Category Archives: Consular Work

US Consulate Kentucky Offers Diplopundit a Green Card Lottery Visa in ALL CAPS, and Wrong Font!

– Domani Spero

We just got this ‘Congratulations! You Won the Green Card Visa Lottery‘ email purporting to originate from the State Department.

Yup, not just from the State Department but from the United States Consulate in Kentucky.  In ALL CAPS. And in wrong font.  You dolts!  Didn’t you get the memo?  12 pt Times New Roman!

In exchange for “a processing fee” of $890 – $1420, the U.S. lottery visa that we apparently “won” also includes free tickets to — the United States. How do we claim this prize and free ticket if we’re already in the United States? We desperately needed a vacation and would like tickets for Hawaii. We were going to call the phone number provided to inquire (offer says do not email because they’re “busy”) but the country code says +66. Mr. Googles says that country code belongs to Thailand.  And here we thought US Consulate Kentucky is in the land of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.

Don’t you just want to head to Thailand for spring break, find U.S. Consulate Kentucky’s Secretary General Brooke and punch him in the face?

Screen Capture from US Embassy London

Screen Capture from US Embassy London

So below is the U.S. Consulate in Kentucky, USA with a phone number in Thailand headed by a Secretary General who uses an email without a .gov.  Kidding aside, if you don’t want to be a fraud victim, read this one:  Diversity Visa Program Scammers Sending Fraudulent Emails and Letters.

Apologies for inflicting an ALL CAPS post on our readers but doing this as a PSA:

 

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE, 

NATIONAL- VISA- CENTER 32  ROCHESTER  AVE,

PORTSMOUTH , NH 0358801-2  USA 

CASE- NUMBER::FRC 55865663318AA

PREFERENCES- CATEGORIES:-  (DV DIVERSITY)
FOREIGN- STATE -CHARGEABILITY

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT YOU ARE AMONG THE LUCKY SELECTED WINNERS OF THE U.S. GREEN CARD EMAIL BALLOT LOTTERY PROGRAM OF THE 2014 EDITION .

DETAILS.
THIS E-MAIL BALLOT VISA- LOTTERY- PROGRAM WAS INNOVATED ON 2ND OF MARCH BY- USAFIS, THIS IS THE 2ND EDITION OF THE PROGRAM AND ITS DESIGNED TO BE HELD EVERY YEAR, THE AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF THE PROGRAM IS TO GIVE FREE- VISA’S TO CITIZENS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD WHO WISHES TO TRAVEL TO U.S AND START A NEW LIFE AND WORK.

IN THIS INNOVATED PROGRAM, NO -REGISTRATIONS WERE BEING MADE OR REQUIRED AS THE PROGRAM WAS BEING CONDUCTED THROUGH COMPUTER DRAW SYSTEM OF E-MAIL RANDOM EXTRACTIONS FROM WORLD WIDE REGISTERED WEBSITES.

IN THIS 2ND EDITION OF THE PROGRAM, TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE (225) U.S- VISA’S WERE RELEASED AND 6.3 MILLION E-MAIL ADDRESSES WERE EXTRACTED FROM WORLD WIDE REGISTERED WEB-SITES DURING THE 33-DAYS EXTRACTION PERIOD THAT RAN  FOR FINAL SELECTION, ALL EXTRACTED EMAIL ADDRESSES WERE ASSIGNED TO DIFFERENT TICKET NUMBERS FOR REPRESENTATION AND PRIVACY FOR FINAL- SELECTION THROUGH COMPUTER- DRAW- SYSTEM.

YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS ATTACHED TO TICKET- NUMBER (564002-188) DREW -THE LUCKY- NUMBER’S WHICH SUBSEQUENTLY WON YOU THE U.S VISA AND WE ARE SENDING THE WINNING- NOTIFICATION- DIRECTLY THROUGH THE- SELECTED- WINNING E-MAIL ADDRESS WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU RECEIVE THE WINNING- NOTIFICATION IN YOUR MAIL BOX THAT YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED- AMONG THE LUCKY- WINNER’S.

APPROXIMATELY ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY FIVE (155) LUCKY- SELECTED- WINNER’S HAD BEEN NOTIFIED- THROUGH THEIR SELECTED E-MAIL ADDRESSES- INCLUDING YOU TODAY

YOUR VISA- WINNING -IDENTIFICATION- CASE -NUMBER IS (FRC55865663318AA) NOTE THAT YOUR VISA- WINNING IDENTIFICATION CASE NUMBER IS YOUR PIN CODE TO CLAIMING YOUR VISA.

