US Embassy Caracas Updates Staff Policy Due to “Recent Kidnapping of Embassy Personnel”

Posted: 3:06 am ET
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On September 25, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas issued a Security Message updating its policy on embassy staff and family members’ movements in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy in Caracas informs all U.S. citizens in Venezuela that the policy regarding the movements of U.S. citizen diplomats and their family members in Caracas and elsewhere in Venezuela has been updated.  As always, the Embassy encourages all U.S. citizens living in and traveling through Venezuela to remain vigilant at all times and to practice good personal security.

Effective immediately, Calle A (through La Alameda neighborhood, the intersection of Calle B/Calle A to the Centro Commercial Santa Fe)is ano travel zonefrom “dusk to dawn” daily for all diplomatic personnel until further notice.

Travel in groups is highly recommended.  Travel outside the Embassy’s housing area by U.S. diplomats between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. must be conducted in armored vehicles or in groups utilizing at least two vehicles.  Group travel may be conducted with unarmored vehicles.

This decision was made due to increased concerns surrounding the recent kidnapping of Embassy personnel traveling in a diplomatic-plated vehicle on this road and other incidents.  This policy is subject to review in 30 days.

Makes one wonder if these kidnappings are now specifically targeted against embassy personnel.

Diplomatic Security’s Venezuela 2017 Crime & Safety Report issued in back in February is excerpted below:

Venezuela remains one of the deadliest countries in the world with increasing violence and criminal activity in 2016, at times reaching unprecedented levels. The government of Venezuela often attempts to refute claims of increasing crime and murder rates; however, their claims are widely rejected by independent observers. Official crime figures are not released by government officials, but unofficial statistics indicate that most categories of crime increased in 2016, despite unprecedented levels in 2015. The majority of Caracas’ crime and violence remains attributed to mobile street gangs and organized crime groups. Caracas is notorious for the brazenness of high-profile violent crimes (murder, robbery, kidnapping) committed in neighborhoods across the city, at all hours.
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U.S. Embassy locally employed staff often report being victims of armed robberies and carjacking. There is no indication that American citizens or U.S. Embassy-affiliated personnel are specifically targeted for crime because of their nationality or official status.

Read the full report here.

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Sexual Assault in the Foreign Service — What To Do?

Posted: 1:24 am ET
Updated: 9:25 am PT to clarify that we requested to connect with top @StateDept officials via Twitter and have not heard back.
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We’ve previously blogged that there is no official guidance in the FAM on reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service (see The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief). There were cables released by Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations in 2015 and 2016, but so far, we have been unable to retrieve copies of those unclassified cables.

We recently received a Burn Bag from an FSO who wrote – “Sexual Assault in the FS – What to do?” The FSO said she/he was raped by somebody who is also in the Service.

We will have a follow-up post on sexual assault in the Foreign Service and will attempt as best we can to address additional issues. We hope that this FSO would consider reporting this crime. Previous to this Burn Bag, we’ve received a separate sexual assault report from another anonymous FSO. That victim told us that this nightmare will not go away, and the sooner it is reported, the better.

We are concerned about the FSO’s safety and possible retaliation by the offender. With some help from an FS assault victim, we put together some suggestions/resources to consider. We hope assault victims/assault survivors would feel free to consider or ignore the following based on their personal circumstances.

Safety First

Put your safety first. This may mean choosing delayed reporting after you are in a safe place. Some questions to consider in planning ahead: Does your living arrangement expose you to threat of continued violence? Do you need to go on an emergency shelter or request an alternative housing option? If you share the same post, office, bureau, or training location and you feel unsafe, what can you do to get help? Where can you go? Who can you call?

Call 911 

Or since the assault occurred in a domestic location, go to the Arlington Country Police/DC Police or the nearest police station where the crime occurred as soon as possible and file a report

Go to any medical facility if possible to preserve physical evidence

Rape is a crime; it is not an HR issue.

Tell someone, if you can get over the shock

Call the Hotline

Call the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 1-800-656-HOPE, to be routed to a rape crisis center near you. RAINN also offers a live chat at: https://hotline.rainn.org/online/terms-of-service.jsp

Call the National Center for Victims of Crime Victim Service Helpline, 1-800-FYI-CALL or 1-800-211-7996 (TTY/TDD). The National Center for Victims of Crime has a number of resources available to assist victims of crime. The National Help Line, VictimConnect, provides help for victims of any crime nationwide, and can be reached by phone at 1–855-4VICTIM (1-855-484-2846) or by online chat.

