@StateDept Suspends Its Visa Interview Waiver Program (IWP) Under E.O. 13780 #Brazil #Argentina

Posted: 4:24 am ET
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On July 27, the State Department issued a redacted guidance citing changes from ALDAC 17 State 77174 on Interview Waivers. The new guidance reflects the suspension of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) under Executive Order 13780 (E.O.). The suspension of the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) means that more visa applicants will require personal interviews.

Note that the State Department’s current hiring freeze remains in effect and includes Family Member Appointment (FMA) or Temporary Appointment jobs (also see Out in the Cold: How the Hiring Freeze Hiring Freeze is Affecting Family Member Employment). We are not quite at the end of the summer travel season so we can expect that that the visa wait time will start creeping up again.  Visa wait times for USCG Guangzhou is 13 days, US Embassy New Delhi is now 15 days, USCG Chengdu is 6-11 days, US Embassy Manila is 10-19 days, and US Embassy Havana is 21 days.  Appointment wait time for visitor visas at US Embassy Caracas is 999 days. Wait times can potentially get even worse next year with State projected to shrink by 2300 personnel, and if the hiring freeze is not lifted until the reorganization is concluded.

9 FAM 403.5 says that “Every alien seeking an NIV must apply in person and be interviewed by a consular officer unless a specific exception allows for waiver of the interview requirement.”

FAM 403.5-2  (U) INTERVIEW REQUIREMENT
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

a. Unavailable   

b. (U) Every alien seeking an NIV must apply in person and be interviewed by a consular officer unless a specific exception allows for waiver of the interview requirement.

c.  Unavailable  

(1)  (U) Generally, all applicants who are at least 14 years of age and not more than 79 must be interviewed in person.

(2)  (U) The circumstances in which the consular officer may waive an interview for a nonimmigrant applicant are limited to the categories set out in section 222(h)(1)(A) and (B) of the INA.  See 9 FAM 403.5-4(A).  

(3)  (U) If you receive a compelling case that does not qualify for an interview waiver under one of these categories, but where an interview waiver appears warranted, you may forward a recommendation for waiver through your VO/F post liaison.

(4)  (U) If admissibility issues or national security concerns arise in the visa application process for applicants for whom the interview requirement has been waived, or for applicants under 14 and over 79, you must conduct a personal interview of the applicant.

d. (U) If none of the grounds in 9 FAM 403.5-4(B) below that mandate an in-person interview apply, any applicant (first-time or renewal) who is:

(1)  (U) Under 14 years of age; or

(2)  (U) Over 79 years of age

    is exempt from the requirement of a visa interview.

The “grounds” and “interview waiver criteria” under 9 FAM 403.5-4(B) only contains the following passage:

Eligibility for interview waiver does not automatically entitle any applicant to a waiver of the interview requirement.  You must interview any and all interview waiver-eligible applicants who you believe should be interviewed to more fully assess their eligibility or intentions, or those whom you are concerned may be from high-threat or high-fraud areas.  Review all source information and liaise with other agencies at post to remain aware of changing threat information. 

9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1)  (U) Interview Waiver Categories
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

a. (U) Waiver by Consular Officers:  

(U) You may waive the interview of any visa applicant who falls under one or more of the following categories  in (1)-(3) below and who satisfies the requirements of 9 FAM 403.5-4(B):

(1)  (U) Is within a class of nonimmigrants classifiable under the visa symbols A-1, A-2, C-2, C-3 (except attendants, servants, or personal employees of accredited officials), G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, NATO-1, NATO-2, NATO-3, NATO-4, NATO-5, NATO-6, or TECRO E-1 and who is seeking a visa in such classification;

(2)  (U) Is an applicant for a diplomatic or official visa as described in 22 CFR 41.26 or 22 CFR 41.27, respectively.

(3)  (U) Renewals in the same category within 12 months:

(a)  (U) Is applying for the same nonimmigrant visa classification not more than 12 months after the date on which the prior visa expired  (i.e., same visa class and same category (principal or derivative)); and

(b)  (U) Is applying in the consular district of his or her normal residence, unless otherwise prescribed in regulations that require an applicant to apply for a visa in the country of which such applicant is a national.

(i)      (U) For example, a B1/B2, L, or R visa holder who is seeking to renew his/her visa in the same category within 12 months of his/her last visa’s expiration date within the consular district of his/her normal residence qualifies for interview waiver for Renewals;

(ii)    (U) On the other hand, an H-1B visa holder applying for an L-1 visa, an E-2 spouse applying for a visa as an E-2 principal, or an F-2 visa holder applying for an F-1 visa all would need to appear for an interview.