DISQUALIFICATION,
ANY -SELECTED- LUCKY- WINNER FROM THE SOME COUNTRIES WILL BE DISQUALIFIED, THIS IS BECAUSE EACH HAS MORE THAN 50,000 CANDIDATES IN THE U.S:-

BASIC- QUESTION.
HOW CAN I MAKE THE CLAIM OF MY VISA?
YOU WILL OBTAIN YOUR VISA THROUGH THE- U.S CONSULAR OFFICER IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR COUNTRY OF YOUR PRESENT RESIDENCE AND NOTE THAT THE U.S CONSULAR OFFICER IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY OR COUNTRY OF YOUR PRESENT RESIDENCE WILL NOT ATTEND TO YOU WITHOUT YOUR PROCESSED DOCUMENTS OF WHICH TO ACCESS YOUR VISA WINNINGS THROUGH THEIR NETWORK DATABASE.

OUR VISA PROCESSING AGENTS HAD BEEN APPORTIONED AMONG SIX GEOGRAPHIC REGIONS, ALL SELECTED LUCKY WINNER’S WILL NEED TO ACT ON THEIR CLAIMS APPLICATIONS QUICKLY BEFORE THE VISA CLAIM EXPIRATION DEADLINE(30TH APRIL 2014)

FOR YOUR- VISA- FORM AND REQUIREMENTS,CONTACT OUR ASIA/PACIFIC/MIDDLE EAST -AGENT VIA THIS CONTACT DETAILS,  NAME: MRS DONNA WHITE 

E-MAIL:  ussdc@america.hm
E-MAIL:  usavisa@linuxmail.org


TEL:+66-948762973

 N.B: PROCESSING FEE.
SINGLE- US$890
DUAL- US$1,420

HOW CAN I PAY THE PROCESSING FEE? 
THE FOLLOWING FORMS OF PAYMENT ARE ACCEPTED: 

WESTERN UNION MONEY TRANSFER.
MONEY GRAM.
BANK TRANSFER.

BENEFITS. 
ALL THE SELECTED -LUCKY -WINNER’S WILL GET FREE AIR TICKETS TO THE U.S. YOUR AIR TICKET WILL BE SEND TO YOU BY- OUR  ASIA  /PACIFIC /MIDDLE EAST AGENT TOGETHER WITH YOUR PROCESSED DOCUMENTS.

PLEASE READ AND FOLLOW ALL THE ENCLOSED INSTRUCTIONS VERY CAREFULLY.

DO NOT REPLY BACK TO THIS NOTIFICATION E- MAIL (BUSY)

FOR FURTHER INQUIRIES; 
CONTACT OUR  ASIA  /PACIFIC AGENT WHERE YOUR VISA WINNING DETAILS FALLS.

SINCERELY YOURS,
MR. TONY BROOKE 
SECRETARY GENERAL US CONSULATE  KENTUCKY 

 

If you are not too familiar with visas and the United States, please know that there are no/no U.S. embassies or consulates inside the United States. There is no such thing as a Secretary General or a U.S. Consulate Kentucky. To learn more about the green card lottery, officially called the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery Program, please check out the official page of the U.S. State Department at http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/immigrate/diversity-visa.html.

 

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Michael T. Sestak Visa Scandal: Two Co-Conspirators Sentenced to 10 Months and 16 Months

– Domani Spero

On November 6, 2013, USDOJ announced that Michael T. Sestak, the former Nonimmigrant Visa Section Chief at the US Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City had pleaded guilty to “receiving more than $3 million in bribes” in exchange for U.S. visas.  Two women were also charged in the visa fraud-bribery conspiracy:  Hong Vo, 27, an American citizen, and Truc Tranh Huynh, 29, a Vietnamese citizen.  On September 24, 2013, US authorities arrested Binh Vo, a U.S. citizen and another of the remaining alleged co-conspirators at the Washington Dulles International Airport.  The last one of the alleged co-conspirators, Anhdao Thuy Nguyen, 30, a Vietnamese citizen, and Bihn Vo’s wife remains at large.

On Febraury 4, 2014, court records indicate that the case of ANHDAO T. NGUYEN was “directly reassigned to Calendar Committee as she has been a fugitive for more than 90 days.”

