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This profile was last updated on 1/27/14  and contains information from public web pages and contributions from the ZoomInfo community.

Ms. Roberta S. Jacobson

Wrong Roberta S. Jacobson?

Head of Western Hemisphere Affair...

Phone: (202) ***-****  HQ Phone
Email: j***@***.gov
the State Department
2201 C St #6423
Washington Dc, District of Columbia 20520
United States

Company Description: The State Department maintains passport records for about 127 million Americans.

Employment History

Board Memberships and Affiliations


  • Bachelor of Arts
    Brown University
  • Masters of Arts , Law and Diplomacy
    Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • M.A. , Law and Diplomacy
    Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • undergraduate degree
    Brown University
197 Total References
Web References
Asked about the potential Myanmar-Cuba ..., 27 Nov 2012 [cached]
Asked about the potential Myanmar-Cuba analogy, Roberta Jacobson, head of the State Department's Western Hemisphere affairs bureau, told me that Myanmar "is a country that has been very closed and very repressive, and that has begun to open up.
A career civil servant, ..., 28 Feb 2013 [cached]
A career civil servant, Jacobson has focused on Latin America for twenty years.
And that's where U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson '82 comes in.
"Trying to connect Mexico and Central America and Colombia sounds really good," she says. "Everybody signs on to it. But now it's the state department's job to try and overcome, for example, a pretty serious political roadblock between Panama and Colombia in that process. It comes down to Panama wanting to protect its own energy producers. Connecting with Colombia would bring in cheaper energy putting pressure on Panamanian prices. "We get that," Jacobson says, "and we understand that it's politically difficult. But it's not good for Panamanians if they end up paying more for their energy."
As assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, or WHA, Jacobson heads the state department's efforts in all of Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Canada. That means the White House and the secretary set out broad mandates, she says, "and then we have to go do the hard slogging work of horse trading and local politics.
A career civil servant, Jacobson has focused on Latin America during the entire twenty years she has worked at the state department. For two years she served as number two in the American embassy in Lima, Peru, and at various posts in Washington she has worked on issues affecting Mexico, Canada, and Cuba, including NAFTA, human rights, and civil-military relations. Beyond her own expertise are the thousands of people who work for her, both in Washington and on the ground in thirty-four countries throughout the region.
Despite Jacobson's easy informal manner in conversation, it's clear her mind is always considering the real-world causes and consequences of her words. On a recent Tuesday, for example, the Panamanian ambassador to the United States came to visit her office. Switching between English and Spanish, they spoke easily and casually, covering such subjects as cocaine trafficking, President Obama's 2013 trip to Mexico, student exchange opportunities between the two countries, and the Panama Canal. Earlier in the day, Jacobson had held a meeting with her top deputies in Washington. (The five deputy assistant secretaries, or DASs-in the state department it's pronounced "dasses"-each oversees a particular region in the hemisphere, and each has a staff with specialists in various geographic regions or policy areas. Jacobson listened respectfully as each reviewed the top news of the last week. She asked questions and shared plans about the upcoming weeks. The atmosphere was relaxed and supportive, with the staff laughing and joking, examining political angles, and setting goals.
"Roberta is someone who wants to make people around her comfortable and feel like they're appreciated," says her senior adviser Daniel Erikson '96.
Jacobson jokes. "I like that."
The joke is apt. When, in September 2011, President Obama first nominated Jacobson to lead WHA (she had been serving as the acting assistant secretary and before that as a DAS), Florida senator Marco Rubio threatened to block her nomination-which a senator can do by putting a "hold" on it-unless the Obama administration took more of a hard line against Cuba.
Of course, Jacobson knows the politics of Washington and how little they sometimes relate to actual qualifications of appointees. She recognizes that civil servants must, to a certain extent, put aside their own personal politics to do their job well.
For Jacobson, at least, making and implementing directives that affect all of Latin America requires her to embrace those policies with an enthusiasm she would not have had for some of Obama's predecessors. "When you're at a lower level you can carve out plenty of places for yourself where you don't have any problem with the policy, even if it's not your political party of choice," she says. Jacobson, a Democrat, began working for the state department under President Reagan, she says: "I worked as a desk officer in South America-not an area where I disagreed with Reagan. I would have had a much harder time working in Central America. Senator Rubio eventually relented, and Jacobson was sworn in in March 2012.
At Brown, Jacobson danced and was stage manager for many theater productions. "It was pretty obvious to me pretty quick that I wasn't going to make a career out of dance," she says. "I just wasn't good enough."
Meanwhile, she was falling in love with Latin America. When Jacobson entered Brown in the late 1970s, almost all Latin American countries were dictatorships. "They were beginning, as of '80, '81, '82, and beyond, to move back to democracy," she recalls. "So as a laboratory for political science, it was fascinating. What really got me interested in the region was the political experimentation that was going on at the time, and the wave of democracies which preceded the Soviet Bloc and the Arab Awakening."
Working closely with her mentor, Professor of Anthropology Dwight Heath, Jacobson wrote a senior thesis about pre-Colombian grave robbing: archaeological finds from the Americas that had been stolen. She drew primarily on the Peabody collections at Harvard and Machu Picchu objects at Yale.
"One of the first treaties on the return of cultural patrimony was signed with Peru around 1980," she says, "so Latin American countries were becoming bolder in trying to get back from developed countries what was theirs. [They were becoming] more confident in the international community, valuing more their own history. When she got her first job after Brown as an editorial assistant at the United Nations, she arranged for herself and Heath to present their work together as part of a meeting on the subject.