(iii)    (U) The  adjudication may take place outside the 12-month window, as long as the application is made within12 months of the previous visa’s expiration date. The criteria for making an application are defined in 9 FAM 403.2

(c)   Special considerations for applications to renew Student and Exchange Visitor visas:

(i)     (U) Students (F and M applicants) are eligible for interview waiver , provided the applicant is re-applying to renew the same visa classification not more than 12 months after the date on which the prior visa expired and provided the applicant is renewing his or her visa either to: (a) continue participation in the same major course of study even if at a different institution; or (b) attend the same institution even if in a different major course of study.

(ii)    (U) Exchange visitor visas (i.e., J visas) may only be renewed  without an interview if the exchange visitor will continue participation in the same exchange visitor program, with the same Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) number from the previously issued visa.

(iii)    (U) You must verify that the applicant’s SEVIS record indicates a SEVIS status of “initial” or “active,” and should request an interview if you identify any discrepancies between the current and previous visa applications, or wish to interview the applicant for any other reason.

b.  (U) Waiver by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services  In unusual or emergent circumstances the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services may waive the interview requirement in individual cases after determining that such a waiver is necessary as a result of unusual or emergent circumstances.  If you believe waiver of the interview is necessary due to unusual or emergent circumstances, contact your VO/F post liaison

c.  (U) Waiver by the Secretary in individual cases when in the national interest: The Secretary of State may waive the interview requirement in individual cases after determining that such a waiver is in the national interest of the United States.  If you believe waiver of the interview would be in the national interest of the United States, but that applicant does not qualify for any other aforementioned waiver categories, contact your VO/F post liaison.

The new guidance also removed the IWP for Brazilian and Argentine applicants.

9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(3)  (U) Discontinued Interview Waiver Program Categories
(CT:VISA-415;   07-27-2017)

Effective immediately, posts must require an interview for the following categories of individuals that had previously been covered by the IWP (unless the applicant also falls in an interview waiver category described in 9 FAM 403.5-4(A)(1)):

  • (1)  (U) Any applicant whose visa expired more than 12 months, and not more than 48 months, prior to the date of application;
  • (2)  (U) Any first-time Brazilian applicant aged 14 or 15 or between 66 and 79;
  • (3)  (U) Any first-time Argentine applicant aged 14 or 15 or between 66 and 79.

 

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President Obama Remembers Ex-@USEmbArgentina Diplomat Tex Harris

Posted: 5:01 pm EDT
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Below is an excerpt from the Buenos Aires Herald interview with Tex Harris:

What actions did you take?

I had business cards printed up, would go to the Plaza de Mayo square and urge the Mothers to come to the US embassy to explain what had happened to their family members. It began slowly, and developed into a torrent of reports.

How did the State Department use your reports?

Under the Carter administration, Congress mandated a new bureau for human rights in the State Department. Patricia “Pat” Derian headed this new bureau and her office used the reports to argue for severe sanctions against the military government of Argentina. The embassy leadership saw the curtailing my reporting as a way of curtailing the ability of Derian’s human rights office from impacting on US policy.

What type of sanctions did the Carter administration implement?

Under the US congressional mandate, the Carter administration began to cut off things from the military government one-by-one. They stopped providing special new technology, such as computers for police cars, or objecting to IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) loans. They began to cut off cultural, agricultural programmes, military exchanges and visits. Training for military officers was also curtailed.

Did you face any repercussions for your actions?

After six months of reporting, US human rights policy began to have an impact on every connection between the Argentine government and the United States. The embassy’s leadership tried to curtail my human rights reports, so they could have more flexibility in arguing for softer policies towards the military dictatorship. That led to a confrontation with my sense of duty to report the information being provided to me by family members and my responsibilities as a professional diplomat. And I was penalized for not being a “team player.” For seven years, my career was paralyzed.

Who was the ambassador at the time?

Raúl Castro was the US ambassador to Argentina then. He had developed a good relationship with (former Argentine dictator Roberto) Viola, and he was convinced that the best way to resolve the human rights problems in Argentina was for the US to take advantage of the divided military government, by supporting the army against the navy. But Washington DC had no interest in playing this micro-political ball game in Buenos Aires. The White House wanted to demonstrate the seriousness of then-president Carter’s human rights policy by implementing sanctions against gross violators of human rights — whether in Argentina or the Philippines.

Read the full interview here.

