U.S. Diplomatic Staffer Missing, Presumed Dead in Colombia Boating Accident

 

A U.S. diplomatic staffer temporary assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Bogota reportedly went missing and is presumed dead after a boating accident in Colombia. The name of the staffer has not been officially released. During his press remarks with Colombia President Ivan Duque in Bogota, Secretary Pompeo commented on the accident that reportedly occurred on Saturday:

Pompeo: I want to comment on the tragic loss that Mission Colombia and the entire State Department suffered this past weekend.  As you may already know, one of our team members, an American, is missing and presumed dead as a result of a boating accident that occurred on Saturday.  We’ve notified the next of kin but are withholding the name of the victim for privacy considerations.  Other government personnel – some assigned to Colombia and others visiting – were also rescued at the scene of the accident.  Some sustained modest injuries, and one was airlifted to the United States yesterday for treatment.

I want to thank President Duque – you, and your team, and your government – also the private citizens of Colombia – for the outstanding assistance that they provided during the course of the rescue operations.  And to my entire State Department team, Susan and I are with you in your grief.  You have my word the department will do everything in our power to comfort and support those who have suffered from this devastating loss.

President Duque (Via interpreter)  Thank you very much, dear Secretary Pompeo.  I would also like first of all to express our solidarity and our condolences.  Our solidarity for the incident that occurred over the weekend, which was an accident and that affected some U.S. citizens, and naturally express our condolences for what has been a several-days search for embassy officials.

As you all know, we have the national navy teams as well as all the local and coast guard services engaged in the corresponding investigation in an effort to reach fruitful results so as to find the body of the person that has not been found yet.  You know, Secretary Pompeo, that we have a shared solidarity in this respect and the people of Colombia regret the incident.

The Colombian Navy released a statement of the incident on Monday, January 20. It looks like the boat capsized due to adverse weather condition in the Cartagena area. During the incident, 11 of the 12 passengers of the boat were reportedly assisted by the Colombian Navy. The victim of the accident is described in the Colombian Navy statement as a temporary official of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota and was in the company of several fellow citizens.
The Colombian Navy with the Cartagena Coast Guard, specialized naval divers and aircraft of the Caribbean Aeronaval Group, and with the support of aircraft of the Combat Air Command No. 3 of the Colombian Air Force were reportedly deployed in the area of the incident performing the search operation.  The Colombian Navy statement also says that it will continue with the search and rescue operation while inviting the navigators community to report any information that may assist in locating missing person.
CNN’s report includes comments from the WHA bureau:

A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs told CNN that the employee was “on temporary assignment to the US Embassy in Bogota” and was “engaging in tourist activities in Cartagena” when the boating accident occurred.

“We appreciate the Colombian Government’s continued search-and-rescue operation in search of the missing American employee,” they said.
“Other government personnel, some assigned to Colombia and others visiting, were rescued from the capsized boat, some sustaining moderate injuries,” the spokesperson said. “We express our gratitude to the private citizens and Colombian military for rescuing the employees.”

 

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Top Colombian Diplomats Talk About a “Destroyed” @StateDept in Secret Recording

 

Via the Miami Herald:

“Colombian newspaper Publimetro earlier this week released a 24-minute audio of Colombia’s Ambassador to the United States Francisco Santos and the country’s Foreign Minister-designate Claudia Blum. The paper said the pair had been recorded last week in a Washington, D.C., café by an unnamed third party.
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“The U.S. State Department, which used to be important, is destroyed, it doesn’t exist,” he said. In particular, he said President Donald Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, “salió con un chorro de babas” — a colorful expression that translates literally to “let out a stream of drool,” and which means, roughly, he was all talk and ineffectual.”

The secret recording was reportedly taken during a meeting that took place at a coffee shop close to the Colombian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
They can’t be the only foreign diplomats talking about what’s happening to the State Department, but they might be the only ones caught talking about it openly at a coffee house.  In the meantime, Mr. Pompeo, a valued resident of an alternate universe continues to write his Miles with Mike “all is great” update to his “team” in Foggy Bottom. Yay! More smiling photos for the official scrapbook, please!