Write It Down

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI), a best practice in law enforcement interviews with survivors. “Write it Down” prompts survivors to recall sensory details about When, Where, What and Who, as opposed to asking chronological questions, since after a trauma, memories may be disordered, fragmented or out of sequence.

Congressional Help

California Representative Jackie Spieir has a hotline and has worked on military rape and sexual assault. Her office can be reached at 202-225-3531 or through https://speier.house.gov/contact/website-problem. If you call, ask to speak with the   legislative director regarding a sexual assault issue in the federal government. Alternatively, you may call and ask for the email address of the legislative director, and the people answering the phone will provide the email address (office’s standard policy). Jackie’s office said that they will keep your identity anonymous unless you explicitly give the congressional office permission to make inquiries on your behalf.

Related items via RAINN:

We do not want to make this harder than it already is, but we hope that the FSO who sent us the Burn Bag will report the crime and identify the perpetrator so he can be brought to justice and kept from harming others.  We also hope that the FSO emails us back, we do not want her to feel alone.

For the record, we’ve reached out to three senior State Department officials via Twitter to connect with us. We wanted to clarify the murky reporting process and concerns over confidentiality. We have received no response as of this writing. State and DS are aware that we have been looking for the DS/OSI cables that reportedly provides guidance for sexual assaults.

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Related post:

Another Note About the Burn Bag–There’s No Easy Way of Doing This, Is There?

 

 

Disclaimer:

Please know that the above information is provided as general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. For instance, the hotlines are taken from an online search, we have not used them nor can we verify their effectiveness. The information is also not presented as a source of legal advice. If you need legal advice upon which you intend to rely in the course of your legal affairs, please  consult a competent, independent attorney. This blog does not assume any responsibility for actions or non-actions taken by people who have visited this site, and no one shall be entitled to a claim for detrimental reliance on any information provided or expressed here. Thanks.

 

USCG Monterrey: USG Personnel Banned From Driving Between Post-U.S. Border, Also Extortions Up by 24%

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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In the new Crime and Safety Report for Monterrey, Mexico, Diplomatic Security notes that U.S. government personnel are not permitted to drive between Monterrey and the U.S. border.

Violent crime (kidnappings, extortions, homicides, sexual assaults, personal robberies, residential break-ins), and non-violent crimes (financial scams, vehicle thefts, petty drug crimes) continue to be a serious concern for those living or working in Monterrey’s Consular District.

USCG Monterrey’s consular district covers the following states: Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Durango, Zacatecas, and the southern two-thirds of Coahuila. The consular district has nearly 13 million inhabitants and almost the size of Texas.  There are an estimated estimated 85,000 American Citizens who are permanent resident in the consular district. Although reported homicides in 2015 declined in all states of Monterrey’s consular district, except Zacatecas, compared to the same time periods in 2013 and 2014. In Zacatecas, 420 homicides occurred in 2015, up from 294 in 2014.

Due to drug-related violence associated with Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO), U.S. government personnel are not permitted to drive between Monterrey and the U.S. border. U.S. government personnel in Monterrey may travel by land to the states of San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, and Durango, utilizing toll roads and may overnight in their capitals. Travel is permitted within the state of Nuevo Leon via toll roads. Travel to Coahuila must be done in an armored vehicle, and overnight lodging is restricted. U.S. government personnel must remain in San Pedro Garza Garcia from 0100-0600 (0500 if traveling to the airport).

The January 19 Travel Warning notes that the Department imposes restrictions on U.S. government employees’ travel in Mexico. At least since July 2010, USG employees are prohibited from driving on non-official travel from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior of Mexico or Central America. Personal travel by motor vehicle is permitted during daylight hours on Highway 15 toll road between Hermosillo and Nogales, on Highway 45 between Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City, and on the main roads between Palomas, Chihuahua and Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.

USCG Monterrey is a 15% hardship pay post with zero COLA, and zero danger pay.

 

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US Embassy Yaounde: USG begins deployment of up to 300 troops to Cameroon

Posted: 3:27 am EDT
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cameroon-map

Map from CIA World Factbook

According to the latest crime and safety report, no areas of Cameroon are off-limits to official U.S. government personnel.

