Raymond Bonner: The Diplomat and the Killer (via ProPublica)

Posted: 1:45  am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

The article below has been adapted from Raymond Bonner’s “Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador’s Dirty War,” which is being republished with a new prologue and epilogue. The book which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award is also available from Amazon here.  Raymond Bonner is a former foreign correspondent for The The New York Times and staff writer at The New Yorker. He is also the author of the memorable Waltzing With a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy.  (Below republished under Creative Commons).

In December of 1980, Salvadoran soldiers brutally raped and murdered four American churchwomen. A young U.S. diplomat singlehandedly cracked the case, cultivating an improbable source who risked everything to gather the key evidence.

*

On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen — an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary — sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.

Two days later, White and a crowd of reporters gathered as the bodies of the four Americans were pulled by ropes from a shallow grave near the airport. The black-and-white photos snapped that day document a grisly crime. The women were dressed in ordinary clothes — slacks and blouses. Investigators would conclude that all had been sexually assaulted before they were dispatched with execution-style gunshots to the head. White, grim-faced and tieless in the heat, knew immediately who was behind the crime. This time, he vowed, the Salvadoran government would not get away with murder, even if it cost him his career.

In the years since, much has come to light about this pivotal event in the history of U.S. interventions in Central America. But the full story of how one of the most junior officers in the U.S. embassy in San Salvador tracked down the killers has never been told. It is the tale of an improbable bond between a Salvadoran soldier with a guilty conscience and a young American diplomat with a moral conscience. Different as they were, both men shared a willingness to risk their lives in the name of justice.

In November of 1980, just weeks before the churchwomen were abducted, H. Carl Gettinger was sitting at his desk in the U.S. embassy when the phone rang. On the line was Colonel Eldon Cummings, the commander of the U.S. military group in El Salvador, who said there was a lieutenant from the Salvadoran National Guard in his office who could tell Gettinger about the harsh tactics of the guerrillas. The soldier was well-placed; El Salvador’s National Guard was an essential part of the country’s internal security apparatus. It operated as “a kind of landlords’ militia in the countryside,” as White wrote in a prescient, 1980 cable that analyzed the forces that would fuel the country’s civil war.

Gettinger, then 26 years old, was considered something of a liberal, in part because, like White, he supported the pro-human rights approach of President Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan’s predecessor. Adding to his reputation as a “proto-communist,” as Gettinger mockingly described himself, was that he had a beard and was often incorrectly assumed to be Jewish (he was called “Getzinger” when he first arrived). “I looked like a lefty rabbi,” Gettinger told me.

Gettinger informed Cummings that he did not need to hear more about the cruelty of the guerrilla forces. “I already know that,” he said. But Gettinger viewed his job as talking to everyone, and he had a knack for putting people at ease. His mother, who was Mexican, had taught him, Hablando se entiende la gente (“By talking, people understand each other”). He was born in Calexico, California, and spent many youthful days with his cousins, aunts, and uncles across the border in Mexicali, where his mother was born. Growing up in San Diego, Carl lost himself in National Geographic magazines and would dream about going to exotic lands. One day, when he was about 14, Carl asked his father what he should do with his life. “Try the Foreign Service,” his father said, without looking up from his newspaper.

Gettinger’s first posting had been in Chile, where he was assigned to the consular section. He quickly grew bored handling visa requests, and used his fluency in Spanish to moonlight for the embassy’s political section. When the State Department asked for volunteers to work in El Salvador, he didn’t hesitate. It was the place for a young diplomat to make his mark. In neighboring Nicaragua, the Marxist Sandinistas had come to power, and Washington was worried that El Salvador would be the next domino to fall. Gettinger arrived in the first months of a decade-long civil war that would be marked by peasant massacres and the loss of some 75,000 civilian lives, most killed by government forces.

Cummings walked the Salvadoran lieutenant, who was dressed in civilian clothes, over to Gettinger’s office, introduced him, and left. The lieutenant, whom Gettinger described as “mean and low-brow with the flattened face of a boxer,” began by saying that the guerrillas had killed both his father and a brother, and that he was playing a role in the dirty war. On one occasion, he said, soldiers under his command had picked up three “kids” who were suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. After briefly interrogating them, the lieutenant thought they should be released, but a sergeant told him they were “unreformed.” The lieutenant ordered them executed. He had also killed several men who he thought might pose a threat to his own life. “He seemed to have a lot that he wanted to get off his chest,” Gettinger recalled.

But the diplomat was not prepared for what was to come. “It was the single most ironic twist in my 31 and something-year career,” Gettinger told me. (He retired from the Foreign Service in 2009 after several years in Japan and tours in Pakistan and Iraq — a decision he described as “wrenching” since the service “had been my whole life.”)

