New #Burundi Travel Warning, Non-Emergency US Embassy Staff & Family Members Now on Ordered Departure

Posted: 9:46 pm  PDT

 

We posted this earlier today: US Embassy Burundi: Amidst Coup Attempt, No Movement of Personnel Until Further Notice. Sometime in the last 24 hours, the State Department must have decided to place the US Embassy in Bujumbura on “ordered departure.” A new Travel Warning was released today. Non-emegency personnel and family members are also ordered to depart the country.   Ordered Departure is initiated in extraordinary circumstances when the embassy is no longer confident of the security of its personnel and families. Once the Under Secretary of State for Management (“M”) approves the evacuation status for post—either authorized or ordered—the 180-day clock “begins ticking” (by law, an evacuation cannot last longer than 180 days).

The State Department also recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart “as soon as it is feasible to do so.”   Meanwhile, the game of continues, and there are still conflicting reports on social media regarding the operating status of the Bujumbura airport.

by-map bujumbura

Below is an excerpt from the new Travel Warning dated May 14:

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to Burundi and recommends that U.S. citizens currently in Burundi depart as soon as it is feasible to do so.  As a result of the deteriorating security situation, the Department of State ordered the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel and non-emergency U.S. government personnel from Burundi on May 14.  The U.S. Embassy is able to offer only very limited emergency services to U.S. citizens in Burundi.  This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning issued on May 11, 2015.

The security situation remains fluid and volatile because of military and security forces activity in Bujumbura.  There have been increased political tensions and civil disturbances related to these actions.  Airport and land borders are reportedly closed.  U.S. citizens should shelter in place until it is safe to move about, ensure that your travel documents are up-to-date, and confirm that air and land borders are open before attempting to depart the country.

The terrorist organization al-Shabaab, based in Somalia, has threatened to conduct terror attacks in Burundi.  It may also target U.S. interests in Burundi.  Political violence persists throughout Burundi, a carryover of the Burundian civil war. Armed groups operate in Burundi.  Weapons are easy to obtain and some ex-combatants have turned to crime or political violence.  Crime, often committed by groups of armed bandits or street children, poses the highest risk for foreign visitors.  Exchanges of gunfire and grenade attacks have increased but are usually not directed at foreigners.  If you encounter such a situation, stay indoors in a ground floor interior room away from doors and windows.  Common crimes include muggings, burglaries, and robberies.  U.S. government personnel are prohibited from walking on the streets after dark and from using local public transportation at any time.  Local authorities in any part of Burundi are often unable to provide timely assistance during an emergency.

Demonstrations, gatherings, and even sporting events that are intended to be peaceful can turn violent without advance warning.  For this reason, U.S. citizens should routinely monitor local media sources and the Internet for reports of demonstrations and unrest, and avoid political rallies, demonstrations, and crowds of any kind.

Travel outside the capital, Bujumbura, presents significant risks, especially after nightfall.  Note the U.S. embassy limits and monitors the travel of its personnel in Burundi.  All movement by embassy employees outside the city from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is prohibited.  Likewise, U.S. citizens should not travel on national highways from dusk to dawn.  Armed criminals ambush vehicles, particularly on the roads leading out of Bujumbura.  Keep vehicle doors locked and windows up when stopped in heavy traffic.

Corruption is endemic in Burundi and contributes to an environment where the rule of law is not respected.  Government officials may ask for bribes for providing routine services.  Travelers are frequently stopped, questioned, and asked for bribes by security forces at numerous official and unofficial roadblocks throughout the country.  Likewise, criminals who have paid off local officials may operate with impunity.

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AFSA Elections: What’s Missing This Campaign Season? Fire, Ice and Some Spirited Debates, Please

Posted: 2:20 am  EDT

 

Retired SFSO David T. Jones, in the aftermath of a highly contentious 2009 election,  wrote that “AFSA’s elections must return to diplomatic civility rather than channeling canines contending over hunks of meat.”

The 2011 election was tamed and supervised by the Department of Labor. The 2013 election was underwhelming with most positions uncontested. The 2015 election by contrast has two full slates with fairly recognizable candidates. But one only has to watch a couple of town halls meetings to recognize that this is the most polite campaign to-date.  As if they were afraid to offend each other by asking real questions.

There are three candidates running for President of AFSA: Barbara Stephenson (Strong Diplomacy), Matthew Asada (Future Forward AFSA) and Tex Harris (no slate). Odd thing here is that Mr. Harris while running for president has also endorsed Mr. Asada.

