U.S. Mission Iraq Gets a New Ambassador After Mandatory Evacuation of Non-Emergency Personnel

 

 

On May 16, the day after the State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. Government employees from Iraq, both at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. Consulate in Erbil, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Ambassador Matthew Tueller as the next Ambassador to Iraq. State  also issued a new Level 4 Do Not Travel advisory for Iraq due to “due to terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict.”

We could not recall Mission Iraq  ever going on “ordered departure” (mandatory evacuation).  On June 15, 2014, the State Department went on partial “temporary relocation” of USG personnel from Embassy Baghdad to Basrah, Erbil and Amman, Jordan (see US Mission Iraq: Now on Partial “Temporary Relocation” To Basra, Erbil & Amman (Jordan).  In August 2014, it relocated additional Baghdad/Erbil Staff to Basrah and Amman (Jordan). Note that these “temporary relocations” occurred around the targeted airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists. The State Department went out of its way to avoid the use of the words “authorized departure”, “ordered departure” or for that matter “mandatory evacuation” in describing the movement of its staff that summer.  In September 2018, there was a Mandatory Evacuation For US Consulate General Basrah but limited to Southern Iraq.

As recently as March 31, 2019, in the LEAD IG REPORT TO THE U.S. CONGRESS says:

USCENTCOM reported to the DoD OIG that Iranian activity in Iraq has not changed from last quarter.404 Iranian-backed groups continue to monitor Coalition operations, personnel, and facilities, publish false or misleading stories about Coalition activity in the media, and, through allies within the Iraqi Council of Representatives, support legislation to compel the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.405 CJTF-OIR reported that Iran and Iran-backed groups prefer to try to diminish U.S. and Coalition presence in Iraq through soft power means rather than through direct military confrontation.406

404. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
405. CJTF-OIR, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/26/2019.
406. USCENTCOM, response to DoD OIG request for information, 3/25/2019

 

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Dept of Commerce’s Chelsea Decaminada Injured in Sri Lanka Bombing Has Died

 

A  U.S.  Government employee seriously injured in the terror attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday died on May 4 as a result of injuries she suffered during the attacks.  Chelsea Decaminada worked as an international program specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce and was on assignment in Sri Lanka. She previously served as a Peace Corps volunteer in  in Tanzania. She graduated from Duke University in 2015. RIP Chelsea Decaminada.

@StateDept’s Level 4 “Do Not Travel” Countries as of May 6, 2019 (Updated)

Via travel.state.gov:

Updated: May 10, 2019: Note that while Mexico is listed as a “Level 2: Exercised Increased Caution” country, the following five states in Mexico are considered “Level 4: Do Not Travel ” locations:

  • Colima state
  • Guerrero state
  • Michoacán state
  • Sinaloa state
  • Tamaulipas state

We understand that Mexico is the only country that the State Department breaks down this way.

@StateDept Ups Sri Lanka Travel Advisory After Multiple Easter Sunday Explosions (Updated)

Updated: On April 26, 2019, the Department of State ordered the departure of all school-age family members of U.S. government employees in Kindergarten through 12th grade.  The Department also authorized the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members.

On April 21, the State Department increased the Travel Advisory for Sri Lanka to Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) after multiple attacks throughout the country. Explosions reportedly occurred at  the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo and churches in Kochchikade, Katuwapitiya and Batticaloa; the blasts killed 290 people and wounded 500.  Arrests have been made and investigations are ongoing according to media reports.

The Advisory says in part:

Exercise increased caution in Sri Lanka due to terrorism. Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo also announced that it will be closed to the public on April 22. The American Center in Colombo & all American Spaces will also be closed. Emergency American Citizen Services will be available (see contact number below).  In a statement to the press, the secretary of state confirmed that “several U.S. citizens were among those killed” in Sri Lanka attacks,

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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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U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s State-Owned Oil Company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.

Posted: 3:35 am EST

 

On January 28, the United States sanctioned Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (@PdVSA). During the WH briefing on Venezuela, NSA John Bolton told reporters that the US Embassy Caracas has been “drawn down significantly” when asked about personnel at post.

Tomorrow afternoon,  is reportedly scheduled to meet with the Chargé d’Affaires of , Carlos Alfredo Vecchio at the White House.

Maduro Suspends Expulsion of U.S. Diplomats, Cites Talks on Interest Sections; U.S.Accredits Guaido Envoy

Posted: 3:58 am PST

 

The U.S. diplomats in Venezuela were given  72 hours to leave the country by the Maduro Government  following President Trump’s recognition of  Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. The deadline would have been Saturday, January 26.