For those who missed this back when, here is a clip from Bill Moyers Crossroads interview. Part 2 is here.

 

Related items:

 

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President Obama Pays Tribute to Argentina’s Dirty War Victims, Also Remembers USG Diplomats

Posted: 4:09 am EDT
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President Obama and President Macri at the Parque de la Memoria paying tribute to Argentina’s Dirty War victims.

It takes courage for a society to address uncomfortable truths about the darker parts of its past.  Confronting crimes committed by our own leaders, by our own people — that can be divisive and frustrating.  But it’s essential to moving forward; to building a peaceful and prosperous future in a country that respects the rights of all of its citizens.

Today, we also commemorate those who fought side-by-side with Argentinians for human rights.  The scientists who answered the call from the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to help identify victims in Argentina and around the world.  The journalists, like Bob Cox, who bravely reported on human rights abuses despite threats to them and their families.

The diplomats, like Tex Harris, who worked in the U.S. Embassy here to document human rights abuses and identify the disappeared.  And like Patt Derian, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights for President Jimmy Carter — a President who understood that human rights is a fundamental element of foreign policy.  That understanding is something that has influenced the way we strive to conduct ourselves in the world ever since.

 

 

The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

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The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

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Noah Mamet Sworn-in as U.S. Ambassador to Argentina, Twice For Good Measure

— Domani Spero
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Ambassador Noah B. Mamet was confirmed by the US Senate on December 2nd. He was sworn into office, in a private ceremony at the State Department with Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson administering the oath.

via U.S. Embassy Argentina

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson, December 3, 2014, at the U.S. Department of State. (Photo: Dept. of State)

On December 10, Ambassador Mamet was sworn-in again by Vice President Joe Biden at an official ceremony held at the White House. Argentine Ambassador to the United States Cecilia Nahon attended the ceremony.

Ambassador Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by vice president Joseph Biden. (Photo: Vice President’s Office)

Ambassador Mamet, with mother Millie Mamet, is sworn in by vice president Joseph Biden. (Photo: Vice President’s Office)

 

Senator John McCain was once asked by Tim Russert about running as George W. Bush’s VP. His response was, “No. No way. The vice president has two duties. One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of third world dictators.” He forgot to mention VPOTUS’ duty in the ceremonial swearing-in of political ambassadors, which sounds like fun, too.

Ambassador-designate Mamet is yet to present his credentials in Buenos Aires but he is already  on Twitter. Don’t get too excited there!   It looks like he actually joined Twitter in January 2010 but has only the following three tweets as of this writing.

 

 

 

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Confirmations: House Packing Officially On For Noah Mamet (Argentina), and Colleen Bell (Hungary)

— Domani Spero
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All that hand wringing whether or not controversial Obama bundlers would get to post or not this year ends today. On December 2, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary.

Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet would replace Vilma Martinez who served in Buenos Aires from 2009-2013.  He will soon take up residence at Palacio Bosch, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina designed by French architect René Sergent. The residence is considered Sergent’s finest work because of its stylistic unity and contextual relation to its environs, and according to State/OBO, was seminal to Argentine architectural taste.

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

The owner sold the residence to the United States Government in 1929 following recurrent propositions by U.S. Ambassador Robert Woods Bliss (Ambassador to Argentina from 1927-1933). Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., who joined the Foreign Service in 1903 also purchased some of the furnishings, which he later donated to the residence. Major renovation of the building was undertaken in 1994. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ first totally historic restoration began, using many Argentine artisans and craftsmen who were direct descendants of the original experts. 40,000 ft² palace, lots of rooms but we don’t know the state of the bathrooms.

Embassy Buenos Aires acting ambassador has been Kevin K. Sullivan who began work as Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires since June 2013.  A career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, he was posted previously in Argentina from 1997-2000.  The Embassy Buenos Aires is up to speed and has already announced the confirmation of the new ambassador on its website, almost as soon as it happened.

Ambassador-Designate Colleen Bell would replace Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, who served as Ambassador to Budapest from 2010-2013. Not sure where is the ambassador’s residence there but she will soon hold office at the building at Szabadságtér 12 in Budapest’s Fifth District which has been home to the United States Legation and Embassy since 1935. It was designed by the architects Aladár Kármán and Gyula Ullman, who were hired by a commercial company called the Hungarian Hall of Commerce, Ltd., who had purchased the site on May 16, 1899.  According to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, during World War II, the Chancery Building operated under the Swiss Flag. There are stories that Jewish refugees were hidden in the lower levels of the building during the War. From November 4, 1956 to September 28, 1971, the Chancery also served as the home of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who took refuge there during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The Cardinal lived in what is now the Ambassador’s office.