On the May 6 campaign message, Ambassador Stephenson says this:

This election season, voters have a clear choice. If you are satisfied with what AFSA has been achieving for you, then there are two presidential candidates who represent that tradition. If, however, you want to see senior, experienced leaders and managers known for their interpersonal and negotiation skills work to achieve a more strategic set of outcomes, then please vote for the entire Strong Diplomacy slate.

Mr. Asada’s May 6 campaign message says:

Future Forward AFSA is running to ensure that AFSA remains an independent voice for the Foreign Service. Employees need an advocate that can collaborate with management to get things done, and challenge it when it strikes out in the wrong direction. AFSA was the first to sound the alarm about this bidding cycle’s “100 job deficit”.

Well, who else is supposed to sound the alarm, if not AFSA?

A SFSO deeply active in AFSA speaking on background says that he/she agrees that “there should not be personal attacks of any kind” but that there ought to be “a robust and spirited debates on the issues!” Candidates should be free to critique the current Board’s record, this AFSA fella told us, but that they should also elaborate what they would do differently.  Which seems fair enough.  If AFSA has set up an election forum, that should be put to excellent use in the last few weeks of this campaign.

We must say that it has not always been easy to get answers from AFSA in the last two years.  There are a few pet peeves we’d like to throw in because we never got a satisfying response.

Indefinite Senate “Hold” on Rank and File Nominations

We remain concerned about the genesis of the Senate “hold” on ordinary non-ambassadorial ranked members of the Foreign Service. The hold has air quotes because our understanding is that some nominations are actually not officially put in for consideration but is in what we’d call “confirmation purgatory.”  We have also asked about a few FSOs whose nominations have been stuck in the Senate confirmation process dating back to 2012. An AFSA insider who declined to be identified refers to the “mean-spiritedness” in the confirmation process.  We have asked Mr. Asada directly about the eight nominations awhile back and received no response.  Other folks we’ve asked were advised by AFSA not to talk to us about this.  This is concerning because the blog Dead Men Working has been blogging up a storm about this issue since late last year.  While we do not agree with everything DMW writes, that blog raises some troubling allegations that we think must be addressed.


The jobs, the jobs, shouldn’t we just do an auction every two years?

We understand that the Chief of Mission Guidelines initiative was adopted in part by the Obama Administration and is reportedly now being legislated in part by the Senate’s draft State Authorization bill.  (See AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance”).

There were two things we were hoping to see from AFSA: 1)  work on strengthening the Foreign Service Act of 1980 through Congress, who is after all, tasked to provide “advice and consent”on ambassadorial nominees under the U.S. Constitution, and 2)  work on the reinstatement of the OIG Inspector Evaluation Reports (IERs)  to promote accountability and successful performance of our chiefs of missions overseas.

That did not happen, of course. At the time when this COM Guidelines was being massaged into a sausage, we’ve heard from a good number of AFSA members  asking why this  was “done in the dark” without informing the membership. A couple helpfully suggested that perhaps the USG should just auction off all these jobs every two years given that anyone can do the work.  Well, what do you think about that auction?

AFSA’s Ambassador Statistics

We’ve seen the Obama political ambassador statistics at over 40% thrown about. The ft.com says 41% citing AFSA statistics on ambassadors. Roll Call repeated the number here on political ambassadorships.  We sent a note to AFSA citing the questions on Twitter re: ambo stats, specifically the accuracy of the % cited and if it has any comment. We  never got a response.

Blog pal @Philip Arsenault has done a lot of good work using presidential records to track the ambassadorial appointees going back to the Eisenhower Era.  He was not able to replicate the 41% Obama political ambassadorships attributed to AFSA.  It looks like AFSA counts every International Organization (IO) ambassadors for Obama but has sparse info for every other president. Since IO has the highest number of pol appointees, this could easily skew the numbers for President Obama.  If AFSA is counting IO appointees for the Obama tenure, it should also count the IO appointees for all other presidents.  Fairness requires that.  If it is unable to account for those IO appointees from other presidents, it should ditch the Obama numbers in the counting or  if they have to use to IO data, it must be clearly noted as such.

Also if AFSA is counting CDAs as ambassadors even when those are not Senate confirmed appointees, this could mess up with the numbers.  As an example of this, take a look at AFSA’s list for President Reagan’s ambassadors to Ethiopia from 1982-1991 (Reagan was in office from January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989).  All three — Korn, Cheek, Houdek — are listed as career appointees. They are but there’s a problem.

According to history.state.gov, these diplomats were appointed as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim; they were not nominated by President Reagan, and they were not confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 2.38.18 PM

Screen capture from history.state.gov

Once Philip brought his concern to our attention, we stopped using AFSA’s numbers. As of this writing, the AFSA Ambassador Tracker indicates that President Obama’s political ambassador appointees for the second term is down from the reported 41% to 35.9%, still higher than Philip’s number which is 32.9%. We trust Philip’s data more because when there are questions, he is responsive, when there’s an error, he is quick to fix it. With AFSA, we got nothing but radio silence and we don’t see how we could rely on those numbers until they’re properly scrubbed.