On January 24, the State Department declared an “ordered departure” status for the US Embassy in Caracas. On the same day, Maduro also extended that his deadline to Sunday, January 27.

On January 25, some members of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were reported to be heading to the airport. AP reported that a letter by a U.S. Embassy security officer requesting a police escort for a caravan of 10 vehicles was leaked earlier in the day and published on social media by a journalist for state-owned TV network Telesur.

That RSO letter was not sent to the US-recognized Venezuelan government, the request was sent to local police, and was leaked to state-owned TV network. State-owned for now, remains the Maduro government.

On January 26, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Maduro’s government suspended the expulsion of U.S. diplomats and cites a 30-day window for talks to set up interest sections following the rupture of diplomatic relations.

This is similar to what happened in Cuba in January 1961 when full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed. For several years, the United States was represented by Switzerland as its “protecting power” in Cuba. Much later, the U.S. Interest section opened in Havana. Below from the state.gov archives:

For the next 16 years, the U.S. was represented by the Swiss Embassy in Cuba. The U.S. Interest Section, or USINT, opened on September 1, 1977 re-occupying the seven-story former U.S. Embassy building. Officially, the Interests Section is part of and U.S. diplomats are accredited to the Swiss Embassy.

The USINT diplomatic staff provides a normal array of political and economic reporting, consular and visa services, administrative and security support and public affairs representation. Consular operations dominate USINT activities in Cuba, especially the implementation of the U.S. policy goal of promoting safe, legal, and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States. USINT has issued over 100,000 immigrant and refugee travel documents since 1994. By virtue of a reciprocal agreement, personnel ceilings are in effect limiting the number of personnel assigned to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and the Cuban Interest Section in Washington.

But that’s supposing that the United States would consider setting up an Interest Section in Caracas.

It appears that Venezuela’s announcement maybe a one-sided plan. On January 27, Secretary Pompeo also issued a statement of its acceptance of the appointment of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States by interim President Juan Guaido.

The Maduro Government is moving towards an Interest Section in DC but the United States has already accepted interim President Juan Guaido’s appointment of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires in the United States as of January 25. “Mr. Vecchio will have authority over diplomatic affairs in the United States on behalf of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is now closed for consular services; we don’t know if it’s been vacated. How or where the recognized Venezuelan CDA conducts diplomatic affairs remain to be seen.  But it does not look like the US is looking to set up a reciprocal Interest Section.

So we’re back to what’s going to happen when the 30-day window runs out.

 

Related posts:

Meanwhile in Caracas and online, Maduro is shown dancing, going on a military march, and on patrol  in the  “coasts of Puerto Cabello in Amphibious Tanks, willing to defend our Homeland.”

Maduro showing off his dance moves.

Maduro showing off a military march in a green shirt!

Maduro showing off a ride.

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:

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.

Counties, Utility Companies Offer Assistance to Furloughed Federal Employees in D.C. Area

Posted: 2:30 am EST

On January 14, we posted Furlough Assistance For Federal Employees and Pets During Shutdown. This is a follow-up list focusing on county assistance, and Washington, D.C. area utility companies that hopefully can be of use to you.  H/T to peacecorps.gov for the original utilities list offering assistance to furloughed employees. We have supplemented their list.

 

Arlington County Utility Payment Plans for Furloughed Federal Employees 

If you are a furloughed federal employee and are struggling to pay your County Utility Bill, please call our Customer Contact Center at 703-228-6570. You may be eligible for a payment arrangement that will allow you to extend your payment without the accrual of any late fees.

Fairfax County Coordinated Services Planning (CSP)

CSP connects Fairfax County residents to county and community-based services and resources. Just one phone call will get you connected to the information and assistance you need. Call 703-222-0880, TTY 711. In addition, our multilingual staff can assist callers in Amharic, Arabic, Dari, Farsi, French, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Pashto, Punjabi, Somali, Spanish, Swedish, Tigrinya and Urdu. CSP services are also available in other languages through the use of an interpreter.

Beginning Thursday, Jan. 17, Fairfax Connector will provide free rides system-wide for federal government employees affected by the government shutdown who are still required to report for work.

  • You must show your federal photo ID to the bus operator when boarding to ride free.
  • By showing your federal photo ID, trips taken on all Fairfax Connector bus routes are free, including express routes to and from the Pentagon and Downtown D.C.

Alexandria, VA for  food assistance and other resources, call 703.746.5902

The Reston Community Center will be offering special summer camp fee waivers for affected families. To be eligible for this shutdown program, families must present their federal government employee identification when registering for 2019 camp sessions. Affected federal departments include Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury. Patrons must also live or work in Reston to receive the special fee waiver.  Affected families will pay $10 per child per week of camp; some camps are half-day in length. RCC offers an “after-care” option called Zen Zone for those in less than a full day of camp, which would cost another $10 for enrollment under the fee waiver program.

