Secretary Kerry will be on a historic trip to Havana this Friday where he will preside over the ceremonial reopening of the U.S. Embassy there. At a State Department background briefing, a senior administration official gave a quick rundown of the secretary’s events in Havana:
The opening ceremony, which is the flag-raising ceremony at the embassy, is principally a government-to-government event. It’ll include officials from the Cuban Government, a range of U.S. Government agencies, as well as members of Congress. There will be some U.S. and Cuban private citizens there, but it is primarily a government-to-government event, and it is extremely constrained in space. If you’ve ever been to our embassy, you know what the – I was somewhat amused to see it described as our front lawn, because it’s a very constrained space. But it is principally a government-to-government event, signifying this new relationship and the reopening of an embassy.
Later in the day, we are having a large event at the chief of mission’s residence, which is also a diplomatic installation, in which a broad range of groups will be invited, including the Cuban Government, Cuban Americans, Cuban artists and cultural leaders, the Diplomatic Corps, entrepreneurs, and Cuban political human rights and media activists.
On the issues of the Secretary’s delegation, let me say that I think, for example, one of the things that is most important to us is to make sure that our colleagues at the Treasury Department and the Commerce Department are recognized for their work in the change in policy, so there will be senior representatives from both those departments on the Secretary’s delegation. The regulations that were put in place after the President’s December 17th announcement were Treasury and Commerce regulations, and so it’s particularly important to us that those departments be represented by senior members. Obviously, we’ve long had colleagues from the Department of Homeland Security involved in our relationship with Cuba as part of our migration talk because they work on – for example, the Coast Guard has had a relationship with Cuba for a number of years now, a very productive operational relationship. So I think that it is those kinds of other agencies that will be part of this delegation.
Here’s a couple of interesting pieces on the road to this day:
President Barack Obama talks with Ricardo Zuniga, National Security Council’s Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, after the President delivered a statement on Cuba and the release of American Alan Gross in the Oval Office, Dec. 17, 2014. National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice watches from the doorway. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
The 2014 July 4th celebrations at our diplomatic missions actually started this past February, with the U.S. Embassy Kathmandu celebration of the 238th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America on February 22, 2014. This was followed by the US Embassy in Oman which hosted its independence day event on March 25, 2014 (see Open Season: This Year’s July 4th Independence Day Celebrations Officially On). Here are the well-timed red, white and blue celebrations that caught our eyes this year.
U.S. Consulate Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
In an unprecedented tribute to U.S. Independence Day, Rio de Janeiro’s iconic the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro was lit with the colors of the American flag on July 3, 2014. U.S. Consul General to Rio de Janeiro John Creamer and Christ the Redeemer rector Father Omar Raposo were at the monument for the special lighting, which happens as Brazil hosts approximately 90,000 U.S. tourists for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pretty cool!
U.S. Embassy Tallin, Estonia
This 4th of July cake was so huge that it needed six people to carry it into the event hosted by Ambassador Jeffrey Levine. We think that this cake was made by the Radisson Blu Hotel in Tallinn. We don’t know many many years the hotel has been making this cake for the annual event but just below the photo is the time lapse video showing the making of the 300KG 4th of July cake for Embassy Tallinn a couple of years ago. Amazing!
Independence Day Celebration, June 26, 2014 Photos by U.S. Embassy Tallinn
Embassy Canberra ran a social media Independence Day contest and came up with MasterChef Australia contestants akitchencat and The Bread & Butter ChefKylie Ofiu as winners to join them for the 4th of July bash. American chef Tory McPhail also arrived in Canberra last week and got the Embassy kitchen prepped and ready to feed over 600 people for the event hosted by Ambassador John Berry.
Rydhave, all ready to receive over 1.000 of Embassy Copenhagen’s closest friends and contacts. Entertainment this year was provided by Basim, and the band The Sentimentals. The Embassy’s own Sonia Evans performed the American national anthem.The food at the event was supplied by CP Cooking.
In early May, Diplomatic Security released its annual Year in Review publication detailing attacks on diplomatic personnel/facilities for the past year. In 2013, attacks against American posts and staff occurred in the Philippines, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, and the Congo. While majority of the attacks were against USG properties, there were casualties, killed and/or wounded in Ankara, Zabul, Kabul, Herat and Taji. It is important to note that those killed or wounded in these attacks include not only American personnel/contractors but also local employees, local contract guards, local policemen, and civilians.
