Posted: 1:06 am ET
Posted: 1:06 am ET
Posted: 1:56 am ET
This is from US Embassy Minsk, one of the USG’s smallest missions. Due to restrictions imposed unilaterally by the Belarusian Government in 2008 on the number of U.S. diplomats allowed in Minsk, the American Embassy was forced to reduce its staff from 35 to five diplomats as well as withdraw its Ambassador. The number of U.S. diplomats was later increased to six in July 2014.
Posted: 3:09 am EDT
The United States established diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba in 1902, opening the first U.S. Embassy in Havana in 1923. The Embassy was closed in 1961 when the United States severed diplomatic relations. During President Carter’s administration in 1977, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement establishing the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, and the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, DC. Under the formal protection of the Embassy of Switzerland, USINT operated out of the former U.S. Embassy building, which first opened in 1953. On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced the intention to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. After six months of negotiations, the two nations officially renewed diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015, and USINT became U.S. Embassy Havana.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis (front row, right on couch) is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, and the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Scott Hamilton (front row, left on couch) is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who assumed his current position as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on July 20, 2015.
ADST writes that one of the most daunting and stressful tasks a Foreign Service Officer abroad can face is supporting a visit by the President of the United States:
Concerns about security, cultural sensitivities, press coverage and political effectiveness turn such events into an all-encompassing, embassy-wide obsession from the day the idea of the visit is floated until “Wheels Up” when Air Force One departs. There’s plenty of drama, bruised egos, hurry-up-and-wait, and silliness in the planning and implementation of such a visit. The outcome can make or break a career. A mark of a great FSO is the ability to support a presidential visit while maintaining a sense of courtesy and good humor, especially when demands from everyone from the pre-advance team to the press pool verge on the ridiculous.
And what do you do when the White House press advance team is “as prickly as a hedgehog?” Click here and read more: What Goes on Behind the Scenes When POTUS Comes to Town.
President Obama arrived at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on Sunday, March 20, 4:50 p.m and did a meet-and-greet at U.S. Embassy at 5:50 p.m.
Schedule for POTUS on Monday, March 21 (via usatoday):
• Wreath-laying and tour at the José Marti Memorial, 10:20 a.m.
• Official welcoming ceremony, Palace of the Revolution, 11 a.m.
• One-on-one meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, 11:30 a.m.
• Expanded meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials, 1 p.m.
• Statements to the press by Presidents Obama and Castro, 1:50 p.m.
• Entrepreneurship summit, 3:45 p.m.
• State Dinner at the Palace of the Revolution, 7:25 p.m.
For Tuesday, March 22:
• Address to the Cuban people at El Gran Teatro de Havana, morning
• Meeting with dissidents and civil society leaders, morning
• Baseball have between the Tampa Bay Rays at Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano, 2 p.m.
• Departure from Jose Marti International Airport en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina, afternoon
Posted: 11:20 pm EDT
Ahead of the official flag raising at the US Embassy in Havana with Secretary Kerry this Friday, the State Department released the following 8:36 minute video featuring three former U.S. Marines assigned to Embassy Havana in 1961. The video is narrated by Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, our Charge d’Affaires to Cuba.
On January 4, 1961, U.S. Marines Jim Tracy, F.W. “Mike” East, and Cpl. Larry C. Morris assigned to U.S. Embassy Havana lowered the American flag outside the embassy for the last time. For 54 years, the soldiers’ warm affection for the Cuban people never wavered. And neither did their belief that, one day, they would reunite to raise the flag again. On August 14, 2015, these three U.S. Marines reunite and join Secretary of State John Kerry to re-open the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba.
Posted: 12:30 am EDT
As announced on July 1st, the U.S. and Cuba will officially re-establish diplomatic relations today, July 20. This is the day when both interest sections will become embassies. A State Department official who gave a special briefing on the re-opening of embassies last week told reporters that there is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, so that will not happen until Secretary Kerry travels to Havana later this summer:
Secretary will be there to officiate for these very important events of raising the flag and unveiling the signage for the U.S. Embassy in Havana. He does – his presence there is ceremonial. It’s important, it’s historic, but legally the embassy will be functioning on Monday, July 20th. There is not a legal requirement to fly a flag, and we wanted the Secretary to be there to oversee these important events.
There will also be a flag installation in Foggy Bottom but this is apparently a “routine installation with no public or media component.” All American employees of the interest section in Havana will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy but there will be no new additional employees at this time.
Our DCM in Havana, Conrad Tribble tweeted just minutes ago:
Just made first phone call to State Dept. Ops Center from United States Embassy Havana ever. It didn’t exist in Jan 1961.
— Conrad Tribble (@conradtribble) July 20, 2015
July 20 also marks the day when the agreement with Switzerland as the “protecting power” of the United States in Cuba is terminated. That will require a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been the United States’ protecting power for many years, and that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade from interest sections to embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.