Embassy Budapest’s second in command is M. André Goodfriend who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission since August 2013.  He previously served as the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, from August 2009 until the embassy suspended operations in February 2012.

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Cloture Invoked, Senate to Vote on Confirmation of Mamet (Argentina) and Bell (Hungary) Nominations on 12/2

— Domani Spero
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On Monday, December 1, 2014, the Senate voted on cloture on the Mamet and Bell ambassadorial nominations. The Senate previously stated that if cloture is invoked on either of the nominations, on Tuesday, December 2, 2014, at 10:30am, all post cloture time will be expired, and the Senate will proceed to vote on confirmation of the nominations.

  • 5:33pm The Senate began a 15 minute roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #892, Noah, Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador to Argentina;Invoked: 50-36
  • 6:05pm The Senate began a 10 minute roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #631, Colleen Bradley Bell, of Californina, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary; Invoked: 50-36

According to the CRS, under a November 21, 2013, precedent established by the Senate, invoking cloture on presidential nominations to positions other than the Supreme Court of the United States requires a vote of a majority of Senators present and voting, or 51 votes if all 100 Senators vote.

Click here (pdf) if you want to learn more about this Senate procedure.

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Confirmations 11/20: Pettit, Spratlen, Krol, Moreno, Lu, Hartley, Controversial Nominees Up Next Month

— Domani Spero
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The U.S. Senate confirmed the following nominations by voice vote on November 20:

  • James D. Pettit, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Moldova
  • Pamela Leora Spratlen, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Uzbekistan
  • George Albert Krol, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Kazakhstan
  • Luis G. Moreno, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Jamaica
  • Donald Lu, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Albania
  • Brent Robert Hartley, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Slovenia

On November 18, the State Department spox, Jeff Rathke said that “The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.”

We desperately need all of America’s team on the field of diplomacy, and these are all spectacularly qualified career nominees. This is exactly how our remaining nominations should be considered and confirmed. There are 19 career Foreign Service officers awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor. They were all carefully considered in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and approved. The full Senate can consider each of these nominees quickly. Certainly, our career nominees could be confirmed en bloc, they’re well-qualified, and they’re experienced.A total of 58 State Department nominees, including 35 career diplomats, are still waiting.
[…]
Nominees on the floor have waited for more than eight and a half months on average, 258 days. It’s critical, in the Department’s view, that we get these nominees confirmed before the Senate adjourns for the year to prevent further delay in meeting our foreign policy objectives, and while we appreciate the progress just made, we know that America is stronger if the backlog is cleared and our nominees are confirmed before Thanksgiving. The Secretary has made a personal plea to his former colleagues in the Senate, and we would ask again for their help.

On November 19, the spox tried again:

Yesterday, I began the briefing with a pitch for my fellow Foreign Service officers who have been waiting for Senate confirmation. Secretary Kerry called in from London to his chief of staff, David Wade, and he asked me to come out here again this afternoon and do the same. The Secretary has been in continued contact with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill about this. It’s very important to him. He needs to have his team and he also feels it’s important that these non-controversial nominees be confirmed before Thanksgiving as well. It’s the right thing to do for them, for their families, and for America’s interests.

On November 20, the spox tried once more to appeal that the nominees be confirmed “en bloc or by unanimous consent”to no avail:

We’ve asked the united – that the Senate confirm these nominations en bloc or by unanimous consent, as we’ve seen in some cases this week, particularly because there’s no objection to these highly qualified and dedicated nominees. We urge the Senate to confirm them quickly and put them to work for the country. We need it desperately.

 

It looks like that’s it for today.  Coming up next month, the nominations of the more controversial nominee to Argentina:

Plus the nominee for Hungary:

 

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Argentina Prez Calls Embassy Message “A Provocation,” Claims ISIS, No, U.S. Plans to Bump Her Off?

— Domani Spero
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Don’t look now but it appears as if the situation in Argentina is about to get more than touchy serious.  On September 29, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires released a Security Message for U.S. Citizens on General Security Awareness (pdf):

The U.S. Embassy wishes to inform U.S. citizens living and traveling in Argentina that in recent months, U.S. citizens have reported a number of crimes to the embassy. Crimes reported include petty crime, taxi scams (especially at international airports), mugging, snatch-and-grab robbery involving motorcycles and bicycles, and occasionally more serious crimes such as express kidnapping, home invasion, carjacking, assault, and sexual assault using date rape drugs. We recommend that U.S. citizens traveling and living in Argentina always be aware of their surroundings, maintain a high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security. Please consult reliable sources for information on transportation, lodging, and the general security of areas you are visiting.