Travel after dark is strongly discouraged anywhere in Cameroon due to the heightened risk for traffic accidents and increased criminality during the night. U.S. citizens should avoid unnecessary travel to areas bordering the C.A.R. and travel only during daylight hours. Official travel to the Far North and North Regions is thoroughly planned and scrutinized for safety and security and may require coordination with local authorities for additional protection. The U.S. Embassy recommends against travel to the Far North region, including Maroua, because of the kidnapping threat posed by the Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram. Travelers are advised to exercise extreme caution when traveling to the North region. Border areas surrounding and between Amchide and Fotokol are particularly dangerous.
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Cameroon faces an emergent regional threat to include frequent violent attacks in Cameroon from the Boko Haram movement (in northern Nigeria) that has undertaken a campaign of violence against the Nigerian government and civilians since 2009. Boko Haram took 21 expatriate hostages in Cameroon in 2013 and 2014 and continues to target expatriates for kidnapping. Boko Haram also assassinated hundreds of security forces and private citizens. In May 2014, the government reorganized security forces to better combat Boko Haram. As a result, Boko Haram has responded with attacks on border villages, ambushes incorporating roadside explosive devices, assassinations of local leaders, intimidation, and stealing goods/livestock – all in the Far North region of Cameroon. The imposition of a “State of Emergency” in Nigeria’s northern states has led to another influx of refugees in the Far North region. Cameroon’s traditional stability accounts for its ability to absorb large numbers of refugees, though persistent pressure from its neighbors could lead to ethnic, religious, and/or regional disputes in the near future.
[…]
Throughout 2013 and 2014, the Central African Republic experienced waves of violence, leading to the overthrow of the governing regime and the installation of a transition government aided by an international peacekeeping mission. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui reopened in September 2014 with limited services. Ethnic, religious, and tribal strife and counter-attacks have killed hundreds in C.A.R. and forced thousands to seek refuge inside Cameroon. Border areas around Garoua-Boulai and Kendzou in the east are potential hotspots due to spillover violence from C.A.R. In 2014, Cameroon experienced sporadic incursions by bandits from the C.A.R., and hostage taking by these groups has occurred across the Cameroon border.

Our man in Cameroon is Michael S. Hoza, a career Foreign Service Officer with 29 years of service abroad.  He has served at eleven different Foreign Service posts in Africa, Asia, and Europe; and he also served in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs in Washington, D.C.   He assumed his duties as Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon on August 22, 2014. He was nominated by President Barack Obama on July 31, 2013 and confirmed by the Senate in July 2014.

Below are some photos from Ambassador Hoza’s visit to Rey Bouba in the North Region, where he was welcomed by a representative of Lamido Abdoulaye Aboubakary and members of the community. More photos here.

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Lamido of Rey Bouba representative and community welcomes Ambassador Michael S. Hoza on February 12, 2015. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)

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Ambassador Michael S. Hoza with Cameroonian security forces on February 12, 2015. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)

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Ambassador Michael S. Hoza is honored by Rey Bouba community luncheon on February 12, 2015. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)

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Ambassador Michael S. Hoza is honored with traditional leadership attire by Rey Bouba community members. (US Embassy Cameroon/FB)

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US Embassy El Salvador Warns of Increased Frequency and Intensity of Security Incidents

Posted: 1:45 am EDT
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The 2015 Crime and Safety Report from the Regional Security Office released in May this year, notes that crime in El Salvador can run the gamut from credit card skimming to homicide and is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known victims and targets of opportunity. The effect and threat of violent crime in the capital city of San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many U.S. citizens live and work, leads to greater isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities. Crimes of every type routinely occur. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid travel into the downtown area of San Salvador “unless absolutely necessary” and travel outside the cities and to Guatemala or Honduras should only be done during daylight hours and with multiple vehicle convoys for safety. Excerpt:

The threat from transnational criminal organizations is prevalent throughout Central America. There is some evidence that the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas may have infiltrated El Salvador, although only in extremely low numbers. El Salvador has hundreds of gang “cliques,” with more than 20,000 members. Violent, well-armed, U.S.-style street gang growth continues, with the 18th Street (Barrio 18) and MS-13 (“Mara Salvatrucha”) gangs being the largest. Gangs concentrate on narcotics and arms trafficking, murder for hire, carjacking, extortion, and violent street crime. The gangs have collaborated with Mexican drug cartels to carry out murders and have sold the cartels weapons and explosives left over from the war and/or from the military. Recognizing the threat posed by MS-13, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the MS-13 a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) in their list of Specially Designated Nationals. Gangs and other criminal elements roam freely, targeting affluent areas for burglaries, and gang members are quick to engage in violence when resisted. Many of the gangs are comprised of unemployed youth who do not hesitate to use deadly force when perpetrating crimes.

