US v. China: Dueling COVID-19 Donations in Namibia

 

On March 18, the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia had an official hand-over of reportedly a thousand COVID-19 test kits donations with Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula. Kalumbi Shangula is a Namibian doctor and politician of SWAPO Party who has been Minister of Health and Social Services since December 2018.
On March 19, the US Ambassador to Namibia Lisa Johnson had an official hand-over of donations with Namibia’s Ministry of Health and Social Services Executive Director Ben T. Nangombe, the number #3 ranking official at the Ministry of Health. The USG donated three ambulances, hospital beds, and other medical supplies per U.S. Embassy Namibia.

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Hungary’s Orbán Wins Vote to Rule by Decree, @StateDept Issues Weak Sauce Statement 36+ Hours Later

 

 

Post of the Month: In a Time of Pandemic, a U.S. Embassy Launches a Witch Hunt

“Your previous article has really stirred things up …. a lot of retaliation against who people think might have written you…which is now a large group of suspects…”

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Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide? March 23, 2020

US Embassy Lima Works on Repatriating Thousands of Americans #StuckInPeru

Updated: March 28, 9:45 am PDT

A Health Alert from US Embassy Lima in Peru notes that post is continuing its operations and is “coordinating with the Peruvian Government to arrange repatriation flights over the next few days for U.S. citizens to return to the United States.”
Post’s Alert issued on Tuesday said that “As of March 24, approximately 700 Americans have departed Peru on repatriation flights. It also announced the departure from post of Ambassador Urs, and the travel to Peru of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung  “to support our aggressive repatriation efforts.”

“For medical reasons, Ambassador Krishna Urs departed Peru on March 20.  He continues to engage from Washington with senior Peruvian officials as well as to support the Department’s efforts on behalf of the United States.”

As of 5:00PM on March 25, post said it has  repatriated over 1000 Americans from Peru.
In video below released by Embassy Lima, the ChargĂ© d’Affaires Denison K. Offutt says that there are currently over 5,000 Americans in Peru. We don’t know if all of them are asking to return to the United States, but if so, this would be one of the largest evacuations of U.S. citizens from overseas at this time. This is not as huge as the nearly 15,000 evacuation from Lebanon in 2006 but the  logistics of moving a large number of people to the United States with border closures and limited air traffic during a pandemic will be extraordinarily challenging.
According to Embassy Lima, the Peruvian government declared a national state of emergency on March 15, 2020, at 8:00 PM Peru local time.  Under the state of emergency, Peru enacted 15 days of mandatory quarantine, starting at 00:00 on March 16, 2020.  At 23:59 PM on March 16, 2020, the Peruvian Government closed all international borders (land, air, and maritime) and suspended all interprovincial travel within Peru (land, air, and river).
Update from post indicates unusual difficulties with host country in obtaining permission for these repatriation flights . First, the Government of Peru told Ambassador Urs on March 23 that it had authorized repatriation flights, only for the contracted airline to notify the embassy at night that the flights are not approved. The following day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to US Embassy Lima that no U.S. flights had been approved. Ambassador Urs then spoke to the Peruvian Foreign Minister at 6:45 a.m., during which time, he was reportedly assured that the permissions would be granted in time. The Peruvian government ultimately declined to provide the proper clearances for a LATAM flight to pick up Americans stranded in Cusco.  A charter flight operated by American Airlines departed Miami with a scheduled arrival at 12:30 p.m.  Embassy Lima said that the Peruvian government also declined to approve permits for the charter flight, so the pilot returned the airplane to Miami.
Something’s going on there, hey?
During the March 25 Special Briefing, CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam “a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government” and that the “information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes.”
Embassy Lima’s update on March 25 said  that there were two flights scheduled today, but these are “booked with humanitarian priority individuals, including older adults, people with underlying health conditions, minors traveling without a parent or legal guardian, and other adults in need of medical assistance.” Also that “the U.S. Embassy is scheduling additional flights for this week pending Peruvian government authorization.” As of March 25, Embassy Lima was able to get its first flight from Cusco to Miami (via Lima) and is reportedly scheduling a flight from Iquitos to Miami. So that’s good news.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne confirmed that Canada received the go-ahead for 3 Air Canada flights to bring stranded Canadians home from Peru this week.
On March 21, Politico reported that a U.S. official familiar with the situation said the Peruvian government is not allowing Americans stuck in Peru to leave until the White House ensures thousands of Peruvians are given safe passage home.[…] “The government of Peru is basically holding these Americans hostage,” the U.S. official said. “They want the U.S. to fill planes with Peruvians before they’ll let the planes land to pick up Americans. But they’re not ready or organized in the United States to gather their people up, and they don’t want to pay for the flight.“
Could Peru wait this out or slow this down as Americans stuck in Peru fumes louder, and clogs congressional offices with complaints? Already Senator Rubio (R-Texas FL) has publicly scolded the State Department for Americans stuck in Peru “due to lack or (sic) urgency by some in mid-level of .”
Except that Peru apparently wants something from the White House not the State Department.
March 25 DOS Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee called the logjam in Peru a “capacity issue:”

