Pompeo on US Embassy Venezuela: US to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that they’re protected.” And if they’re not?

Posted: 4:11 pm PST

Secretary Pompeo appeared today at the State Department Press Briefing Room to announced the appointment of Elliott Abrams as the “it” guy for Venezuela. We will blog about that separately. But here is the secretary of state’s response on the concern about the U.S. diplomats left in Venezuela as Maduro’s 72-hour deadline approaches.

MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Washington Post. Carol Morello.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I think a lot of people are concerned about the diplomats who are down there. Would you tell us what you’re prepared to do if tomorrow, when the 72-hour deadline passes, they – the Venezuelans cut off electricity and water, maybe even surround the building, or even try to go in to bring out the diplomats by force? Could you be specific about what you are prepared to do in the event of any of these scenarios? And how can you assure people that they are protected?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I appreciate that question. There’s been no activity that’s taken more of our time over the past days than ensuring the protection of all those folks that are under our chief of mission authority there in Venezuela. We’re working diligently to make sure that they are protected. There’s no higher priority for the Secretary of State, and you should know no higher priority for the President of the United States. We have discussed this at some length.

With respect to the way we will deliver that, we’ve made clear to everyone that it is our expectation that the U.S. officials that are there, that have now been invited to be there by interim President Juan Guaido have a right, they have the privileges and immunities that accrue to having been invited to be there by the duly credentialed leader of Venezuela, and we have every expectation that those rights will continue to be protected.

You would have seen today that we have ordered a – have an ordered departure. We’re beginning to move some of our staff out. This is consistent with what the State Department does every day. The first briefing I get every morning is all around the world, every mission, every consulate, every facility where we have officers, I receive a briefing on risk and risk analysis. We’ll continue to do that in Venezuela. It is literally a 24/7, moment-by-moment exercise to evaluate risk to the people who work for me in the State Department, and we’ll get this right. We will make sure that we protect our folks on the ground and take all appropriate measures to ensure that they’re protected.

Thank you.

QUESTION: And if they’re not?

MR PALLADINO: Thank you guys.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all.

More about Venezuela here:

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US Embassy Venezuela Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 8:37 pm PST

In the afternoon of January 24, the US Embassy in Caracas issued a Security Alert announcing the mandatory departure of non-emergency USG personnel from Venezuela:

On January 24, 2019, the State Department ordered non-emergency U.S. government employees to depart Venezuela.  The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela.  U.S. citizens should contact U.S. Embassy Caracas for consular assistance.  U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Venezuela should strongly consider departing Venezuela.  Commercial flights remain available.

Actions to Take:

Consider departing while commercial flights are available.
If choosing to stay, ensure you have adequate supplies to shelter in place.
Monitor local media for updates
Review personal security plans
Remain aware of surroundings

Assistance:

U.S. Embassy, Venezuela
https://ve.usembassy.gov/
For all inquiries about ACS services email acsvenezuela@state.gov or call +58 (212) 975-6411 between the hours of 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except U.S. and Venezuelan holidays.
For emergency assistance after hours call +58 (212) 907-8400

State Department – Consular Affairs
888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444

While the Security Alert does not specifically addressed USG family members at the US Embassy in Caracas, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to us that the ordered departure includes not just non-emergency direct-hire U.S. government personnel but also eligible family members of U.S. government personnel posted at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. 

We were informed that the State Department is taking this action based on its current assessment of the security situation in Venezuela and that it has “no plans to close the Embassy.”

Also that “The United States will maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela.”

We asked if there is a plan for USG-sponsored flights out of Venezuela and we were told that commercial flights remain available and that U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Venezuela should strongly consider departing the country.      

We should note that the host country government, in this case Venezuela’s is responsible for the safety of diplomatic personnel in country.  The State Department did not explain how Venezuela Interim President Guaido plans to protect the US Mission and personnel in Caracas given that he has no control over the military and security forces. 

The United States no longer recognizes the Maduro Government as the country’s legitimate government nor does it recognize its authority. So, whatever skeletal crew the US Embassy Caracas will keep, it will be in  country that has also declared our diplomats unwelcomed.  The United States has threatened appropriate action if the mission or US diplomats are harmed there, but that’s small comfort to the people in the crosshairs or loved ones watching this from afar.  

In the last 24 hours we have heard from folks using the words “bait” and “poker chips” to describe our people in Venezuela. Under the Trump Administration, Secretary Pompeo has declared the United States continuing diplomatic presence in Venezuela. Our diplomats will stay because they’re ordered to stay and they have a job to do. But what job is that exactly? Is there anyone in the 7th Floor who actually thinks Maduro will just sit back and watch when U.S. diplomats go about their business working with Interim President Guaido in Caracas? Really? 

On January 24,  also announced that the United States is ready to provide “more than $20 million in humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela …to cope with food and medicine shortages and the other dire impacts of their country’s political & economic crisis.”

The State Department has yet to elaborate the logistics of sending humanitarian aid to a country with two presidents, one who actually still runs the country but the United States does not recognize, and the other who does not run the country but the United States do recognize.

And then this via the Caracas Chronicles:

If Maduro manages to hang on through the coming few weeks, the hemisphere will find itself in the very uncomfortable situation of having no interlocutor in Caracas. If Nicolás Maduro grabs Peruvian diplomatic facilities, who is the Peruvian Foreign minister going to call to protest, Guaidó? If the government expropriates Colombian company assets, what good does it do Duque to call Guaidó to protest? If an American Airlines jet gets impounded in Maiquetía, who does Pompeo bawl out? If Canadian citizens get thrown in jail on plainly made up spying charges, who is Chrystia Freeland supposed to complain about consular access to? Gustavo Tarre?

When this happens, what are you gonna do, Mike? Read more: Guaidó’s Diplomatic Rulebook Problem.