— Sección de Intereses (@USAenCUBA) July 13, 2015
The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. will hold its ceremonial re-opening in the morning of July 20 with very limited attendance by a U.S. Government delegation to be lead by Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson.
— CubaInterestsSection (@SeccionCubaUS) July 19, 2015
In the early afternoon Secretary Kerry will meet his counterpart, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, at the State Department for an historic meeting. Afterward at 1:40, they will have a joint press conference, “sort of the first historic joint press conference between the Secretary of State and the Cuban Foreign Minister,” according to the State Department.
Excerpt below from the special briefing:
QUESTION: Thank you. So starting Monday, what changes, what is different at the now-U.S. Embassy in Havana? Can anyone go? Is it like other embassies in the world where you have to have a previous appointment? What is going to happen with U.S. diplomats? Do – starting Monday, are they free to roam the country as they haven’t been before? Can you be more specific on the logistics please?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Yes, on Monday they will – all of the employees of the – the American employees of the interest section will be re-accredited as employees of the embassy. So it is an upgrade in status for the – for all the U.S. employees there. The chief of mission will be upgraded to charge d’affaires, and they will be then entered as a member of the diplomatic corps in Havana, and that will mean that they are invited to diplomatic functions just like any other country. That has not been the case previously. And yes, there are conditions that we have talked about previously, about – when we made the agreement to open the embassies. And there will be some – those conditions will all be active and effective on July 20th and will begin to function under those new conditions. Those new conditions do include greater freedom for U.S. diplomats to travel throughout Cuba.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Quickly, will the charge d’affaires, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, be in Havana, and will he do anything in Havana on Monday? Did you get the new employees that you asked for and will they be there start this – starting next week? And you said they get an upgrade of employees that are at the Interests Section. Do they also get a pay upgrade?
STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The – actually, Jeff DeLaurentis will be – and I should have mentioned that earlier – he will be in the delegation that is here in Washington, and that’s a fairly standard practice and especially for a historic meeting that our representative in the embassy would come back for that meeting. So he will be here in Washington. And so our deputy chief of mission in Havana will actually on that day be in charge of the post. And again, there is no other activity other than we’re going to have a statement put out by the embassy announcing that they have indeed elevated status to an embassy that morning.
There also will be a technical exchange of notes because the Government of Switzerland has been providing us protecting power for many years, and that will now be – that agreement between the U.S. and Switzerland, and another agreement between Cuba and Switzerland, will be terminated as a result of the upgrade.
As for the employees, there may be some confusion in that the discussion of personnel and staffing that we had with the Cubans referred specifically to American employees, and that’s a personnel issue that we’ll work out in the months to come. So on that day, we would not get new employees. In fact, the employees at the Cuban Interests Section will be the same employees and they – as I understand it, they’re excited about becoming (inaudible) of the U.S. embassy.
Read more here.
Posted: 1:02 am EDT
Last week, State/OIG released its inspection report of the U.S. Embassy Antananarivo in Madagascar. It’s one of those report that you read and you want to pull your hair in frustration. By the time the OIG came for a visit, there’s a new chargé d’affaires, a new staff rotated in and a new team is tasked with correcting the mess left by the previous officials assigned to post. The previous CDA identified fuel as a management control deficiency but did not see the rest of the good stuff. The OIG report notes that other vulnerabilities discussed in the report “would have been apparent if embassy leadership had conducted a comprehensive, office-by-office review of all activities with management control implications.”
The report highlights non-use of record email to effectively track important exchanges on policy and programs, use of social media to reach a mainly urban, youthful, and elite audience where only 2 percent of the Madagascar population has access to the Internet, and Meritorious Honor Awards without proper documentation. Beyond the more problematic public affairs grants and purchases discussed below, post also spent more than $10,000 on computer equipment for use in Comoros, even if — get this — there is no U.S. Government office space in Comoros in which to place that equipment.
And here’s one that’s going to make you unfriend this fella on Facebook: “The previous chargé d’affaires departed the embassy without completing six interim evaluation reports for American employees he supervised, as required for periods of 120 days or more under 3 FAM 2813.4. He did not respond to email reminders from the embassy human resources office and the Bureau of African Affairs. ”
A quick look at US Embassy Antananarivo:
The mission has a total staff of 296, with 57 U.S. direct-hire positions. In April 2010, the embassy occupied a new embassy compound (site acquisition was $3.6 million, and construction was $102.3 million), consisting of a chancery, a warehouse/shops facility, a Marine security guard quarters, and a swimming pool. Embassy housing consists of 38 leased and 2 government-owned residences, 1 of which is the Ambassador’s residence.