The logjam there was a capacity issue on the part of the Peruvian Government. To reduce this to simplicity, we had commitment from the senior-most levels of the government – from the foreign minister, et cetera, the ministerial level – that yes, the flight yesterday Monday would be able to go forward – flights yesterday Monday would be able to go forward. That information didn’t efficiently trickle down to the people in the regulatory agencies that had to issue the permits, the landing permits for the planes, and so the American Airlines flight that was going into Lima literally turned around as it was preparing to enter Peruvian airspace because it didn’t have the permit necessary.

The difficulty arises there from the fact that there was some infections in the civil aviation authority and in the civilian side of the airport, and they just shut down that entire entity and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport. We’re helping them address this shortfall by – we’ve taken the INL, the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement hangar on the military side of the airport, taken everything out of it. We’re arranging chairs in there at socially distant appropriate spacing and we’re preparing to use that as a working space, a processing space to move people through. We’re also preparing to send down a flyaway team of consular officers and we have a senior officer from the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs going down to assist as well. So we’re doing what we can to help the Peruvians fill that sort of capacity gap, and we hope – we hope – that this will keep things moving more fluidly in the future. Out.

#
Related post:
US Embassy Lima: Avianca Airlines May Have Outbound Flights For #StuckinPeru Americans

@StateDept: “not tracking any specific exposure to any specific individual at the ambassadorial level”

 

Via Briefing With Senior State Department Officials On COVID-19: Updates on Health Impact and Assistance for American Citizens Abroad MARCH 23, 2020

QUESTION:  Thanks for doing this.  Two things.  First, for the Senior Official One, can you respond to Senator Menendez’s letter yesterday in which he calls for the administration to invoke authorities within the Civil Reserve Air Fleet readiness program to facilitate chartering these flights to get people back, and in which he also calls for the military or the Department of Defense to make military aircraft available.

And then secondly, for Senior Official Two, as I’m sure you’re aware, the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Ambassador Marks self-quarantined on Thursday at least four days after she returned to South Africa from the United States after having spent time among other things on a U.S. Naval vessel.  Why did she self-quarantine on Thursday?  Was there something that happened between Monday and Thursday that caused her to do that, some kind of exposure?  And if not, why didn’t she self-quarantine immediately upon return to South Africa?  Or indeed, why did she return to South Africa in the first place if she had a potential exposure?  Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE:  Thank you, Arshad.  With regard to MilAir, with regard to using those assets, we are in conversations with the Department of Defense through what is called the ExecSec – ExecSec process.  They are one of the options that we might find ourselves calling on down the road.  At the moment, though, we are finding that – excuse me – that laying on charters via the K Fund, via other mechanisms we have here in the State Department is an efficient way to do this.

As I said, we are also helping private carriers increase the number of flights they have.  So, for example, going into Peru, our Economic Bureau is facilitating conversation amongst the U.S. Government agencies involved in providing this end of the regulatory approval while our embassy in Lima is working with the Peruvian authorities on getting the necessary regulatory approvals down there.  And so we’re able to increase the capacity that way.  This is a – whole-of-government is a cliche.  This is more of a whole-of-possibility effort to get people out, and so no option is foreclosed at (inaudible) and – out.

QUESTION:  Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  What about the question that I had regarding Ambassador Marks and why she did not self-isolate prior to Thursday?  I’d like an answer, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO:  All right.  This is [Senior State Department Official Two].  I can’t speak on an individual case, but I can give you from a policy perspective and sort of the way we’re addressing the disparate self-quarantine and isolation requirements in over 220 locations around the world.  First, we’re not tracking any specific exposure to any specific individual at the ambassadorial level, but I can tell you when any traveler from the State Department returns to a host nation, we respect – to the extent that we can we respect their requirements.  It’s the right thing to do, and I think we would expect their diplomats to do the same when they come to the United States.

