Category Archives: Countries ‘n Regions

State Dept Updates Ukraine Travel Warning: Ongoing Violent Clashes in the Eastern Regions

– Domani Spero

 

On August 29, the State Department issued an updated Travel Warning on the risks of traveling to the eastern regions of Ukraine:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to eastern Ukraine due to ongoing violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In addition, Russian military forces continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and are present on the eastern border of Ukraine.This supersedes the Travel Warning for Ukraine dated August 1 to provide updated information on the security situation in southern and eastern Ukraine.

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.  Russia-backed separatists continue to control areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These groups have established illegal checkpoints and have threatened, detained, or kidnapped individuals, including U.S. citizens, for hours or days.  The Ukrainian armed forces have launched an operation to reclaim these areas.  Violent clashes between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have escalated over the past month and have resulted in hundreds of injuries and deaths.  Some of these clashes have included the use of armored vehicles, aircraft, and other military weapons including surface to air missiles, the use of which was responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17.  Widespread disorder and looting has been confirmed in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.  These Russian-supported groups have taken on a more strident anti-American tone, especially in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.  U.S. citizens who choose to remain in conflict areas should maintain a low profile and avoid large crowds and gatherings.

The Department of State also warns U.S. citizens to defer all travel to the Crimean Peninsula, and to exercise caution in the regions of Odesa, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhia and Kherson.  Russian forces have occupied the Crimean Peninsula in support of the Russian Federation’s attempted annexation of Crimea and these forces are likely to continue to take further actions in the Crimean Peninsula consistent with Russia’s continuing occupation of this part of Ukraine.  The international community, including the United States and Ukraine, does not recognize this purported annexation.  The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea and along the border of eastern Ukraine.  In addition, there are continuing reports of abuses against the local population by de facto authorities in Crimea, particularly against those who are seen as challenging the current status quo on the peninsula

The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly.  U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds and be prepared to remain indoors and shelter in place for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.

Peace Corps Volunteers departed Ukraine on February 25, and remain out of the country at this time.  U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for all public services; however, in light of the ongoing unrest, the Embassy has severely restricted the travel of U.S. Government personnel to areas in eastern Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, and occasionally limits travel to other adjacent regions.  As a result, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine’s Crimean region is extremely limited.

Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country.  Drivers may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads.  Following the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) to prohibit all U.S. flight operations within Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Regions.  This expanded the FAA’s previous NOTAM restricting U.S. flight operations within the

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Snapshot: U.S. Immigrants – Top Sending Countries (Selected Periods 1901-2010)

Via CRS (pdf):

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Figure 2 illustrates that immigration over the last few decades of the 20th century was not as dominated by three or four countries as it was earlier in the century. Although Europe was home to the countries sending the most immigrants during the early 20th century (e.g., Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and the United Kingdom), Mexico has been a top sending country for most of the 20th century—largely after 1970—and into the 21st century. Other top sending countries from FY2001 through FY2010 were the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Colombia, and Cuba (Western Hemisphere); and the Philippines, India, China, South Korea, and Vietnam (Asia). These data suggest that the per-country ceilings established in 1965 had some effect. As Figure 2 illustrates, immigrants from only three or four countries made up more than half of all LPRs prior to 1960. By the last two decades of the 20th century, immigrants from seven to eight countries comprised about half of all LPRs, and this pattern has continued into the 21st century.

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Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos)

– Domani Spero

 

Today is the last day of the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C.. According to the White House, this is the first such event of its kind: “the largest event any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government.”  The August 4-6 Summit is intended to advance “the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlights America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people.”

While Africa’s worst human rights abusers did not get their invitations, repressive leaders who have been in power for some twenty-years or more did, and are also in town to network with CEOs and talk about peace, regional stability, investing in Africa’s future and  enhancing governance. Jeffrey Smith, a senior advocacy officer at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Todd Moss, a former senior U.S. State Department official argues that “A robust U.S.-Africa policy for the 21st century cannot be built with these remnants of an old guard who play the terrorism or oil card to deflect legitimate criticism and stifle democracy.” Read more of that here. WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog has an interesting table of African leaders invited to attend the summit, sorted by their country’s most recent Polity IV scores, which characterize how democratic or autocratic a state is.

