Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicks Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

— Domani Spero

In October 2013, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro accused the top U.S. diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas and two other embassy officials of “acts of sabotage” — allegedly, they caused the blackouts that plagued the country — and ordered them to leave (what career track is that?) U.S. Embassy Caracas Charge d’Affaires Kelly Keiderling and two diplomats, reportedly Consular Officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who worked in Embassy Caracas’ political section were given 48 hours to leave the country. Soon thereafter, the AP reported that the State Department  expelled Venezuelan Charge d’Affaires Calixto Ortega Rios, Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales at its embassy in Washington and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida at the Venezuelan consulate in Houston. (see Venezuela Kicks Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!).

This weekend, Secretary Kerry expressed deep concern over  “rising tensions and violence surrounding this week’s protests in Venezuela.”  His statement also says, “We are particularly alarmed by reports that the Venezuelan government has arrested or detained scores of anti-government protestors and issued an arrest warrant for opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez. These actions have a chilling effect on citizens’ rights to express their grievances peacefully.”Here is Leopoldo Lopez on YouTube. See WSJ Venezuelan Opposition Leader Says He Will Risk Arrest.

The Venezuelan government wasn’t happy with this “interference.” Now the Miami Herald is reporting that Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Elías Jaua has given three American diplomats 48 hours to leave the country as  he accused them of fanning the flames of student protests that have rattled the country for more than a week.

The El Universal reports that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jaua identified the three officials as Vice Consuls Breeann Marie McCusker, Jeffrey Gordon Elsen and Kristofer Lee Clark.  They’ve been accused of  “trying to infiltrate Venezuelan universities under the cover of doing visa outreach.”We should note that the US Embassy Caracas has improved its visa wait time for Venezuelan visa applicants to 70 days in January but it is still #2 in Top Ten Visa Wait Time at U.S. Consular Posts (pdf) via Liam Schwartz’s Consular Corner.

We expect a reciprocal expulsion for three Venezuelan diplomats in the United States to follow. Today, the State Department denied these allegations releasing the following statement:

“The allegations that the United States is helping to organize protestors in Venezuela is baseless and false. We support human rights and fundamental freedoms – including freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly – in Venezuela as we do in countries around the world. But as we have long said, Venezuela’s political future is for the Venezuelan people to decide. We urge their government to engage all parties in meaningful dialogue.”

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“To be Venezuelan today is to live on the edge of the apocalypse, convinced it will happen tomorrow,” said Alberto Barrera, a poet, screenwriter and biographer of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. According to Globe and Mail,  the oil engineers have emigrated to Calgary, the soap opera stars fled to Mexico and Colombia, and women “both rich and poor have cut back to just one blow-dry or manicure each week.”

The country where inflation has been running reportedly at over 50%, where television stations are state controlled,  and where billboards apparently boast that “Venezuela has never been stronger,” almost no one has toilet paper in their bathrooms.

Whether its blackouts, protests or lack of toilet paper in the world’s fifth-largest oil producer — some people claim that there’s always Uncle Sam to blame.  As long as the Mr. Maduro’s government  convinced itself that all the country’s ails come from its powerful neighbor and refused to acknowledge how poorly it has managed Venezuela’s  affairs, nothing will change. It can continue blaming the United States, but sooner or later it will be forced to faced up to reality.  Venezuela produced 2.45 million barrels a day in 2012.  It exports on  average 792,000 barrels a day in the first 11 months of 2013 to the U.S. according to Bloomberg (apparently, the lowest since 1985). The report also says that Venezuela’s export basket price rose to $97.18 a barrel in the week of Jan. 27-31.

So the most important question — with that kind of money, how is it that there is a shortage of toilet paper in the country?

Early this year, LAT reported that U.S.-based American Airlines and United Airlines and Panama’s Copa Airlines were halting ticket sales in Venezuela in lieu of the government’s failure to pay arrears that has totaled $2.6 billion.  According to USA Today, Toyota Motor Co. said it would shut down its assembly operations in Venezuela due to  to the government’s foreign exchange controls.  The country is also running out of newsprint. Last week, the Guardian reported that El Impulso, the country’s oldest newspaper will be reduced to one section because it is running out of paper.

But to President Maduro this is all good since the late Hugo Chavez had reportedly appeared to him as a bird more than once telling him he was doing a good job.

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US Embassy Caracas Gets a New Chargé d’Affaires – Philip G. Laidlaw

— By Domani Spero

Last week, Venezuela accused the top U.S. diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas charge d’affaires Kelly Keiderling and two other diplomats, David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, of “acts of sabotage” and ordered them to leave the country within 48 hours. (See Venezuela Kicks Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!).  Later that same day, the U.S. Government expelled Venezuelan charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios and Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales at the Washington embassy and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida at the Houston consulate.

Shortly thereafter, the State Department appointed a new charge d’affaires in Caracas, Philip G. Laidlaw, a 21 year veteran of the Foreign Service.  Prior to his appointment, Mr. Laidlaw was post’s Acting Deputy Chief of MIssion.

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The embassy released a very short bio:

Phil Laidlaw joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 1992. His overseas assignments include Tirana, Sarajevo, Madrid, La Paz, and San Salvador. Laidlaw most recently served as the Deputy Director of the Office of Andean Affairs in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the Department of State. He has been in Caracas since June 2013.