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Wanna Talk About Stuff?

Depending on where you’re sitting, the following could mean something or not, worth a discussion at the election forum or not:

  • AFSA told us, “We do not publish election statistics on the AFSA website, nor do we provide that information to anonymous sources.” Again we’re asking — what legitimate reason is there for the election statistics of the labor union of the United States Foreign Service not to be public record or at the minimum, available to its membership? Shouldn’t AFSA members learn what kind of turnouts they have every election? Wouldn’t drilling down the numbers help with voter engagement?
  • A number of Foreign Service Grievance Board cases are “settled” or withdrawn. We understand that a confidentiality clause governs these cases. But when the Department “settles” these cases, how come the redacted complaint and the terms of the settlement are not made available by AFSA to its members for analysis?
  • Do you know that Department employees who take the CIA’s polygraph examination for detail assignments will have the  results of their polygraph provided to DS and HR for security  clearance and assignment purposes?  A source told us that “In and of itself, it does no  harm if the CIA retains them for its clearance purposes, but it can  have an unanticipated negative impact when indiscriminately released  by the CIA to third parties, like DS and HR, who use them in violation of the CIA’s restrictions to the Department  and assurances to the examinees.”  If this affects only a fraction of the Foreign Service, is that an excuse not to do anything about it, or at a minimum, provide an alert to employees contemplating these detail assignments?
  • An elected AFSA representative participated in the Brussels Forum of the German Marshall Fund in 2014. An AFSA member asked this blog why? The Brussels Forum is an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders to address pressing challenges currently facing both sides of the Atlantic. Participants include heads of state, senior officials from the European Union institutions and the member states, U.S. Cabinet officials, Congressional representatives, Parliamentarians, academics, and media. We think the “why” question is a fair and legitimate question unless non-union fees were used for this participation.  Folks, stop sending us these “why” questions here. Every elected representative at AFSA should be willing and available to answer the why questions.
  • Assignments are typically handed out a year before folks have their rotation/change of station. What’s this we’re hearing about 300 unassigned Foreign Service employees  at the end of April? What’s being done about it?


Okay, there’s an indifferent Foreign Service majority but …

Mr. Jones wrote that very few AFSA members vote in Governing Board elections … “The essential conclusion must be that AFSA members regard the effect on their lives as so ancillary and/or the consequences from AFSA efforts so ineffectual that voting was not worth the few minutes to review candidates/platforms (or the cost of postage to return the ballot).”

Or email ballot.

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: What these elections show is that even if only 22% of the membership cast their ballots every two years, AFSA still operates as the professional association and recognized labor union of 100% of its Foreign Service members. In essence, the priorities of 1/5 of its membership, the minority who actually votes, becomes the priorities for all, including the majority who doesn’t.

Think about that. Even if a large number of members opt out by not voting, AFSA still functions on the Foreign Service’s behalf. Shouldn’t FS members at least make an effort to pick who gets to represent them?

We are paying attention to this election but for the record, we do not vote; we just sit on the wall and watch.  We do have two wishes.   There are already rumors that this could potentially be another contested election. So first, we really hope that the candidates do not go there. Following the 2009 election, the AFSA election turn out dipped dangerously down to 17%. Another contested election could potentially turn off the already small number of voters.  And if that happens, we would not blame them at all.

Second, we hope that whoever gets elected as the next Governing Board would endeavor to be more open and responsive to questions.  Even if those questions occasionally come from unusual quarters like ours.

The end.

Note: Please note that the comments section is purposely disabled for this blogpost. We hope AFSA provides an election forum for the members interested on the issues. If not, check out Strong Diplomacy and Future Forward AFSA, Ask questions. Start a discussion. Be ever present. Vote. Then get your friends to vote.

 

Related posts:

 

Marco Rubio Borrows Liam Neeson’s Strategery — Hunt, Find, Kill. Rinse and Repeat ∞

Posted: 11:24 pm EDT

 

We could not stop watching this gem.  We would like to suggest that the good senator hire a dramatic coach. His tone is just not/not menacing enough. And the delivery is lacking some … some real  habanero.   We tried to imagine this on a SOTU address and it’s just … no, can’t do.  Frankly, we don’t scare easily. And if he can’t scare us enough, how will he scare the living daylights out of global jihadists and terrorists? Attention @FearDept, more help over there!

