Venezuela Special Envoy Elliot Abrams Gets a Protest, and a Grilling in Congress

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

After thirty or so years, Elliot Abrams is back at the State Department. This time as the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Venezuela (see @SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela).

On February 13, together with Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department and USAID’s Steve Olive, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Abrams appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to talk about Venezuela at a Crossroads.

Note that the State Department’s WHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Venezuela did not testify at this hearing.

Protesters interrupted Mr. Abrams testimony, and the grilling he received from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) received much commentary. For those too young to remember the old times, see Brown University’s Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,  a project developed from its applied ethics and public policy course on Good Government.

It is likely that this is not an isolated incident; that every time Mr. Abrams appear before a committee in Congress, or before the media that his past will never be too far away; he may have been pardoned but he has not been forgotten. Even when he is there to talk about Venezuela, people will ask him questions about Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, human rights, El Mozoteetc. etc. etc.

Which makes one wonder why he was appointed to this job in the first place. Whatever message there is will pale in the presence of the messenger.

On February 14, Cuba accused the U.S. of moving special forces in preparation for a Venezuelan intervention under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis. Reuters reported that that Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, and he said “it is a new lie.”

A side note, with the Senate’s confirmation of William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States — it’s like we’re back to the 80’s.  On December 25, 1992, this was the NYT headline: Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’:

[…]

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.
[…]
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline,” likening today’s pardons to President Richard M. Nixon’s dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. “It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,” he said. “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.”

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

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Something Fun For a Change – Go #ValentineASpecies

Posted 10:14 pm PST

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

Posted: 7:06 pm PST
Updated: 8:23 pm PST

 

After about a week of protests in Haiti, the State Department issued a mandatory and voluntary departure orders for some family members of non-emergency staff at the US Embassy in Haiti. See U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On.

On February 14, the US Embassy issued a Security Alert noting about “reports of armed men in the area near U.S. Embassy personnel housing compounds.” Post instructed embassy personnel “to remain indoors.”

We understand that post had requested the full “ordered departure” for non-emergency staff within the last 24 hours.  An official statement on the status of non-emergency personnel in country has now gone out. The mandatory evacuation is for all non-essential staff, and for all family members. As of this writing, the Haiti Travel Advisory is still dated February 12, and has not been updated to reflect the updated “ordered departure” status for non-essential personnel.

Updated: When we look at travel.state.gov again at 8:23 pm PST, the February 14 updated Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory for Haiti  is up. The Advisory notes the crime and civil unrest in the country, the mandatory evacuation of non-emergency staff and family members, and the U.S. government’s  limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Haiti.

U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Diplomatic Family Members Under the Age of 18, “Authorized Departure” Also On

Posted: 1:45 am, EST

 

On February 12, the State Department issued a Level 3: Reconsider Travel for Haiti and announced the mandatory evacuation of family members under the age of 18 of U.S. personnel posted to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. It also approved the “authorized departure” (voluntary evacuation) of adult family members and non-emergency U.S. personnel.

Travel Advisory: U.S. Embassy Port-au-Prince (February 12, 2019)
Haiti – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Reconsider travel to Haiti due to crime and civil unrest.

There are currently unpredictable and sporadic demonstrations in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in Haiti. Due to these demonstrations, on February 12, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of family members under the age of 18 of U.S. personnel posted to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, and approved the authorized departure of adult family members and non-emergency U.S. personnel.

Protests, tire burning, and road blockages are frequent and unpredictable. Violent crime, such as armed robbery, is common. Local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited or non-existent.

Travelers are sometimes targeted, followed, and violently attacked and robbed shortly after leaving the Port-au-Prince international airport. The U.S. Embassy requires its personnel to use official transportation to and from the airport, and it takes steps to detect surveillance and deter criminal attacks during these transports.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in some areas of Haiti. The Embassy discourages its personnel from walking in most neighborhoods. The Embassy prohibits its personnel from:

  • Visiting establishments after dark without secure, on-site parking;
  • Using any kind of public transportation or taxis;
  • Visiting banks and using ATMs;
  • Driving outside of Port-au-Prince at night;
  • Traveling anywhere between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.; and
  • Visiting certain parts of the city at any time without prior approval and special security measures in place.

See the full advisory and contact info here.

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Secretary Pompeo Issues a Statement on SOTU #ButWhosFirst?

Big mystery.

On February 5, 2019 10:32 pm, the State Department’s Press Office released  an official statement from the 70th Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “On President Trump’s State of the Union Address”:

In his first two years, President Trump has strengthened America at home and abroad by putting the interests of the American people first and reasserting American leadership around the world. History will remember this period not only for what America has achieved on its own, but for the partnerships we have built with strong, sovereign, and independent nations and the contributions we have inspired from our partners. From making historic progress with North Korea, to confronting the regime in Iran, to supporting the Venezuelan people against tyranny, and more, President Trump’s diplomatic agenda has made America safer, more respected, and more prosperous.

# # #

“History will remember this period …for the partnerships…” kind of does not really work when … what’s that? Recent bureau departures are attributed  to fears  that Trump will pull us out of NATO? Pardon me? Top ranking folks really did not want to be associated with that? But … but.. he said history …. okay, never mind.

Anyway, we had a hard time recalling any secretary of state releasing an official statement on the SOTU. Except it turned out, T-Rex also did a statement when Trump delivered his first SOTU on February 28, 2017.  On March 1, Tillerson released a 100-word statement.

Trump delivered his second SOTU on January 30, 2018. Then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not appear to release any statement prior to the SOTU but delivered a Remarks at the High-Level Opening Session of the Inaugural U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue on the same day.

By the way, former Secretary of State John Kerry did not issue statements on President Obama’s SOTUs. We’ve looked.

So we should note that while Pompeo maybe one of the firsts to be out with the statement, he got some company (see DHS Secretary Nielsen’s statement, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s statement , Labor Secretary Acosta’s statement, Agriculture Secretary Perdue’s statement, and who knows who else?  Cabinet secretaries and public affairs people burning their late night oil to come up with these statements on the night of February 5.

But you know, folks really need to get these statement night-stamped, otherwise, how will Trump know which statement went out first or last?

It’s probably worth mentioning that Energy Secretary Perry released his state of the union statement on February 6!  February 6. He was the “designated survivor” and he is a day late with his statement?! That’s unforgivable. Yeah, so no cookies for him or his his PA people.

No Confidence Vote at AUC President Ricciardone Following Pompeo’s Cairo Speech

Posted: 3:00 am EST

Secretary Pompeo delivered his A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East remarks at the American University in Cairo (AUC) in Egypt on January 10, 2019. AUC President Francis Ricciardone who is a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Turkey and the Philippines and Palau and Pompeo’s host is now embroiled in a no confidence vote following the Pompeo visit.  The AUC Caravan reports that AUC Senate voted by a majority of 80 percent in favor of a declaration of no confidence in AUC President Francis Ricciardone during a special session on February 5.

@StateDG Carol Z. Perez Takes Office as @StateDept’s New Personnel Chief

Posted: 1:13 am EST

 

In addition to the State Department not having a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Management (the position that has been vacant now since the departure of Patrick F. Kennedy in January 2017 following Rex Tillerson’s arrival in Foggy Bottom),  it also did not have a Senate-confirmed Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources since Ambassador Arnold A. Chacón departed this position in June 2017. No Senate-confirmed personnel chief for 19 months. Imagine that.

On February 1, 2019, Ambassador Carol Z. Perez officially took office as Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources.

So the former dual-hatted Acting DGHR Bill Todd and Deputy Under Secretary for Management, where is he going?

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