Phil Laidlaw is from St. Augustine, Florida. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Economics at Wake Forest University in 1989 and received a Master’s in National Security Strategy from the National War College in 2011.

Venezuela Kicks Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

— By Domani Spero

Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolás Maduro accused the top U.S. diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas and two other embassy officials of “acts of sabotage” and ordered them to leave the country.

In a fiery televised speech, Mr. Maduro says that the diplomats have 48 hours to leave the country, and for sound effects, adds the usual serving of “Yankees, go home!”.  According to BBC News, Mr. Maduro says he has evidence that the trio took part in a power-grid sabotage in September and had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down production. (See BBC News – Venezuela expels three US diplomats over ‘sabotage’).

“We detected a group of US embassy officials dedicated to meeting the far-right and to financing and encouraging acts of sabotage against the electrical system and Venezuela’s economy,” the president said in a televised speech.

The Caracas Chronicles calls the proof the “Smoking Squirt Gun”; video here complete with a pirated soundtrack featuring the three diplomats.

The top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela is Charge d’Affairs Kelly Keiderling. The other two diplomats asked to leave are reportedly Consular Officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who works in the Embassy Caracas’ political section.

Below is Charge Kelly Keiderling with her goodbye:

Late Tuesday, the AP reported that the State Department  was expelling Venezuelan charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios and Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales at the Washington embassy and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida at the Houston consulate. In the spirit of reciprocity, it gave the Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to leave the U.S.

“It is regrettable that the Venezuelan government has again decided to expel U.S. diplomatic officials based on groundless allegations, which require reciprocal action. It is counterproductive to the interests of both our countries,” the State Department said.

Back in early September when Venezuela was crippled by a massive power failure that left 70% of the country without electricity, President Maduro insisted that the blackout was “the result of a plot by the extreme Right to mount an “electrical strike” against the country.”

According to the WSJ, Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost April elections to Mr. Maduro as Hugo Chavez’ successor said that the power failure underscored mismanagement at state companies.

“The blackout today demonstrates one more time the terrible incapacity of this government,” Mr. Capriles said in a post on his official Twitter account. “Now they’ll come up with another story to try to cover up the failure.”

But really  — why stop at blaming the Yankees for just the blackouts? If he’s smart as he think he is, Mr. Maduro could solve his whole problem of things falling apart with a simple strategy — just blame the Yankees for everything!  Because why not? It’s free.

The thing is —  “Yankees, go home!” is really, really getting old.  It has lost its pizzazz and shock value, no?  So below are some helpful hints so Mr. Maduro has something else to talk and shout about:

Hyperinflation at 45.4%:  When somebody asks about the country’s 45.4% inflation rate, don’t answer the question. Presidents do not have to answer questions! Instead, ask this: Who are engaging in economic “sabotage”? Since you’re the president, you are allowed to answer your own question, too!  Here’s the cheat sheet: “The Yanquis and enemies of the people are teaming up with greedy Venezuelan shopkeepers to undermine the country’s currency.  They plan to push the inflation to 50% before the year is over.”  Get that?  Then you sit and wait until the inflation spikes to 50% around December, and you tell everyone, “I told you so.” Or you can shout – Yankees! ¡Te lo dije!

Scarcity Index:  The Venezuelan Central Bank’s scarcity index, a measure of products missing from store shelves edged up to 20% in August. Now this one is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.  Two things you can do: One, say that the Yankees obviously sends their agents routinely all over the country to buy up cooking oil, powdered milk, toilet paper, and all other products to keep the shelves empty.  Remember, these Yankees sent men to the moon, of course, they can make food items disappear, silly.  Two, if this doesn’t work, go ahead and declare all news related to shortages as war propaganda. Media outlets which report shortages should be punished or nationalized.  Go shout – “Shut up! The stores are not empty!” That should shut everyone upCállate!  Las tiendas no están vacías! Try it, try it, it works.

Violent Crime:  Venezuela remained one of the deadliest countries in the world in 2012, with a record number of homicides reported by both official and non-official sources. Venezuela had approximately 21,692 homicides in 2012, a rate of 73 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants; more than double Colombia’s rate, and triples Mexico’s homicide rate five years into its “drug war.”  Crazy, right? Don’t worry.  You can always say that whoever came up with these number do not know anything about math. Yankees — no saben matemáticas!  Repeat often, even if not needed.

Carjackings:  According to government statistics, in 2012 Caracas saw more than 3,300 carjackings and 2,800 forcible motorcycle robberies. These numbers are in addition to the approximately 2,800 cars and 2,900 motorcycles that were surreptitiously taken. Carjacking victims in 2012 have included business executives and foreign diplomats in Caracas.  Also skyrocketing numbers in kidnappings, home invasions, street gangs, blah, blah, blah.  Well, if you’re confronted with these numbers, just deny, deny, deny.  Of course, the Yankees must have paid these statisticians to over count these cases, too. Arrest them!  With feelings, you should shout, according to Google Translate, “arrestarlos inmediatamente!”  

Now that should help keep things spicy a bit.

One last thing though, and this is sorta important. We think the Venezuelan Government should stop declaring American diplomats persona non grata.  If President Maduro kicks out any more embassy official, there won’t be any American diplomat left in Caracas.

You don’t think this is going to be a problem?

Who is he going to blame for the shortage of toilet paper in the country?

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