 

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AFSA Election Gets Weird But Why You Still Need to Rock The Vote

Posted: 11:36 am EDT
Updated: 8:43 pm EDT
Updated: May 8, 10:57 am PST

 

This is part 1 of a series of posts we hope to do during this election cycle.  The 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board elections are currently underway.  The AFSA Governing Board Election Campaign Messages were sent out on April 14.  AFSA’s election page says that the ballots and candidate statements were mailed on April 15, 2015. The ballots will be counted on June 4.  AFSA members (numbering over 16,000) have over six weeks just four weeks now to cast their ballots.

Below is a breakdown of AFSA members by constituency (dark blue) against total FS numbers (red). The dark blue shade in the pie charts constitute AFSA members.  The light blue are the members of the FS who are not union members. So for example, there are 13,984 active FS (State) personnel of which 10,664 are voting members of AFSA. If we add all the top numbers in dark blue, the numbers would total 16,207 AFSA members against the FS population of 32,012. A significant number of retirees are non-members of AFSA.

via AFSA 2014 Annual Report

via AFSA 2014 Annual Report (click image to see larger view)

 

So we went and looked at AFSA’s ballots page three days ago and we saw the following notice which left us scratching our head. AFSA members are notoriously hard to round up when it comes to casting their ballots. If there is already low turnout when paper ballots are mailed, how much lower can it potentially get if you leave it to members to request their ballots?  So we sent AFSA’s election committee an email asking if members, as the “click here to get your ballot” sign indicates, had to request their ballots before they get sent one.

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May 3, 2015 3:41 PM (click for larger view)

 

On May 6th, we heard back from AFSA:

The information you may have received is incorrect so I am happy to help clarify. Members do not have to request a ballot in order to participate. Online voting instructions were mailed to all voting members of AFSA for whom we have a valid email address on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. Retirees were mailed a printed ballot in addition to the online voting instructions and may select the most convenient voting method. Members may request a replacement ballot by “clicking here” on the AFSA website. In order to vote members needed to be members in good-standing by March 16th.

In 2012, AFSA membership approved the bylaw referendum to allow for introduction of “online ballots” and we amended our bylaws correspondingly. AFSA moved to a hybrid (both paper and online voting) Governing Board election in 2013 to increase voter turnout, which in the event was the result. In 2015, the Committee on Elections decided to mail all retirees printed ballots, in addition to the online voting option, in order to increase the effort of encouraging voter participation. AFSA does not have email addresses for all retirees, as some of our retired members simply do not have email addresses. All members, who have not yet voted, receive periodic reminders to cast their ballots. The AFSA Committee on Elections and the current AFSA Governing Board are committed to increasing voter participation.

For additional information on the 2015-2017 AFSA Governing Board and Bylaw Amendment elections, please visit the AFSA elections page.

So two things from this response:

1) Active Foreign Service members were not mailed printed ballots but only provided online voting instructions. “Online voting instructions were mailed to all voting members of AFSA for whom we have a valid email address on Wednesday, April 15, 2015″

2) Retired Foreign Service members were mailed both printed ballots and instructions for online voting: “Retirees were mailed a printed ballot in addition to the online voting instructions and may select the most convenient voting method.”

Bonus point:  AFSA’s click here to get your ballot” notice has now been updated to say “when requesting a replacement electronic or printed ballot.”

“The information you may have received is incorrect …” does not cut it when there is a screen capture of what was actually posted online.  AFSA makes no claim that the notice was inadvertently done or a mistake, it simply changed it quietly and did not respond to our follow-up questions on this specific subject.

UPDATE: AFSA sent us a confirmation on #1 and #2 above and added this:

The AFSA staff added the word “replacement” to the website on Monday or Tuesday to reduce any confusion on behalf of visitors to the site who wonder, as you did, if they could vote. There was no change to the email address provided, only an attempt to clarify the voting eligibility. Those that contact the Committee on Elections at election@afsa.org are carefully vetted to ensure they were members in good standing by March 16th as indicated in the elections webpage)… 

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May 6, 2015 8:15 PM (click for larger view)

AFSA also said that “In 2015, the Committee on Elections decided to mail all retirees printed ballots, in addition to the online voting option, in order to increase the effort of encouraging voter participation.”

Hookay, Let’s Talk Voter Turnout

In 2009, AFSA had 13,905 dues-paying members and 23.91% of the membership voted.  Here’s a recap from our blogpost on the 2009 AFSA election:

Active-duty State employees are the largest voting bloc in AFSA at 63.3% of the total membership. In this election, State employees account for 1,459 of the total votes or 43% of the votes counted. However, 1,459 votes out of approximately 8,801 due-paying members amount to only 16.57% of this constituency. In short – only slightly more than 15% of active-duty State AFSA members sent in their votes.