A contributing factor to crime is the presence of impoverished shanty communities in the midst of high-income residential and higher-end commercial areas in the capital. There are few if any areas immune from violent crime. However, the presence of armed security and the use of security features at homes have proven to be successful in combating home invasions. In 2014, armed robberies continued to be the greatest security threat facing diplomats, tourists, and business persons. Home invasions/burglaries during daylight continue to be prevalent in residential neighborhoods in San Salvador. Some home invasions occur when individuals posing as delivery men or police officers gain access to a home.

Extortion persists as a very common, effective criminal enterprise. Hitting a peak in 2009, the number of extortions has dropped from 4,528 reported cases of extortion in 2006 to 2,480 reported cases in 2014. Many of the extortion calls originate from prisons.

There were 2,480 car thefts and 1,331 carjackings reported in 2014. Not tracked however, are the significant numbers of smash-and-grab-type of auto burglaries pervasive throughout the urban areas of El Salvador.

El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and the Department of State updated the Travel Warning for El Salvador in November 2014 to notify U.S. citizens about travel safety concerns and challenges. Police statistics show an increase in annual homicides during 2014, attributed primarily to the cessation of a controversial 2012 truce between local gangs. Crime statistics showed that the 2014 annual homicide rate — 68.6 per 100,000 inhabitants — was significantly higher than the previous year’s 43.7 per 100,000 rate. In 2014, authorities recorded 3,912 homicides, a 55.7 percent increase from the 2,513 in 2013.

Rape remains a serious concern; in 2013 and 2014, an average of 376 rapes per year were reported. Services for victims of rape are very limited, and many victims choose not to participate in the investigation and prosecution of the crime for fear of not being treated respectfully by the authorities. Many murder victims show signs of rape, and survivors of rape may not report the crime for fear of retaliation.

El Salvador is not a danger post for allowances purposes. It is a 15% COLA and 15% hardship differential  post according to the latest bi-weekly update from state.gov.

The Crime and Safety Report is an annual product of the Regional Security Office (RSO) of every U.S. embassy. Read the full report here.

elsalvador_map_2010worldfactbook_300_1

Image from CIA World Factbook 2010

 

On July 29, the US Embassy in El Salvador issued a security message to American citizens residing in El Salvador on the increased risk of crime and violence in the country:

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in the frequency and intensity of security incidents in El Salvador, including multiple attacks on transportation workers and security forces.  The U.S. Embassy is aware that criminal elements in El Salvador have threatened to escalate the level of violence by attacking hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and other public venues.  The grenade attack at a major hotel on July 25 demonstrates both a will and a capability to carry out such plans.

The Embassy is not aware of any threat specifically directed against U.S. citizens in El Salvador.  However, the violence of recent weeks, coupled with this new information, demonstrates the need for sustained caution and high security awareness at all times. Review your personal security plans, avoid outdoor seating (as at restaurants and bars), and monitor local news stations for updates.  Take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security. Please see the below excerpt from the Travel Warning for El Salvador:

U.S. citizens should remain alert to their surroundings, especially when entering or exiting their homes or hotels, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces.  Whenever possible, travel in groups.  U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. government personnel not to walk, run, or cycle in unguarded streets and parks, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers.  Avoid wearing expensive jewelry, and do not carry large sums of money or display cash, ATM/credit cards, or other valuables.  Avoid walking at night in most areas of El Salvador. Incidents of crime along roads, including carjacking, are common in El Salvador.  Motorists should avoid traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested downtown streets.  Travel on public transportation, especially buses, both within and outside the capital, is risky and not recommended.  The Embassy advises official visitors and personnel to avoid using mini-buses and regular buses and to use only radio-dispatched taxis or those stationed in front of major hotels.

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US Embassy Niger: Schools Attended by Official American Dependents Get Armed Guards

Posted: 12:58  am EDT
Updated: 1:49 pm EDT message updated by US Embassy Niamey
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The U.S. Embassy in Niamey released a Security Message on March 19 informing American citizens in Niger of the change in embassy school policy:

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by officials of U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards.