 

Is @StateDept Actively Discouraging US Embassies From Requesting Mandatory Evacuations For Staff? #CentralAsia? #Worldwide?

Updated: March 24, 12:54 am PDT

Updated: March 24, 2020 10:47 pm PDT

Updated March 26, 12:07 am PDT

SSDO Special Briefing, March 24, 2020

QUESTION:  [… ] And then secondly, I’m sure you’ve seen these reports that there are numerous embassies, or at least several embassies, where people are basically clamoring for order departure status, and that they are being discouraged from that.  Can you address that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Oh, no.  All help is appreciated.  On the second part of your question, Matt, so our embassies overseas have their emergency teams meet regularly to discuss the situation at post, and they have a process and procedure in place where they can really evaluate the transportation system, the healthcare system, and not just the status of COVID in the country.  And when they reach a certain point where they feel like, okay, maybe time to request authorized ordered departure, they submit a request to the undersecretary of management, and those are coming in regularly, and the undersecretary reviews them and then makes decisions on what to approve.  At this point, I think one of the biggest issues is the travel restrictions that countries are instituting around the world.

MODERATOR ONE:  If I could just add on to that, those decisions are made against a robust set of criteria and decisions made based to – based on a consistent set of principles, all which are geared towards maximizing the safety for our employees.

On March 19, we received an email from a post in Central Asia with the subject line: “Abandoned in Central Asia.” We learned that “after weeks of internal debate with Main State” authorized (voluntary) departure was finally approved for their Embassy on March 17. Apparently, last week, the Embassy’s Emergency Action Committee (EAC) also agreed that it was time to go OD”, that is, go on ordered departure, a mandatory evacuation from post except for emergency staffers. Note that the OD was not for suspension of operations.

Ordered Departures: Talking Ambassadors “out of it”

Sender A said that the Embassy’s EAC recommended “OD on Wednesday (March 18)” and then something happened. The South Central Asia (SCA) top bureau official reportedly “talked the AMB out of it.”  As to the rationale for this development, we were told that embassy employees were not informed. 
“We just know that on Sunday [March 15] EACs at two posts said they wanted OD” and by Monday, March 16, the respective chiefs of mission “had refused based on input” from the top bureau official, according to Sender A. 
So curious minds would like to know if these OD requests have actually been refused or if ambassadors were under pressure not to formally request it so the bureau will not have to refuse it in writing? Anyone know?
The frustrated employee writes: U.S. diplomats are now stuck in countries where U.S. citizens are specifically advised not to use local medical facilities and the Embassies only have small medical units for minor issues. Even if they’re needed, there are zero local hospital beds available. Best case, it sounds like multiple OIG complaints waiting to happen. But when did the administration’s image at home become more important than people’s lives? How much Swagger will SecState have when his people start dying?”

A Snapshot on Medical Facilities

We thought we’d checked the information on medical facilities for several countries in the region. For example, Turkmenistan is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel country. The State Department’s Travel Advisory says:
Medical protocols in Turkmenistan are not consistent with U.S. standards and some travelers have been required to undergo medical testing unrelated to COVID-19 including but not limited to HIV testing.  Consider declining any medical procedures including testing unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the possibility of quarantine of unknown length, carry additional supplies of necessary medication in carry-on luggage.”
According to Diplomatic Security’s 2020 Crime and Safety Report on Uzbekistan:
The country’s “health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and limited modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. Some medication sold in local pharmacies may be counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.”
Tajikistan’s “inadequate public healthcare infrastructure has given rise to private medical facilities offering varying degrees of quality care in some specialties. Also:
“Medical first responders (ambulance crews) do not meet Western standards, and are not widely available, likely poorly equipped, and often poorly trained.”
On Kyrgyzstan: Medical care is often inadequate in the country.
 “There is a shortage of basic medical supplies. Health care resources are limited and often below U.S. standards. Doctors and medical industry staff rarely speak English, and prices for treatment are not fixed. Use a translator or Russian/Kyrgyz speaking friend or family member to assist with medical treatment. U.S. citizens often travel outside of Kyrgyzstan for medical treatment, including most routine procedures.”
In Kazakhstan, medical care options are limited and well below U.S. standards.
“U.S. citizens often depart Kazakhstan for medical treatment, including many routine procedures. Serious long-term care is not a viable option in Nur-Sultan.”