After expressing his distaste for the left, the lieutenant lashed out with equal contempt for El Salvador’s right. The lieutenant, who was born into a lower-class family, said the country’s oligarchs were using the military to do their dirty work. Soldiers should fight to defeat communism, not to enrich powerful landlords, he said.

Gettinger banged out a cable recounting his hour-long conversation with the lieutenant, who was unofficially dubbed “Killer” around the embassy. The message was stamped NODIS [no distribution], a higher classification level than SECRET, and only a limited number of copies were made. Gettinger described the lieutenant as “badly educated,” and “a savage individual who feels victimized both by the left and by the GN [National Guard] hierarchy.” In cables to Washington about the information it was learning, the embassy tended to refer to Gettinger as “the officer” and the lieutenant as “the source.” (In 1993 and 1994, shortly after the end of El Salvador’s civil war, the Clinton administration released thousands of previously classified documents pertaining to human-rights abuses during the conflict.)

In subsequent cables, the embassy told Washington that the “source” had been “deep inside extreme right wing fringe group activities” and “closely associated with rightists such as Major Roberto D’Aubuisson,” the notorious and charismatic right-wing leader. The lieutenant said that he had bombed a Catholic radio station and the Jesuit-run Central American University on orders from D’Aubuisson’s aides. (In the 1970s and 80s, as many priests and nuns in Latin America embraced the doctrine of “liberation theology,” which focused on the poor and oppressed, the rich and powerful came to view the Church as an enemy.) But he said that he had grown disenchanted as D’Aubuisson and his followers morphed into gunrunners and smugglers, motivated as much by money as political ideology.

The lieutenant told Gettinger that D’Aubuisson had been an architect of the assassination of the revered Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered inside a church while saying Mass in March 1980. A couple days before the shooting, the lieutenant said, he had attended a meeting chaired by D’Aubuisson at which soldiers drew lots for the chance to kill the archbishop. There had long been rumors of D’Aubuisson’s involvement in the assassination, but this was the first concrete evidence the Americans had. (No one has ever been prosecuted for the murder. In 2015, Pope Francis declared that Romero had died a martyr and would be beatified, the final step before sainthood. D’Aubuisson died in 1992, at the age of 48, of throat cancer.)

Two weeks after Gettinger first met the lieutenant, on December 2, 1980, the Maryknoll nuns Maura Clarke, 49, and Ita Ford, 40, were returning from a Maryknoll conference in Nicaragua, where left-wing guerrillas had recently toppled President Anastasio Somoza and his American-backed dictatorship. They were met at the airport shortly after 6 o’clock in the evening by the two women who had joined White over dinner the previous evening: Dorothy Kazel, 41, and Jean Donovan, 27, a lay missionary who was engaged to be married.

The next day, the burned-out shell of their white Toyota minivan was found about five miles from the airport. On December 4, the vicar of San Vicente called the U.S. embassy to report that the bodies of the four women had been discovered near the airport. When White heard this, he rushed to the scene.

[….]

A handful of insiders knew that the trial would never have occurred were it not for Carl Gettinger. “It was through his persistent efforts” that the names of the perpetrators were obtained, wrote Pimentel, the FBI agent, when he recommended that Gettinger be honored by the FBI. “He did this knowing full well that inquiries of this nature could very well bring about physical harm to his person.” FBI Director William Webster agreed. “It is doubtful this matter would have been resolved so quickly without your aggressive pursuit and your personal interest in seeing justice served,” Webster wrote Gettinger in June of 1981. Gettinger couldn’t talk about the honor. Pimentel’s recommendation and Webster’s letter were classified secret. They have since been declassified and released, but the identity of Gettinger’s source — the National Guard lieutenant — remains a secret to this day.

Gettinger believes the lieutenant was killed in the early 1990s, by which point he had left the military and was operating a bus service. In 1998, an American diplomat relayed the story to Gettinger: One day, a bus the former officer was driving was stopped on the highway, whether by soldiers or guerrillas is unclear. “Killer” wasn’t one to go down without a fight, and he came out guns blazing. He lost.

The exceptional secrecy surrounding Gettinger’s work was evident when he received one of the State Department’s highest honors, the W. Averell Harriman Award for “creative dissent,” in the fall of 1982 during a public ceremony in the department’s auditorium. In presenting the certificate, Harriman, one of the “wise men” of American foreign policy, commended Gettinger for having “argued his conclusions whatever the potential risk to his own career.” Harriman offered no details about how Gettinger had earned the honor, only that it involved American citizens. The handful of officials who knew the story smiled; nearly everyone else in the audience was left wondering what highly classified issue could have prompted “creative dissent” by such a junior officer.

Read in full, The Diplomat and the Killer via ProPublica.

Here is a short video from retroreport.org on the search for justice.  See the site for more on this.