On March 7, 2014, BINH TANG VO was arraigned on Counts 1ss,2ss-14ss,15ss-27ss, and 28ss before Judge John D. Bates. Plea of NOT GUILTY was entered by BINH TANG VO as to all Counts of the Superseding Information.

In the case of  Vietnamese national Truc Tranh Huynh, court records indicate that sentencing was held onFebruary 21, 2014 before Judge John D. Bates as to Ms. Huynh (5) on Count 23s. Defendant was sentenced to Sixteen (16) months of incarceration and Twelve (12) months of Supervised Release; Special Assessment of $100. Defendant committed; commitment issued.  She previously entered a plea agreement in October last year.

According to court records, defendant Hong Vo also pleaded guilty to one count of a criminal information arising out of her participation in a wide spread visa fraud scheme.  The Government’s memorandum in aid of sentencing filed by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, Jr. on the case of Ms. Vo says in part:

 The defendant’s participation in this multi-million dollar scheme implicated both the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, thus, warrants an appropriately strong sentence. The need for proper deterrence is especially important where, as here, individuals could be drawn into a scheme in the hope of procuring a financial windfall. A 16 month sentence would have a real deterrent effect and will serve as a clear warning to anyone tempted to defraud the U.S. State Department’s visa-issuing procedures for financial gain.

Court records indicate that this case had also been resolved:

Sentencing held on 3/7/2014 as to HONG CHAU VO (4), before Judge John D. Bates on Count 1ss: Defendant sentenced to Ten (10) months split sentence: Seven (7) and a half months of incarceration and Two (2) and a half months of Home Detention; Thirty (30) months of Supervised Release. Special Assessment of $100.00. All counts of Indictment and the Superseding Indictment are dismissed as to this defendant. Defendant remains in 3rd Party custody.

On March 10, 2014, defendant Michael T. Sestak submitted a status report on the disposition of his real properties in Phuket and Bangkok, Thailand as part of his plea agreement:

Since the last report filed on January 24, 2014, Mr. Sestak has engaged Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates, to act as his agent in Thailand. Mr. Sestak is in the process of authorizing this firm to act on his behalf. [...] Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates in Thailand have met with potential appraisers for the Phuket and Bangkok properties. Attorneys at Mulvana, DeAngeli & Associates have also spoken with potential brokers in Phuket and have several meetings planned this week with several additional brokers.

Case title: USA v. SESTAK et al; Magistrate judge case number: 1:13-mj-00463-AK

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Snapshot: Visa Waiver Program Countries as of February 2014

Under the visa waiver program (VWP), the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State, may waive the “B” nonimmigrant visa requirement for aliens traveling from certain countries as temporary visitors for business or pleasure (tourists). Nationals from participating countries must use the web-based Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) to get an approved electronic travel authorization before embarking to the United States, and are admitted into the United States for up to 90 days. The VWP constitutes one of a few exceptions under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in which foreign nationals are admitted into the United States without a valid visa. As of January 2014, 37 countries participate in the VWP.

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei,  Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

CRS: Visa Waiver Program, February 12, 2014

Now includes 38 countries. On February 28, 2014, Secretary Jeh Johnson announced the designation of Chile into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  Starting May 1, 2014, eligible Chilean passport holders with both an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and an e-passport will be able to visit the United States without nonimmigrant visitor visas.

Read more here.

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Israeli Diplomats on Strike, Suspend Diplomatic and Consular Operations Worldwide

– Domani Spero

Britain’s David Cameron is visiting Israel and is expected to address the Knesset on Wednesday, March 12.  The host country’s Foreign Service, has been on strike since March 3rd, and Israel’s Foreign Service Workers’ Association has reportedly stated that staff would not co-operate or assist with preparations for Mr. Cameron’s visit.

The British embassy in Tel Aviv said: “We have an enormous respect for the work of our colleagues at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we are grateful to them for their close collaboration with us. “The visit of Prime Minister Cameron will be a proud moment for both countries, and we regret the MFA were unable to participate in its organisation on this occasion.”

Israel’s Foreign Service Workers’ Association released the following statement about the strike:

As of Tuesday, 3rd March 2014, Israel’s diplomats will no longer engage with foreign representatives, take care of official visits of any kind, either in Israel or overseas, issue visas or provide any consular services. This is just part of an extended list of organizational measures which will take effect immediately.

Israel’s diplomatic corps was left with no other choice but to ratchet up its year-long labor dispute with the Ministry of Finance, after the latter caused the failure of a seven-month mediation process led by the former Chief Justice of the Labor Court.