These remnants of the old guard, of course, brought their first ladies with them.How can we ignore them? Here are the six members of that thankfully, shrinking club:

Mrs. Chantal Biya
President Paul Biya has been President of the Republic of Cameroon since 1982

32 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Paul Biya, President of the Republic of Cameroon, and Mrs. Chantal Biya, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

The second wife of President Paul Biya of Cameroon has a fashion style that refused to be ignored. Her pink gown and headdress are enchanting, we dare you to look away. She has a community fan page on Facebook that has more colors than an HTML color chart. Check her out here in 1994 when she married President Paul Biya.  How things have changed.  Her hair now makes news when she comes to town and it even has its very own Tumblr page at http://chantalbiyahair.tumblr.com.  In 2011, PEN USA ran a campaign to protest the imprisonment of author, Bertrand Teyou who wrote the book, La belle de la république bananière: Chantal Biya, de la rue au palais (The belle of the banana republic: Chantal Biya, from the streets to the palace). He was sentenced to a two-year imprisonment for ‘insulting’ the president’s wife.

This couple has been married for 20 years but her husband has been president of Cameroon for much longer; since 1982, so 32 years to be exact. Gosh, remember 1982?  The Falklands War, Menachem Begin & Anwar Sadat in Washington DC.; also ABBA’s final public performance? In any case, she’s here in awesome pinkness. The world has not seen such flamboyance since Imelda Marcos made a splash.

 Mrs. Hinda Deby Itno

Idriss Deby Itno has been the President of the Republic of Chad since  1990

24 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Idriss Deby Itno, President of the Republic of Chad, and Mrs. Hinda Deby Itno, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

 WaPo called the current Mrs. Deby, “the “fourth lady” of Chad or the 13th, depending on whom you ask.” She married President Deby in mid-2000s and “captivated the capital in a way unseen before in this male-dominated society.”Educated in Morocco, France and a college in Montreal, she was reportedly friendly with Brahim, Deby’s son, who “dabbled in college courses.” That’s the presidential son who was killed in Paris in 2007. If this president remains in power until 2019, he’d be in office for 29 years, her age when they got married. Under Deby’s leadership, Chad has been persistently ranked as one of the world’s most poverty-stricken countries, despite abundant natural reserves of oil, uranium and gold according to CBS News.  Mrs. Deby is reportedly known for being well-spoken and for her flowing designer gowns and matching head scarves. Meet the First Lady of Chad in her gorgeous gold and electric blue gown.

 

 Mrs. Constancia Mangue de Obiang

Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in office since 1979

35 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, and First Lady Constancia Mangue de Obiang, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

Who’s Africa’s worst dictator? Probably not Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe but Equatorial Guinea’s very own “whose life seems a parody of the dictator genre,” according to Peter Maass. He is as much as a “nightmare” as Robert Mugabe, except that his country has oil, lots of oil, and ExxonMobil, Marathon Oil, Chevron, and other firms have apparently invested more than $10 billion to extract the black gold. Read his page on CBS’ The World’s Enduring Dictators, he’s a real cupcake. Mrs. Obiang was born in 1952 in the town of Angong, near Mongomo, and according to this, she studied in the school run by nuns in Bata. She was reportedly a graduate of the Martin Luther King University School of Teacher Training. Last year, she was proclaimed “the epitome of perfection”, and “Mother Africa” by a New York-based group. She attended the WH dinner in an embroidered blue caftan.

Chantal Compaoré

Blaise Compaoré has been President of Burkina Faso since 1987

27 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Blaise Compaoré, President of Burkina Faso, and Mrs. Chantal Compaoré, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

CBS describes President Compaoré as a graduate of Muammar Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (a.k.a. Harvard for tyrants).  His country has an unemployment rate of 77 percent (ranked 197th in the world.) Wow! Who’s been editing Mrs.Compaoré’s Wikipedia page? The couple has been married since 1985, so way before that October 1987 coup d’état that killed his predecessor.  Mrs Compaoré attended the WH dinner in her lemon and gold caftan.