We’ve mentioned Hugo Carl Gettinger in passing here when we blogged previously about the May 2006  Accountability Review Board To Examine the Circumstances of the Death of David E. Foy and Mr. Iftikhar Ahmed in March 2006, Karachi, Pakistan. Secretary Rice appointed him Executive Secretary to that Board.

 

Related items:

 

 

 

Advertisements

US Embassy El Salvador: Peace Corps Suspends Program in World’s New Murder Capital

Posted: 12:42 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

On January 11, Peace Corps announced the suspension of its program in El Salvador where there were 58 volunteers assigned.  The program was previously suspended in 1980 amid increasing violence prior to the civil war.  The government of El Salvador invited the Peace Corps to return to El Salvador in 1993 after the signing of the Peace Accords that ended the civil war.  In 1994, Peace Corps El Salvador invited new two-year Volunteers to serve in the project areas of Water Sanitation and Health, Agroforestry and Soil Conservation, and Small Business Development.  Volunteers have worked in El Salvador since then until this year’s program suspension. Below is the announcement:

The Peace Corps today announced the suspension of its program in El Salvador due to the ongoing security environment. The agency will continue to monitor the security situation in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador to determine when the program can resume.

The Peace Corps has enjoyed a long partnership with the government and people of El Salvador and is committed to resuming volunteers’ work there in a safe and secure environment.

Volunteers’ health, safety and security are the Peace Corps’ top priorities. More than 2,300 Peace Corps volunteers have worked on community and youth development projects in communities throughout El Salvador since the program was established in 1962.

es-map

 

USA Today recently called El Salvador the world’s new murder capital:

Government data show 6,657 people were murdered in the small country last year, a 70% increase from 2014. The homicide rate of 104 people per 100,000 is the highest for any country in nearly 20 years, according to data from the World Bank.

“Keep in mind, you’re talking about the national average,” Adriana Beltrán of the Washington Office on Latin America said about El Salvador’s homicide rate. “If you start looking at where the pockets of violence are, it’s shocking.”

A June 22, 2015 Travel Warning  continues to warn U.S. citizens that crime and violence levels in El Salvador remain high, and U.S. citizens traveling to El Salvador should remain alert to their surroundings.  The Travel Warning notes that there is no information to suggest that U.S. citizens are specifically targeted by criminals; however, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country.” Since January 2010, 34 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador including a nine-year-old child in December 2013. During the same time period, 419 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen, while others were victims of violent crimes.”

Last summer, the Guardian reported that “With one killing on average every hour, August is on course to be the deadliest month since the 1992 peace accord. On current trends, the homicide rate will pass 90 per 100,000 people in 2015, overtaking that of Honduras as the highest in the world (not including battlegrounds like Syria). This would make El Salvador almost 20 times deadlier than the US and 90 times deadlier than the UK.”

El Salvador has been a 15% COLA and 15% hardship differential since September 7, 2014. It  is not designated as a danger pay post.

The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador is headed by Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte, a noncareer appointee  who assumed charged in 2010. She has been nominated in July 2015 to be the Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the Organization of American States(OAS). That nomination is currently pending in the SFRC.  Her second in command is career FSO, Michael Barkin who was previously the Deputy Director of the Office of Canadian Affairs in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) and served as Principal Officer and Consul General in Matamoros, Mexico.

 

Related itms:

El Salvador Travel Warning | June 22, 2015

El Salvador 2015 Crime and Safety Report | May 20, 2015

 

More posts:

 

 

#

 

 

 

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

Posted: 1:45 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

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.

.

.

.

.

.

.

#

US Embassy El Salvador: Critical Crime Threat – Stay Off the Streets

|| >    We’re running our crowdfunding project from January 1 to February 15, 2014. If you want to keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub  <||

— Domani Spero

On January 14, 2014, the US Embassy in San Salvador sent an emergency message to U.S. citizens in the country with a reminder of the critical crime threat in El Salvador. At approximately 21,041 square kilometers, El Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.

This message is to remind U.S. citizens residing and traveling in El Salvador of the critical crime threat in El Salvador.  Most travelers to El Salvador experience no safety or security problems, but as noted in our August 9, 2013, Travel Warning for El Salvador, both random and organized violent crime is endemic throughout El Salvador. U.S. citizens are not normally singled out based on their nationality, but are subject to the same threats as all other persons in El Salvador.

Over the last several weeks, several joggers and pedestrians were robbed at gunpoint in the immediate area around U.S. Embassy San Salvador.  Blogs associated with local running and cycling groups have also reported on runners being targeted in the Santa Elena area as well as other affluent areas, such as Escalon and San Benito.  Due to these issues, U.S. Embassy security officials advise all U.S. Government personnel not to walk, run or cycle in the unguarded streets and parks of El Salvador, even in groups, and recommend exercising only in gyms and fitness centers.