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens that, due to ongoing security concerns, schools attended by children of official U.S. citizens now require the presence of armed guards. (updated)

The U.S. Embassy reminds U.S. citizens in Niger to exercise caution, maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to increase security awareness, and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

The Embassy reminds U.S. citizens of the importance of taking precautions that can help you avoid being a target. Please follow these good personal security practices:

Avoid crowds or large gatherings when traveling in public;

Reduce exposure to places where Westerners frequently congregate, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and grocery stores;

Know where you are going and have an exit plan in the event you encounter demonstrations or violence;

Tell family member, co-workers, or neighbors where you’re going and when you intend to return;

Minimize your profile while in public;

Follow the instructions of local authorities;

Be prepared to postpone or cancel activities for personal safety concerns;

Always carry a cell phone and make sure you have emergency numbers pre-programmed into your phone such as the U.S. Embassy number tel. (227) 20-72-26-61 and the after-hours emergency number, (227) 20-72-31-41.

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

Niger Map from CIA World Fact Book

According to the 2014 Crime and Safety report, Niger is rated by the Department of State as High for terrorism and for crime.

  • Its central location and the vast, open Sahara and Sahel Deserts make the transit of terrorists, criminals, weapons, migrants, contraband, and illegal drugs possible.
  • Due to safety and security concerns, the Peace Corps ceased its operations in Niger in January 2011.
  • Embassy Travel Policy (applicable to all U.S. government executive branch travelers under Chief of Mission authority) requires that all travel north of Niamey and east of Zinder be accompanied by an armed security escort, with guards at hotels for overnight stays.

Excerpt from the Crime and Safety Report:

There has been an overall decrease in residential robberies in Niamey. Home invasions and residential robberies occur primarily after dark and can be violent. There have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence. While thieves typically choose to rob homes that have no residential guard and/or visible residential security measures, there have been several incidents in which assailants attacked the residential guard or the occupants of the residence, including some diplomat and NGO residences. There was an incident at an Embassy residence by a violent individual; the Embassy guard on duty physically protected the residence from intrusion. In addition, there have been numerous cases of commercial and NGO office robberies.

Niger is rated high for terrorism. Niger has experienced terrorism firsthand, mainly in the form of kidnapping-for-ransom (KFR) operations and clashes between the Nigerien military and al-Qai’da in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or other terrorist groups in the north. The January 2013 French military intervention in Mali against AQIM and its allies caused terrorist elements to threaten reprisals against countries — including Niger – that participated. In May 2013, AQIM-related forces led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar executed simultaneous suicide attacks with Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED) and dismounted gunmen on a Nigerien military camp in Agadez and a French-owned uranium mine in Arlit.

Boko Haram (BH) has an increasing presence; the group is from northern Nigeria, where the population – mostly Hausa and Kanuri – is essentially identical to that on the Nigerien side of the border. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked government forces, slaughtered civilians, and kidnapped foreigners. Niger, whose population is majority Hausa, has experienced an increase in extremist rhetoric in the south (specifically Diffa), and Boko Haram members have been arrested in Niger.

According to the March 8 update at state.gov, Embassy Niamey is a 30% hardship differential post with zero COLA and zero danger pay.

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US Embassy Mali Issues Security Message on La Terrasse Suspects At-Large, Potential Future Attacks

Posted: 12:52  am EDT
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On March 19, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako released a security message to American citizens residing in Mali related to the March 7 attacks:

The U.S. Embassy provides the following information and security guidance to U.S. citizens following the March 7 attacks at La Terrasse.  Malian authorities report that the suspects involved in the attacks are still at-large.  While there are no specific restrictions on public venues, official U.S. government personnel are advised to reduce exposure to places frequented by westerners until the hunt for suspects-at-large is concluded.  As a result of the continuing investigation, Malian and international security forces have developed leads that may indicate potential future attacks in the capital.  Therefore, the U.S. Embassy has reemphasized general security guidance provided earlier this week, and has informed official U.S. government personnel of the following additional measures:

  • The Embassy is in regular communication with the American International School of Bamako (AISB) regarding its security posture, including transport and physical security.
  • Official U.S. government personnel lodging in local hotels will no longer be concentrated into a few hotels.
  • Personal travel by official governmental personnel outside Bamako is prohibited in March and April, at which time the restriction will be reassessed.
  • Additional guidance will be distributed in coming days about possible movement restrictions for official U.S. government personnel around Bamako on the two upcoming holidays, March 26 and April 6.