An Ambassador’s Town Hall Meeting

Last Friday, a U.S. Ambassador at a post in South Central Asia held a town hall for embassy employees; held outdoors on the steps of the Embassy, we were told. 
The U.S. Ambassador, citing what he was told by the top SCA bureau official, informed embassy employees the following (provided to us in direct quotes by Sender A):
  • “Ambassador, you need to understand the United States is the red zone, it is not the safe haven that you think it is.”
  • “The U.S. has the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the world.”
  • “It has not peaked in the United States, incidents are rising rapidly, it is out of control.”
  • “The ability to get a test for COVID-19 even with symptoms or comorbidities is extremely difficult.”
  • “The healthcare infrastructure of the United States is not capable of helping.”
This ambassador reportedly further told embassy employees that “500,000 Americans are overseas seeking assistance for getting home.” And that “We are taking down the American economy to fight this enemy.”

(March 25 Special Briefing with CA PDAS Ian Brownlee: “Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance with getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens and we’re committed to bring home as many Americans as we possibly can.”  Wowow!

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US Embassy Jamaica Shows How to Do Public Communication During a Pandemic

On March 11, US Embassy Kingston released an official response to Reports of U.S. Embassy Personnel Testing Positive for COVID-19. See US Embassy Jamaica Employee Reportedly Tested Positive of COVID-19, Routine Consular Services Suspended
On March 16, the Government of Jamaica announced a mandatory self-quarantine effective March 18: “For all persons entering Jamaica from countries where there is local transmission of COVID-19, will now be required to self-quarantine for up to 14 days. This measure will take effect from Wednesday, March 18, 2020.”
On March 17, 2020, US Embassy Kingston issued an update on the status of the COVID-19 positive employee at post, the number of employees — fourteen (14) — placed under quarantine, decontamination efforts at the embassy and its work to provide assistance to its host country. The update has been released as a press statement and also released on Twitter. The US Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia has also addressed the status of the embassy staffer on Twitter.

Kingston- On Tuesday March 10, the U.S. Embassy in Kingston received information that an employee was in isolation on suspicion of COVID-19. Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Embassy took the following appropriate mitigation steps. In alignment with Jamaican health authorities and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, the staff of the entire consular section where the individual works, and anyone who came in close contact with them were ordered to remain at home and notify the embassy and the Ministry of Health & Wellness immediately if they developed symptoms related to COVID-19.

As a preventive measure, within 24 hours of the incident, the Embassy flew in from Washington, DC a U.S. Department of State decontamination team that sanitized the affected areas of the embassy.

“Today, the employee is in good spirits and recovering well. There have been no reports of local transmission via contact to any U.S. Embassy employee. In addition to addressing the embassy case of COVID-19, the U.S. mission in Kingston continues its collaborative efforts with the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) to support its nation-wide efforts to respond to the pandemic.” says Ambassador Donald Tapia.

Following the initial precautionary steps taken, the Embassy attending physician, in consultation with other medical experts conducted assessments of the staff who were ordered to remain at home and made final determination on who to remain on home quarantine. A total of fourteen (14) individuals remain at home for the remainder of the 14 days which ends on March 24th and none has developed symptoms as of today.

In addition to taking care of our mission staff community, the Embassy is also working hard to provide support to the GOJ including: an offer to MoHW of support through Embassy staff physicians and other public health professionals who can provide assistance in the areas of contact tracing, data management and clinical care if needed. The embassy is also in the process of acquiring resources from U.S. government agencies for support in the areas of medical equipment, PPE, and testing kits, to supplement GoJ’s efforts.

Tapia states, “We want to congratulate the GoJ and the Health and Wellness Ministry for its timely reporting of COVID-19 cases and aggressive containment strategy. The ministry has shown that one of the best defenses is appropriate public sensitization on preventative methods and the importance of early case recognition.”

Fighting this pandemic requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. We remind all persons to follow the guidance given through the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Those who suspect that they have had exposure to COVID-19 and are displaying symptoms to self-isolate immediately and contact the Ministry of Health & Wellness at 888-ONE-LOVE (663-5683) or 888-754-7792 for further instructions.

Certificate of Demonstrated Competence: Henry T. Wooster (Nominee For Jordan)

 

Via state.gov

Wooster, Henry R. – Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – January 2020

SUBJECT:            Ambassadorial Nomination:  Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST:                  Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

CANDIDATE:     Henry T. Wooster

Henry Wooster is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, who is currently serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Maghreb and Egypt in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.  Previously, he was the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy, Paris, France, and the Deputy Chief of Mission, and then Charge d’Affaires, at the U.S. Embassy, Amman, Jordan.  He also served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad Pakistan, Director for Central Asia, at the National Security Council, Washington D.C.  Earlier, and as the Foreign Policy Advisor to the Commanding General, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command.   His demonstrated record of leadership, his keen understanding of Jordan, and his broad grasp of our national security interests in the region makes him an excellent candidate to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan.