January 25 – Manila, Philippines: Some 15 to 20 protesters gathered across the street from the main gate of the U.S. Embassy to rally against the Visiting Forces Agreement. Police prevented them from approaching any closer, but they managed to throw red paint on the U.S. seal, journalists, and police officers.
January 28 – Manila, Philippines: Approximately 50 protesters gathered across from the consular section of the U.S. Embassy. They were carrying placards that read, “Stop U.S. Intervention” and “U.S.-Aquino Regime Terrorists.” The group departed after throwing plastic bags filled with paint, which struck and defaced the Embassy seal at the Consulate entrance.
February 1 – Ankara, Turkey:At 1:14 p.m., an individual entered the U.S. Embassy access pavilion. When questioned by a member of the Embassy’s Local Guard Force, he detonated a bomb concealed in his clothing. The explosion killed the bomber and the guard, a 22-year veteran of the Embassy’s Local Guard Force.
(See our blog posts on Mustafa Akarsu here.)
March 11 – Kabul, Afghanistan:Two Embassy helicopters received small-arms fire. Both aircraft returned safely to their airbases with no one injured and minimal damage.
March 21 – Baghdad, Iraq:Three rockets were fired at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, producing no injuries and minimal property damage. The alarm systems activated, warning personnel of the attack and allowing them to take cover.
April 6 – Qalat City, Zabul Province, Afghanistan: Two bombs exploded near a Provincial Reconstruction Team delivering children’s books to a school. A U.S. Embassy officer, a U.S.-contracted interpreter, and three U.S. military personnel were killed. Four State Department personnel, eight members of the U.S. military, and four Afghan civilians were wounded.
(See our blog posts on the Qalat, Zabul attack here).
April 10 – Baghdad, Iraq: Five rockets impacted outside the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center. Damage was minimal and an American worker was slightly injured while attempting to seek cover. The alarm systems activated, warning personnel of the attack and allowing them to take cover.
June 10 – Kabul, Afghanistan: At 4:45 a.m., Taliban insurgents equipped with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Coalition Forces compound located at Kabul Airport. Multiple rocket-propelled grenades impacted on Camp Alvarado, a U.S. Embassy facility.
June 25 – Kabul, Afghanistan:At 6:35 a.m., eight insurgents launched an attack on the U.S. Embassy Annex. Afghan security forces and Local Guard Force personnel engaged the militants in a firefight. All eight insurgents were killed along with seven members of the Afghan security forces. Seven other Afghan security personnel were injured.
June 27 – Pristina, Kosovo: The U.S. Ambassador, an Embassy political officer and the DS Regional Security Officer went to the Kosovo Assembly to observe ratification of the April 19 Dialogue agreement to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. As they proceeded to the building, protesters pushed the Ambassador into a wall and struck the Regional Security Officer.
July 3 – Basrah, Iraq: Two bombs detonated at the Mnawi Hotel, causing extensive damage to a USAID office located in the building.
July 14 – Istanbul, Turkey: At approximately 7:15 p.m., while driving to an official event, the motorcade of the U.S. Consul General encountered a crowd of 30 people wearing masks and armed with sticks and heavy paving stones. While escaping, the vehicle sustained damage from several rock-throwing protesters.
July 21 – Lahore, Pakistan: At 3:05 p.m., 400 individuals claiming to be members from Imamia Students Organization and Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen marched to the entrance of the U.S. Consulate General’s primary access road. A number of individuals used spray paint to write anti-American slogans on the Consulate’s wall.
September 6 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Approximately 15 to 20 protesters chanted anti-American rhetoric in front of the U.S. Consulate. At the end of the protest, they threw red paint on the street and bollards of the Consulate.
September 13 – Herat, Afghanistan: The September 13, 2013, attack began when a truck driver eased up to a barrier at the Consulate’s primary vehicle entry point and without warning, detonated a massive improvised explosive charge. It was 5:32 a.m. and not quite sunrise at the U.S. Consulate in Herat when a terrorist murder squad appeared suddenly and attempted to blast and shoot its way inside. All but one would die within the next 30 minutes, and the fight would mark the first time in memory that DS defeated a complex assault without help from the host country or other forces. [E]ight contracted guards who were standing regular duty outside the U.S. Consulate were killed. They were: Jawid Sarwary, Mohammad Ramin Rastin, Ahmad Firooz Azizy, Ghazy Zade Mohammed Zaman, Sayed Sadt, Mohammad Ali Askari, Aref Mohammad Sadiqi, and Ezmari Haidary. The attack also injured four other guards and several Afghan police officers who were on duty outside the Consulate.
