Advertisements

Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …

We have blogged recently about the critical crime and violence in El Salvador (see State Dept Issues El Salvador Travel Warning:  Critical Crime and Violence.  We have also blogged about the carjacking of a US Embassy employee in Caracas. (see Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?)  By the way, The Telegraph reported in December 2012 that “There are more murders in Venezuela than in the United States and the 27 countries of the European Union combined.” San Salvador (El Salvador) and Caracas (Venezuela) are both considered critical crime posts but are not designated danger pay post.

We’ve checked the State Department’s Allowances website and here is what it says about danger pay:

*The danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.  These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.

Note the last line of that explanation.

Danger pay factors used in determining the allowance include post evacuation/operating status, acts of violence, and post environmental conditions (see Danger Pay Factors (DS-578).

Under operating status, factors assessed include: the evacuation status (ordered or authorized), percentage of Eligible Family Members (EFMs) remaining at post during an authorized departure and whether or not post is on unaccompanied status or if limited family members are allowed at post.

Acts of violence includes killing, risk of death or severe injury, aggravated battery, kidnapping, sabotage, property damages, extortion, rioting, and hijacking.

Post environmental conditions includes terrorism conditions and civil war, civil insurrection and warfare conditions.

While “attempted hijacking of a privately owned vehicle” and “the hijacking of a privately owned vehicle has become a commonplace occurrence” are some of the factors to be considered under the Danger Pay Factors (DS-578), it is also appears that for purposes of danger pay designation, these incidents are not considered relevant if they are economically motivated and if committed for reasons not related to terrorism, civil insurrection, and/or war.

In fact the danger pay description clearly notes that *“These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.”

Okay. So kidnapping and carjacking incidents in Iraq or Afghanistan probably contribute to its danger post designation but kidnapping and carjacking in say Venezuela or El Salvador where they would be considered an economic crime, would not?

But then you get Haiti,  designated as 5% danger pay post as of 12/2010; that was down from 20% earlier that year. The embassy there also recently went on an embassy-imposed curfew due to security conditions.

Let’s note for the record that there are no civil wars or insurrection in Haiti or Venezuela.

That leave us with terrorism.

The Crime and Security Report for Haiti says that “The USG rates Haiti as LOW in the threat category of indigenous terrorism. There have been no terrorist acts specifically targeting American interests or citizens in Haiti.”

The Crime and Security Report for Venezuela says “Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are designated by the Secretary of State as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Both groups use Venezuela as a safe haven. The State Department has stated that the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah is using Venezuela mainly for fundraising. However, Venezuelan media reports suggest Hezbollah is also active in training, money laundering, and arms trafficking.

So this is a tad perplexing, no? How is it that Haiti with crime and security problems (but no terrorism, civil insurrection, and/or war) gets a 5% danger pay designation and Venezuela with crime and security problems (but no civil insurrection, and/or war, and is a terrorist safe haven) gets zero. Since we are not privy to the documents submitted, we have no way of knowing exactly the reason for this.

But you can perhaps understand why folks in Caracas might be troubled by this treatment.

We can think of a few possible reasons for this dissimilar treatment, pardon the speculation since no one would talk about this on the record for this blog:

Front Office Leadership? Somebody has to submit the Danger Pay Factors before any designation can be done. US Embassy Haiti during and after the earthquake has a chief of mission.  US Embassy Venezuela has been without an ambassador since July 2010 and is short staffed in key areas. According to the 2012 OIG report “Between July 2010 and October 2011, the two interim chargés […] relied upon a series of acting DCMs, which contributed to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission and interactions with Washington.”

Skills and Collaboration? The person responsible for putting together the Danger Pay Factors is without a doubt the Management Office at post in collaboration with the Regional Security Office. So the Management Officer’s writing skills and excellent cooperation with the RSO who has to dig up the supporting stats and documentation is crucial in making a compelling case. The most recent OIG report on Venezuela says that “Management services are incoherent and customer service is poor.” Not only that, the inspectors reported that “weak management section leadership has exacerbated the situation.”  So while Management Officers were not spotlighted in the recent recruitment video from the State Department, they are the most important component of an effective mission. Next to excellent Front Office leadership, of course.  Our unscientific review indicates that the effectiveness and responsiveness of the management section has a direct correlation to the morale and performance of the mission.

Regional Bureau Attention? We do not know what kind of support US Embassy Venezuela get from the WHA bureau and its assistant secretary. But we can readily tell what kind of support has been extended to the US Embassy in Haiti, a post that even has its own Special Coordinator.  We do think that special care and support is necessary when a mission does not have the leadership of a Senate-confirmed ambassador, when post has more than the usual staffing gaps, when post has a good number of entry level officers working in upstretched positions in a host country with 19.9 percent inflation rate.  Particularly if post is also the receiving end of prolong official animosity towards the United States.  When  taken together, these can have a significant impact in the proper functioning of a mission.   The question then becomes — If US Embassy Caracas is getting the appropriate care and support it needs given its many challenges, how is it that its morale is in the mud and we’re getting love notes from there?

Danger Pay Office Out to Lunch? Would you please knock over there and check it out. Please?

Because somebody’s gotta ask why.

One of our readers just sent a question asking, “Where do Mexican border posts that have danger pay fit? Civil insurrection? Isn’t drug/gang violence for economic gain/profit?”  

And that’s why you’re looking at somebody just as confused.  Is it possible that the folks out to lunch also went off the tracks on this?  Something for the Secretary’s Sounding Board, anyone?

sig4

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?

Jon Lee Anderson has a piece on What has Hugo Chávez wrought in Venezuela? (see Letter From Caracas, Slumlord, New Yorker, Jan 28, 2013). Anderson reports:

“Caracas has deteriorated beyond all measure. It has one of the highest homicide rates in the world; last year, in a city of three million, an estimated thirty-six hundred people were murdered, or about one every two hours. The murder rate in Venezuela has tripled since Chávez took office.”