The recording is available here:

Ambassador Philip Goldberg Presents His Credentials in Bogota

 

Trump to Nominate Career Diplomat Joseph E. Macmanus to be U.S. Ambassador to Colombia

Posted: 2:34 am ET

 

On November 21, the White House announced President Trump’s intent to nominate career diplomat Joseph E. Macmanus to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Colombia. The WH released the following brief bio:

Joseph E. Macmanus of New York to be Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Colombia. Mr. Macmanus, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor, has served as an American diplomat since 1986. He is currently Adviser to the Secretary of State, a position he undertook in June 2017. Previously, he was Senior Adviser to the Secretary of State and Executive Secretary of the Department of State from 2014-2017. A former Ambassador, Mr. Macmanus has been a senior aide to four Secretaries of State. He has served at five U.S. Missions overseas. Mr. Macmanus earned a B.A. at the University of Notre Dame and a M.L.S. at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He speaks Spanish, French, and Polish.

If confirmed, Ambassador Macmanus would succeed career diplomat Kevin Whitaker who was appointed chief of mission in Bogota in April 2014.  The last seven chief of mission appointees to Colombia going back to the mid-1990’s have been career diplomats.  According to history.state.gov, the last non-career appointee sent to Bogota was Morris Dempson Busby (1938–) who served from September 1991–July 1994 under George H. W. Bush.

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Nine Latin American Countries Request Review of U.S. “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” Policy For Cuban Migrants

Posted: 3:14 am ET
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WaPo has a quick explainer on the “wet-foot/dry-foot” policy,  the informal name given to a 1995 agreement under which Cuban migrants seeking passage to the United States who are intercepted at sea (“wet feet”) are sent back to Cuba or to a third country, while those who make it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) are allowed to remain in the United States. The policy, formally known as the U.S.-Cuba Immigration Accord, has been written into law as an amendment to the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act. Read more here. Last year, the Miami Herald reported that in FY2015 (Oct. 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2015), the U.S. Coast Guard stopped 4,462 Cubans who attempted to illegally enter the United States by sea.  In FY2014 (before normalization) , 2,059 Cubans were apparently caught at sea, according to WaPo citing Coast Guard data. The traffic has more than doubled probably due to fears that with normalization, the policy will soon end.  An ongoing petition to Congress to End Wet foot, Dry Foot Policy currently has 1,682 letters sent to-date.  

Yesterday, the Ecuadoran Embassy in Washington, D.C. delivered a letter signed by nine Latin American countries “expressing their deep concern about the negative effects of U.S. immigration policy across the region.”  The letter sent to Secretary John Kerry was signed by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.  The joint letter also ends with the Foreign Ministers calling on Secretary Kerry to attend a High Level meeting to review this issue.

Below is from the Ecuadoran Embassy’s statement online:

The 1966 U.S. Public Law 89-732, known as the “Cuban Adjustment Act”, and the policy commonly known as “wet foot, dry foot” have encouraged a disorderly, irregular and unsafe flow of Cubans who, risking their lives, pass through our countries in order to reach the US.” 

They add that this is creating a serious humanitarian crisis for Cuban citizens, with the nine Foreign ministers stating that:

“Cuban citizens risk their lives, on a daily basis, seeking to reach the United States. These people, often facing situations of extreme vulnerability, fall victim to mafias dedicated to people trafficking, sexual exploitation and collective assaults. This situation has generated a migratory crisis that is affecting our countries.”

The signatories believe that to reduce the threats faced by Cuban migrants, it is necessary to address “the main cause of the current situation”. Revising the Cuban Adjustment Act and the ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy “would be a first step to stop the worsening of this complex situation and would form part of a final agreement to ensure orderly and regular migration in our region.”

Addressing the initiative, the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Guillaume Long, said:

“The fact that nine foreign ministers have signed this letter shows the strength of feeling in Latin America about how US policy is creating an immigration crisis in our region.

Encouraged by the US “wet foot, dry foot” policy, Cuban migrants often become victims of trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence. It is time for the United States to change its outdated policy for Cuban migrants, which is undermining regular and safe migration in our continent.

This policy is also discriminatory. Ecuadorian migrants often have to live for decades with the threat of deportation, whereas Cuban citizens arriving in the US have the opportunity of residency after living there for a year and after five-years of residency they can apply for obtain citizenship. 

This injustice must end for everyone’s benefit.”

