MEXICO CITY — U.S. ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual resigned Saturday following weeks of withering criticism by President Felipe Calderon, who said he'd lost trust in the envoy and demanded his removal.
Pascual's departure marks the first high-level U.S. diplomat to quit as a result of the release of sensitive U.S. diplomatic cables by the WikiLeaks website.
It also throws uncertainty and a new element of tension into Washington's relations with Mexico, a nation struggling against violent drug gangs at war with each other and government security forces. The violence has left more than 35,000 people dead since late 2006.
Calderon, of the center-right National Action Party, repeatedly voiced frustration and anger at U.S. diplomatic cables from Pascual and diplomats serving under him that questioned whether his anti-crime strategy would succeed and criticized the effectiveness of Mexican security agencies.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced "great regret" in announcing Pascual's resignation, saying he'd been an effective "architect and advocate for the U.S.-Mexico relationship."
In her four-paragraph statement, Clinton said Pascual had sustained morale of U.S. agents and diplomats in Mexico as they have increasingly fallen into the line of fire.
"Carlos has relayed his decision to return to Washington based upon his personal desire to ensure the strong relationship between our two countries and to avert issues raised by President Calderon that could distract from the important business of advancing our bilateral interests," Clinton said. "It is with great reluctance that President (Barack) Obama and I have acceded to Carlos's request."
The resignation brings to an end Pascual's 23-year career in the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Cuban-born Pascual was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and is considered an expert in failed states, and in designing ways to strengthen those under duress. He arrived in Mexico in 2009.
It's highly unusual for a foreign leader to be so outspoken in demanding the removal of a U.S. diplomat as Calderon has been in recent weeks — and equally rare that such demands would be met.
Mexicans increasingly question whether Calderon's anti-crime strategy can bring down violence, a matter that will play into the country's presidential elections in 2012.
A month ago, assailants stopped the armored vehicle of two U.S. immigration agents along a rural highway, firing into a window and killing agent Jaime Zapata.
Just days ago, new strains occurred as Mexican legislators criticized Calderon over news that his administration had permitted U.S. drones to fly deep into Mexican territory as part of joint anti-narcotics efforts.
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