Retirees are the second largest constituents of AFSA at 26.4% of the total membership. In this election, AFSA retirees account for 1,568 of the total votes or 47% of the votes counted. However, 1,568 retiree votes out of approximately 3,670 dues-paying retiree members amount to 42% of this constituency. In short – almost half the total AFSA retiree members sent in their votes.

Also read this: AFSA: Why Some Game Changers Are Needed Sooner Not Later

In the 2011 election,  the AFSA website indicates dues-paying members of over 15,000.   Only about 17% of the members voted in that 2011 DOL-OLMS-supervised election.  

In 2013 about 22% of AFSA members cast their ballots. Most candidates ran unopposed. The top two candidates for State Vice President were separated by a mere 97 votes.

We’ve asked AFSA for election stats in the last four AFSA elections: 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 but we have not heard anything back. We only have the breakdown of the election turnouts by constituency in the 2009 election. Retired SFSO David Jones who did an autopsy of the 2009 election did write that the turn out for the 2007 election was 20%.

So the 2009 election had the highest turn out in the last four AFSA elections.  In that contested election, 16.57% of active duty FS members voted while 42% of retired FS members voted.

UPDATE:  With regards to the election stats, AFSA told us, “We do not publish election statistics on the AFSA website, nor do we provide that information to anonymous sources.” 

Whoopsie!  Hey, quit laughing over there. This is rather laughable. Because … why not? What legitimate reason is there for the election statistics not to be public record? Shouldn’t AFSA membership learn what kind of turnouts they have every election? Wouldn’t drilling down the numbers help with voter engagement?  Maybe we should sign-up again for membership just so we can ask for it?

You Go, Rock the Vote!

Unless the voting trend had significantly changed in the 2011 and 2013 elections, retired FS members actually vote in larger numbers than active duty FS members. Since AFSA wants to improve voter participation, wouldn’t it make more sense to give active FS members both paper and electronic voting options  just like retired members? Afterall, over 80% of active FS members do not vote in these elections.

Mr. Jones wrote of the retiree voting bloc: “AFSA remains a bifurcated organization.  It is hardly a harbinger for effective action as an exclusive bargaining agent when Retirees vote more heavily than active duty personnel.  That some of our “best and brightest” are so indifferent says more about AFSA than about the FS community.”

This is not to say that retirees should not have a voice in the direction of the organization or that AFSA should not seek to improve voter participation.

Yes, we sound like a broken record but  —  the active members of the Foreign Service, as the largest voting bloc and as the folks who have been repeatedly deployed to warzones, hardship/unaccompanied and dangerous assignments in the last decade, and who will continue to deploy to increasingly challenging assignments in the years ahead — they need to have their voices heard in a stronger collective voice.  And – they won’t have their voices heard unless the active Foreign Service members, participate in greater number in the process of picking their own representatives.

So we are urging active FS members who read this blog to not just vote, but vote and commit to improving voter participation this election cycle.  Fill out and mail your ballot, then reach out to two colleagues to remind them to fill out and cast their ballots.

What these elections show is that even if only 22% of the membership cast their ballots every two years, AFSA still operates as the professional association and recognized labor union of 100% of its Foreign Service members. In essence, the priorities of 1/5 of its membership, the minority who actually votes, becomes the priorities for all, including the majority who doesn’t.

Next:  A Most Polite Campaign, and The Questions  Not Asked  … or something like that.

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Related posts:

What About American Ambassadors? The Next President Will Not Nominate a Super PAC as Ambassador

Posted: 1:53 am EDT

 

The 2016 presidential election is some 18 months away. Some folks who are hoping to land a gig at some of our European embassies are expecting to get busy just about now. About 2/3 of all ambassadorial appointments will go to career diplomats but about a third will still go to top supporters of the winning candidate, most of them heavy lifters when it comes to rounding up funds to help get their candidate elected.  That’s not going to end anytime soon. See list of Obama Bundlers via OpenSecrets. Click here for Obama’s ambassadors during his first term, click here for the current appointees.  Click here for George W. Bush’s Pioneer Fundraisers who got similar appointments.  @PhilipArsenault has the breakdown of appointments for both presidents, both terms here.

In any case — apparently, the not quite so rich has a new lament this election cycle. “Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?” One fundraiser interviewed on WaPo says“Bundlers felt they were part of the process and made a difference, and therefore were delighted to participate. But when you look at super-PAC money and the large donations that we’re seeing, the regular bundlers feel a little disenfranchised.” All that money is moving the ground under their feet, and disrupting the status of the new incarnation of rangers, pioneers, and bundlers.