October 1 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: At approximately 7:40 p.m., members of the Black Bloc anarchist group infiltrated a teachers’ demonstration in the downtown area of Rio de Janeiro, one block from the U.S. Consulate General. Vandals lit a fire near the Consulate waiting area and threw cobblestones at Consulate windows.
October 7 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Protests ended in vandalism after members of the Black Bloc anarchist group again infiltrated a demonstration organized by striking Rio teachers. When the striking teachers dispersed, some 400 masked anarchists confronted the police and then threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the U.S. Consulate General.
October 13 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: At approximately 3:30 p.m., two explosions killed two individuals at a residential compound adjacent to the residence of a U.S. Embassy employee. The blast destroyed windows and some of the perimeter wall, but no Americans were injured. The deceased are believed to have been planning attacks against Western targets in Addis Ababa.
October 15 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: The teachers’ protests saw anarchist groups again engage in widespread vandalism in the city center. Vandals damaged banks and businesses. The exterior of the U.S. Consulate General building was damaged, including broken windows, when passing protesters threw rocks and coconuts at the building.
October 18 – Porto Alegre, Brazil:At approximately 12:30 p.m., a group of university students calling themselves “Marighella” vandalized the U.S. Consular Agency. The vandals/protesters said they wanted the U.S. out of the country and claimed the U.S. President was a “spy” who wanted Brazil’s oil. They also said they were there to “take over.”
December 16 – Brazzaville, Congo: Heavy gunfire rocked the capital as government forces tried to arrest an official at his residence located within one mile of the U.S. Embassy, but his bodyguards resisted. During the firefight a stray bullet shattered a second-floor window of the U.S. Embassy.
December 25 – Kabul, Afghanistan: At 6:42 a.m., unidentified insurgents fired one 107-mm rocket at the U.S. Embassy. The rocket landed on the east side of the Embassy compound, but failed to detonate. An additional rocket was later found at the launch site. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
December 27 – Taji, Iraq:At approximately 9:20 a.m., a U.S. motorcade en route from Balad to Baghdad came under small-arms fire while stopped at a checkpoint on Highway One. The security team leader — a U.S. citizen — was slightly wounded.
This weekend Brazilian diplomat Eduardo Saboia, the charge d’affaires of the Brazilian Embassy in La Paz, Bolivia reportedly smuggled Roger Pinto, a Bolivian senator and opponent of President Evo Morales out of the country using an embassy car escorted by Brazilian Marines. According to Al Jazeera, the escorted embassy car traveled from La Paz to the southwestern Brazilian city of Corumba, a drive of some 22 hours. Today, UK’s Independent newspaper reported the resignation of Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. Apparently, the smuggling of the senator from La Paz to Brasilia was not approved by either country. It also reported that Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has accepted Mr Patriota’s resignation but immediately appointed him as head of Brazil’s UN delegation. The head of Brazil’s UN delegation Luiz Alberto Figueiredo has now been appointed the new foreign minister.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota share a toast before a working lunch in Brasilia, Brazil, on August 13, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Via Al Jazeera:
Eduardo Saboia, the Brazilian charge d’affaires in La Paz, revealed earlier on Monday that he helped Roger Pinto, a Bolivian senator, escape to Brazil after he was holed up for 15 months in Brasilia’s embassy in the Bolivian capital despite having been granted asylum.
Pinto, an opponent of Bolivian President Evo Morales, made his escape Friday in an embassy car escorted by Brazilian marines, driving 22 hours to the southwestern Brazilian city of Corumba, 1,600km from La Paz.
“I chose life. I chose to protect a person, a persecuted politician, like [Brazilian] President Dilma [Rousseff] was persecuted,” Saboia told Globo television on his arrival in Brasilia, where he was recalled for consultations.
He said he made the personal decision to help Pinto escape “because there was an imminent threat to the life and dignity of the senator.”
Saboia said Pinto was suffering from depression and was contemplating suicide.
The Bolivian government views Pinto as a fugitive from justice after he was accused of corruption, for which he was sentenced to a year in prison.
He sought refuge at the Brazilian embassy last year, claiming to be a victim of political persecution after he denounced alleged cases of corruption and alleged links between authorities and drug traffickers.
His case strained relations between La Paz and Brasilia. Morales last year said Brazil’s decision to grant Pinto asylum was “a mistake”.
In La Paz, David Choquehuanca, Bolivian foreign minister, expressed “deep concern over the transgression of the principle of reciprocity and international courtesy”.