Queen Inkhosikati La Mbikiza

King Mswati III has been the leader of Swaziland since 1986

28 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Majesty King Mswati III, Kingdom of Swaziland, and Her Royal Highness Queen Inkhosikati La Mbikiza, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

In 2011, The Times of India reported: “King Mswati III has a Rolls Royce, 13 palaces and 14 wives, and just received a pay increase, even as a cash crisis forced Swaziland to slash spending, feeding anger against his regime.”The World’s Enduring Dictators notes that “His most heinous act appears to be living an opulent lifestyle “fit for a king” while his country languishes in extreme poverty.”According to BBC News, Queen Inkhosikati La-Mbikiza, is the king’s third wife and was chosen at a reed dance where apparently, no one can object to the king’s choice.That BBC News story and this apple green-black ensemble made us weep.

Mrs. Zineb Jammeh

Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh has been the President of the Republic of The Gambia since 1994

20 years

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President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet His Excellency Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia, and Mrs. Zineb Jammeh, in the Blue Room during a U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit dinner at the White House, Aug. 5, 2014. [Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon]

President Yahya Jammeh took control of the country in a military coup in 1994 and has won four re-elections since then. According to her official profile, Mrs. Jammeh was born in Rabat, Morocco in 1977 to Ambassador Soumah, “a well respected career diplomat from the distinguished Guinean Soumah family and Mrs. Soumah who hails from Morocco.” Next year, President Jammeh will be in power for 21 years, Mrs. Jammeh’s  age when they got married.  Her profile says: “Madam Jammeh who holds a Diploma in International Systems and Management is currently involved in an extremely busy career as the Gambia’s beloved First Lady.” Mrs. Jammeh attended the WH dinner in her very understated long, blue dress, overshadowed by her husband’s sparkling white kaftan. We understand that those kaftans had to be “waxed and beaten with wooden mallets to create a stiff shiny cloth” before such clothing can be born.

See the rest of the photos from the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit White House dinner here.

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US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members

– Domani Spero

According to news reports, as many as a hundred people may have been killed and hundreds wounded in Ukraine’s latest clashes.  On February 20, the State Department replaced its Travel Alert for Ukraine with a new Travel Warning for U.S. citizens to defer travel to the country in light of escalating violence.  It also announced the authorized departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine due to the ongoing political unrest and violent clashes between police and protestors.  U.S. citizens in Ukraine, and those considering travel to Ukraine, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of the escalating violence, particularly in Kyiv.  This replaces the Travel Alert for Ukraine dated February 18, 2014.  On February 20, 2014, the Department of State authorized the departure of all family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine.  While the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv’s Consular Section is open for public services, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving U.S. citizens throughout Ukraine is limited.

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Ukraine to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in the capital city of Kyiv.  Since February 18, there has been a sharp escalation in violence between protestors and police, resulting in multiple deaths and hundreds of injuries.  The Ukrainian Security Services announced that they may use “extraordinary measures” to remove protestors from occupied areas.  Protestors remain in Kyiv’s Independence Square and have occupied several government buildings in Kyiv and other cities throughout Ukraine.  Groups of young men, popularly called “titushky,” have attacked journalists and protestors and committed other random acts of violence in Kyiv and other cities.  Since February 19, the use of gunfire against protestors and journalists has been reported.

Ground transportation is currently disrupted in Kyiv and some other parts of the country.  Since February 18, local authorities have shut down the Kyiv Metro (subway) for extended periods and cancelled inter-city trains on some routes with little or no notice.  Ukrainian authorities have set up roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads entering Kyiv and adjacent to protest areas.  Commercial flights to and from Ukraine are currently operating normally.

Read in full here.