The diplomats were willing to give a real chance to the mediation process and find pragmatic solutions to all outstanding issues; however, the finance bureaucrats lacked sincerity and did not reciprocate with the same approach.

The bold measures mentioned above will hopefully raise awareness, both domestically and internationally, of the dire situation of Israel’s hard working diplomats.

Why have the Israeli diplomats decided to take these measures?

It may seem unusual for the diplomatic service of a country to become engaged in such a difficult labor dispute. This is especially true in relation to Israel’s diplomats, who are well known around the globe for their commitment and their excellent ability to represent Israel with the many different challenges it faces.

Precisely because of their deep commitment to Israel’s international standing and national security, Israel’s diplomats insist that their reasonable demands be met. Among them are a long-overdue adjustment of the salary to the rise in the cost of living, an end to a discriminatory tax policy, consideration of the dear price paid by “trailing” spouses and children in terms of loss of income, career and pension, and a decent compensation for extra hours.

It is unfortunate that the same dedicated civil servants, who receive praise wherever they are stationed in the world as representatives of Israel, are met with nothing but scorn by the Finance Ministry bureaucrats, who know little about the importance of diplomacy to national security. This is true always, but more so in a country like Israel, which is faced with an unparalleled range of challenges in the international arena.

The Times of Israel reports that “no diplomatic passports are being issued and “no assistance whatsoever” is being granted to Israeli officials abroad.”  All consular services to Israeli citizens have reportedly been suspended with exceptions made in cases where lives are in danger or bodies need to be returned to Israel for burial.

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US Embassy Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH370, USS Pinckney to Join Search Efforts

- Domani Spero

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines released a statement that it is still unable to establish any contact or determine the whereabouts of flight MH370. Other details below:

  • Subang ATC had lost contact with the aircraft at 2.40am. The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
  • MH370 is a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a code share with China Southern Airlines. It departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am today for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time. The flight had a total number of 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers were from 14 different countries, most of whom are from China.
  • An international search and rescue mission was mobilized this morning. At this stage, our search and rescue teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have failed to find evidence of any wreckage.
  • For the passenger manifest of MH370, click here.

The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur released the following statement regarding the missing plane. (full statement here):

The U.S. Embassy is closely following the developments regarding Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the loved ones of those on board the Malaysia Airlines flight.

At this time, we can confirm that three U.S. citizens were on board.  We are in contact with the individuals’ families.  Out of respect for them, we are not providing additional information at this time. We are working to assess whether additional U.S. citizens may have been on board the flight.
[...]
Malaysia Airlines has established dedicated phone numbers for family members and friends of passengers to contact the airline directly for information.  Family and friends should contact the airline at +603 8787 126 or +603 87871629.  The airline is also providing updates to the general public on its website, http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/hq/en.html.

US Embassy KL also announced that USS Pinckney has been sent to assist in the search efforts:

The United States Navy Seventh Fleets is sending the USS Pinckney, along with a P-3C aircraft to assist in search efforts. The USS Pinckney (DDG 91), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, is en route to the southern coast of Vietnam to aid in the search efforts.  The ship could be in vicinity of the missing jet within 24 hours and carries two MH-60R helicopters which can be equipped for search and rescue.  In addition, A P-3C Orion aircraft will also depart shortly from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan bringing long-range search, radar and communications capabilities to the efforts.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet's 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transits San Diego Bay. Pinckney helps provide deterrence, promote peace and security, preserve freedom of the seas, and humanitarian/disaster response within U.S. 3rd Fleet’s 50-million square mile area of responsibility in the eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Todd C. Behrman/Released)

According to the U.S. Navy, USS Pinckney was conducting training and maritime security operations in international waters of the South China Sea.

Also, U.S. officials are reportedly investigating terrorism concerns after two people listed as passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out not to be on the plane and had reported their passports stolen in Thailand.

The passports stolen were from nationals of Italy and Austria; both countries are in the U.S. visa waiver program.