We’re waiting for Bolivian President Morales to announce soon that he will close the Brazilian embassy in La Paz. Because of the yanquis. Wait, wait — still trying to connect the dots; it’s there somewhere. It looks like diplomat Eduardo Saboia shared a toast with Secretary Kerry. Oh, my lord, what were they whispering about?
On June 14, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Ambassador Liliana Ayalde as the next Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil. The WH released the following brief bio:
Ambassador Liliana Ayalde, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career-Minister, is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. From 2008 to 2011, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay. Ambassador Ayalde began her career in the Foreign Service at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where she served for 24 years. At USAID, she served as Mission Director in Colombia from 2005 to 2008, Mission Director in Bolivia from 1999 to 2005, and as Deputy Mission Director in Nicaragua from 1997 to 1999.
Ambassador Ayalde received a B.A. from the School of International Studies at American University and an M.P.H. from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University.
The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135%, 274%, and 50% respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010. Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010. In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce.
The Executive Order tasked the Department of State with among other things, 1) Increasing non-immigrant visa processing capacity in China and Brazil by 40% in 2012; and 2) Ensuring that 80% of non-immigrant visa applicants are interviewed within three weeks of receipt of application.
Consular operations in Mexico never get any love. How much you want to be that U.S. consular sections in Mexico issued their 1 millionth visa of FY2012 a month ago and neither the White House nor the State Department said anything, because the American public for some bizarre reason thinks Chinese and Brazilians getting visas translate to more money being spent in the U.S. but visas to Mexicans engender negative images in the average AmCit’s mind. How many outside resources has the DOS sent to consular sections in Mexico vs. in Brazil? In fact, staff FROM consular sections in Mexico has been sent to help Brazil!
In fiscal year 2011 (October 2010-September 2011) , US Mission Mexico issued 1,315,116 nonimmigrant visas. So it’s the first post to reached the one million milestone. There’s Mexico, then China, and maybe Brazil. And if you add Mission Mexico’s visa refusals, that number is even way higher. Visa processing for regular visas prior to April 2012 was $140 a pop, currently at $160. We dug around the interwebs but could not find a State Department or White House statement touting the one million mark last year.
So sorry to report, there were no bells, whistles or fireworks.
We reached out to US Mission Mexico and we were told that “US Mission Mexico routinely issues more than a million visas annually. Mission Mexico is by all measures the largest US consular operation in the world and that will remain true, even if we were passed in NIV volume (which has yet to happen).” US Mission Mexico apparently also has one of the largest US Citizen populations (1 million) overseas, have the most US visitors and lead the world in Special Citizen Services. Which means the mission also has one of the top US passport issuances worldwide.
John B. Brennan, the Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs (MCCA) for Mexico was kind enough to respond to our email inquiry, in part responding:
We issued approximately 1.3 at the time China was announcing it had passed [a] million. We will be doing at least 50% more than Brazil. Individually Mexico City, Monterrey, Ciudad Juarez, Guadalajara and Tijuana all rank among the largest consular operations. Even most of our smaller posts issue more than 100,000 visas.
We expect to issue more than 1.5 million visas in FY2012 and remain the largest NIV post as well.
So how come there’s not much of a news ripple on this? Is it that the dollar value of the US travel from Mexico is not there?
Absolutely not. In fact, Mr. Brennan told us that “the dollar value of travel to the US from Mexico is also higher than any other country requiring visas, by a significant margin.”
We like to have verifiable numbers so we went and dug around some more if we can come up with something solid.
#4 Mexico (+6%) $9.2 Billion
Visitors from Mexico spent $9.2 billion experiencing the United States in 2011, an increase of 6% when compared to 2010. Although 2011 marks the second consecutive year of growth in U.S. travel and tourism-related exports to Mexico, this market has not fully recovered from the substantial downturn in 2009 (-17%). Travel and tourism exports account for 37% of all U.S. services exports to Mexico
#5 Brazil (+36%) $8.5 Billion
Talk about a growth market. 2011 marks the 8th consecutive year of double-digit growth in U.S. travel and tourism exports to Brazil. Visitors from Brazil spent a record-breaking $8.5 billion on travel to, and tourism-related activities within, the United States in 2011, an increase of 36% that follows an increase of 36% in 2010. Travel and tourism exports account for 39% of all U.S. services exports to Brazil.