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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.
[...]
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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US Embassy Colombo Tweets Photo, Protesters Show Up

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– Domani Spero

On January 12, The US Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka released a statement about US Ambassador at-Large for War Crimes Stephan J. Rapp’s visit to the country:

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp visited Sri Lanka from January 6-11 to meet with government and political leaders, civil society, and to tour former conflict zones.  He heard about the progress made since the conflict, but also the Sri Lankan people’s continuing desire for reconciliation, justice and accountability.

During Ambassador Rapp’s discussions, he listened to eyewitness accounts about serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including those that occurred at the end of the war. In that context the government of the United States encourages the government of Sri Lanka to seek the truth through independent and credible investigations, and where relevant, have prosecutions.

Below is the photo that the Embassy Colombo tweeted of  Ambassador Rapp  with US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Michele Sison visiting St. Anthony’s ground near Putumatalan last week.  We hope we won’t hear this week that this is a “rogue” tweet.

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Ambassador Sisson and Stephan J. Rapp, US Ambassador at-Large for War Crimes, at St. Anthony’s ground near Putumatalan in Puthukkudiyirippu, northern Sri Lanka

The photo above is reportedly the site where the Sri Lankan army killed hundreds of families towards the end of the civil war in 2009. Last Thursday, protesters in Colombo marched to the U.S. Embassy. Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof.G.L.Peiris had also protested over the “unconventional news leads.”

Read more Fury in Sri Lanka at US Embassy Tweet on Killing of Tamils via NYT. From 2009, via CSM – How will Sri Lanka reconcile after a bitter war?

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Snapshot: U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance to the Philippines

Via USAID – @theOFDA as of November 18, 2013:

Screen Shot 2013-11-20

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Philippine Super Typhoon Disaster – USG Assistance, Welfare/Whereabouts, Donation Information

– Domani Spero

Via the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):  “Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda) made its first landfall in the early morning of 8 November in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province with maximum sustained winds of 235 km/h and wind gusts at 275 km/h. Haiyan made subsequent landfalls in Tolosa south of Tacloban City, Leyte province, Daanbantayan and Bantayan Island, Cebu province, Conception, Iloilo province and Busuanga, Palawan province. Communication and power lines are down in the most affected areas. Access has been limited due to damaged roads, fallen trees and debris which continue to hamper the humanitarian relief operations. On 9 November, the Government accepted the UN offer of international assistance. The Humanitarian Country Team and the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team were deployed to Tacloban City and Iloilo City to support rapid needs assessment, support coordination and re-establish communication networks.”

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Image from OCHA

The Philippines is a country with over 7,000 islands, and a population of over 98 million. The fear that the number of casualties will grow as affected areas are able to re-establish communication with the mainland is justified.

According to the State Department there are an estimated four million Americans of Philippine ancestry in the United States, and more than 300,000 U.S. citizens residing in the Philippines.  An estimated 600,000 Americans also visit the Philippines each year. As of FY2012, our bilateral trade with the Philippines fast-growing economy was $17 billion.  Until early 1990s, the Philippines hosted U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay and Clark Air Base in the Luzon island.

On November 11, Secretary Kerry released the following statement (excerpt):

As we commemorate Veterans Day here at home, the State Department is working with Team Rubicon to deploy a team of incredible, courageous American veterans to the Philippines and all the areas damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Just as they did after Hurricane Sandy, these veterans will be using the skills they learned in uniform to help others recover from this terrible storm.

The State Department also is cooperating with the Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund established by The mGive Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit organization, to coordinate donations via mobile phones to benefit victims of the typhoon.

I want to assure the people of the Philippines and the many Americans of Filipino heritage that we are working as hard as possible to provide essential assistance to help the Philippine people and their government recover from this tragedy.

On the same day, the Pentagon announced that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) and other U.S. Navy ships to make best speed for the Republic of the Philippines. They are expected to be on station within 48-72 hours. These ships and aircraft will be able to provide humanitarian assistance, supplies, and medical care in support of the ongoing efforts in the Philippines.

The aircraft carrier, which carries 5,000 Sailors and more than 80 aircraft, is currently in Hong Kong for a port visit. The crew is being recalled early from shore leave and the ship is expected to be underway later this evening.

