Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

– Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

 

The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04

So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

– Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

Screen Shot 2014-04-03

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State Dept’s Selfie Diplomacy: #UnitedForUkraine; Now Waiting For Selfie From the Russian Bear …

– Domani Spero

In the last 48 hours, we’ve been seeing a bunch of selfies from the State Department with the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.  The NYPost writes:

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was mocked Thursday after posting a photo of herself on Twitter holding a sign that read #United­For­Ukraine @State­Dept­Spox.
[...]
Psaki defended her photo.

“The people of Ukraine are fighting to have their voices heard and the benefit of communicating over social media is it sends a direct message to the people that we are with them, we support their fight, their voice and their future,” she said.

Now stop picking on Ms. Psaki, she’s not alone on this and at least she’s no longer using the hashtag #RussiaIsolated. The UK is set to start buying gas directly from Russia this fall despite threats  of  further sanctions against Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine.

In any case, here is the Selfie Collection, a work in progress:

UnitedforUkraine_Psaki

Jen Psaki, State Department Spokesperson

unitedofrukraine_stengel

Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Ms. Psaki’s boss’s boss

Selfie Missing:  Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Frantz, Ms. Psaki’s boss.

unitedofrukraine_evanryan

Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Evan Ryan

UFU_maconphillips

Coordinator for International Information Programs Macon Phillips

Selfie Missing: Coordinator for the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Alberto Fernandez

Unitedofrukraine_michellekwan

Michelle Kwan, State Department Senior Advisor

UFU_embassykyiv

Embassy Selfie:  Ambassador Pyatt with US Embassy Kyiv staff

 

Then our man in London, Ambassador Matthew Barzun ruined the fun and raised the bar with a Winfield House selfie via Vine:

 

Now we just need a selfie from the Russian bear.

Oops, wait … what’s this?  The Russian bear, missing a hashtag…

 

Google'd Putin riding a bear

 

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Photo of the Day: Man on a Mission

– Domani Spero

Via @VP

Screen Shot 2014-03-18

Vice President Joe Biden, joined by US Ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull or @SteveMullUSA to the Twitterati, arrived in #Poland on March 18, 2014 to discuss the situation in #Ukraine with regional leaders.
(Photo via @VP)

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One More Expert — Live from Crimea

– Domani Spero

After watching the news for days now, the tween in our house is starting to worry that we are on the verge of World War III.  We are pleased to see TDS’s new Senior Caucasian Correspondent Jordan Klepper deliver this live report from Crimea.

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USG Declares Three Venezuelan Diplomats Personae Non Gratae

– Domani Spero

The Venezuelan Government notified the United States on the afternoon of February 17 that they have declared three of our consular officers at US Embassy Caracas personae non gratae. The three were given 48 hours to leave the country (see Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests).

On February 25, the U.S. Government kicked out three Venezuelan diplomats in response to the Venezuelan  Government’s decision.  The State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki identified the png’ed diplomats as First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua, and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo.  Ms. Psaki said that the diplomats were given 48 hours to leave the United States. Citing Article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Ms. Psaki also noted that the convention permits the United States to declare any member of a diplomatic mission persona non grata at any time and without the necessity to state a reason.

Asked to comment about the possible nomination of a new Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S., the spox had this to say:

“Well, as you know, a decision about an exchange of ambassadors is a mutual decision, so obviously, we’ve said months ago that we could – we would be open to an exchange of ambassadors but that Venezuela needs to show seriousness about their willingness and their openness to a positive relationship moving forward.”

Late the same day, Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro announced the nomination of Maximilien Arvelaiz to be the country’s first ambassador to the U.S. since 2010.  According to Bloomberg, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said that the nomination of Arvelaiz, a former ambassador to Brazil, was meant to “establish political relations at the highest level that will contribute to peace.”  

In 2010, then President Hugo Chavez caused the withdrawal of Venezuela’s agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer as U.S. Ambassador to Caracas (see How Larry Palmer, the US Ambassador nominee to Venezuela got rolled?). Nicolas Maduro, then Foreign Minister presented the diplomatic note to the embassy formally withdrawing the agreement of Larry Palmer to be the Ambassador to Venezuela.  Ambassador Palmer was later nominated and confirmed in 2012 as U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

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Peace Corps Evacuates Over 200 Volunteers From Ukraine

– Domani Spero

On February 24, Peace Corps HQ announced the successful evacuation of volunteers from Ukraine:

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 24, 2014 – The Peace Corps today announced that all Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers are safe and accounted for, and have been successfully evacuated out of the country.  The agency will continue to assess the safety and security climate in Ukraine.  And while the Peace Corps hopes volunteers can return, the safety and security of its volunteers are the agency’s top priority.

