Mr Trump’s reported comments during a meeting with members of congress has sparked international outrage.

The United Nations’ human rights body said that the comments, if confirmed, were “racist.”

“There is no other word one can use but racist,” spokesman Rupert Colville said. “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by African nations, with the African Union saying it was “frankly alarmed” by the comments.

Various media outlets have reported that Mr Trump made the comments - specifically that he asked why he would want "all these people from shithole countries," instead of countries such as Norway - during a meeting in the White House on Thursday.

As the controversy erupted, Mr Trump delivered a scheduled speech to mark Martin Luther King day from the Roosevelt Room in the White House.

Surrounded by African-Americans, including the nephew of the civil rights leader and Republican Ben Carson who delivered a speech, Mr Trump said: “Dr King opened the eyes and lifted the conscience of our nation. No matter the colour of our skin or place of our birth we are all equal.”

Mr Trump appeared to ignore shouted questions from the media, with one reporter asking “Mr President are you a racist?”

While Mr Trump has denied using the obscenity at his meeting with lawmaker yesterday, he also insisted that he had "never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country."

“I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians,” he said on twitter, adding that democrats had made the accusations up.

Nonetheless, Mr Trump vigorously defended his stance on immigration, insisting that he wanted a merit-based system of immigration.

"The so-called bipartisan Daca deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards," he said referring to the deferred action on childhood arrivals bill that aims to give protection to 'dreamers', undocumented immigrants who arrived to the United States as children.

“Wall was not properly funded, Chain & Lottery were made worse and USA would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries, which are doing badly. I want a merit based system of immigration and people who will help take our country to the next level. I want safety and security for our people. I want to stop the massive inflow of drugs.”

The Trump administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to thrash out an immigration strategy ahead of a budget deadline later this month.

Specifically, lawmakers are trying to forge a compromise on the DACA programme. While Mr Trump announced the abolition of the programme for “dreamers” - young people who were brought to the United States illegally as children - in October, he gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative solution. In exchange for a compromise on the DACA programme, Mr Trump is demanding funding for his border wall.

He also seemed to suggest his willingness to consider comprehensive immigration reform, something that would be welcomed by Ireland, though he appeared to step back from the comments later in the week.

Several commentators compared Mr Trump’s depiction of immigrants from some countries to the treatment that Irish people received in previous times, including MSNBC news presenter Lawrence O’Donnell.

He said: “My people came from what Donald Trump would call a shithole country. No running water, no plumbing, no toilets. Rampant poverty, disease and famine. That was the Ireland that my ancestors left to come here just so that they could eat.”

The latest development is just the latest controversial move by the current president on immigration.

The president who as candidate promised to build a wall with Mexico and branded Mexicans as ‘rapists,’ has introduced several travel bans on immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries, orders that have been checked by the courts so far.

He also announced his wish to end the visa lottery system, abolish the Daca scheme that gives protection to undocumented people who came to America as children, while this week he removed protection for 200,000 people from El Salvador.

Feeley resignation

Feeley’s departure had been communicated to State Department officials on December 27th and was not a response to Mr Trump’s alleged use of the word “shithole” to describe Haiti and African countries at a meeting on Thursday, US officials said.

Mr Feeley, one of the department’s Latin America specialists and among its senior most officers, made clear that he had come to a place where he no longer felt able to 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,”

Mr Feeley said, according to an excerpt of a resignation letter read 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.”

A State Department spokeswoman confirmed Mr Feeley’s departure, saying that he “has informed the White House, the Department of State, and the Government of Panama of his decision to retire for personal reasons, as of March 9th of this year.”

Speaking to reporters, Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said he was aware of Mr Feeley’s planned departure on Thursday morning, before Mr Trump’s alleged use of the vulgar term, and said the ambassador was leaving for “personal reasons.”

“Everyone has a line that they will not cross,” Mr Goldstein told reporters at the State Department. “If the ambassador feels that he can no longer serve ... then he has made the right decision for himself and we respect that.”

US officials declined to discuss Feeley’s reasons for leaving the department after a long career, much of which was spent working on Latin American issues. Some of Trump’s policies have been widely regarded within the region as hostile to Latin America. The Trump administration has taken a tougher stance on immigration from Latin America, most notably with moves to expel hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua who benefited from temporary protection status after natural disasters.

Feeley’s career included serving as the No 2 official in the State Department bureau that deals with Latin America, as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Mexico City and as director for Central American affairs in Washington. –with Reuters

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent