U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated)

Posted: 3:01 pm ET
Updated: 8:58 pm PT
Updated: Sept 6, 1:17 am ET – Original headline: U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members Due to Hurricane Irma
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On September 5, the State Department warned of non-essential travel to Haiti due to Hurricane Irma. It also announced the authorized voluntary departure of non-emergency personnel and family members from Haiti ahead of Hurricane Irma, now a category 5 hurricane, and apparently larger than the state of Ohio. Excerpt below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the approach of Hurricane Irma and recommends U.S. citizens avoid all non-essential travel to Haiti. The National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov) reports that Hurricane Irma is a strong, dangerous Category 5 storm with high winds and heavy rain. A hurricane watch has been issued for the northern coast of Haiti, and a tropical storm watch has been issued from Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-au-Prince. Additional information on Hurricane Irma is available (in Creole) from Haiti Civil Protection’s website and Twitter.

U.S. citizens residing and traveling in Haiti should be alert to flooding. Given the approaching hurricane, there is limited time available for a safe departure via air. The Department of State has authorized non-emergency personnel and family members to depart Haiti in advance of Hurricane Irma. We recommend U.S. citizens depart Haiti prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Airports are expected to close if conditions deteriorate.

As mentioned in yesterday’s emergency message, the Embassy has banned all personnel travel north of Port-au-Prince. In addition, the Embassy has cancelled the travel plans of all incoming employees to Haiti until the threat passes.

We recommend those citizens who are unable to depart to shelter in place in a secure location. U.S. citizens should apprise family and friends in the United States of their whereabouts, and keep in close contact with their tour operator, hotel staff, and local officials for any evacuation instructions.

For immigrant or nonimmigrant visa questions, please contact the call center at +509-2812-2929 or email support-Haiti@ustraveldocs.com. If you will not be able travel to an already-scheduled appointment in American Citizen Services from Wednesday, September 6 through Friday, September 8, please call 509-2229-8000 or 2229-8900, or send us an email at acspap@state.gov to reschedule your appointment.

Read in full here.

The Haiti Travel Warning also dated September 5 now notes that “On September 5, the Department authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and their family members due to Hurricane Irma.” 

The U.S. Consulate General in Curacao issued an alert for U.S. citizens in the Dutch Carribean that the current track of Hurricane Irma brings the eye of the storm directly over Sint Maarten Tuesday evening into Wednesday with sustained winds of 180 mph, gusts over 200 mph, and storm surge in excess of 10 feet and advised U.S. citizens to “take shelter in concrete buildings on higher ground away from the coast.” (Note: In 2010, Curacao and St. Maarten acquired a semi-autonomus status within the Kingdom and Bonaire, St. Eustatious, and Saba (BES-Islands) became municipalities of the Netherlands). No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the alert.

On September 4, the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo issued a reminder to U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic “to remain vigilant during the hurricane season.  At this time, Hurricane Irma is forecast to impact the entirety of the Dominican Republic to varying degrees with eastern and northern areas most heavily impacted, by Wednesday, September 6.” On September 5, U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo issued an Emergency Message advising U.S. citizens residing and traveling in the Dominican Republic that Hurricane Irma, “currently a category 5 storm, is projected to affect the Dominican Republic.” Also: “This storm may bring significant rainfall and wind that may result in life-threatening flooding, flash flooding, and storm surge, and Hispaniola-wide impacts are likely.  The National Hurricane Center (NHC) and local authorities are monitoring the progress of the storm, and the Embassy will issue updated messages as needed. Travelers and residents wishing to depart before the arrival of the storm should contact their airlines or tour operators and keep their families informed of their welfare and whereabouts.”  No “authorized departure” for employees/family members is noted in the Emergency Message.

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James Hogan Case: Wife Gets One Year and A Day Imprisonment Plus $1,000 Fine

This blog has followed the James Hogan Case since September 2009 when the Foreign Service officer was first reported missing in the Netherlands Antilles.  In March 2012, USDOJ announced that James Hogan’s wife, Abby Beard Hogan, 50, pleaded guilty in the Northern District of Florida for her role in the obstruction of a multinational investigation into the disappearance of her husband while stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Curaçao.

We missed the news of the sentencing but on February 15, 2013, USDOJ did announce that Abby Hogan was sentenced to serve one year and one day in prison for her role in “the obstruction of a multinational investigation into the disappearance of her husband.”

In addition, she was sentenced to 2 years supervised release; $1,000 fine; and was required to self-surrender by noon on March 18, 2013. Court records indicate that the fine was paid and entered on record on March 19, 2013.

 

Via USDOJ:

Florida Woman Sentenced to Prison for Obstruction of Justice in Relation to Her Husband’s Disappearance

A Gainesville, Fla., woman was sentenced today to serve one year and one day in prison for her role in the obstruction of a multinational investigation into the disappearance of her husband, then an employee in the U.S. Consulate in Curacao, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Pamela C. Marsh for the Northern District of Florida, Director of the U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service ( DSS) Gregory B. Starr and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office Michael B. Steinbach.

Abby Beard Hogan, 50, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers in the Northern District of Florida.   In addition to her prison term, Hogan was sentenced to two years of supervised release.   On March 29, 2012, Hogan pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary R. Jones to one count of obstruction of justice.

According to court documents, on the night of Sept. 24, 2009, Abby Hogan’s husband, James Hogan, an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Curacao, a Caribbean island that was part of the Netherlands Antilles, left his home on foot and subsequently disappeared.   In the early hours of Sept. 25, 2009, James Hogan called his wife and spoke for approximately three minutes.   The next day, when James Hogan failed to report to work, the U.S. government and Dutch and Antillean law enforcement launched an island-wide search and opened an investigation into Hogan’s disappearance.   On Sept. 25, 2009, a diver located James Hogan’s blood-stained clothing on a local beach.

According to evidence submitted in Abby Hogan’s sentencing hearing, she repeatedly provided false information to U.S. law enforcement about the time period before James Hogan’s disappearance and withheld relevant information. Abby Hogan initially told investigators that, before his disappearance, she and her husband had an argument. She subsequently modified that statement and claimed that there had been no argument, just a minor disagreement over her husband’s next assignment for the State Department.  Abby Hogan further told U.S. law enforcement agents that James Hogan had been in a “good mood” prior to leaving for his walk on the evening of his disappearance. She repeatedly denied that there had been any marital problems or that her husband had been upset or depressed in any way.  Abby Hogan further stated that she could not remember the full three-minute conversation before her husband disappeared because she was sound asleep when her husband called. She claimed she fell back asleep after the call, and did not awake until the following morning. In fact, all of these statements were false, as established by the deleted emails and other computer forensic evidence , which was submitted to the court.

According to court documents, after law enforcement interviews, between Sept. 30, 2009, and Jan. 15, 2010, Abby Hogan deleted more than 300 emails from her email account.    These emails contained information that Abby Hogan knew was relevant to specific questions she had been asked by U.S. law enforcement.   The emails also contained information that she had either previously misrepresented or knowingly omitted during her interviews with law enforcement, including that she was engaged in an extramarital affair; the night James Hogan disappeared, the couple had argued, and he left the house angry and upset; and that she did not want law enforcement to know what had happened that evening.

The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Teresa Wallbaum of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Williams for the Northern District of Florida.   The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance.   The case was investigated by DSS and the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Legal Attaché Office in Bridgetown, Barbados.   Assistance was also provided by Curacao law enforcement authorities.

While this concludes this part of an almost four-year saga, we are no closer to understanding what happened to James Hogan that September night in Curaçao.

–DS

 

 

 

 

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The View From Barbados: George Gaines Case, “the matter is more than a little troubling”

We’ve blogged about the passing of RSO George Gaines in Barbados recently.  Read US Embassy Barbados: Death of the Regional Security Officer and US Embassy Barbados: Death of RSO George Gaines “Unnatural” Investigation Ongoing.

On May 18, Barbados Nation reported that there will be no local autopsy or coroner’s inquest into the death of the embassy’s Regional Security Officer:

“In an unusual twist, the body of the 51-year-old security official was flown to his United States homeland Wednesday, following high-level talks between United States Embassy and Government officials. The United States Consulate had reportedly made a request for Gaines’ body to be sent to his homeland for forensic investigations to determine the cause of death.”

The following day, Barbados’ Nation News articulated its concerns about the handling of the death case in an editorial titled, Diplomacy vs sovereignty, and questioned why the body was “flown home with dispatch.”  See below, the original piece is posted here.

Sat, May 19, 2012 – 12:00 AM
WE TEND TO THINK that diplomatic immunity should not be tantamount to a host country’s loss of national sovereignty.

With that in mind, we are more than a little concerned about the handling of the case of well known United States Embassy official George Gaines, who died recently on these shores as a result of an apparent suicide but whose body has been flown home with dispatch, without the lawful and routine coroner’s inquest or even an autopsy, which would have taken less than a day.

Has expertise

Even if the autopsy had to be executed in the strict presence of American officials, it is obvious that Barbados has the requisite expertise to carry out such a procedure, if only for the record.

The circumstances of this matter have been extreme, to say the least: a man has died in unnatural circumstances, not within the confines of the United States Embassy or even its environs, but on a public beach at Dover, Christ Church. Following this, the Embassy’s counsellor for public affairs Rebecca Ross merely added to the mystery by saying officials were treating the death as a “private matter”, and asking the local media to “respect the privacy of the family”.

Does diplomatic immunity mean privacy about a death on a public beach in our own country? Had Gaines’ body not been found in a public place, would Barbadians have been informed at all then?

The Embassy’s position, even in the face of a high-level security official’s death, pushes us to wonder about the United States of America’s view of Barbados.

We ask, without prejudice, whether that country’s respect for anyone’s sovereignty is merely convenient, and whether countries like ours are seen as mere assets rather than the “partners” we and our CARICOM sister states are often touted to be.