Earlier in his career, Mr. Wooster was the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iran in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; and as the Director of the Office of Iranian Affairs in the State Department.   His other assignments include service as Deputy Director of the Office of Provincial Affairs, Embassy Baghdad, as a political officer in Russia, and as executive officer and then as political officer at the U.S. Mission to NATO.  In the State Department headquarters in Washington he served first as Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs and then to the Deputy Secretary of State.  He also worked in the Office of Iranian Affairs and the Office of Russian Affairs.  Mr. Wooster served as an Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1985 – 2009,

Mr. Wooster earned a B.A. from Amherst College and an M.A. from Yale University.  He is the recipient of a Presidential Rank Award, numerous State Department awards and  awards for his military service.  He speaks French and Russian and has a working knowledge of Arabic, Farsi, and Syriac/Aramaic.

Trump Installs U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell as Acting Director of National Intelligence #triplehatted

 

@StateDept’s HR Bureau Rebrands as Bureau of Global Talent Management

 

The Director General of the Foreign Service Carol Perez marked the start of her second year as DGHR by announcing the rebranding of the Bureau of Human Resources into the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM).

Somebody notes that the name sounds like “a second-rate modeling agency.”

And how do you pronounce the new acronym … “Get’um”? “Git’um”? “Get’m”?

Apparently, DGHR Perez has previously  mentioned during a bureau town hall that the Global Talent Management “better captures the scope and strategic nature” of the  Bureau’s work.  Always great, great when you add the word “strategic” into the fray, makes everything so strategic.  It supposedly also makes two essential features clear — that the bureau is  a global operation, with over 270 posts in over 190 countries around the world, and that the bureau is in “the talent business”, that is, “recruiting, hiring, retaining and cultivating the best people for the mission.”
We were hoping to hear what happens after “cultivating the best people for the mission” but we were disappointed, of course.
She tells her folks: “I know change is never easy, and I don’t expect it to take place overnight. All of the logistics that go into a name change are being executed in-house. This not only saves resources, but also ensures that the effort is led by those who know the bureau best—our own employees. However, it also means that the full roll-out will be gradual. An ALDAC and Department Notice announcing the name change to the wider workforce will go out later this week, but the full transition will be ongoing. I ask for your patience as signage and digital platforms are updated.”
Why is the HR bureau rebranding? The purported reason being “human resources is a critical bureau function, but not the Bureau’s sole function.”  The DGHR says that “the name “Bureau of Human Resources” no longer represents the full scope of our work, and it lags behind current industry standards. This is one small yet symbolic piece of the Department’s larger efforts to modernize.”
Don’t worry, while HR is not the Bureau’s sole function, it remains an integral part of the bureaus work so there will be no/no change in job titles with one exception. Human Resources Officers (HROs) will not/not become Global Talent Officers  (GTOs) and HR Specialists will not/not become Global Talent Specialists. The one exception is the DGHR. Her full title will be Director General of the Foreign Service (DGHR) and now also Director of Global Talent (DGT). 
The full rollout apparently will be gradual and will include updating signage, updating the digital platforms, e-mail signature blocks, and vocabularies.  Folks should be in the lookout for the Strategic (MY.THAT.WORD. AGAIN) Communications Unit (SCU); it will be sending around a checklist, style guide, and templates so everyone can start living loudly under the new brand.
A few bureau offices will also change their names:
HR/REE (Office of Recruitment, Examination, and Employment) will now be known as Talent Acquisition (GTM/TAC).
HR/RMA (Office of Resource Management and Organization Analysis) should now be called  Organization and Talent Analytics (GTM/OTA).
HR/SS  (Office of Shared Services)  will now be known as Talent Services (GTM/TS).
The announcement makes clear that this is not/not a reorganization and there will also be no/no change in core functions!
So they’re changing the bureau’s name and a few offices names, but everything else stays the same. Yay!
The new name is a “symbolic piece” that will make folks think of the department’s “modernization.”
Yay!Yay!
Makes a lot of sense, really. Of all the problems facing the Foreign Service these days, a bureau’s rebranding  should be on top of it. Change is never easy, so go slow, people, make sure the logos, signage and new paint job are done right.

 

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