Stay aware of your surroundings at all times when in public, and avoid carrying any valuables at all, including watches or smart phones/tablets, as these items are often targeted by thieves.  Be especially vigilant when entering or exiting your home or hotel, car, garage, school, and workplace.  Whenever possible, travel in groups of two or more persons.  Walking in many areas of El Salvador can expose you to crime, especially at night, and visitors and residents should not walk alone on or near beaches, historic ruins, or trails.

es-map

The 2013 Crime and Safety Report published by  Diplomatic Security says that “El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. The criminal threat in El Salvador is unpredictable, gang-centric, and characterized by violence directed against both known associates and targets of opportunity.”

Crimes of every nature occur 24 hours a day; daylight is not a deterrent. There are no areas that are deemed free of violent crime. Robberies and robbery attempts, home invasions, and extortions occur in the most affluent neighborhoods, and closely guarded officials, independent business persons, and diplomats are not immune from these attacks.
[…]
Most U.S. citizens (close to 90 percent) die of natural causes in El Salvador. The leading cause of non-natural death is homicide. In 2012, U.S. fatalities included 11 non-natural deaths (seven homicides, two vehicle accidents, one suicide, and one drowning). 2011 saw eight non-natural deaths (four homicides, two vehicle accidents, and two drowning). And 2010 saw 13 non-natural deaths (11 homicides, one vehicle accident, and one drowning). Of 32 non-natural deaths from January 2010 to December 2012, 22 were homicides.

The effect and threat of violent crime in San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many Americans live and work, leads to isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities. Based on current statistics, violent crime remains significantly higher than U.S. and international rates. El Salvador has the second highest per capita murder rate in the world: 69 per 100,000 in 2012 (UNODC statistics) (by comparison the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000). Police statistics show there was an average of seven murders and three carjackings reported daily in 2012.

As of January 12, 2014, El Salvador is a 15% hardship and a 10% COLA post.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …

We have blogged recently about the critical crime and violence in El Salvador (see State Dept Issues El Salvador Travel Warning:  Critical Crime and Violence.  We have also blogged about the carjacking of a US Embassy employee in Caracas. (see Letter From Caracas: Did You Hear About the American Diplomat Carjacked in Venezuela?)  By the way, The Telegraph reported in December 2012 that “There are more murders in Venezuela than in the United States and the 27 countries of the European Union combined.” San Salvador (El Salvador) and Caracas (Venezuela) are both considered critical crime posts but are not designated danger pay post.

We’ve checked the State Department’s Allowances website and here is what it says about danger pay:

*The danger pay allowance is designed to provide additional compensation above basic compensation to all U.S. Government civilian employees, including Chiefs of Mission, for service at places in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of an employee.  These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.

Note the last line of that explanation.

Danger pay factors used in determining the allowance include post evacuation/operating status, acts of violence, and post environmental conditions (see Danger Pay Factors (DS-578).

Under operating status, factors assessed include: the evacuation status (ordered or authorized), percentage of Eligible Family Members (EFMs) remaining at post during an authorized departure and whether or not post is on unaccompanied status or if limited family members are allowed at post.

Acts of violence includes killing, risk of death or severe injury, aggravated battery, kidnapping, sabotage, property damages, extortion, rioting, and hijacking.

Post environmental conditions includes terrorism conditions and civil war, civil insurrection and warfare conditions.

While “attempted hijacking of a privately owned vehicle” and “the hijacking of a privately owned vehicle has become a commonplace occurrence” are some of the factors to be considered under the Danger Pay Factors (DS-578), it is also appears that for purposes of danger pay designation, these incidents are not considered relevant if they are economically motivated and if committed for reasons not related to terrorism, civil insurrection, and/or war.

In fact the danger pay description clearly notes that *“These conditions do not include acts characterized chiefly as economic crime.”

Okay. So kidnapping and carjacking incidents in Iraq or Afghanistan probably contribute to its danger post designation but kidnapping and carjacking in say Venezuela or El Salvador where they would be considered an economic crime, would not?

But then you get Haiti,  designated as 5% danger pay post as of 12/2010; that was down from 20% earlier that year. The embassy there also recently went on an embassy-imposed curfew due to security conditions.

Let’s note for the record that there are no civil wars or insurrection in Haiti or Venezuela.

That leave us with terrorism.

The Crime and Security Report for Haiti says that “The USG rates Haiti as LOW in the threat category of indigenous terrorism. There have been no terrorist acts specifically targeting American interests or citizens in Haiti.”

The Crime and Security Report for Venezuela says “Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are designated by the Secretary of State as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Both groups use Venezuela as a safe haven. The State Department has stated that the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah is using Venezuela mainly for fundraising. However, Venezuelan media reports suggest Hezbollah is also active in training, money laundering, and arms trafficking.

