USEU’s Amb Gordon Sondland Gets Portland Protesters (Plus Oath of Office Reading)

 

Official tweet below from @USAmbEU account shows that the protesters are not isolated in Portland;  there are also protesters and commenters online. As of this writing the following single tweet has almost 650 replies.

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US Embassy Seoul: Protesters Breach Perimeter of Ambassador’s Residence, 2nd Incident in 13 Months

 

 

@StateDept Issues Travel Advisory Following Massive #LebanonProtests

 

 

On October 21, the State Department issued a  Travel Advisory for Lebanon. The advisory is a Level 3 Reconsider Travel due to to crime, terrorism, armed conflict and civil unrest. Excerpt:

U.S. citizens who choose to travel to Lebanon should be aware that consular officers from the U.S. Embassy are not always able to travel to assist them. The Department of State considers the threat to U.S. government personnel in Beirut sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under strict security restrictions. The internal security policies of the U.S. Embassy may be adjusted at any time and without advance notice.
[…]
The Lebanese government cannot guarantee the protection of U.S. citizens against sudden outbreaks of violence. Family, neighborhood, or sectarian disputes can escalate quickly and can lead to gunfire or other violence with no warning. Armed clashes have occurred along the Lebanese borders, in Beirut, and in refugee settlements. The Lebanese Armed Forces have been brought in to quell the violence in these situations.

 

Massive Turn-Out as Pro-Democracy Protesters March to U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong

 

On Sunday, September 8, a massive crowd of pro-democracy protesters  marched to the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong seeking support from the U.S. Congress to pass H.R.3289 – Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.
On June 13, 2019, the house bill was introduced by Rep. Smith, Christopher H. [R-NJ-4]. It has 21 co-sponsors and was “referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committees on the Judiciary, and Financial Services, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned.”
There is also related bill in the U.S. Senate, the S.1838  Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, introduced on June 13, 2019 by Sen. Rubio, Marco [R-FL].  The bill with nine co-sponsors has been read twice and referred to the Foreign Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC).
A bill must be passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and then be signed by the President to become law. GovTrack gave the house bill a 20% chance of being enacted citing Skopos Labs (details); and the Senate bill a 41% chance of being enacted citing Skopos Labs (details).
As for the U.S. Consulate General, due to the unique status of the Hong Kong and Macau SARs under the “one country, two systems” frameworks, U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong and Macau reports directly to the State Department in Washington, D.C. It is not part of U.S. Mission China.
Post is currently headed by Consul General Hanscom Smith who assumed his duties as the Consul General representing the United States to Hong Kong and Macau in July, 2019. According to his bio, Mr. Smith is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, most recently acting as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for China affairs. Mr. Smith previously served as Consul General in Shanghai and as Director of the Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs at the Department of State. His foreign languages are Mandarin Chinese, French, Danish, and Khmer.
Post’s Deputy Consul General is DCM Paul Horowitz, a career member of the U.S. Department of State Senior Foreign Service assumed his duties in June 2019. According to his bio, Mr. Horowitz has spent much of his career in East Asia, focused primarily on economic and trade issues, including assignments in Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He speaks Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, and Bosnian.

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U.S. Embassy Honduras Cancels Routine Services For June 3-7 After Protesters Torch Access Gate

 

Protesters in Honduras set the access gate to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on fire with tires doused with fuel according to Reuters. The report says that “the protesters chanted “American trash, American trash” outside the embassy, which was not being guarded at the time.”

CNN notes that “the fire was extinguished by mid-afternoon, and a State Department spokesperson later said no embassy personnel were injured in the incident.”

The U.S. Embassy was not being guarded at the time of the protest?

As of 1 am EST, we have not been able to find an official statement from Foggy Bottom. US Embassy Honduras CDA Heide Fulton did release a statement (see below) and announced the suspension of routine consular services for next week due to the fire damage.

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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@StateDept to Venezuela’s Maduro: You can’t break up with U.S. or PNG our unpaid diplomats!

Posted: 2:44  am EST
Updated: 10:33 am PST headline.

 

On January 23, 2019, Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro break diplomatic relations with the United States. The U.S. diplomats in Venezuela were given  72 hours to leave the country. The announcement followed President Trump’s recognition of the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. Later on January 23, the State Department issued a statement on the continuing U.S. presence in Venezuela, stating that it does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela nor does it recognize the legal authority of “former President Nicolas Maduro” to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare U.S. diplomats in the country persona non grata. The State Department statement also called on the Venezuelan military and security forces to “continue protecting the welfare and well being of all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and foreign citizens in Venezuela.” And that “the United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel.”

Perhaps popular support is with Juan Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, but the levers of power in government appears to remain with Maduro. And we doubt very much that Maduro will just step down quietly or peacefully just because the United States called on him to do so. In fact, he just called on the hardened and combatant people to be vigilant and to mobilized and defend the stability of the fatherland. “¡Ni golpismo, ni intervencionismo.”  No coups, no interventionism.

In a related note, Senator Rubio suggests on Twitter that U.S. diplomats present their credentials to the interim president. Diplomats typically present credentials through the ministry of foreign affairs. For now, it looks like on its website and on Twitter — @CancilleriaVE— that government arm is still squarely behind Maduro.

In the meantime, Embassy Caracas issued a Security Alert noting that visa services have been cancelled but that they are keeping normal business hours for U.S. citizen emergency services. The alert also indicates that “U.S. government personnel have been asked to keep their preschool and school aged children home from school on January 24.”