The State Department’s spokesperson was asked about this in Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing, and here is the unexciting response:

QUESTION: Cuba. Nine Latin American countries have sent a letter to the Administration saying that U.S. policy, its wet foot/dry foot policy which guarantees citizenship to Cubans who make it to U.S. soil, is creating an immigration crisis for those countries through which they pass, and asked the Administration to review that policy. Do you have a response to that, and is there any review likely to be made?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll tell you a couple things. So we did receive the letter that you’re referring to signed by nine foreign ministers from Latin America about what is known as the Cuban Adjustment Act. Obviously, we are concerned for the safety of all migrants throughout the region, including migrants seeking to journey northward through South and Central America and Mexico. Irregular migration often involves dangerous journeys that illustrate the inherent risks and uncertainties of involvement with organized crime, including human smugglers and trafficklers – traffickers, excuse me, in attempts to reach the United States.

We continue to encourage all countries to respect the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and to ensure that they are treated humanely. And we’re going to continue to, obviously, engage governments in the region on this issue going forward. So we did receive the letter. I’d refer you to the authors of the letter for any more specific information on its content. I have no meetings to announce at this time, and the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in place and wet foot/dry foot remains U.S. policy regarding Cuban migration.

 

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CDC Issues Zika Virus Guidance For 14 Countries and Territories in the Western Hemisphere

Posted: 12:58 am EDT
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The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC is advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.  We have not seen any guidance from the State Department. If you are in the Foreign Service, pregnant, and assigned to these 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere, please contact State/MED for guidance.

Zika was reported for the first time in Brazil in May 2015, and the virus has since been reported in 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean:  Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  For a list of countries that have past and current evidence of the virus, please click here.

Map from cdc.gov

Map from cdc.gov

Below is an excerpt from the CDC announcement:

CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional studies are needed to further characterize this relationship. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

Because specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time, CDC will update this travel notice as information becomes available. Check the CDC travel website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Four in five people who acquire Zika infection may have no symptoms. Illness from Zika is usually mild and does not require hospitalization. Travelers are strongly urged to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
    • Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under 3 years of age.
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents).
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Read the full announcement here.

CDC is reportedly working with public health experts across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take additional steps related to Zika.  In addition, efforts are also underway across HHS to develop vaccines, improved diagnostics and other countermeasures for Zika according to CDC.

 

Related items:

 

 

 

Interpol Colombia Awards Medal to US Embassy Bogotá’s RSO-I/Staff For 31 Fugitive Returns

Posted: 1:02  am EDT
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US Embassy Bogotá’s Regional Security Officer – Investigator (RSO-I) and its Criminal Fraud Investigator (CFI) were awarded the Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal by Interpol Colombia for the return of 31 fugitives from Colombia to the United States since January 2014. Whoa! That’s like … almost two fugitives a month from January 2014 to June 2015!

Since January 2014, Antonio and his staff have investigated, located, and returned 31 fugitives who were wanted in the United States for a variety of crimes. One criminal was a former weapons officer on a nuclear submarine who had been charged with grand larceny for allegedly defrauding his acquaintances of more than $1 million. Another was a physician assistant who allegedly forged signatures and made up diagnoses to submit to Medicare and Medicaid for millions of dollars in reimbursements.

But Antonio’s most notorious case involved an accomplished academic who had been featured on his home state’s Most Wanted list for allegedly committing sex crimes against children. He had managed to evade authorities for 22 years by going to great lengths to alter his appearance, including undergoing oral and plastic surgery to change his facial features, and getting skin grafts done to obliterate his fingerprints.

Antonio says, “People under extreme circumstances are capable of committing all kinds of crimes. But the one thing I can’t comprehend is how a person can harm a child. Someone like that does not stop either. He will continue finding new victims. That’s why I made crimes against children a top priority for my team.”

“We’re just three people, and what we do is not glamorous like those TV police dramas. The secret of our success is having top-notch people and maintaining strong working relationships with multiple law-enforcement partners. Criminal Fraud Investigator (CFI) Eduardo, Investigative Assistant Olga, and I work daily with our colleagues in DSS and other U.S. federal law-enforcement agencies, as well as with our local partners.

Colonel Juliette Kure Parra, head of Interpol Colombia, presents U.S. Embassy Bogota ARSO-I Antonio and CFI Eduardo with the prestigious Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal, June 22, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)

Colonel Juliette Kure Parra, head of Interpol Colombia, presents U.S. Embassy Bogota ARSO-I Antonio and CFI Eduardo with the prestigious Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal, June 22, 2015. (U.S. Department of State photo)

“Our joint work with the Colombian National Police, specifically with the Directorate of Judicial Police and Investigation and Interpol Colombia, and also with the Colombian Immigration Service, has been vital to accomplishing our investigative mission here in Colombia. This joint work and the ‘One Team, One Fight’ concept have been key to our success.”