The good news: A recently arrived chargé d’affaires
Stephen Anderson arrived in August 2014, about two months before the OIG inspection. The OIG inspectors write:
The recently arrived chargé d’affaires has made a good start in leading the embassy during a period of profound change in the political situation in Madagascar and the subsequent restart of the bilateral relationship between Madagascar and the United States. … The chargé d’affaires, working with a collegial country team, has also demonstrated interpersonal engagement within the embassy…..The chargé d’affaires has also demonstrated his commitment to management controls within the embassy. He directed that each Department section conduct a self-assessment of its management deficiencies. At the time of the inspection, the mission had completed corrective action on 73 of the 122 action items identified and was working to close the others.
Some other good news:
1) The information management office is led by a seasoned information management officer. The section received good scores on ICASS customer surveys and OIG questionnaires, as well as A+ ratings from the Department’s network and systems monitoring software. 2) Community liaison office operations received high marks, exceeding both regional and worldwide scores in the 2014 ICASS customer satisfaction survey. 3) OIG surveys noted that parents are satisfied with the quality of education; and 4) The health unit’s ICASS customer satisfaction scores are above worldwide averages.
Now for that American Center boondoggle:
According to State/OIG, the American Center was funded with embassy public affairs funds (approximately $116,328) and by two large allotments provided in June 2012 by the Office of American Spaces in the Bureau of International Information Programs (totaling $559,062). The OIG report is careful to point out that though current staff members will play a key role in identifying a path forward on this project, they are not responsible for the existing situation. But all those responsible and accountable for this project are left unnamed in the OIG report presumably because they are no longer at post and have been successfully recycled to other posts. And since IERs (inspector’s evaluation reports) are no longer in season, none of the details from this report will ever make it anywhere near a promotion board.
A former embassy public affairs officer in 2011 proposed an American Center for the capital on the basis of a public-private partnership model. The concept initially envisioned a partnership of the English Teaching Program (ETP), a restaurant, Voice of America, a telecommunications company, and a publisher of a free entertainment monthly. A memorandum of understanding was drafted and signed by some of the prospective partners in June 2013 after lengthy delays. However, two prospective partners failed to sign on and a final partnership memorandum never entered into force.
Disregard of policies and procedures concerning grants and cooperative agreements have put at risk the embassy’s approximately $700,000 project to establish an American Center in Antananarivo. The OIG team noted that the decisions and actions that led to the American Center problems predate the arrival of the employees presently assigned to the embassy.
The embassy initiated a massive public relations campaign and announced the start of construction at a press conference in April 2012 attended by the former chargé d’affaires and the deputy coordinator of the Bureau of International Information Programs.
We were able to locate the embassy announcement of the new American Center from April 2012.
Welcome to the new American Center. In a few months time this space will be transformed into the most modern and technologically advanced space that Madagascar has ever seen. It will be a place to learn, to explore, and to connect. It will not be your traditional cultural center. This initiative is an innovative collaboration between the American Embassy, our private sector partners, and the English Teaching Program. It is this ambitious vision for a cultural center based entirely on the model of a public-private partnership that has brought the person in charge of American centers worldwide for the State Department to Madagascar. I would like to acknowledge Michelle Logsdon, the Deputy Coordinator for International Information Programs who has joined us today to learn more about this important initiative.
As you will see in the presentations that each partner will be delivering shortly, they have not only embraced the potential of this center, they have developed it in ways we would have never dreamed possible. VIMA plans to put on some of the most spectacular shows Antananarivo will have ever seen. Orange and Teknet will make the latest technology accessible to a new generation of Malagasy, while the Cookie Shop will create a new environment for learning, exchanging, and of course some great brownies.
We will organize trainings, cultural programs, and conferences with our partners that connect them and their clients to individuals, information, and opportunities from around the globe. We will also have a team dedicated to finding the latest information, technology, and developments for the Center. While many of the services at the Center will be fee-based, just like at an internet café or a theatre, the Embassy will ensure that there will be more resources and events than ever that are available to the public for free.
This is going to be a fee-based center in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is only $1,000 (2013 est.), with 92 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. Who’s going to be the audience for these programs? The same urban, youthful, and elite audience that belongs to the 2 percent of the Madagascar population with access to the Internet?
I Dreamed a Dream … a Cookie Shop and Some Great Brownies
The OIG team inspected Embassy Antananarivo from October 7–29, 2014. At that time, the team visited the proposed American Center site in a shopping mall and observed the following:
[A]fter almost 2 years of construction, the site, covering 1,200 square meters (or 12,917 square feet), was a shell. Rooms were laid out, but lighting, flooring, doors, and other infrastructure were absent. A small bathroom shared with the rest of the mall was located at some distance from the site on the other side of the mall. Other problems included the lack of storage space, ceilings below standard height on the mezzanine level, and inadequate provision for air conditioning. On a weekday afternoon, some minor construction work was underway. However, no agreement had been reached on a final design or construction plan, including where the U.S. Government portion of the facility might be located.