Loudoun County 

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors has approved financial aid to local food pantries and a temporary fee waiver for federal workers who ride Loudoun County Transit buses. The Board also approved the allocation of up to $25,000 to Loudoun Hunger Relief and the Dulles South Food Pantry to help the organizations meet any increase in requests for food assistance caused by the federal government shutdown.

Prince George’s County Relief Package

From Angela D. Alsobrooks Prince George’s County Executive:

“Yesterday we held an event with several local partners to announce a “shutdown relief package” for Prince George’s County residents who are currently furloughed by the federal government shutdown. Through a combination of county government resources and contributions from community partners, we are offering a package of resources that will help bring some stability and security to families who are trying to figure out how to pay the bills or put food on the table. While we do not know how long this shutdown will continue, we want our county residents who are struggling to know that we have your back. I’d like to highlight a couple of the resources being provided by the county below:

Maryland National Capital Park and Planning, through their Department of Parks and Recreation, will waive membership fees for any federal worker affected by the shutdown. You may use any of their exercise facilities. The department is also waiving childcare fees for furloughed workers until the end of the shutdown.

I have authorized our county budget director to put an additional $70,000 into our Emergency Assistance Fund, giving us a total of $150,000 to help those with immediate financial need. The fund can help with items such as delinquent mortgages, utility bills and other financial needs.

While these are resources that the county is providing, local partners in the community have stepped up to provide several resources as well. We’ve built a webpage that lists all the resources currently being offered to furloughed workers, and we will continue to update it as we get more commitments. To find all those resources, please visit the site at: www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/shutdown.

Washington, DC Area Utility Companies 

Pepco waived late fees and said customers could call to set up budget billing or move bill due dates. The utility also created a $50,000 matching grant to an emergency fund created by the United Way of the National Capital Area.
D.C. customers can call 1-800-735-2258;
Maryland customers can call 1-800-643-3768.

D.C. Water said in a statement that it would “immediately begin working with any federal worker who may need additional flexibility in paying their bill.” Programs include extended payment plans and assistance offered through the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment.
Customers can call 202-354-3600.

Washington Gas said in a statement that it will “offer flexible payment arrangements for government employees directly impacted” by the shutdown. Programs include payment deferments, budget plans and help through a fuel assistance fund.
Customers can call 1-844-WASHGAS.

Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission  WSSC will suspend all water service shutoffs to ensure safe, clean water continues to flow to customer’s homes. Additionally, the state’s largest water utility serving 1.8 million residents in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will delay bill payments, waive all late fees, and work one-on-one with customers impacted by the shutdown to establish convenient payment plans.  In addition to these new assistance measures targeted to customers impacted by the federal shutdown, WSSC offers a variety of affordability programs to help customers in need.
Customers are encouraged to contact WSSC and speak with a representative at 301-206-4001 or 1-800-828-6439 to discuss their specific situation.

Dominion Energy doesn’t have a program specifically for furloughed workers, but the utility has a number of options for energy assistance, including budget billing and programs offered through the Virginia Department of Social Services.
Customers can call 866-366-4357.

The Washington Area Fuel Fund (WAFF): Founded by Washington Gas and administered by The Salvation Army, WAFF helps families who do not qualify for, or who have exhausted, government energy assistance. WAFF provides funds for all types of fuel to heat families’ homes during the winter heating season. Through its merger with AltaGas, Washington Gas has increased its funding to WAFF and broadened WAFF’s eligibility beyond low-income customers. For example, a family of four earning $75,050 could qualify for assistance. WAFF also accepts donations to assist neighbors in need. Every dollar donated to WAFF goes directly to those who need assistance because Washington Gas pays the administrative fees of the fund. For more information or to apply for assistance, contact The Salvation Army at 888-318-WAFF (9233) or visit http://washingtonareafuelfund.org/.

 

Emergency Food Via AFL-CIO-United Way

Community Services Agency of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO | 202-974-8226

Non-perishable canned and dry goods available while supplies last. Must make appointment to pick-up by emailing sducote@dclabor.org.

Capital Area Food Bank https://www.capitalareafoodbank.org/programs-2/#Distribution

Northern Virginia Family Service Emergency Food Assistance (NVFS) https://www.nvfs.org/our-services/healthwell-being/food-assistance/

See more AFL-CIO Government Shutdown Resources

American Federation of Government Employees(AFGE)/Feeding America

Find Your Local Food Bank

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