It is highly unlikely that the next President of the United States will appoint Super-PACs as ambassadors to Paris, London, Madrid or Brussels, etc.. So folks, calm down! While waiting for the call, folks should gear up learning about what American ambassadors do.  Oh, interested individuals also need to figure out which posts to avoid for various reasons.  It could be that the official ambassador residence is too small, or smaller than the house the appointee is accustomed to, or too old, or needs a new roof, or new paint, or new floors, or has bad toilets (and new appointee ends up supervising repairs and all that).  So put that on the to-do list but for now, an excellent book to read is Ambassador Dennis C. Jett’s book, American Ambassadors, The Past, Present and Future of American Diplomats, because it’s delightful and informative and everyone should know what he/she is getting into.  Also mark your calendars; the author will be giving a talk on the book at AFSA on June 11th from 2:00 to 3:30 pm.  Many thanks to Ambassador Jett and Palgrave Macmillan’s Claire Smith for permission to share an excerpt from the book with our readers.

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Dennis C. Jett, American Ambassadors, Published 2014. Copyright© Dennis C. Jett, 2014 [First Published in 2014 by Palgrave Macmillan ®] reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26

 

On the face of it, the first ambassador for whom I worked seemed perfect for the job. If the director of a movie called up central casting and told them to send over actors to audition for a role as an ambassador, he would have been a shoo-in for the part. He had, in fact, been an actor, costarring in movies with Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple. He had also been a successful politician, elected to Congress twice and as governor of Connecticut. The Connecticut Turnpike is named after him.

He came from a wealthy and illustrious lineage—his family included a senator, an admiral, and another ambassador. They could trace their roots back to the pilgrims. Tall, handsome, and silver-haired, he was fluent in several languages. According to one expert on style, he was “one of the most polished gentlemen in America” for more than half a century. He was also named ambassador three times by three different presidents. In referring to him, a journalist once wrote: “If the United States could be represented around the world the way it is represented in Argentina, it would be loved by the peoples of all nations.”

In reality, the ambassador was a disaster—and a dangerous one at that. Although he seemed to some to be the perfect diplomat, those who knew him better considered him, in effect, a threat to national security. The reason for such a divergence of opinion is that there is more to being an ambassador than simply glitz and glamour.

And when it came to John Davis Lodge, there was little else.

I did not know all of that when I was assigned to Buenos Aires as my first diplomatic posting. In early 1973, I had only been in the Foreign Service for a few weeks. All newly minted Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) are introduced to the State Department through a six-week course, a kind of boot camp for bureaucrats. There the raw recruits get basic training about the government they are to represent. Toward the end of the course, the fledgling FSOs are given a list of all the postings in the world that are available for their first tour of duty. They have to decide on their preferences and then hope that the personnel system answers their prayers.

Having grown up and been educated mainly in New Mexico, where the Hispanic and Native American cultures had an influence on even a transplanted Northeasterner like me, I decided Latin America would be my first choice. Because Argentina seemed the most exotic of the possibilities in the southern hemisphere, that country was at the top of my list. As luck would have it, none of my peers ranked it as high, so the job was mine. But first I had to take additional training, including learning Spanish.

It was then that I came across an article in the Washington Post about Lodge written by Lewis Diuguid, the paper’s Latin American correspondent. In essence, the article said that Lodge was all style and no substance; dinners at the elegant ambassadorial residence inevitably dissolved into songfests, with Lodge belting out his favorite tunes from Broadway shows. The article claimed that Lodge kept four staff members in the embassy’s information section engaged full time in trying to get the local press to run photos and articles about his latest social activities.

Diuguid implied that Lodge’s desire to appear in the newspapers did not extend beyond photographs and the society pages. The article went on to quote anonymous sources, who said a serious conversation with Lodge was impossible and that if anyone had any real business to conduct with the embassy, they went to see the deputy chief of mission, the number two person in any embassy and one who is always a career diplomat.

As I read the article, I found it hard to believe it was not grossly exaggerated. I wondered how someone in such an exalted position could be such an apparent lightweight. A few weeks after arriving in Buenos Aires, I had the opportunity to witness Lodge in action. He gave a large formal dinner at the residence for a visiting official from Washington. It was not a social occasion but rather an important opportunity to gather impressions on how the new government would conduct itself. One big question was whether Peronist officials would even come to the dinner. It was feared they might not if hostility toward the United States was going to again be one of Peron’s policies.