So this is a tad perplexing, no? How is it that Haiti with crime and security problems (but no terrorism, civil insurrection, and/or war) gets a 5% danger pay designation and Venezuela with crime and security problems (but no civil insurrection, and/or war, and is a terrorist safe haven) gets zero. Since we are not privy to the documents submitted, we have no way of knowing exactly the reason for this.

But you can perhaps understand why folks in Caracas might be troubled by this treatment.

We can think of a few possible reasons for this dissimilar treatment, pardon the speculation since no one would talk about this on the record for this blog:

Front Office Leadership? Somebody has to submit the Danger Pay Factors before any designation can be done. US Embassy Haiti during and after the earthquake has a chief of mission.  US Embassy Venezuela has been without an ambassador since July 2010 and is short staffed in key areas. According to the 2012 OIG report “Between July 2010 and October 2011, the two interim chargés […] relied upon a series of acting DCMs, which contributed to inconsistency and confusion regarding internal direction within the mission and interactions with Washington.”

Skills and Collaboration? The person responsible for putting together the Danger Pay Factors is without a doubt the Management Office at post in collaboration with the Regional Security Office. So the Management Officer’s writing skills and excellent cooperation with the RSO who has to dig up the supporting stats and documentation is crucial in making a compelling case. The most recent OIG report on Venezuela says that “Management services are incoherent and customer service is poor.” Not only that, the inspectors reported that “weak management section leadership has exacerbated the situation.”  So while Management Officers were not spotlighted in the recent recruitment video from the State Department, they are the most important component of an effective mission. Next to excellent Front Office leadership, of course.  Our unscientific review indicates that the effectiveness and responsiveness of the management section has a direct correlation to the morale and performance of the mission.

Regional Bureau Attention? We do not know what kind of support US Embassy Venezuela get from the WHA bureau and its assistant secretary. But we can readily tell what kind of support has been extended to the US Embassy in Haiti, a post that even has its own Special Coordinator.  We do think that special care and support is necessary when a mission does not have the leadership of a Senate-confirmed ambassador, when post has more than the usual staffing gaps, when post has a good number of entry level officers working in upstretched positions in a host country with 19.9 percent inflation rate.  Particularly if post is also the receiving end of prolong official animosity towards the United States.  When  taken together, these can have a significant impact in the proper functioning of a mission.   The question then becomes — If US Embassy Caracas is getting the appropriate care and support it needs given its many challenges, how is it that its morale is in the mud and we’re getting love notes from there?

Danger Pay Office Out to Lunch? Would you please knock over there and check it out. Please?

Because somebody’s gotta ask why.

One of our readers just sent a question asking, “Where do Mexican border posts that have danger pay fit? Civil insurrection? Isn’t drug/gang violence for economic gain/profit?”  

And that’s why you’re looking at somebody just as confused.  Is it possible that the folks out to lunch also went off the tracks on this?  Something for the Secretary’s Sounding Board, anyone?

sig4

 

 

 

 

State Dept Issues El Salvador Travel Warning: Critical Crime and Violence

On January 23, 2013, the State Department issued a new Travel Warning for El Salvador detailing the crime and violence in the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America.  For a while there, El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world. It was  dislodged from the #1 spot by Honduras in 2010. In 2011, there were 82.1 murders per 100,000 people in Honduras.

The Crime and Security Report for 2012 issued by the embassy’s Regional Security Office says that “El Salvador is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. The effect and threat of violent crime within San Salvador, including the neighborhoods in which many Americans live and work, leads to greater isolation and the curtailment of recreational opportunities.”  Part of that report described the robbery at gunpoint of an embassy officer and spouse while stuck at a traffic circle near the embassy:

“In 2011, armed robberies continued at the accelerated 2010 pace and arguably could be the single greatest security threat facing U.S. embassy staff and business persons. As an example, in April 2011, an embassy officer and spouse were robbed at gunpoint at a traffic circle less than a mile from the embassy while stuck in late rush hour traffic. In this instance, two unidentified men approached the driver’s side of the car, pointed a gun at both occupants, and demanded their belongings. The couple complied with their demands, and the attackers fled the scene on foot. In another example, a U.S. tourist was robbed at night by two individuals with machetes directly outside a popular private beach club that is frequented often by embassy staff and other Westerners.”

US Embassy San Salvador, El Salvador

US Embassy San Salvador, El Salvador

Below is an excerpt from the new Travel Warning:

The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens about the security situation in El Salvador.

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit El Salvador each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work. However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. In 2011, El Salvador had the second highest murder rate in the world: 71 per 100,000 people (by comparison, the murder rate in Massachusetts, with a similar geographical area and population, was 2.6 per 100,000). In 2012, a truce between El Salvador’s two principal street gangs contributed to a decline in the homicide rate. However, the sustainability of the decline is unclear, and the truce had little impact on robbery, assaults, and other violent crimes. Most of these crimes go unsolved. In March 2012, as a result of an administrative review of the security situation, Peace Corps El Salvador substantially reduced the number of its volunteers in country.

U.S. citizens do not appear to be targeted based on their nationality. However, 22 U.S. citizens have been murdered in El Salvador since January 2010. During the same time period, 230 U.S. citizens reported having their passports stolen. Armed robberies of climbers and hikers in El Salvador’s national parks are common, and the Embassy strongly recommends engaging the services of a local guide certified by the national or local tourist authority when hiking in back country areas, even within the national parks. In 2000, the National Civilian Police (PNC) established a special tourist police force (POLITUR) to provide security and assistance to tourists, as well as protection for the cultural heritage of El Salvador. It has officers located in 19 tourist destinations.

A majority of serious crimes are never solved; only five of the 22 murders committed against U.S. citizens since January 2010 have resulted in convictions. The Government of El Salvador lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases and to deter violent crime. The PNC is still developing into a modern and effective police force that can protect the public. While several of the PNC’s investigative units have shown great promise, routine street level patrol techniques, anti-gang, and crime suppression efforts are limited.

Transnational criminal organizations conduct narcotics, arms trafficking, and other unlawful activities throughout the country and use violence to control drug trafficking routes and carry out other criminal activity. Other criminals, acting both individually and in gangs, commit crimes such as murder-for-hire, carjacking, extortion, armed robbery, rapes, and other aggravated assaults. El Salvador, a country of roughly six million people, has hundreds of known street gangs totaling more than 20,000 members. Gangs and other criminal elements roam freely day and night, targeting affluent areas for burglaries, and gang members are quick to engage in violence if resisted.

Extortion is a particularly serious and common crime in El Salvador. Many extortion attempts are no more than random cold calls that originate from imprisoned gang members using cellular telephones, and the subsequent threats against the victim are made through social engineering and/or through information obtained about the victim’s family. U.S. citizens who are visiting El Salvador for extended periods may be at higher risk for extortion demands. Hitting its peak a few years ago, extortion has dropped in the last two years; however, recent reports show that there is an increase in the level of violence associated with extortion cases, including media reports of extortion victims and witnesses being killed. Extortion attempts can be transnational in nature and can include kidnapping of victims. For example, in 2011, a 2 year old U.S. citizen was kidnapped from the home of his grandparents in El Salvador by 8 to 10 armed men. Ransom demands made to family members in both El Salvador and the United States were traced back to a local prison used exclusively to incarcerate gang members.

Read in full here.

In 2011, police statistics also show an average of 12 murders and three carjackings reported daily to the police. While  El Salvador is a 10% COLA and 15% hardship differential post, it is as of this writing not listed as a danger pay post.

sig4

Senate Finally Confirms Ambassador Aponte, and She Just Unpacked Her Household Effects!

On June 14, cloture was invoked on Executive Calendar #501, the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador, upon reconsideration, by a vote of 62-37.  The Senate subsequently confirmed the Aponte nomination by voice vote.

President Obama released a statement on the confirmation of Ambassador Aponte.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also issued this statement.

[gigya src=”http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649″ width=”500″ flashvars=”offsite=true&lang=en-us&page_show_url=/photos/40236643@N04/sets/72157629845261659/show/&page_show_back_url=/photos/40236643@N04/sets/72157629845261659/&set_id=72157629845261659&jump_to=” allowFullScreen=”true” ]

Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews at the Senate!

The Senate thumbed down this nomination in December 2011 so when her recess appointment ran out, she left El Salvador in January 2012. Which probably meant she spent her holidays packing out. So then she got back to the U.S. and presumably had to wait weeks for her household effects to arrive from San Salvador. Then she had to spend weeks unpacking all the boxes and putting stuff away. And just as she was done with that, the Senate decided to confirm her. And so she’s going back to El Salvador. Which means, she’s going to be packing out again. And unpacking once she gets to San Salvador. And who knows what happens in November 2012?

What a wasteful group of people working for us in the more deliberative and more prestigious body in the Congress.  All that cost money, you guys! Couldn’t you have made up your mind in December and saved on shipping boxes and relocation expenses?

Ambassador Aponte’s nomination was previously held up by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). DeMint was demanding more information about Aponte’s ancient boyfriend (see Ambassador Aponte’s Nomination “DeMinted” Over Old Boyfriend, LGBT Op-Ed, and [Fill in the Blank].  Marco Rubio apparently had some issues with WHA policies.

In the June 14 vote, Marco “if I do a good job as vice president” Rubio switched sides and voted for Ambassador Aponte’s confirmation.  Don’t know why.  Must be because the Rubio hold forced the Obama Administration to change its WHA policies.  Quit laughing, yep, that must be it.  Senators Lugar, McCain, Ayotte, Graham also voted for Aponte’s confirmation.  Senator DeMint got tired of holding the Senate hold (like the figure four leglock), so he and 36 other GOP senators voted against confirmation.

Would it be too much to ask for our Senators to cast their votes based on the qualifications of the nominees instead of a party line vote? After all, the person we’re sending out to represent us is out there representing the United States of America, not Blue America or Red America.

Ambassador Aponte has not changed in six months.  She’s still the same person with the same baggage of an old boyfriend, and her LGBT op-ed has not been rewritten to be more palatable.  So nothing has changed except the Senators’ minds and the games they play.

Domani Spero

Secret Service Interviews 28 in San Salvador, Strippers Bombshell a Dud?

On April 26, we blogged about the escándalo prostitutas in Colombia which appeared to spread to Brasilia and El Salvador (see Secret Service Scandal Slides Over Embassy Gate, Creeps into US Embassy Brasilia, US Embassy San Salvador and the Where Else Bar).

Then there was that claim from Seattle’s Kirotv.com, an “exclusive” about strippers and the Secret Service advance team (snipers, K-9 and explosives sweeps) in San Salvador prior to President Obama’s trip there in March of 2011.  It was an annoying, rather empty drip, drip, drip news focused on alleged visits to the Lips Strip Club in San Salvador.

Well, now the owner of the business purportedly patronized by Secret Service agents in San Salvador had given a sworn written statement to USSS investigators that “he had no knowledge or any other information that any Secret Service personnel had been to his business” and that “at no time had he told anyone that Secret Service personnel had ever been to his place of business.”

Below is an excerpt from Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan’s statement for the record at the May 23, 2012 hearing before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs United States Senate:

In the midst of our internal investigation, allegations were made that similar misconduct may have occurred in other foreign countries on previous protective assignments. Specifically, allegations were made that Secret Service personnel had been involved in misconduct in San Salvador, El Salvador in March 2011. Although, no case of similar misconduct had been reported to our RES, I directed Secret Service Inspectors to travel to San Salvador, El Salvador to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations made. After several days in San Salvador ‘and conducting 28 interviews with hotel managers and employees, individuals from the U.S. Department of State, other government agencies and contract employees assigned to assist the Secret Service with the visit, no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations.

During our investigation in San Salvador several hotel managers and employees were interviewed, along with individuals from the U.S. Department of State and other government agencies. During those interviews, none of the 28 people interviewed had any personal knowledge, records or any other information to indicate that Secret Service personnel had been involved in misconduct while in San Salvador, El Salvador in March of 201 1.

Additionally, while Secret Service Inspectors were in San Salvador they interviewed the owner of a business where purportedly Secret Service personnel had been involved in misconduct. The owner of the business provided a sworn written statement that he had no knowledge or any other information that any Secret Service personnel had been to his business or information about misconduct by Secret Service personnel. This individual informed Secret Service Inspectors that at no time had he told anyone that Secret Service personnel had ever been to his place of business.

Not sure if USSS investigators also interviewed the individual called by kirotv a whistleblower. But unless kirotv has more than pictures of half naked dancing girls, or complaints for non-payment of services rendered, that bombshell from El Salvador is probably not going to stick much.

Domani Spero

Secret Service Scandal Slides Over Embassy Gate, Creeps into US Embassy Brasilia, US Embassy San Salvador and the Where Else Bar

Even under a rock, we managed to hear about the 24 Secret Service and military personnel accused of misconduct in the prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia.

Then on April 25, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and told the panel that the incident involving as many as 20 women appeared to be an isolated case. She said the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility had never received previous complaints in the past 2 1/2 years. We don’t know why 2 1/2 year is significant.  But it’s good to know since apparently, according to the Secretary Napolitano, the Secret Service has provided protection on more than 900 foreign trips and 13,000 domestic trips.

In a closely watched developing news, Defense Secretary Panetta was in Brazil on April 24 and had a joint presscon with Brazilian Minister Amorim in Brasilia.  They entertained three questions and the first one was about U.S. Marines from the US Embassy in Brasilia allegedly injuring a prostitute in December last year.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon Jr. greets U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta upon his arrival in Brasilia, Brazil, April 24, 2012. Panetta is on a five-day trip to the region to meet with counterparts and military officials in Colombia, Brazil and Chile to discuss an expansion of defense and security cooperations (DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

A reporter from TV Global asks: “Is the U.S. government going to act to punish the Marines involved here in Brasilia with prostitutes?”

Here is Secretary Panettta’s response:

“With regards to what you mentioned, obviously this incident was fully investigated and those that were involved have been punished and held accountable.  They are no longer in this country.  They were reduced in rank and they were severely punished for that behavior.  I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct, not here or any place in the world.  And where it takes place, you can be assured that we will act to make sure that they are punished and that that kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

Brazil’s News G1 globo.com has a report of this incident (in Portuguese) and aired a video with an interview of Romilda Aparecida Ferreira, the alleged victim and the subject of the question posted to Secretary Panetta.

