Trump to Nominate Banker Erik Bethel to be U.S. Ambassador to Panama

Updated: 4/23/2020

On April 20, 2020, the WH announced the president’s intent to nominate Erik Paul Bethel, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Panama. The WH released the following brief bio:

Mr. Bethel recently completed his term as United States Alternate Executive Director of the World Bank.  In that role, Mr. Bethel spearheaded a number of initiatives, including streamlining World Bank operations and promoting new technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain.

A financial professional with more than 25 years of private equity and investment banking experience in Latin America and Asia, Mr. Bethel is a recognized expert on Chinese investment and financial activities in the Latin American region.  He began his career in New York covering Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico.  Subsequently he moved to Mexico City as an investment banker and later to Shanghai, China as a private equity professional.  He has served on the Board of Governors of Opportunity International, a non-profit organization that provides financial services to people living in poverty in developing countries.

Mr. Bethel is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was an Olmsted Scholar, a Cox Fund Scholar, and a Battalion Commander.  He earned an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a Milken Scholar.  He speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin.

Based on AFSA’s ambassador historical appointments by post since 1960, 10 of 17 previous ambassadors to Panama were career diplomats; 7 or 41.2% were political appointees.  The most recent appointee to this position was John D. Feeley (1961–), a career diplomat who served from February 16, 2016–March 9, 2018. (see Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president).
The last political appointee to this position was Linda Ellen Watt (1951–) who served from December 17, 2002–June 3, 2005 under the George W. Bush Administration. (This record was corrected, see below).
The last political appointee to this position was Simon Ferro (1953–) who served from February 26, 1999–March 1, 2001 during the Clinton tenure.

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U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley Resigns From the Foreign Service Over Trump Policies

U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley Resigns From the Foreign Service Over Trump Policies

Posted: 4:59 am ET


The Foreign Service Act and appropriate personnel regulations require three (3) commitments from candidates for appointment to the Foreign Service: availability for worldwide assignment, willingness to accept out-of-function assignments, and observance of Foreign Service discipline with respect to public support of established United States policy – is a condition of employment with the Foreign Service.  That third commitment refers to this:

In the official performance of their duties as representatives of the United States Government, Foreign Service members may be called upon to support and defend policies with which they may not be personally in full agreement. On such occasions, normal standards of Foreign Service discipline will apply. Ample opportunity is provided within official channels for discussion and dissent with respect to the development and conduct of United States Foreign policy.

On January 12, the U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a 28-year veteran of the Foreign Service did the honorable thing and tendered his resignation over Administration policies he is no longer able to support and defend. The Panama assignment is Ambassador Feeley’s first as chief of mission. He was on the second year of a three-year assignment.

Below is a brief summary of his long career in the diplomatic service:

John Feeley was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Panama on January 15, 2016, and assumed his post in early February. He is a career diplomat who has focused much of his work on Latin American and Caribbean issues, both in Washington and in the region.

Ambassador Feeley most recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2012 to 2015, responsible for the daily management of regional policy implementation and the supervision of 50 diplomatic posts across the Americas.

Previously he was the State Department’s Summit of the Americas Coordinator, overseeing the substantive preparation for Secretary Clinton’s engagement in the 2012 Cartagena Summit, a role he reprised for Secretary Kerry during the 2015 Summit in Panama.

From 2009 to 2012, Ambassador Feeley served as deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where he managed a 37-agency country team that implemented the Merida Initiative. He has also been the Department’s Director for Central American Affairs and Deputy Director for Caribbean Affairs. From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Feeley served as a Deputy Executive Secretary in the Office of the Secretary of State, where he was responsible for managing information flow to Secretaries Powell and Rice, as well as coordinating their overseas travel.

A 2004 Distinguished Graduate of the National War College, Mr. Feeley’s overseas assignments include two tours in Mexico City, Santo Domingo, and Bogota.

Prior to joining the State Department in 1990, Mr. Feeley served on active military duty as a helicopter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and is married to retired career diplomat, Cherie Feeley. The Ambassador and his wife speak Spanish. The couple has two adult sons and one grandson.