Storage in seven 40-ft container for nearly two years?
As the American Center is not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment ordered for it has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years. The OIG team spot-checked the contents of the containers and did not observe water or insect damage.
The embassy did not have a plan (which details needed resources, deadlines, partners, and costs) that could lead to a decision whether to close or salvage this project. Without such a plan, the embassy runs the risk of repeating past mistakes and failing to make the best use of funds already expended.
No Bona Fide Need for Much of Equipment Procured for American Center
According to information the embassy provided the OIG team, the embassy has expended approximately $400,000 to date on furniture and equipment for the American Center project. However, the embassy failed to establish a bona fide need for many of these procurements. This failure—and the subsequent misuse of some of the furniture and equipment—constitutes a management control weakness.
A notable example of a questionable procurement is a $47,938 telescopic theater-style seating system, which the embassy purchased even though the prevailing wage of workers who could set up and remove chairs is $10 a day. The shipping cost for this item alone was estimated at $19,175.
Other examples of questionable procurements abound and include the following (costs are rounded and do not include shipping):
Whatsadoing with a $5,500 coffee grinder/espresso maker?
The OIG report says that records the team reviewed indicate that the public affairs section recommended specific vendors to the procurement unit, most often identified through Amazon.com. Looks like no one bothered to make a distinction between government shopping and personal shopping, and folks were in a hurry to spend end-of fiscal year funds:
No documentation in the procurement files shows that procurements greater than $3,000 were properly competed, as required. A number of the items ordered were not part of the original equipment lists submitted in support of the request for funds. For example, the original request did not include any food preparation equipment, yet the embassy purchased items such as a wine cooler, a $650 residential blender, grills, a $5,500 coffee grinder and commercial espresso maker, refrigerators, and other kitchen items.
Property Control Does Not Comply with Regulations, No Kidding
The amazing thing here is there is no discussion why USG properties were lent to two private businesses without documentation. Who signed them out? Who approved these loans? What did the USG get for this sweet arrangement? Did those companies just come by the embassy, pick up the USG properties and the embassy guards just waved “bye, come back soon?”
As the American Center was (and still is) not ready for occupancy, much of the furniture and equipment has been stored in seven 40-foot containers located in the embassy parking lot, some of it for nearly 2 years.
Other furniture and equipment was loaned to two private businesses for their use without any documentation. The embassy loaned at least $42,000 of computers and office equipment to one telecommunications firm alone. These items included 12 iPads, 16 iMacs, and 2 70-inch and 3 46-inch televisions. The embassy purchased a $6,700 eBoard from this company and then lent the item back to it. The embassy told the OIG team that these items were retrieved from the firm in February 2014 after a year or so in use, though the lack of documentation makes the timing unclear. The other firm, a restaurant chain, was lent at least $5,000 worth of U.S. Government property. The embassy warehouse unit retrieved these items, including a refrigerator installed in the restaurant owner’s private residence, on September 15, 2014—3 weeks prior to the OIG team’s arrival. These deficiencies were not, but should have been, included in the 2014 chief of mission statement of assurance signed by the previous chargé d’affaires on August 11, 2014.
Who Bears Responsibility For This Project, Anyways?
Short answer from OIG: Bureau of African Affairs, Bureau of International Information Programs, and Embassy Bear Responsibility. Here is the longer answer:
The lack of accountability for the American Center project extends beyond the embassy because additional management controls exist for projects of this scale. The Bureau of International Information Programs and its regional information resources office in Nairobi approved two large American Spaces funding requests despite warning signs. These included the requests’ hyperbolic language (“the possibilities are endless”) and the questionable suitability of such a large, public-private project in a very poor country, especially when the project would be managed by a public affairs officer and section lacking the necessary business and accounting acumen and grants management experience. The Bureau of African Affairs approved the project despite the fact that it had not received the necessary project details from the embassy and despite the many flaws in the grants documents that they did receive. The embassy did not caution the Department that the project’s prospective partners had never cooperated in such a joint venture, had no understanding of its public purpose, and had no record of such cooperation with the embassy in the past. The Department should have drawn on its technical and regional expertise and understanding of public-private partnerships to identify flaws in the initial plan before it was approved and funds were allotted.
Note that the new Ambassador to Madagascar Robert Yamate was only confirmed by the Senate in November 2014, and did not get to post until December 2014, five months after his nomination was announced and two months after this OIG inspection. The previous ambassador appointed to Madagascar was R. Niels Marquardt who departed post in June 2010.
ISP-I-15-20A Inspection of Embassy Antananarivo, Madagascar | May 15, 2015