U.S. citizens should avoid areas of demonstrations and exercise caution in the vicinity of any large gatherings or protests. The majority of crimes reported to the Embassy occur in the major metropolitan areas but U.S. citizens should use an equal level of caution outside large population centers. While crimes happen at all times of day and night, they are significantly more frequent after dark.

The Embassy does not have evidence that victims have been targeted because of their U.S. citizenship. If you are the victim of a crime, please report it immediately to the police and inform American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy.

The message went out a few days after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints president David P. Robertson, of the Argentina Buenos Aires West Mission, was robbed and briefly held on the night of September 24. According to El Dia cited by a Provo newspaper, Robertson was driving his Toyota truck when he was stopped by armed bandits at an intersection in Ciudadela, a city in the Buenos Aires area. The assailants reportedly took his wallet, cell phone and vehicle, and then released him on the street.

The president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (or CFK), called the security message, “a provocation” and she knew exactly who to blame. Below via mercopress:

“The note is a provocation. Usually, when the embassy issues this type of warning messages, it focuses on specific events such as political rallies or hostage situations which can be dangerous to US citizens,” the Argentine president explained.

“In this case, the threat is not specific. It describes Argentina as if we were living in the far-west,” she added, and went on to doubt US interim ambassador in Buenos Aires Kevin Sullivan’s intentions with the note.

“We know who wrote it: the same person who announced the country was in default,” CFK said, referring to Sullivan’s remarks about the country needing “to exit default as soon as possible”.

“Maybe he thought: ‘I can provoke her with this statement, escalate tension and then they’ll kick me out of the country’. But we are not going to do this… because the person who comes to fill his position may be even worse. We know this one; we know who he is. I always say: If you know them, better leave them where they are,” the President stated.

Let’s see if we can get this straight …the Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan wrote the Consular Section’s security message to upset the host country president so that he, CDA Sullivan can be kicked out of the country where he has been boss-man at the U.S. Embassy since June 2013?  That make perfect sense, right?  If true, this might just be one of the nuttiest way of getting out of what we’d call a plum assignment in the diplomatic service.  Anybody out there who has successfully got himself/herself PNGed using this strategy?

15042919375_820a32271d_z

Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) Kevin K. Sullivan (center) with Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Palacio Bosch, Argentina (photo via US Embassy Buenos Aires/FB)

Back in May, Diplomatic Security actually released its 2014 Crime and Security Report on Argentina where it calls crime a serious problem in the country. “Street and residential crime appears to be increasingly common,is more violent than in the past, and is often perpetrated with a firearm or other deadly weapon.“But the report also says that “Despite the negative perception of various U.S. government policies, Argentines are friendly to Americans, and visitors are unlikely to experience anti-American sentiment.”

Unless Mr. Sullivan is pulling double duty as the Regional Security Officer  (RSO) at Embassy Buenos Aires, we’re pretty confident that he also did not write that crime and security report.

We should note that the nominee to be the next permanent resident of Palacio Bosch is Obama bundler, Noah Mamet.  Mr. Mamet one of the more controversial political appointees is still stuck in the Senate.  If Mr. Mamet gets through the confirmation process, CFK may have to get to know him, too. Mr. Mamet speaks a little Spanish but has never been to Argentina, so there’s an opportunity for some work there.

In the meantime, as if all this is not convoluted enough, the  Guardian reported that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner  has now“claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.” Whaaaat? Excerpt below:

[S]he gave a rambling televised address in which she claimed the US may be behind a plot to overthrow her government and possibly even assassinate her.

“If something should happen to me, don’t look to the Middle East, look to the North,” Fernández said during the address on Tuesday night, in which she alluded to an alleged plot against her by local bankers and businessmen “with foreign help”.

Fernández had previously claimed to have received death threats from Islamic State (Isis) because of her friendship with Pope Francis. In last night’s speech, however, she seemed to suggest the threats against her, received in three emails to Argentinian security officials, had come from the US.

Her claim comes in the wake of a rapid deterioration of Argentina’s already rocky relationship with the US after the country went into default in August.

This is the president of over 41 million Argentines who says “the first thing I demand is respect.” 

Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

Secretary Clinton With Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton poses with Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner following a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina March 1, 2010. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]

According to the Guardian, Elisa Carrió, the UNEN party presidential candidate has called President Fernández “completely out of touch with reality”. “

“Since she doesn’t resist reality, with unemployment, high inflation, the rising dollar, she says it’s no longer Isis trying to kill her, but the US,” said Carrió. “She’s inventing conspiracies.”

In related news, CFK on September 30, also publicly criticized the country’s Central Bank “for allegedly leaking inside information” according to Bloomberg News. Central Bank President Juan Carlos Fabrega officially resigned yesterday which resulted in deepening Argentine bond and stock markets losses.

No, it’s not useful to revisit that INR (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) cable; that one only has questions, and none of the answers. And we’d really like to know who is CFK going to suggest of plotting to kill her next.

Hey, what’s gong going on with Arturo, the only polar bear in Argentina?

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15 Former AFSA Presidents Urge Senators to Oppose Confirmation of Ambassadorial Nominees to Norway, Hungary, and Argentina

— Domani Spero

On March 5, 2014, the AFSA Governing Board resolution says that “AFSA will send letters to the Senate and the White House expressing concern that the recent nominations for chief of mission positions in Norway, Hungary and Argentina appear to be based primarily on their status as financial contributors to political campaigns, which is in violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.” 

On Friday, March 7, fifteen former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Senators Reid, McConnell, Menendez, Corker, Franken, Klobuchar, McCain, Cardin, Mikulski, Warner, Kaine, Whitehouse  and others, urging the non-confirmation of President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Norway, Hungary and Argentina.

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Below is an excerpt from their letter:

Among the nominees for ambassadorships currently under consideration by the Senate, three have generated considerable public controversy: George Tsunis (Norway), Colleen Bell (Hungary), and Noah Mamet (Argentina). The nominations of Mr. Tsunis and Ms. Bell have been forwarded to the full Senate by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and trade union of career members of the Foreign Service, we urge you to oppose granting Senate consent to these three candidates. Although we have no reason to doubt that the nominees are conscientious and worthy Americans, the fact that they appear to have been chosen on the basis of their service in raising money for electoral campaigns, with minimal demonstrated qualifications for their posts, has subjected them to widespread public ridicule, not only in the U.S. but also abroad. As a result, their effectiveness as U.S. representatives in their host countries would be severely impaired from the start. Their nominations also convey a disrespectful message, that relations with the host country are not significant enough to demand a chief of mission with relevant expertise.

These three nominations represent a continuation of an increasingly unsavory and unwise practice by both parties.  In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The spoils or patronage theory is that public office is primarily designed for partisan plunder.”  Sadly it has persisted, even after President Nixon’s acknowledged rewarding of ambassadorial nominations to major campaign donors was exposed.
[…]
During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama recognized the appropriateness of these guidelines, and promised to respect them. The time for the Senate to begin enforcing its own guidelines set forth in law for U.S. diplomatic chiefs of mission is now.  The nation cannot afford otherwise.

The signatories of the letter are Marshall Adair, Thomas Boyatt, Kenneth Bleakley, Theodore Eliot, Franklyn A Harris, William Harrop, Dennis Hays, J. Anthony Holmes, Lars Hydle, Susan Johnson, Alphonse La Porta, John Limbert, John Naland, Lannon Walker, and Theodore Wilkinson.

One scenario where this might get off  the hot topics column is if the nominees themselves recognize that their confirmation hearing performance and subsequent public ridicule would have an impact on their effectiveness as President Obama’s top representatives in their prospective host countries, and withdraw their names for consideration. This would be the less messy route, but we do not anticipate this happening or it would have happened already.

Another scenario is if we get to see more Senate confirmation hearings bungled under similar circumstances, with the accompanying public uproar, and more mockery from cable news and comedians day in and day out — which might, just might make President Obama think, “enough already.” If that happens, it might also forced him to  revisit his promise that “the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.”  Well, that’s a lot of ifs and mights, so we’re not holding our breath.

There is, of course, the ultimate scenario that we have seen before, and no doubt, we’ll see again — Senators’ offices will acknowledge the former AFSA presidents’ letter and others like it, and then proceed to confirm the nominees (Senate holds for ambassadorial nominees seem reserved for nutty reasons like the case of an ancient boyfriend or the ethnic origin of the nominee’s wife). It is just a coincidence that some nominees are also contributors to the Senate Majority PAC, the party’s Senatorial Campaign, the party’s victory fund or even to the guys from the other party.  Oh, but we are extraordinarily special and exceptional that way — watch.

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