From best we could tell from translated text, the woman was allegedly assaulted by officers of the U.S. Embassy at the end of last year. The case occurred four months ago after she met four embassy staffers in a nightclub where she worked as a dancer. The woman reportedly had an argument with the driver and she got dumped off the car and she fell and was injured.

Globo.com also says that the U.S. embassy through a statement (which we have difficulty locating online) acknowledge the case, said it had cooperated with the investigation and that the Americans involved in the case are no longer in Brazil. No charges were reportedly filed by the Brazilian authorities. The Foreign Ministry said it was not notified about the case.

VOA reported here that Defense officials say three U.S. Marines stationed at the U.S. embassy in Brazil and an embassy staffer picked up two prostitutes at a nightclub last December. One of the prostitutes says the men pushed her out of the car, and when she tried to re-enter the vehicle, she fell to the ground and was injured.

According to Secretary Panetta the Marines were “were reduced in rank.” The VOA report says that the U.S. embassy staff member was removed from his post and that injured prostitute has filed a lawsuit against the embassy in the wake of the Cartegena scandal.

The Brasilia incident, of course, made it to the Daily Press Briefing of April 25.

QUESTION: — for what Americans might consider the ongoing soap opera involving the Secret Service, except this doesn’t involve the Secret Service. We’re talking about three U.S. Marines who apparently have been punished as well as an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia who apparently were implicated in tossing a prostitute out of a moving car sometime last year. And I wanted to find out, since we know that the Marines have been punished, who was the employee of the Embassy? Was this person an American? Was this person a local hire? What can you say about a pending lawsuit now, apparently, against the Embassy?

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, your report of the incident in question is not accurate in terms of what actually happened. Second, this is something that happened back in December. There was a State Department employee involved. The – we did cooperate fully with the appropriate Brazilian authorities, including with the civil police. None of the Americans involved in the incident are still in Brazil. The civil police, as I understand it, are still working on their case, and no charges have been brought by the Brazilian authorities.

We’ll come back to the DPB later in a separate post because it is interesting all in itself.

This story has now taken on a life of its own like, well, like a fast-sprouting magic tree with many limbs.

Late Wednesday, Kirotv.com out of Seattle claims it has an exclusive about strippers and the Secret Service advance team (snipers, K-9 and explosives sweeps) in San Salvador prior to President Obama’s trip there in March of 2011.

The bar owner reportedly told kirotv’s investigative reporter Chris Halsne (oh, he got names) that his club routinely takes care of high-ranking employees of the U.S. embassy in San Salvador as well as visiting FBI and DEA agents. The owner says his reputation for “security” and “privacy” makes him a popular strip club owner with “those who want to be discreet.”  Kirotv.com says it is currently writing and editing-together a series of television stories for air beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 26.

Next stop, the Where Else Bar … but hey, there’s a mad cow in California!

Domani Spero

 

Update: 4/16@10:18 pm
We’ve now seen the KiroTV exclusive – hey, they’re squeezing the juice out of that San Salvador trip; it’s like a drip, drip, drip of the same story. It is rather annoying.  It blares “New evidence expands Secret Service scandal” here. In Chris Halsne Reveals More on Secret Service piece, we get to see an interview with a retired Secret Service agent who boils this down to terrorism, and of course, there has to be footage of half naked dancing girls because it is the Lips Strip Club, and you just gotta show them half naked people doing the boogie. Sorry, no pole dancing included.

The reporter is shown talking to the strip club’s Salvadoran guard in English, he responds in Spanish, and we’re left to imagine what he said to the reporter.  The source is reportedly a bilingual subcontractor of the U.S. Secret Service whose identity has been kept confidential. Obviously, if he was a subcontractor of the Secret Service, they know who he is, so what’s the motive for his anonymity?  His face is fuzzy, and he’s now called a whistleblower. The news report also cites multiple witnesses but we only hear from the sub-contractor. We’re told that the owner of the strip club is an American named, DJ Ertel, who gave an interview but did not allow video footage. Since the club has a reputation for “security” and “privacy” and prides itself for being discreet, the interview does seem like reverse public relation.  The report did not even include important details such as hours of operation: 12:00pm-2:30am, daytime cover: $3.50; nighttime cover: $7.00; dance prices: $9; drink prices: $3. So no free advertising there (we did note that all prices are under $28).

As for the strip club not being too far from the embassy — if I heard it right, Lips is located on Paseo General Escalon, one of the main areas in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. It’s so small that you can drive from end to end in a matter of hours! So yeah, the embassy and the club are practically neighbors. The end.