Over 200 Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers were working in the areas of education and youth and community development.  Volunteers will participate in a transition conference this week.  Since the program was established in 1992, over 2,740 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Ukraine.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv went on authorized departure for family members of U.S. government personnel from Ukraine on February 21 (see US Embassy Ukraine Now on Authorized Departure For Family Members).  On February 23, the State Department warned U.S. citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of Viktor Yanukovych, and while a new government is formed. Read the updated Travel Warning for Ukraine for further information about the current situation in Ukraine.  Follow our man in Kyiv, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Twitter at @GeoffPyatt.

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Meanwhile in Santo Domingo: Ambassador Brewster’s Husband Not Invited ‘Cuz He’s Not a “Wife”

– Domani Spero

Ambassador James (Wally) Brewster was officially sworn in as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic by Vice President Biden on November 22, 2013. He is now at post, accompanied by his partner of 25 years, Bob Satawake.  Prior to departing for the Dominican Republic, the couple celebrated their 25th anniversary together and got married in  Washington, D.C. (see Officially In: James “Wally” Brewster, Jr. to the Dominican Republic, an Island of Grace and Tolerance).

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Photo via US Embassy DR/Facebook

Blabbeando, the blog of LGBT-rights advocate Andrés Duque has covered the controversy over his appointment as ambassador to the Dominican Republic from the start.  Apparently,a month after assuming charge of the US Embassy in Santo Domingo, Ambassador Brewster did a reception at the embassy for the Dominican LGBT community with his husband in attendance.  According to Blabbeando, even before the Ambassador’s meeting with LGBT leaders, “Reverend Luis Rosario staged a press conference to say that the arrival of the new ambassador and his husband sent an “extremely negative message” to the Dominican people.”

“It’s a very sad state of affairs we are living at this moment,” Rev. Rosario added, “and it makes our nation seem like a great hospital for the sexually ill.”

Is this the same guy who called unnamed “sexual stimulant drugs” a time bomb?

This week, Blabbeando reports on his blog an earlier kerfuffle over a cancelled January 22nd diplomatic event in honor of Dominican Republic president Danilo Medina. Ambassador Brewster’s husband was reportedly not invited to that event because he was not considered a “wife.” Consequently, several diplomats reportedly refused to attend and the event had to be “suspended.”

And here is the most interesting part via Blabbeando:

Organized by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, the gathering was meant to be a private opportunity for diplomats and their spouses to honor the President but, as Acento reported yesterday, the Dean himself raised objections about extending an invitation to Ambassador Brewster’s husband and made a personal call to ask the Ambassador for his understanding and consideration.

From a private letter sent to all diplomats after questions were raised about the decision as translated from Spanish:

1. Reasons why the partner of the U.S. Ambassador was not invited to the Diplomatic Cocktail in honor of the President of the Dominican Republic: The partner of the U.S. Ambassador is not accredited as a “wife” but, instead, as a “dependent” of the Ambassador. In the Constitution of the Dominican Republic, same sex marriages are not recognized. Thus the Dominican authorities cannot officially recognize him as his “wife.”

2. This explains why he was not invited to accompany the Ambassador.

3. It would be incorrect and in some ways offensive to the entire Diplomatic Body to go against the Constitution and, worse yet, in front of the President of the Republic and in the presence of representatives from all the Diplomatic Missions accredited by the Dominican Republic.

4. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps has spoken to the U.S. Ambassador regarding this impasse and has asked for his understanding regarding this question, particularly about its delicate nature as he well knows.  We expect the Ambassador to accept this calmly and with due consideration. The use of prudence would insure a proper way to handle this issue.

5. This does not imply any prejudice in the understanding, respect and tolerance the Colleagues from the Diplomatic Corps have towards the U.S. Ambassador, Mr. James W. Brewster.

6. An authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry called on Saturday, January 18th, to express that the “Foreign Affairs Ministry” has no objection regarding to the attendance of the partner of the U.S. Ambassador. Naturally, the responsibility then falls on the Diplomatic Body.

7. Later, speaking to an authority from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, it was acknowledged that the largest obstacle still remained: The fundamental question raised by the Constitution. The Dean reaffirmed that it would be completely wrong for the Heads of the Missions to go against the Constitution in front of the President. The ministerial authority immediately recognized the severity of the circumstance and how local media might make an issue out of it.

Since when have spouses been accredited by foreign governments?  Spouses, straight or gays are not employees of the U.S. government and do not receive official accreditation.  This is a damn cocktail for god’s sake. We imagine no girlfriends, live-in partners, or people living in sin are also invited to the diplomatic receptions there?