The evening unfolded, however, as if the Diuguid article had scripted the event. At the end of the sumptuous meal, as coffee and dessert were being served, Lodge called over an accordionist who had been providing soft background music. With this accompaniment, he burst into song while still seated at the table and rolled off a number of tunes. We all then adjourned to the ballroom, where he continued the entertainment. Among his favorite Argentine guests was a couple whom he summoned to join him at the grand piano. While the husband played, the wife and Lodge sang duets from Porgy and Bess and other Broadway hits.

As the show dragged on, the Peronist officials signaled they wanted to talk to the visiting official and the deputy chief of mission privately, so they all slipped off to the library. The Peronists made it clear that the new government would be open to a constructive and productive relationship with the United States, unlike in the past. This was a significant shift in policy that would be welcomed in Washington.

Finally, after the songfest, the guests began bidding the Lodges good night and thanking them profusely for the evening. The embassy staff members were always the last to leave; it was customary to stay until dismissed by the ambassador. As we waited for this to happen, Lodge learned of the discussion that had taken place in the library while he was singing in the ballroom. He became furious at his deputy, ranting that he had been stabbed in the back before but never in his own home. Unmoved by the success of the discussions, Lodge continued to berate the poor man in front of all of us. That evening I learned an important lesson: a country is not well served by an ambassador who thinks entertaining is the most important of his duties.

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Also read Selling Ambassadorships Is as American as Apple Pie (HuffPo)U.S. Embassies Have Always Been for Sale (Daily Beast) and Peter Van Buren’s review, American Ambassadors, The Past, Present, and Future of America’s Diplomats (HuffPo).

AFSA Governing Board Election Town Hall at FSI, March 30 2015 (Video)

Posted: 2:23  pm EDT

 

This is the second of the four town hall meetings scheduled for the candidates in this year’s AFSA election. Length: 1:15:23.  We have not been able to find a transcript of this meeting. Note that ballots and candidate statements will be mailed on April 15, ballots will be counted on June 4, and the new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2015.

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AFSA Election: Statements of Candidates — Well, Is This Gonna Be Interesting or What?

Posted: 2:19 am EDT

 

A couple of weeks ago, AFSA announced the candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2015-2017 term.  On April 1st, AFSA released the candidates’ statements. There are three candidates running for president: Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, leading the Strong Diplomacy slate, Matthew Asada, leading the Future Forward AFSA slate, and Tex Harris who does not have a slate.  You should read the full statements of the candidates below, but we should note that both Mr. Asada and Mr. Harris are incumbent members of the current Governing Board.  In addition to your bread and butter issues, perhaps voters should ask how they might reconcile Mr. Asada’s rosy report of accomplishments with Mr. Harris charged that “AFSA’s current top mandates are to protect individual members and to grow “AFSA as a business.”  Also a $125/plate dinner at its 90th Anniversary celebration– we’re you invited? Did you know that AFSA is selling FS coins? And grave markers? Well, now you know.

Don’t miss the following upcoming town hall meetings:

  • April 7, 2015—State Town Hall at HST in the Loy Henderson Auditorium
  • April 8, 2015—Retiree Town Hall at AFSA HQ Building in the first floor conference room

Oh, yes, somebody also please ask what the crap is going on with the Senate (See SFRC Bullies Diplomats Up For Promotion to Self-Certify They Have Not Been Convicted of Any Crime).

And what’s AFSA doing for 8 FSOs stuck in super glue at the SFRC? By the way, the fellow stuck there the longest, in fact stuck there since 2012 appears to be the former AFSA State VP.  When we inquired, outgoing AFSA President Bob Silverman politely declined to comment upon advice of his staff. Mr. Asada, current AFSA State VP never acknowledged receipt of our email.

Wait, former AFSA State VP + 7 FSOs held hostage at the Senate sounds pretty interesting, don’t you think? Should we put up the Hotline?

 

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Note: Mr. Silverman and Mr. Harris have both contributed to the third-party run GFM fundraising for this blog earlier this year.

AFSA Announces Candidates for 2015-2017 Governing Board

Posted: 2:59 am EDT
Updated: 9:49 am PDT

 

The AFSA Committee on Elections recently announced its approval of the following candidates for positions on the ballot for the AFSA Governing Board for the 2015-2017 term. It looks like the current president, Robert  Silverman is not running for reelection but the current State VP Matthew Asada is running for the top spot.  Mr. AFSA, Tex Harris, a tireless advocate for the professional interests of FSOs who previously served as AFSA president and established the “Tex Harris Award” for creative dissent by a Foreign Service specialist is also running for the top spot.  The third candidate is Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, former ambassador to Panama, and current Dean of the Leadership and Management School of the Foreign Service Institute.