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Asst Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs to Retire Effective April 3

– Domani Spero

The State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs announced last week her retirement from from the State Department effective April 3.  Ambassador Jacobs was appointed  to the CA Bureau on 2008. Previous to this appointment, she was the U.S. Ambassador to Guinea Bissau, accredited at the same time to Senegal and was a resident in Dakar.  Excerpt from the announcement email sent to CA folks:

“It has been a wonderful thirty-plus years with the Department of State, serving in many different roles and in

English: Janice L. Jacobs

English: Janice L. Jacobs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

many different locations around the world. As many of you have heard me say, my almost six years as Assistant Secretary has been the most enjoyable and the most rewarding of all the positions I have held.  I am extremely proud of the role the Bureau has played as a trailblazer in the area of leadership, and now, management.  Our team is recognized by counterparts throughout the Department for our balanced approach, our smart goal-setting, and our wise use of resources.  I am confident that you all will continue to innovate to provide the best of government service.” 

Ambassador Jacob’s two immediate predecessors, Maura Harty and Mary Ryan were both career Foreign Service officers, but seven of the twelve appointees since 1953 had been non-career appointees.

A quick summary of this top CA position via history.state.gov:

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Jun 27, 1952; P.L. 82-414; 66 Stat. 174) established within the Department of State a Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs, headed by an Administrator with rank equal to that of an Assistant Secretary. From Mar 1 to Dec 30, 1954, the Bureau was renamed “Inspection, Security, and Consular Affairs”. From 1953 to 1962, the Secretary of State designated incumbents to this position. The Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (Jun 28, 1962; P.L. 87-510; 76 Stat. 123) made the Administrator a Presidential appointee subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. In 1962, the Department transferred the security function to the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration, but the title remained unchanged until 1977, when the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1978 (Aug 17, 1977; P.L. 95-105; 91 Stat. 847) changed the Administrator’s title to “Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs.” This title has been given in full in all subsequent commissions to this office.

Here are the previous appointees.

The last political appointee assigned to the CA Bureau as Assistant Secretary was Elizabeth Tamposi under President George H. W. Bush . If you don’t remember the Bill Clinton passport files scandal, the NYT covered it here and here. More reading  here (Berry v. Funk) for some background and a separate judgement here, where the court granted monetary award to Ms. Tamposi for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and expenses.

If you  have time to spare, you might also want to read Sherman Funk’s Oral History interview here; he was the IG at that time.  All Oral History interviews referenced to here are available via the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

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Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

– Domani Spero

In October 2013, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro accused the top U.S. diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas and two other embassy officials of “acts of sabotage” — allegedly, they caused the blackouts that plagued the country — and ordered them to leave (what career track is that?) U.S. Embassy Caracas Charge d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling and two diplomats, reportedly Consular Officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who worked in Embassy Caracas’ political section were given 48 hours to leave the country. Soon thereafter, the AP reported that the State Department  expelled Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales at its embassy in Washington and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida at the Venezuelan consulate in Houston. (see Venezuela Kicks Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!).

This weekend, Secretary Kerry expressed deep concern over  “rising tensions and violence surrounding this week’s protests in Venezuela.”  His statement also says, “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. These actions have a chilling effect on citizens’ rights to express their grievances peacefully.”Here is Leopoldo Lopez on YouTube. See WSJ Venezuelan Opposition Leader Says He Will Risk Arrest.

The Venezuelan government wasn’t happy with this “interference.” Now the Miami Herald is reporting that Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elías Jaua has given three American diplomats 48 hours to leave the country as  he accused them of fanning the flames of student protests that have rattled the country for more than a week.

The El Universal reports that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jaua identified the three officials as Vice Consuls Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark.  They’ve been accused of  “trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities under the cover of doing visa outreach.”We should note that the US Embassy Caracas has improved its visa wait time for Venezuelan visa applicants to 70 days in January but it is still #2 in Top Ten Visa Wait Time at U.S. Consular Posts (pdf) via Liam Schwartz’s Consular Corner.

We expect a reciprocal expulsion for three Venezuelan diplomats in the United States to follow. Today, the State Department denied these allegations releasing the following statement:

“The allegations that the United States is helping to organize protestors in Venezuela is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world. But as we have long said, Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. We urge their government to engage all parties in meaningful dialogue.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-17

“To be Venezuelan today is to live on the edge of the apocalypse, convinced it will happen tomorrow,” said Alberto Barrera, a poet, screenwriter and biographer of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. According to Globe and Mail,  the oil engineers have emigrated to Calgary, the soap opera stars fled to Mexico and Colombia, and women “both rich and poor have cut back to just one blow-dry or manicure each week.”

The country where inflation has been running reportedly at over 50%, where television stations are state controlled,  and where billboards apparently boast that “Venezuela has never been stronger,” almost no one has toilet paper in their bathrooms.