In company with the carrier will be the cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Cowpens (CG 63), and the destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89). The supply ship USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE-10) is already underway and will rendezvous with the group as they get closer. USS Lassen (DDG 82) got underway yesterday for the region. Embarked on board USS George Washington, is Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5).

CVW-5 is a collection of aircraft designed to perform various functions including disaster relief and includes the “Golden Falcons” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 flying the MH-60S Seahawk; and the “Saberhawks” of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 77 flying the MH-60R Seahawk.

Active links added above.  Also on November 11, USAID announced a $20 million humanitarian assistance to the Philippines:

In response to the storm, the United States Government announced today $20 million in humanitarian assistance, including emergency food aid and critical relief supplies–like shelter materials and hygiene kits–for disaster-affected areas. These supplies will not only provide life-saving care in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but will also help prevent illness and death from waterborne and communicable diseases. A shipment is already on its way with enough plastic sheeting, soap, toothbrushes, toilet paper, and sanitary supplies to help 10,000 families. Another shipment of the same size will follow closely behind. We are also sending 55 metric tons of food, including highly nutritious bars and paste–containing a day’s worth of calories–to nourish approximately 20,000 children and 15,000 adults for roughly 4 to 5 days.

To read more about the USG assistance, click here.

Welfare and Whereabouts of U.S. Citizens in the Philippines

If you are concerned about the welfare or whereabouts of an American citizen in the Philippines, here are some useful contact numbers:

If you are in the United States, you may call the Department of State’s Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) toll-free hotline at (888) 407-4747 during the hours 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday.  The Department of State has activated the Typhoon Haiyan Response Call Center to handle inquiries about US citizens who may be present in the Philippines. You may contact the Call Center at 888-407-4747 if calling from within the U.S. or 202-501-4444 if calling from any other location.

At all other times, call the duty officer twenty-four hours a day at 202-647-4000.

Google has also put together a Google Crisis Response Yolanda  including a Person Finder and mapping urgent needs by category via MicroMappers:

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Donation Information (per state.gov)

U.S. wireless subscribers can text AID to 80108 to give a $10 donation to the mGive Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund.

Donations will be collected from the U.S. wireless carriers by the mGive Foundation, a 501c3 public charity that empowers text donation campaigns across 60 U.S. wireless carriers–providing access to 99 percent of all mobile phone users. Donations made to mGive will be distributed to relief organizations supporting Philippine Typhoon response and recovery. For more information visit, www.mgive.org.

The $10 donation will go to The mGive Foundation’s Philippines Typhoon Disaster Relief Fund. Charges will appear on the donor’s wireless bill or be deducted from the prepaid balance. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. Donors must be 18 years of age or have parental permission to participate.

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Senate Confirms Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. for Indonesia

– Domani Spero

 

On November 5, 2013, the U.S. Senate confirmed by unanimous vote Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr. as the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Indonesia.

President Obama announced Ambassador Blake’s nomination on July 30, 2013. At that time, the WH released the following brief bio:

Ambassador Robert Blake, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career-Minister, is Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.  Previously, he served as Ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Republic of Maldives from 2006 to 2009.  Prior to that, Ambassador Blake served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India from 2003 to 2006.  Previous domestic assignments include: Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs from 2001 to 2003, Deputy Executive Secretary from 2000 to 2001, and the Turkey Desk Officer from 1998 to 2000.  Overseas assignments include:  Head of the Political Section at the U.S. Embassy Tunis, Tunisia from 1995 to 1998 and Economic Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers, Algeria from 1993 to 1994.  He received a B.A. from Harvard College and an M.A. from John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and three of his wives pose for a photo in front of Dechencholing Palace, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on April 29, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake, the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuk, and three of his wives pose for a photo in front of Dechencholing Palace, in Thimphu, Bhutan, on April 29, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

 

Ambassador Blake is the son of retired Ambassador Robert O. Blake.  Indonesia will be his second ambassadorial posting.  He succeeds Scot Marciel who became Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary at the EAP Bureau in August 2013, after serving for three years as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Indonesia.

