U.S. Diplomat in El Salvador Leaves, Says Country Has No Interest in Improving Relations

The top U.S. diplomat in El Salvador announced that she is leaving her position due to the country "showing no interest" in improving relations, the Associated Press reported.

Jean Manes announced the move on Monday in a television interview, attributing her sudden departure to the administration of El Salvador's current president, Nayib Bukele. She said that she would return to her position as civilian deputy commander in the U.S. Southern Command.

"Why am I going to stay here if we don't have a counterpart at this time?" Manes said. "When El Salvador wants to talk, our doors are always open."

The departure comes after increasingly hostile interactions between Bukele and Manes. After Bukele's election, El Salvador's Supreme Court justices and the attorney general were replaced. Access to public information was also reduced, along with more than 200 judges and prosecutors suddenly being removed from their posts. Pro-government media, she said, then began attacking her and the U.S. government.

"They sent me as a bridge and the government has decided to not take it," Manes said.

Along with the worsening tensions, an English translation of the local newspaper Diario La Huella reported that Nuevo Ideas politician Roy Garcia allegedly displayed disloyalty by acting as an intermediary between the administration and the U.S. Embassy.

Bukele's office has not yet responded to requests for comment. Manes previously served as the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador from 2016 to 2019 but returned to the position in May of 2021.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Jean Manes
The top U.S. diplomat in El Salvador announced that she is leaving her position due to the country "showing no interest" in improving relations. Above, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Jean Elizabeth Manes talks with the media in San Salvador, El Salvador, on January 8, 2018. AP Photo/Salvador Melendez, File

Manes was asked to return as the interim chargé d'affaires at a time when critics expressed concern Bukele was showing authoritarian tendencies.

The El Salvador posting was only supposed to be three months and she had stayed for six.

Manes had known Bukele when he was elected, so there had been hope she would serve as a line of communication in the weeks after voters gave Bukele's New Ideas party control of the congress.

Initially, Manes said she had regular private meetings with Bukele. The sides were still talking when Bukele's new attorney general announced the government was canceling the Organization of American States anti-corruption mission Bukele had requested, Manes said.

The U.S. responded to the consolidation of power by shifting funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development away from government agencies and to nongovernmental organizations. Bukele recently criticized the U.S. for giving some $300 million to such organizations, including some he says oppose his government.

Manes criticized Bukele's government for not fulfilling an extradition agreement to send members of the MS-13 gang to the U.S. for trial.

In May and July, the U.S. government published lists of allegedly corrupt officials in Central America that included the name of Bukele's chief of staff, Carolina Recinos.

Nayib Bukele
The top U.S. diplomat in El Salvador announced that she is leaving her position due to the country "showing no interest" in improving relations. Above, Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele speaks during an official visit from Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei at the Presidential Palace on January 27, 2020, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Photo by Camilo Freedman/APHOTOGRAFIA/Getty Images