Whether its blackouts, protests or lack of toilet paper in the world’s fifth-largest oil producer – some people claim that there’s always Uncle Sam to blame.  As long as the Mr. Maduro’s government  convinced itself that all the country’s ails come from its powerful neighbor and refused to acknowledge how poorly it has managed Venezuela’s  affairs, nothing will change. It can continue blaming the United States, but sooner or later it will be forced to faced up to reality.  Venezuela produced 2.45 million barrels a day in 2012.  It exports on  average 792,000 barrels a day in the first 11 months of 2013 to the U.S. according to Bloomberg (apparently, the lowest since 1985). The report also says that Venezuela’s export basket price rose to $97.18 a barrel in the week of Jan. 27-31.

So the most important question — with that kind of money, how is it that there is a shortage of toilet paper in the country?

Early this year, LAT reported that U.S.-based American Airlines and United Airlines and Panama’s Copa Airlines were halting ticket sales in Venezuela in lieu of the government’s failure to pay arrears that has totaled $2.6 billion.  According to USA Today, Toyota Motor Co. said it would shut down its assembly operations in Venezuela due to  to the government’s foreign exchange controls.  The country is also running out of newsprint. Last week, the Guardian reported that El Impulso, the country’s oldest newspaper will be reduced to one section because it is running out of paper.

But to President Maduro this is all good since the late Hugo Chavez had reportedly appeared to him as a bird more than once telling him he was doing a good job.

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State Department Annual Awards 2013 – A Banner Year for Consular Officers

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– Domani Spero

The ceremony for the Annual State Department Awards is typically held in November.  The 2013 ceremony officiated by Secretary Kerry was held in November 14 last year at the Ben Franklin room in Foggy Bottom.  Although the names of awardees are normally released by cable internally, the names and photos do not make it to the public sphere until they are published by State mag early the following year.  This past January, State mag published the names, and we have extracted the names/photos of awardees below.

You will note some familiar names (and not so familiar ones) and posts.  The former chargé d’affaires and OMS at US Embassy Libya received awards.  The RSO for US Embassy Turkey received  the  Bannerman award recognizing outstanding contribution to security (see deadly terrorist attack on Embassy Ankara February 1, 2013). FSOs in Missions Brazil, Pakistan, and Mexico did very well garnering awards ranging from exceptional vision, leadership, and excellence in reporting.

Seems to be a banner year for consular folks.  Note that the consular boss for Mission Brazil Donald Jacobson received the Raphel Memorial Award for  “outstanding leadership and direction” of the consular team.  US Embassy Yemen’s consular chief, Stephanie A. Bunce received the Barbara Watson Award for Consular Excellence for “inspired leadership” (see US Embassy Yemen: Revocation of U.S. Passports, a Growing Trend?).  Emily J. Makely received the Mary Ryan Award  for “professionalism and personal commitment to thesecurity and well-being of U.S.citizens in Rwanda, as well as U.S. citizens being evacuatedfrom the Democratic Republic of Congo” as the sole consular officer at US Embassy Kigali.

The DCM award went to Laura Farnsworth Dogu of US Embassy Mexico. In 2006, Ms. Dogu also received the Watson Award for Consular Excellence for “her efforts to protect children through the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction.” Take a look.

Click on maximize view icon max iconon the lower rightmost end of the ScribD screen to read in full screen.

 

 

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Education USA: Where do you want to study? Las Vegas! With Marilyn Monroe?

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– Domani Spero

According to the   U.S. Department of Commerce international students contribute $24.7 billion to the U.S. economy, through their expenditures on tuition and living expenses. The Institute of International Education notes that “Higher education is among the United States’ top service sector exports, as international students provide revenue to the U.S. economy and individual host states for living expenses, including room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items.”

In 2008, the State Department issued 340,711 student visas (F1 visas for academic or language training program).  In 2012, the agency issued 486,900 student visas as well as 27,561 F2 visas for spouse/child of F1 visa holders. According to NAFSA, in 2012-2013 academic year, international students across the United States supported 313,000 jobs, a 6.2% increase in job support and creation.

It is no surprise then that our embassies and consulates overseas are working hard to attract foreign students to come to the United States to study. And while most of the videos we’ve seen have been sorta boring, a couple of missions have recently released YouTube videos that seems to be attracting attention.