Indonesia is one of those posts in the Foreign Service where very few political appointees dare to go.  In fact, since the 1960, the WH has made 17 ambassadorial appointments to Jakarta. Of those appointments, only one was a political appointee, Paul D. Wolfowitz who served as ambassador there from 1986-1989.

 

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Dear Congress: You Are Not Allowed to Make Fun of Secretary Kerry’s Asia Pivot Shirts

– By Domani Spero

The cancellation of President Obama’s trip to Asia lent to hyperventilating descriptions about the president’s “Asia Pivot” — “falters,” “in shambles,” “goes pffft,” “in jeopardy” and such.

Well, frankly, not sure where that is going. But we could certainly imagine the political hay that would have been expended over POTUS trip to Asia during a government shutdown.

In any case, Secretary Kerry took the trip instead.

Dear Congress, this is what happened to America in Bali, Indonesia.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for a photo before the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Official Dinner in Bali, Indonesia, on October 7, 2013. [State Department photo by William Ng/ Public Domain]

So you’re not allowed to make fun of that shirt or any other shirts, kapish?

We actually think that purple batik suits him well.  Had they asked him to put on a gray one, he would have worn it too, even if he would have looked wash out in it.  Because he’s our top diplomat. Yes, diplomats are known to wear (and eat) things that their compatriots often find strange or weird. (See Round-Up: Headgears in the Foreign Service).

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, dressed in a traditional batik shirt, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before the two join other heads of delegation for a family photo before the APEC Leaders Dinner on October 7, 2013. in Bali, Indonesia. [State Department photo / Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and fellow foreign ministers, all clad in batik shirts favored in Brunei, enter a gala dinner at the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses with other regional heads of state and leaders of delegation before the start of a dinner and cultural program at the ASEAN Summit meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, on October 9, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

These are way tamer in comparison to what President Bush had to wear during his tenure.

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Nari caused the cancellation of Secretary Kerry’s trip to the Philippines, so we are missing Secretary Kerry wearing the country’s famous Barong Tagalog.

Anyhow, we understand that Australia continues to host annual six-month training deployments of US Marines to its base in the Northern Territory. Australia’s Courier News reports today that Prime Minister Tony Abbott has promised the necessary infrastructure will be put in place to accommodate the expected presence of a 1000 U.S. Marines set to train there next year. The government is preparing to construct additional accommodations at two bases in Darwin.

So there’s that.

Then we heard that we are helping the Philippines develop Oyster Bay, a postcard-perfect cove on Palawan Island into a port for naval frigates and eventually for American warships?  All, of course, overlooking the disputed South China Sea.  But given all that’s happening in Washington, D.C….

No wonder Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the later’s 61st birthday “quaffing vodka and wolfing down cake”:

“It was 11:00 pm. I offered our Chinese friends to raise a shot of vodka,” Mr Putin said, according to Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS.

“They did not refuse, so we did just that.” As for the cake: “We wolfed it down successfully”. Needless to say, Mr Putin described his meeting with Mr Xi as “very warm” and “friendly”.

We can’t say if Secretary Kerry was in attendance for that “quaffing” and “wolfing” event.

Meanwhile, back in Foggy Bottom:  The East Asia Pacific bureau has six deputy assistant secretaries, twice as many as in 2004, and a deputy assistant secretary-level U.S. senior official for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. State/OIG reports that “the bureau needs to streamline front office staffing” — top heavy structure for the second smallest regional bureau in the house needs fixing.  Why? Because as in other bureaus, “the proliferation of DASes has diminished the role of office directors and reduced responsibility at every level.” Also this:

The administration’s rebalance toward Asia has not been matched by additional financial or human resources. A Congressional Research Service memorandum notes that “[new] initiatives have not, however, been accompanied by a significant increase in the State Department or USAID’s programmatic resources devoted to East Asia.” Foreign assistance to the region in FY 2013 is 19 percent below the FY 2010 peak. U.S. military resources for the region have increased, but sequestration may impact future plans.

Folks, somewhere, some heads of state are laughing their heads off.

👀

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