That New Yorker piece prompted a note to this blog about the carjacking of an American diplomat in Caracas last October.  Did I know about that? No, I did not. Fortunately, the criminals only took the vehicle and the FSO was not harmed. Here is what we’ve learned about that incident:

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at approximately 7:50 p.m. an American employee of Embassy Caracas was carjacked in the Sebucan neighborhood of Caracas. The perpetrators were three or four men armed with handguns. The victim’s house keys, wallet, and cell phone were in the cup holders located between the vehicle’s two front seats at the time of the carjacking. They were taken with the car. The victim was unharmed, and with the aid of friends living in a nearby building, was able to contact the Regional Security Office which then dispatched an embassy roving patrol to pick up the victim. The victim stayed the night in the home of another embassy employee.

Apparently, the neighborhood of Sebucan, where the carjacking took place, is notorious for its difficult to navigate narrow streets. The victim had stopped his/her vehicle in front of a friend’s apartment building on one of these narrow streets, waiting for his/her friends to come down, when he/she saw another vehicle coming down the street. The victim attempted to maneuver his/her vehicle closer to the curb, in order to allow the other vehicle to pass, in effect boxing his/her own vehicle in. Instead of passing, the other vehicle pulled right up to the victim’s bumper, and three or four men got out of the vehicle, brandishing handguns. The whole time the attackers had their weapons pointed at the victim. The victim was divested of his/her cell phone and later frisked as if searching for weapons.  The attackers then got into their own and the victim’s vehicles, and drove both vehicles away.

After the carjacking, the US Embassy in Caracas reportedly sent out a notice to all mission employees with several suggestions to “help future potential victims stay safe” and with the following interesting tidbit:

“Being forced from your vehicle at gunpoint by multiple armed men and left on the side of the road is a harrowing experience. It is the criminals who conduct these crimes, not their targets, who should be held responsible, and RSO has no interest in “blaming the victim.” 

Uh-oh! If that got into the notice, does that mean “blaming the victim” went around the block five times over and round and round within the mission that the RSO had to distance itself from it?

Our Caracas note writer had some rather strong words for the mothership, which we are reprinting in part below:

“The State Department has not done much to assist the community in Caracas in dealing with issues like this, and Caracas is still a ZERO percent danger post.[…] The 20% hardship pay is also low considering the difficulty of living here, the security no-go areas, the government’s open hatred of the US, the crazy artificial exchange rate and highest inflation in world, and the lack of infrastructure. The department has not done anything to boost the low morale.”

As of January 27, 2013, Caracas is a 42% COLA, 20% hardship post and indeed, a 0% danger post.

We’ll have a related post later on danger pay designation because it has been coming up with more frequency. In the meantime, maybe one of our readers from Foggy Bottom can flag this post for WHA A/S Roberta Jacobson  and please tell her there are stuff going on in her Caracas shop?

For sure, WHA is aware that between July 2010 and October 2011, US Embassy Caracas had two interim chargés, and relied upon a series of acting DCMs, which contributed to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission. This was in the 2012 IG inspection report.  But of related concern to that, the embassy has a good number of first tour officers.  This potentially can be a most memorable tour for those officers, but not in a good way meriting fondness and inspiration.

sig4

Hillary Clinton Handles a Mansplainer in Gifs

It was only a matter of time. #whatdifferencedoesitmake got a hashtag soon after it was uttered. There are even Hillary Clinton 2016 signs printed with it. Then Hillary Clinton Not Impressed During Benghazi Hearing got a photo caption contest.  And can Hillary Clinton in gifs be far behind? Of course not!

Over at feministing.com, columnist Zerlina Maxwell posted a series of gifs as part of a humorous “how-to” guide to dealing with “mansplainers” (defined as “a person — typically a man — who explains something condescendingly or patronizingly to a listener — usually a woman — who, in fact, does not require an explanation”).

Here are three of our picks:

Step 4: Raise your hands up like, “What’s your point?” and clown the mansplainer for not having an actual relevant point.

hclinton-yourpoint_zps53e740b8

The really hillaryious part is when the guy at the other end of the conversation ends up his turn with “Thank you, Madame Secretary.” He could have asked a bunch more follow-up questions had he attended the classified hearing on Benghazi and did his homework.

Step 5: When Senator John McCain calls you combative and proceeds to rant endlessly, nod with a sly smile.

hclinton-nodding_zps3be9c096

Step 7: Rearrange all of the random crap on your desk.  You can never be too organized when getting grilled by angry white dudes.

hclinton-pageturn_zps9131fafb
If you want the full tutorial, head over to How to deal with a mansplainer starring Hillary Clinton in gifs.

We think that this woman is still going places, never mind what the press release says.  You noticed, of course, that no one has bothered to put Senators McCain, Paul or Johnson in gifs?  And they’ve got gorgeous ties.  Maybe the gifs are the new bubble heads and signs of things to come?

Stoooop! We’re not going there, not to 2016 even if she already got a Ready for Hillary Super PAC and a second memoir in the works.

In any case, did you see Matt Damon tie and gag Jimmy Kimmel on teevee?   What a great idea! The next congressional rep who ask brainless questions during a hearing after skipping a classified briefing on the matter being discussed ought to be gagged with a tie duct-tape ala Jimmy Kimmel. Because it’s really annoying when we have to listen to our elected representatives listen to themselves talk.  But hey! Don’t ask Matt Damon to do it.

Wait —  wouldn’t it be great if in addition to requesting tickets, flags, congressional interventions over visa matters, constituent services could also include volunteer opportunities to administer the duct-tape?
sig4