Jacobson also credits the "strong culture of public service" in her family for her career choice. Her father, an electrical engineer, was chairman of the local zoning board, and her mother, a teacher and social worker, was head of the school board. All these influences came together when Jacobson applied to graduate school at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. She enrolled as part of the Presidential Management Fellow program, which provides a direct route into government work.
Jacobson's career has not always been easy on her family. She says her two sons, who are now teenagers, learned early on to be the kids who sign up to bring plastic silverware-and not home-cooked food-to school parties. "Oh!" one of her sons exclaimed when the family went to dinner at a friend's house. "Moms cook, too?"
Yet in the years since graduate school Jacobson says she has had the rare opportunity to watch what she calls a "laboratory of democracy" unfold in Latin America. Working in a position that has helped those democracies has not only been a privilege, Jacobson says, but a window into our own democracy.
"Never assume the work of building democracy is done," she cautions.
Jacobson believes that increasing student exchanges between the United States and Latin American countries is one of the best ways to help modernize the hemisphere's political and economic systems. Jacobson says the circumstances that leave a country vulnerable to personalismo are in some ways a direct result of the unfinished work that began in the 1980s. These democratic movements, she says, "weren't complete-they left out a lot of people and left governments frankly only partially democratic. Millions of vulnerable populations-rural, indigenous, Afro-descendants, women, LGBT, for example-were never really brought into the political or economic system as full participants."
This less-than-inclusive political system, she warns, makes civil society weaker and threatens a vibrant and free press, which can make their governments less transparent and democratic. This is also true, she adds, here at home.
Jacobson is the government offiical entrusted with making that happen, with figuring out, she says, "how to make the President's rhetoric real."
To do that, she and her team have teamed up with Partners of the Americas and NAFSA: the Association of International Educators to "go out and find new university pairings, expand on existing university pairings, make community college connections," she says. The collaboration has created a new nonprofit organization, Alianza, which will provide challenge grants to universities that promote and support study-abroad programs.
"We never intended this to be government funded, nor for the private sector to give the money to government," Jacobson says. "So we now actually have a vehicle, if I go to Walmart or Bill Gates or anybody else, and say, 'We'd like a million dollars for more education.'" During the past decade, Jacobson is fond of pointing out, more than 50 million people in the Western Hemisphere joined the middle class. And
HOME [cached]
Roberta Jacobson, director of the Office of Mexican Affairs at State, remarked on April 13, 2005, that the bilateral relationship is "too big to fail."It grew in 2003 even as political leaders' attention languished.In 2004, much was accomplished at the working level.President Vicente Fox's visit showed that relations are "on the upswing."The "Security and Prosperity Partnership" of the US, Mexico, and Canada, launched at President Bush's Texas ranch in March 2005 and often described as "NAFTA Plus," has moved slowly.
Ms. Jacobson described the US-Mexican ties as "intermestic."Among the 34 USG agencies represented at the Embassy in Mexico City are the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.Embassy-based DEA and security officers describe bilateral cooperation as "the best in Latin America" -- the Mexican authorities "do more than they want publicized."Thirty Mexicans were extradited to the US last year to states where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.The incarceration of 51 Mexicans on death rows of US prisons complicates bilateral ties; Washington's power to sway states with capital punishment is limited.
"Immigration is President Fox's No.1, No. 2, and No. 3 issue," Ms. Jacobson observed.
Nebraska has its own process that ..., 21 Feb 2014 [cached]
Nebraska has its own process that it has to go through," said Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Speaking at a media briefing following Wednesday's North American leaders' summit in Mexico, Jacobson was asked whether all the Keystone XL lobbying by the Canadian government and industry could make a difference at this point.
Jacobson smiled when asked about the remark, but refused to elaborate on it, saying she wasn't there to hear the one-on-one discussion.
"We couldn't reveal (the details) to you if we wanted to," she said.
Western Hemisphere: DC ..., 9 Dec 2013 [cached]
Western Hemisphere: DC Luncheon with Hon. Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for WHA Business Council for International Understanding
Western Hemisphere: 12/9 DC Luncheon with Hon. Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for WHA Email a Colleague
The Business Council for International Understanding is pleased to announce a luncheon briefing with The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Roberta S. Jacobson was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs on March 30, 2012. Previously Ms. Jacobson was the Acting Assistant Secretary since July 18, 2011. She served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from December 2010 until July 2011, with responsibility for regional political and economic issues, management and personnel, and regional security issues. In addition to her role as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, she was the senior coordinator for the Citizen Security initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. From June 2007 until that date, she was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Canada, Mexico and NAFTA issues in the Bureau. She served as Director of the Office of Mexican Affairs from December 2002. From 2000-2002, she was Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Lima, Peru, and between 1996 and 2000, Ms. Jacobson was director of the Office of Policy Planning and Coordination in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, covering issues such as civil-military relations, human rights, foreign assistance, and counternarcotics throughout the hemisphere. Ms. Jacobson has also served as Coordinator for Cuban Affairs within the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, executive assistant to the Assistant Secretary (1993-94), special assistant to the Assistant Secretary (1989-1992), and at the National Security Council (1988). Ms. Jacobson holds a Masters of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (1986) and a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University. She also worked for the United Nations from 1982-1984 in the Center for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs. She is the author of articles on "The Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women" in The United Nations and Human Rights (Oxford University Press; 1990) and "Liberation Theology as a Revolutionary Ideology.
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