Colonel Juliette Kure Parra says in her six years as head of Interpol Colombia, she has never had a closer working relationship with any other foreign police unit, and her team has not captured as many fugitives as with Antonio and his team.

In recognition of their accomplishments, the Interpol National Central Bureau awarded Antonio and Eduardo the Major Juan Carlos Guerrero Barrera Medal, named in honor of fallen Colombian police officer credited with having conducted the investigation that led to the targeted killing of the FARC’s terrorist leader, “El Mono Jojoy.” This is a very prestigious award only ever awarded to three other Americans, and the first time to a DSS special agent.

Originally posted by State/DS,  Game Over for 31 Fugitives in Colombia.

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Burn Bag: Coca Jeopardy — Where is the most economic refining point for coca?

Via Burn Bag:

“State is commenting with blinders on regarding coca being imported from other Andean Ridge countries. Even if no coca was planted in Colombia or all of it was successfully eradicted, enough leaf would find its way there to satisfy the industry’s annual raw material requirement.  Colombia is a trafficking point and the most economic refining point.  It’s that simple.”

aerial fumigation

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Burn Bag: Why is INL so enamored with aerial fumigation?

Posted: 1:18 am EDT
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Via Burn Bag:

The U.S. Government never discusses the fact that flows of cocaine to the U.S. and the coca crop in Colombia do not correlate. Since there is no science behind this, why is INL [Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] so enamored with spray? What interests are driving this program? 

via tumblr.com

via tumblr.com

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Colombia Health Ministry Calls For Suspension of Aerial Herbicide Fumigation, Defense Ministry Pushes Back

Posted: 12:40 pm PDT
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We did a few posts on the aerial fumigation in Colombia last month.  See: State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?;  So, who wants to drink up or be in target area for next aerial fumigation in Colombia?Colombia Counternarcotics Program Costs Over $8 Billion the Last 11 Years, Where’s the Audit Trail?

Last week, the Colombia Health Ministry recommended that the aerial fumigation in the country be suspended. The Colombian Defense Ministry was quick to pushed back.

This is the same week when Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Colombia for the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Partnership Dialogue and the Steering Committee for the U.S.-Colombia Action Plan on Racial and Ethnic Equality, and joined the High-Level Strategic Security Dialogue.

 

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Below is an excerpt from WOLA’s Adam IsacsonSenior Associate for Regional Security Policy:  Even if Glyphosate Were Safe, Fumigation in Colombia Would Be a Bad Policy. Here’s Why.

Colombia is the only coca-growing country that allows aerial herbicide fumigation. Faced with the possibility that it may be aerially spraying carcinogens over its own citizens, Colombia’s Health Ministry issued a statement late Monday recommending that the aerial fumigation program be suspended.

Whether to suspend the program is up to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has yet to make or schedule an announcement. Meanwhile, Colombian government agencies that carry out the fumigation program have been quick to push back. “We cannot permit losing the benefits [of spraying] on delinquency, crime and terrorism,” said Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, who oversees Colombia’s National Police and its counternarcotics division, which performs the spraying. “We will continue using all our tools that help maintain security for Colombians.”

U.S. government officials say that while they will respect Colombia’s sovereign decision, they insist that glyphosate is safe and that they’d rather not see the spray program end. The State Department’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement bureau has spent somewhere between US$1 billion and US$2 billion on herbicides, contractor pilots and mechanics, police escort helicopters, fuel, search-and-rescue teams, and related fumigation costs since the program began in 1994.
[…]
The lesson of Colombia’s fumigation program is that there is no substitute for economic development and government presence in national territory. The opposite—flying anonymously above without any presence on the ground—causes the coca trade to migrate and alienates populations whose support is necessary amid an armed conflict. When not coordinated with food security and alternative livelihoods, fumigation also gives guerrillas a powerful propaganda tool: the FARC and ELN have heavily employed the argument that the spraying is proof that Colombia’s “oligarchy” either doesn’t care about peasants, or wants to use the spraying to dispossess them of their lands.

Read in full here.

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