Blabbeano notes that the letter was signed by the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo who is the new envoy from the Vatican to the Dominican Republic.  Bishop Okolo replaced Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski as Vatican Ambassador in the DR after the later was forcibly removed by Pope Francis amid a sex abuse investigation.

But somebody has been leaking internal correspondence over there. Yesterday, accent.com.do published  a January 20 letter from Steven M. Fisher, the British Ambassador to the DR to Bishop Okolo calling the discrimination of Ambassador Brewster’s husband  “unjustifiable.”

Le reitero la sugerencia que le hice en mi correo del 18 de enero de modificar la invitación para que podamos incluir a todos de manera igualitaria.

En caso de que se mantenga la decisión de no tratar a todos por igual, respetando su estatus civil, lamentablemente me temo que no participaría en el cóctel.

Ambassador Fisher urged that the invitation be modified to be more inclusive and if not, then he would not be in attendance. We are glad that the event was cancelled.

The Dominican Republic’s foreign ministry reportedly had no objection to the attendance of Mr. Satawake.  So, of course, the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, had to defend DR’s constitution because it would be “completely wrong” for a gay person to attend an event where the president of the republic is also in attendance.

Because what –  Mr. Satawake might bite President Medina?

Had this event went through as planned, Mr. Satawake, the husband of President Obama’s top representative in Santo Domingo would have been excluded from subsequent diplomatic functions for similar reasons.

Yo! Bishop Okolo, you keep at this, you’ll end up with lots of stale canapés the next couple of years.

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Arctic Ambassador Position Announced, Move-In Ready Office Available – Hurry Before It Melts!

– Domani Spero

On Friday, Secretary Kerry announced the creation of a Special Representative for the Arctic Region to help advance American interests in the Arctic:

The Arctic region is the last global frontier and a region with enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, climate, environment, and national security implications for the United States and the world.

Today I informed my two former Senate colleagues that here at the State Department we will soon have a Special Representative for the Arctic Region, a high-level official of stature who will play a critical role in advancing American interests in the Arctic Region, particularly as we prepare efforts for the United States to Chair the Arctic Council in 2015. President Obama and I are committed to elevating our attention and effort to keep up with the opportunities and consequences presented by the Arctic’s rapid transformation—a very rare convergence of almost every national priority in the most rapidly-changing region on the face of the earth.

The great challenges of the Arctic matter enormously to the United States, and they hit especially close to home for Alaska, which is why it is no wonder that Senator Begich’s very first piece of legislation aimed to create an Arctic Ambassador, or why as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman I enjoyed a close partnership with Senator Murkowski on a treaty vital to energy and maritime interests important to Alaska. Going forward, I look forward to continuing to work closely with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to strengthen America’s engagement in Arctic issues.

Apparently, Alaska’s senators — Begich, and Murkowski — have been pressing for an ambassador  to the Arctic.

“The bottom line is that the changes we see in the Arctic warrant a higher level of involvement from the U.S. and this position will allow us to better exercise leadership and vision in Arctic policy moving forward,” Senator Begich said in a statement.

The title is ready, just need to know the name of the appointee. Oh, and see the move-in ready office below. Best hurry before it melts.

Igloo in Alert, Nunavut Photo via US Embassy Canada

Igloo in Alert, Nunavut
Alert is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world.
Photo via US Embassy Canada

Arctic Council Member States are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council rotates every two years between the eight member states.  Indigenous peoples also have permanent representation on the Council.  In May 2013, Canada assumed assumed the two-year chairmanship. The US last held the chairmanship in 1998-2000 and is scheduled to lead the council again in 2015-2017.

The State Department has yet to announce who will be appointed to this new post. The Special Representative position does not require Senate confirmation, so he/she will not be waiting for confirmation for a year.  There is also no danger of Senators asking questions like, “Have you been to the Arctic?”  or “Do you speak any of the Arctic region’s 40 indigenous languages?”

So hurry, apply now.

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OSCE Ambassador Dan Baer on The Colbert Report: “From Russia With Love (But No Gay Stuff)

❊ If you want to help keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub ❊

– Domani Spero

On The Colbert Report on February 10parody correspondent Buddy Cole met with our Ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer for the show’s   “From Russia With Love (But No Gay Stuff)” segment.  “How did they take it when they found that you work for the government?” Are buttons gayer than zippers?” Congratulations to Ambassador Baer for successfully passing the straight face test.

According to Human Rights Watch, LGBT people face stigma, harassment, and violence in their everyday lives in Russia, and LGBT victims of violence and groups told HRW that these problems intensified in 2013.  Earlier this month, HRW released a video of Russian men beaten on camera (be warned, it is horrible and disturbing to watch).

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