There are two candidates for the State VP position.  Bill Haugh and former Ambassador Charles Ford are running unopposed for Secretary and Treasurer respectively.  Former Ambassadors Tom Boyatt and Charles Ray, and current GB member Larry Cohen are running for the Retiree VP position.  Three of the four candidates running as retiree representatives (4 slots) are also former ambassadors.  There are a few more familiar names among the candidates, we hope to have a follow-up post when their statements are available next month.

All regular voting members of AFSA will receive, by email or mail, a ballot and the special election edition of AFSA News on or about April 15, 2015. AFSA is pleased to offer those members for whom we have a valid email address the opportunity to vote online.  Completed ballots must be received by 8:00 a.m. June 4, 2015 in order to be counted. The new AFSA Governing Board will take office on July 15, 2015.

 

2015 Candidates

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President (1)

Matthew K. Asada (** Future Forward AFSA slate)
Tex Harris
Barbara Stephenson (*Strong Diplomacy slate)

Secretary (1)

Bill Haugh *

Treasurer (1)

Charles A. Ford *

State VP (1)

Angie Bryan *
Kit Junge

USAID VP (1)

Sharon Wayne

FCS VP (1)

Steve Morrison

Retiree VP (1)

Tom Boyatt
Larry Cohen
Charles A. Ray **

State Representative (11)

Brynn C. Bennett **
Lawrence Casselle *
Ronnie S. Catipon
John Dinkelman *
Eric Geelan *
Josh Glazeroff *
Margaret Hawthorne *
Steven M. Jones
Pat Kabra **
Philip G. Laidlaw *
Neeru Lal **
Ronita Macklin **
Steve McCain **
Homeyra Mokhtarzada **
Doug Morrow
Peter Neisuler *
Erin O’Connor *
Leah M. Pease *
Dan Spokojny **
Sam Thielman *
Tricia Wingerter *
Joel Wisner **

USAID Representative (2)

Jeff Cochrane
Lorraine Sherman

FCS Representative (1)

William Kutson

Retiree Representative (4)

Patricia Butenis *
Dean Haas *
Alphonse F. La Porta *
John Limbert

* Member of the Strong Diplomacy slate
** Member of the Future Forward AFSA slate

 Election details via afsa.org:

AFSA members are encouraged to visit the AFSA website to participate in an online discussion forum with candidates. The discussion forum is named the “AFSA Community.” Candidates and/or members may post questions or comments to this forum and respond to members’ questions at http://community.afsa.org/. All members must log in to participate and have personal email addresses stored on their profile. (Note: government email addresses will not be accepted on the AFSA Community site.)

Additionally, Town Hall meetings have been set up as follows:

  • USAID: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 25th, in the LPA/IC Conference Room M-17, located on the Mezzanine Level of the Ronald Reagan Building.
  • FSI (active duty only): 12:00 p.m. Monday, March 30th, in the Kennan conference room at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, (FSI) 4000 Arlington Boulevard (also known as Route 50), Arlington, Virginia 22204.
  • State: 12:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 7th, in the Loy Henderson Auditorium at Main State.
  • Retirees: 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, April 8th, in the first floor conference room at the AFSA HQ building, 2101 E Street, NW, Washington DC 20037.

These events will be taped and available on the AFSA YouTube channel. The candidates’ statements will also be posted on the AFSA website on April 1, 2015. Go to http://www.afsa.org/afsa_elections.aspx to view.

If you have not already done so, please ensure AFSA has your current address on record. To update your address information, send an email to member@afsa.org.

IMPORTANT:
If you do not receive your ballot by May 6, 2015, please contact election@afsa.org and provide your full name, work location, current address, and telephone number.

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VIDEO: Late-night laughs: Hillary Clinton E-mail Edition

 Posted: 2:52 am EDT

Via PostTV

Hillary Clinton caused controversy after reports revealed she used a private e-mail account during her time as secretary of state. Late-night hosts Jon Stewart, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon couldn’t resist a few jokes at her expense.

 

[grabpress_video guid=”7ebdc05049ec1cf964f05708abe166946e545cb4″]

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Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!

Posted: 19:07 EST

 

Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well.  The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.”  It’s not  just toilet paper, of course,  but …

“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.

 

 

Running out of TP.  A TP-oil swap.  While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.

Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”

In 2013,  Venezuela Kicked Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

In 2014, Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicked Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

It’s that time of year again.  One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.

On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.

According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.

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Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:

 

The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas.  The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.

 

And there were dueling protests.

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Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer?  Hold a  major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí!  TeleSUR reported  that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.”  The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:

  • Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
  • Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
  • The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
  • United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars –  “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
  • Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.

 

 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world.  In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf).  The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days.  Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.

Here’s something else: in FY2013,  124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States.  That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.

In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama.  By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.

On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion.  The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.

Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:

Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.

The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.

So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”

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