Although the Embassy is not aware of any specific threat information at this time, Malian security forces continue to show a heavy presence around Bamako, including roadblocks and random police checkpoints, especially from dusk to dawn.  U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times, vary routes, and take appropriate security precautions to ensure their own safety, as should be standard operating procedure at all times.  Ensure your personal communications devices are usable in a crisis, and fully employ any safety measures (locks, grills, alarms, etc.) at your residence.

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

Mali Map from CIA World Fact Book

The 2014 Crime and Safety Report for Mali notes the following:

Despite the significant successes of French offensive and counterterrorist operations, military operations continue to take place in the northern region of the country based on the persistent presence of extremist and militant factions and their capabilities to target Malian and western targets, including UN and French assets. Although the security situation in Bamako remains relatively static, there are continued concerns that Bamako remains a viable target for these groups. In January 2014, extremist leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar reemphasized his pledge to target France and its allies in Mali in retaliation for Operation Serval. Violent extremist elements have demonstrated their ability to carry out a variety of different operations in northern Mali, including vehicle-borne and person-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED and PBIED); armed assaults; indirect fire and hand grenade attacks; and other attacks against foreign nationals, including kidnappings. Training camps and weapons caches continue to be discovered. Two French journalists were kidnapped then killed in November 2013 in the Kidal region.

Americans are currently warned against all travel to Mali because of ongoing fighting in the country, fluid political situations, and continuing threat of attacks and kidnappings of Westerners. While the security situation in Bamako has remained relatively stable, security concerns and military operations continue throughout parts of the country. U.S. citizens who are in country are urged to exercise caution, be particularly alert to their surroundings, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.

According to the state.gov update dated March 8, 2015,  Embassy Bamako is a 10% COLA, 10% danger and 25% hardship differential post.

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U.S. Embassy Caracas Issues Security Message on Recent Detention of Several U.S. Citizens in Venezuela

Posted: 00:53 EST
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We saw this the other night:

 

On March 4, the US Embassy in Caracas issued the following security message on the recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela:

The U.S. Embassy wishes to call to the attention of U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Venezuela the Government of Venezuela’s recent detention of several U.S. citizens in Venezuela. Under the Vienna Convention, if you are arrested overseas, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the nearest U.S. embassy of your arrest and to have communications from you forwarded to the nearest U.S. embassy. In practice, the Venezuelan government frequently fails to notify the U.S. Embassy when U.S. citizens are arrested or detained, and/or delays or denies to U.S. detainees. Please ask friends or family to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately on your behalf should you be detained by government authorities.

This announcement is available on the U.S. embassy website, but is not/not available on the embassy’s Facebook or Twitter feed.  When we inquired from the embassy’s Public Affairs Office, we were told to direct our inquiry to the Consular Section. Like whaaat?

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This can’t possibly be an easy time for what is already a challenging environment, so let that slide for now.  The American Citizen Service at Embassy Caracas did not respond to our inquiry.  A related note, the Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety report on Venezuela in 2014 says:

Harassment of U.S. citizens by airport authorities and some segments of the police are limited but do occur. Any incident should be reported to American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy. The ACS Unit can be reached by telephone at +58 (212) 907-8365 or by e-mail at ACSVenezuela@state.gov.

The recent detention of U.S. citizens in Venezuela is clearly an escalation beyond simple harassment.

The United States does not appear to have a bilateral agreement with Venezuela concerning mandatory notification when it comes to the arrest of U.S. nationals in Venezuela.

However, Venezuela is a party to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR), a multilateral treaty to which the United States and more than 170 other countries are party. This is the same treaty that President Maduro cited in announcing the reduction of U.S. Embassy staff in Caracas (see Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!).

Venezuela is also a party to Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Navigation and Commerce with the United States of America, Jan. 20, 1836, 12 Bevans 1038 (entered into force May 31, 1836), a bilateral agreement addressing consular issues with the U.S. since 1836 (see Consular Notification and Access-pdf).

Let’s stop here for a moment and look at Texas. As in Medellin v. Texas. The United States has been cited for failing to provide consular notification in cases brought by Paraguay in 1998, by Germany in 1999,and by Mexico in 2003 before the International Court of Justice.