Below is US Embassy Riyadh with Nawaf starting his journey to study in the United States. If you want to follow in his footsteps — and be more prepared — contact an EducationUSA advisor. Their advising services are free and available through the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah and Dhahran. Sign up for a pre-departure workshop at http://riyadh.usembassy.gov/education….” This is kind of an odd skit but it is getting a lot of views, currently at 254,866 273,668.

Update @8:17 PST:  The US Embassy in Saudi Arabia estimates that more than 100,000 Saudi students and their family members in the United States contribute roughly $6-7 billion to U.S. GDP.  The embassy told us that this video, made with a Saudi production house that produces Saudi Arabia’s most popular animated cartoon series is the second in its educational advising videos.  The first one received over 600,000 views. “Humor doesn’t always translate easily across cultures.  We ourselves don’t understand the elephant joke, but every Saudi we’ve tested it with falls out of their seat laughing so we left it in the video.” Apparently, since airing the series, visits to the embassy’s online educational advising resources have seen a 500% jump. “If elephant jokes and Marilyn Monroe is what it takes to get young Saudis interested in studying in the U.S., we’re happy with the results,”the embassy said.   Should be interesting to see how the spike in views translates into the number of Saudis getting an American education at Saudi government expense.

Here is one from from US Embassy in Bangkok with the staff showing off  their best school cheer in celebration of  Education Month.  Just debuted a couple days ago, the video currently has 1,655 views but they sure look like they’re having a lot of fun doing this!

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US Embassy El Salvador: Critical Crime Threat – Stay Off the Streets

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– Domani Spero

On January 14, 2014, the US Embassy in San Salvador sent an emergency message to U.S. citizens in the country with a reminder of the critical crime threat in El Salvador. At approximately 21,041 square kilometers, El Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.

This message is to remind U.S. citizens residing and traveling in El Salvador of the critical crime threat in El Salvador.  Most travelers to El Salvador experience no safety or security problems, but as noted in our August 9, 2013, Travel Warning for El Salvador, both random and organized violent crime is endemic throughout El Salvador. U.S. citizens are not normally singled out based on their nationality, but are subject to the same threats as all other persons in El Salvador.

Over the last several weeks, several joggers and pedestrians were robbed at gunpoint in the immediate area around U.S. Embassy San Salvador.  Blogs associated with local running and cycling groups have also reported on runners being targeted in the Santa Elena area as well as other affluent areas, such as Escalon and San Benito.  Due to these issues, U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. Government personnel not to walk, run or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers.

Stay aware of your surroundings at all times when in public, and avoid carrying any valuables at all, including watches or smart phones/tablets, as these items are often targeted by thieves.  Be especially vigilant when entering or exiting your home or hotel, car, garage, school, and workplace.  Whenever possible, travel in groups of two or more persons.  Walking in many areas of El Salvador can expose you to crime, especially at night, and visitors and residents should not walk alone on or near beaches, historic ruins, or trails.

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The 2013 Crime and Safety Report published by  Diplomatic Security says that “El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. The criminal threat in El Salvador is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known associates and targets of opportunity.”

Crimes of every nature occur 24 hours a day; daylight is not a deterrent. There are no areas that are deemed free of violent crime. Robberies and robbery attempts, home invasions, and extortions occur in the most affluent neighborhoods, and closely guarded officials, independent business persons, and diplomats are not immune from these attacks.
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Most U.S. citizens (close to 90 percent) die of natural causes in El Salvador. The leading cause of non-natural death is homicide. In 2012, U.S. fatalities included 11 non-natural deaths (seven homicides, two vehicle accidents, one suicide, and one drowning). 2011 saw eight non-natural deaths (four homicides, two vehicle accidents, and two drowning). And 2010 saw 13 non-natural deaths (11 homicides, one vehicle accident, and one drowning). Of 32 non-natural deaths from January 2010 to December 2012, 22 were homicides.

The effect and threat of violent crime in San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many Americans live and work, leads to isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities. Based on current statistics, violent crime remains significantly higher than U.S. and international rates. El Salvador has the second highest per capita murder rate in the world: 69 per 100,000 in 2012 (UNODC statistics) (by comparison the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000). Police statistics show there was an average of seven murders and three carjackings reported daily in 2012.

As of January 12, 2014, El Salvador is a 15% hardship and a 10% COLA post.

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Filed under Americans Abroad, Consular Work, Countries 'n Regions, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Latin America, Realities of the FS, Security, U.S. Missions