Since no one in Barbados could officially touch Gaines’ body, how could Barbados exonerate itself in the event of any finding other than apparent suicide? And if the Barbados Government has indeed satisfied itself that there has been absolutely no need for a local autopsy, where is the official record to satisfy the people of Barbados, who deserve to know – after all, he died in our midst.

Investigation

While we pride ourselves on having a free Press and access to information, this matter begs for investigation at the highest level.

We shouldn’t have to wait to hear its details on CNN or FOX NEWS. We can’t help but say the matter is more than a little troubling – in terms of both diplomacy and sovereignty.

The dead have no use for diplomatic immunity and if the Barbadians are confused at this turn of events, our embassy in Bridgetown with its social media arms failed in its embrace of people to people outreach.

It is worth noting that this is not the first tragedy that befall a US mission overseas in recent years. In 2007, Colonel Thomas Mooney went missing, then was found dead in Cyprus. In 2010, Vice Consul James Hogan went missing, and was never found in the Netherlands Antilles. Here now is another tragedy in Barbados.

In this incident in Barbados, the editorial expressed a quiet affront to national pride — perhaps even a slight resentment on three things: 1) we have the expertise, why did they not trust us; 2) if we are partners, they must not think very much of us, and 3) how can we defend ourselves if this is foul play when we have no idea what happened here?

And their concern is understandable.  While one can argue that the privacy of the family at this difficult time be protected, the deceased, like all public officials serving at our embassies and consulates abroad are just that, officials with public lives. Presumably, they have friends in the local community, and professional contacts in and out of the host country government who cares about what happened to them. Incidents like this will generate interests and questions even from non-embassy friends. In this case, perhaps even to seek confirmation that the host country did not have anything to do with the death of its diplomatic guest. To respond to these incidents as if there’s a news blackout is not going to make the tragic news go away, or make rumors disappear but it will sure make a mystery out of a personal tragedy.

At the height of the disappearance of James Hogan in the Netherlands Antilles, our email inquiries sent to to the US Consulate General in Curacao and to Timothy J. Dunn, the Chief of Mission/Consul General were never acknowledged or responded to.  Nothing on its website indicates that one of its three officers has gone missing or that there was a search going on. There was no official statement from the mission. About a year later, a James Hogan Missing flyer was posted on its website, with no further explanation.

In this latest incident, emails to the press office of US Embassy Bridgetown, its front office and ASKPRI@state.gov have so far all gone unanswered. A request to the Consular Section for the embassy’s latest Disposition of Remains Report for Barbados will reportedly be responded to in 72 hours. And while the press officer of the embassy was quoted as saying this is a “private matter” the embassy did not release any official statement to the local press or on its website. There’s nothing on its Facebook page, or in its mission blog, or in its Twitter account. It’s like business as usual and there’s no death in the family. Or if there is one, it’s none of your business.

By contrast, when the US Defense Attaché, Thomas Mooney disappeared from the US Embassy in Cyprus on June 28, 2007, the U.S. Embassy there issued a public appeal for information on his whereabouts. And at the sad conclusion of Col. Mooney’s disappearance, then Ambassador Ronald Schlicher released an official statement also posted on the embassy’s website.

The message bears repeating below because we feel this is how it is done by a class act:

After the notification of next of kin, with deep sadness, I announce that LTC Thomas Mooney, who served his nation with distinction as our Defense Attaché, was found dead by Cypriot authorities on Monday.

At this point in the investigation, it is now clear that LTC Thomas Mooney’s death was a personal tragedy with no political or security implications.  We wish to thank the Cypriot authorities and people once again for the extraordinary level of support and the messages of sympathy they extended to the Embassy throughout this difficult and trying time.

Please remember LTC Mooney and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Ambassador Ronald L. Schlicher

Ambassador Schlicher’s message is comforting in its simplicity. It confirmed the death of the official member of the embassy family, thanked the folks that needed thanking, and it made the embassy come across as more than just a building, but a real community. More importantly, it acknowledged the mission as part of a larger community of human beings who grieve as part of life.

We don’t know this for sure but since Col.Mooney was in the military, his remains was probably sent to Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner (OAFME) at Dover Port Mortuary for an autopsy. But not once did we uncover a press account or editorial questioning the disposition of his remains.

Update @1314 PST, May 25:

Christopher J. Sandrolini, who until recently was US Embassy Bridgetown’s chargé d’affaires, a.i. and currently its Deputy Chief of Mission, responded to our email requesting comment over the editorial with the following note:

I have no official comment. Personally, I can say that George Gaines was a good friend of mine and of the entire Embassy; we miss him greatly. Many of us came up from Bridgetown for the funeral and to be with his wife and daughter.  George was an outstanding officer and widely known and respected everywhere he served.

While we understand that our embassy officials are not always able to provide an official statement, we appreciate the note from Mr. Sandrolini.
Domani Spero