#6 China (+47%) $7.7 Billion
Visitors from China spent a record-breaking $7.7 billion in the United States last year, positioning China well ahead of Germany in rankings of top markets for the first time ever. Moreover, U.S. travel and tourism exports to China have increased by at least 30% in seven of the last eight years! Travel and tourism exports account for 29% of all U.S. services exports to China.
So there, visitors from Brazil and China are spiking double digits in terms of visits and spending in the United States but with $9.2 billion of Mexican spending, are we “undercounting” the value of travel at the Mexican border zone?
The item from Sarah about sending staff from US Mission Mexico to assist US Mission Brazil, if true is a curious thing. Consular sections sometimes are able to get away with more officers than really needed because they’ve convinced somebody upstairs that the excess staffing will provide TDY help to other posts in the region who may need assistance. But it is doubtful that Mexico has an excess of staff. See, the wait time for visa appointments in Mexico City is 24 days. Last month, USCG Guadalajara made it as the top #8 consular post on wait time at 47 days (h/t to Consular Corner). Does this sound like a post with an over complement of staff? Brasilia on the other hand has a wait time of just one day. One day. And yet, staff from consular sections in Mexico has been reportedly sent to help Brazil? Could this be the reason why there is an extended wait time in Mexico for visa appointments and almost none in Brazil?
Mr. Brennan was diplomatic enough not to touch on the subject of US Mission Mexico staff reportedly lent to US Mission Brazil, but did address some of our questions in his response to our email:
Our workload grew about 40% during the first half of FY12 — among the highest growth rates in the world. We have backlogs at some posts, not surprising given our workload and growth rate, but they are being addressed. The workload increase is due in significant measure to renewals of Border Crossing Cards (BCC) and for that particular stream of work we have no backlogs. We do not expect growth to continue at these levels but we expect growth to continue. We have made significant investments to meet the predicted BCC renewal workload including a large network (14) of contractor-run facilities doing routine tasks that allow us to leverage our official workforce. We opened a new large consulate in Tijuana in 2011 and will open an even larger consulate in Monterrey in 2013-14. Both of these facilities have significant consular facilities, the one in Monterrey has 41 NIV teller windows and significant space for citizen services. We have several other new facilities on the drawing board. We have among the most efficient staff in the world and are roughly right-sized, though a few increases are planned.
Note that he says, “We have among the most efficient staff in the world and are roughly right-sized…”
To us that means, they have enough people on the bus to tackle the workload. You take away a few to send to Brazil, and your operation undoubtedly suffers. We can’t confirm such is the case here but …we’re looking at the wait times for both missions and note the wide margins.
Anyway, it’s not like US Mission Mexico doesn’t really get any love, it’s just not the same level of hot love we currently have with visa applicants from the emerging economies of China and Brazil.
But — do visas to Mexicans, as Sarah contends, really engender negative images in the average American Citizen’s mind? Can’t say for sure but that is entirely possible. Why, just look at Arizona!
An April 2012 Pew Research report also says that “the most distinctive feature of the modern Mexican wave has been the unprecedented share of immigrants who have come to the U.S. illegally. Just over half (51%) of all current Mexican immigrants are unauthorized, and some 58% of the estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are Mexican.”
It doesn’t matter that almost half the unauthorized migrants did not cross the border. According to yet another Pew report“As much as 45% of the total unauthorized migrant population entered the country with visas that allowed them to visit or reside in the U.S. for a limited amount of time.” This one is a little outdated, but can’t find anything more recent on overstays.
It would be nice if we could look up the data on “overstayers” (international visitors who overstay the terms of their visas) by country. Unfortunately, as of January 2011, US-VISIT computer systems identified having a backlog of 1.6 million potential overstay records.
And so the US-Visit wrestling mania continues.
So perhaps there is a reason here somewhere why US Mission Mexico doesn’t get fireworks and cymbals when it routinely issues over a million visas annually. The WH and State tries to ignore the elephant in the room; it’s there, we’re sure of it. It’s just that there are no loud noises ….
Updated 1:27 pm EST, July 23: US Mission Brazil includes the embassy in Brasilia and the three constituents posts of Recife, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. An FSO familiar with Mission Mexico operation confirms to us that one tiny consulate sent four local staff for 1-month TDY tours to Mission Brazil, specifically Rio and São Paulo. The officers left at the Mission Mexico posts have to “cover the gaps” left by the employees who went on TDY. And it’s apparently the same story for the other posts in Mexico who also sent staff members to Brazil. However, we do not have the total numbers of how many have been on TDY to Mission Brazil, and if this is a longer initiative or something that will conclude in September, the end of the fiscal year.