U.S. citizens are advised that protests may continue through the rest of the week. The U.S. Embassy will maintain normal business hours and will receive any U.S. citizens needing emergency services on January 24, 2019 from 8:00am to 3:00pm.  However, all visa appointments for January 24, 2019 have been cancelled. In addition, the movement of U.S. government personnel will be restricted to the following neighborhoods in Caracas: Valle Arriba and Santa Fe, as well as the Escuela Campo Alegre (ECA). U.S. government personnel have been asked to keep their preschool and school aged children home from school on January 24.

We understand that there are several dozens diplomats and family members in Caracas right now. Previous events indicate that in situations like this, there is typically an authorized or ordered departure, diplomatic terms for optional and mandatory evacuation of non-emergency personnel and family members. The goal is to minimize the footprint in country. Family members and non-emergency personnel gets an option to voluntarily depart first. As situation deteriorates, the State Department in the past declared posts/missions on “ordered departure” where leaving is mandatory for non-emergency personnel and almost always, for all family members.

Since the Embassy Alert has made reference to keeping preschool and school aged children home from school on January 24, we have a few questions:

#1. We understand that this recognition was not a surprise. We note that POTUS statement of recognition went up first, followed by VPOTUS video to Venezuelans, and the message of support later amplified by Secretary Pompeo. If so, why was there no authorized or ordered departure prior to the Trump Administration’s Guaido recognition announcement?

#2. Later on the 23rd, Secretary Pompeo released that statement about the continuing diplomatic presence in Venezuela. Again, if this was a well-thought out plan, why were non-emergency personnel and family members not ordered out of the country. Non-emergency personnel need not have to be there. Family members need not have to be there. So why are they there? A blog pal told us, I can’t think of a single good reason why they didn’t send families and non-emergency staff  out already”.  Well, we sort of can. Now that the State Department has declared the United States’ continuing presence in Venezuela after Maduro cut off diplomatic relations and ordered the departure of all diplomats,  it would look — bad/weak/take your pick — if the USG suddenly starts moving non-emergency personnel and family members out of the country. The thing is, they could have done all that earlier, but they did not. Why not? 

#3. Since Maduro appears to still hold power in the country, including military and security forces, the USG’s non-recognition of his government has consequences for our people on the ground. After 72 hours passes, what diplomatic protection is afforded U.S. diplomats who have been declared “not welcome” in their host country? One Maduro ally has reportedly already said that there will be “no prerogatives for U.S. diplomats.” What that means exactly, we’ll have three days to wait and see.

#4. Pompeo’s statement on continuing U.S. presence appears to be baiting Maduro, calling him a “former persident” with no authority in a country he still runs, and at the same time threatening appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel. So the United States will retaliate if Maduro or his people harm unpaid US-government workers and their families at the US Mission in Caracas. Oh, look who are lining up behind Nicolas Maduro!

#5. Also last one – a cornered animal is a dangerous one. And humans, the most dangerous of all.

And then this: Diosdado Cabello, President of the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela under Maduro reportedly says that there will be no prerogatives for U.S. diplomats. “Maybe the light goes in that sector, the gas doesn’t come,” said Cabello as “things that could happen” at the Americans.

Brett McGurk, U.S. Envoy in ISIS Fight, Quits Over Trump’s Syria Withdrawal

OSC’s Hatch Act Guidance: No Advocacy For/Against Impeachment, No #Resist, #ResistTrump Use

 

On November 27, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — not Robert Mueller’s but the federal agency with authorities to investigate cases related to the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) — issued a new guidance regarding political activity. It says that  its Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether the following constitute “political activity” for purposes of the Hatch Act:

1. Is strong criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions considered political activity?

Criticism or praise that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group is political activity. Absent evidence that the criticism or praise is so directed, criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions is not considered political activity. Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances.

Consider, for example, the administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An employee who strongly criticizes or praises that decision during a workplace discussion with a colleague in the days immediately following the decision is less likely to be engaging in political activity than one making those same statements in the run-up to the next presidential election—when the decision will likely have been out of the news for several years—to a colleague that the employee knows has strong feelings about
the subject.

Read more here.

2. Is advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office considered political activity?

Yes. Read more here.

3. Is activity related to “the Resistance” considered political activity?

To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms “resistance,” “#resist,” and derivatives thereof is political activity. We understand that the “resistance” and “#resist” originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, “resistance,” “#resist,” and similar terms have become inextricably linked with the electoral success (or failure) of the president. During the period when President Trump was not considered by OSC to be a candidate for reelection the terms did not raise any Hatch Act concerns. Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection, we must presume that the use or display of “resistance,” “#resist,” “#resistTrump,” and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise.

Note that this presumption is only relevant to employee conduct that takes place on duty, in the workplace, while wearing an agency uniform or insignia, or while invoking any official authority or influence. Provided that they comply with the Hatch Act’s restrictions, employees are free to engage in political activity while off-duty and away from the federal workplace.

In OSC’s example, if you tweet “I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room” – you would not/not be engaging in political activity but OSC would presume that “the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act.”  Read in full here.

The thing is, Foreign Service folks are considered on duty 24/7, so what does this guidance means in the real world? We’ve asked the OSC; will update if we hear anything back.

You may also call the Hatch Act Unit at 202-804-7002 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov  for your Hatch Act-related questions.

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