State Department officials have travelled since 1997 but more extensively since 2003, throughout the United States to give classes and seminars about consular notification and access to federal, state, and local law enforcement, corrections and criminal justice officials.

The obligations of consular notification and access apply to U.S. citizens in foreign countries just as they apply to foreign nationals in the United States. The State Department’s guidance to the arrest of foreigners in the United States is to “treat a foreign national as you would want a U.S. citizen to be treated in a similar situation in a foreign country.”

Because when we don’t, it’s hard to make a  case that other countries should abide by their obligation for consular notification and access when U.S. citizens are arrested overseas.

And as if things are not strange enough in the U.S.-Venezuela relations, take this one:
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US Embassy Jordan Warns of a Potential Threat Against High-End Malls in Amman

Posted: 15:04 PST
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On February 25, the U.S. Embassy in Amman issued a message to U.S. citizens in Jordan concerning a potential threat against high-end malls in the capital city:

The U.S. Embassy has received information of a potential threat against high-end malls in Amman.  The threat is judged to be credible, although the possible timeframe and type of threat are unknown.  The Government of Jordan has taken steps to increase security at these locations.  U.S. Embassy employees and family members have been instructed to avoid these locations as a precaution in the coming days, and private U.S. citizens are advised to do the same.

Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook

Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook

Extremist groups have repeatedly expressed interest in attacking so-called soft targets, such as malls and restaurants, in Jordan. U.S. citizens should expect to see an increased security presence at such establishments throughout Jordan, and especially in Amman.  We encourage U.S. citizens to cooperate with all vehicle and personal searches by police and private security.  U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Jordan should remain vigilant regarding their personal security and alert to local security developments.

The 2014 Crime and Safety Report issued by Diplomatic Security notes that the threat of terrorism remains a major concern as regional and transnational terrorist groups, as well as local extremists, have demonstrated the willingness and ability to mount attacks.

In late September 2012, the General Intelligence Department uncovered and foiled a major terrorist plot that targeted several Amman shopping centers and cafes, known to be frequented by diplomats and Westerners, and the U.S. Embassy. The highly sophisticated plot, orchestrated by members of al-Qai’da in Iraq (AQI) who had operated in Syria, was designed to take place in several phases — first targeting commercial locations to draw the attention of security forces and culminating in a complex attack on the Embassy involving vehicle borne explosive devices, suicide bombers, and mortars. The plot was disrupted prior to the group moving to the operational phase. Jordanian authorities arrested all 11 members (all Jordanian citizens) believed to be involved in the plot.

AQI has a storied past in Jordan, to include claiming responsibility for the November 2005 bombings of three international hotels in Amman that killed 60 people and the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley.
[…]
In August 2010, a roadside IED detonated near the passing vehicle of three State Department contractors in Sahab. The attack caused minor damage to the vehicle but resulted in no injuries.

The report also notes that due to cross border security concerns as a result of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. Embassy has issued a travel policy for all personnel under Chief of Mission authority, mandating specific restrictions and requirements for official travel to the Jordanian/Syrian border and locations in close proximity to the border, including the Za’atri refugee camp. Travel to these locations by Embassy personnel must be conducted in armored vehicles equipped with RSO monitored tracking devices. Additionally, prior to travel commencing, the Regional Security Office routinely consults with the Jordanian PSD to determine the suitability of the journey and, if necessary, to arrange for additional security measures.

 

Related item:

Jordan 2014 Crime and Safety Report

 

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U.S. Embassy Mexico Bars Personnel From Non-Essential Travel to Acapulco

— Domani Spero
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The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City recently released the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in the country:

This message is to inform U.S. citizens that protests and violent incidents continue in Guerrero state in response to the disappearance of 43 students there.  Embassy personnel have been instructed to defer non-essential travel to Acapulco, by air or land, to include the federal toll road (“cuota”) 95D to/from Mexico City and Acapulco.  Furthermore, road travel in all other parts of the state remains prohibited.  Travel by air to and from Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo is still permitted.  The Embassy cautions U.S. citizens to follow the same guidelines.

The Acapulco Consular Agency remains open.

The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners; such actions may result in detention and/or deportation.  Travelers should avoid political demonstrations and other activities that might be deemed political by the Mexican authorities.  Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  Demonstrators in Mexico may block traffic on roads, including major arteries, or take control of toll booths on highways.  U.S. citizens are urged to avoid areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if in the vicinity of any protests.

Read the full announcement here.

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