Pompeo Announces Departure of All Remaining U.S. Embassy Caracas Diplomats From Venezuela

 

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo announced the “temporary” departure of all remaining US Embassy Caracas diplomats from Venezuela. He also said that “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins. ”

Two days ago, the State Department reissued its Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory after the March 11, 2019 announcement of temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawal of diplomatic personnel in Venezuela. The advisory cautions American travelers to  “not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Keep the local staffers in your thoughts, personnel withdrawal does not include the local employees. See CDA James Story video here with a message to the people of Venezuela.

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@SecPompeo Announces Withdrawal of All US Personnel From Venezuela, Also Who Needs the Next Curveball?

 

In a most worrisome development, Secretary Pompeo announced the withdrawal of all remaining  personnel from US Embassy Caracas in Venezuela. The announcement cites  the “deteriorating situation” and the staff’s presence becoming “a constraint on U.S. policy” as the reasons for the withdrawal.

When the secretary of state calls his own diplomats’ presence “a constraint” — as in a limitation, a hindrance, an impediment — on U.S. policy specific to a particular country, what does that tell you? That the talking is done? What comes after all talks are done, or in this case, after all tweets were sent?

And when the secretary of state announces the evacuation of all remaining personnel from the embassy, what signal is he sending Maduro? How will Maduro respond? We don’t know about you, but we’re worried; why announce this evacuation prior to it actually happening? What arrangements are being made for private Americans still in Venezuela?

Then there’s this, of course, which shows a willingness to assign blame because it was convenient and easy. This was also the week when #miltaryintervention was briefly trending on Twitter. It looks like that’s about to get loud again.

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

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

@SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela

Posted: 3:35 am EST

 

On January 25, Secretary Pompeo announced that he was “incredibly excited” that Elliot Abrams “a seasoned, principled, and tough-minded foreign policy veteran is joining our State Department team.” Pompeo cited Abrams’ work during the Reagan years as  “former assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs and as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs.” He also cited Abrams service under President George W. Bush where the new special envoy previously “served on the National Security Council as the senior director for democracy, human rights, and international affairs; senior director for North African and Near East affairs; and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy.”

Pompeo told reporters that “Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”

Left unmentioned was Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh’s Iran/Contra report which notes that Elliott Abrams — “Pleaded guilty October 7, 1991, to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about secret government efforts to support the Nicaraguan contra rebels during a ban on such aid. U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., sentenced Abrams November 15, 1991, to two years probation and 100 hours community service. Abrams was pardoned December 24, 1992.” (see Summary of Prosecutions xxiii and Chapter 25 U.S. v. Elliott Abrams 375).

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser John Bolton, also could not contain his excitement, tweeting: “Pleased to hear that my good friend Elliott Abrams is rejoining State as Special Envoy for Venezuela. Welcome back to the fight.”

On January 27, Secretary Pompeo also issued the following statement on the appointment of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States:

The United States accepted interim President Juan Guaido’s designation of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States on January 25. Mr. Vecchio will have authority over diplomatic affairs in the United States on behalf of Venezuela.

After his accreditation, Mr. Vecchio met with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who reaffirmed the United States’ strong support for interim President Guaido’s leadership of Venezuela. The United States looks forward to working with Mr. Vecchio and other diplomatic staff as designated by interim President Guaido.

 

And here is a blast from the past, a 1995 video from a Rose show of Friday 03/31/1995 with then Representative Robert Torricelli, former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and journalist Allan Nairn discuss the potentially illegal intervention in the Guatemalan military:

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.