Maduro Suspends Expulsion of U.S. Diplomats, Cites Talks on Interest Sections; U.S.Accredits Guaido Envoy

Posted: 3:58 am PST

 

The U.S. diplomats in Venezuela were given  72 hours to leave the country by the Maduro Government  following President Trump’s recognition of  Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. The deadline would have been Saturday, January 26.

On January 24, the State Department declared an “ordered departure” status for the US Embassy in Caracas. On the same day, Maduro also extended that his deadline to Sunday, January 27.

On January 25, some members of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were reported to be heading to the airport. AP reported that a letter by a U.S. Embassy security officer requesting a police escort for a caravan of 10 vehicles was leaked earlier in the day and published on social media by a journalist for state-owned TV network Telesur.

That RSO letter was not sent to the US-recognized Venezuelan government, the request was sent to local police, and was leaked to state-owned TV network. State-owned for now, remains the Maduro government.

On January 26, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Maduro’s government suspended the expulsion of U.S. diplomats and cites a 30-day window for talks to set up interest sections following the rupture of diplomatic relations.

This is similar to what happened in Cuba in January 1961 when full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba were severed. For several years, the United States was represented by Switzerland as its “protecting power” in Cuba. Much later, the U.S. Interest section opened in Havana. Below from the state.gov archives:

For the next 16 years, the U.S. was represented by the Swiss Embassy in Cuba. The U.S. Interest Section, or USINT, opened on September 1, 1977 re-occupying the seven-story former U.S. Embassy building. Officially, the Interests Section is part of and U.S. diplomats are accredited to the Swiss Embassy.

The USINT diplomatic staff provides a normal array of political and economic reporting, consular and visa services, administrative and security support and public affairs representation. Consular operations dominate USINT activities in Cuba, especially the implementation of the U.S. policy goal of promoting safe, legal, and orderly migration from Cuba to the United States. USINT has issued over 100,000 immigrant and refugee travel documents since 1994. By virtue of a reciprocal agreement, personnel ceilings are in effect limiting the number of personnel assigned to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and the Cuban Interest Section in Washington.

But that’s supposing that the United States would consider setting up an Interest Section in Caracas.

It appears that Venezuela’s announcement maybe a one-sided plan. On January 27, Secretary Pompeo also issued a statement of its acceptance of the appointment of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States by interim President Juan Guaido.

The Maduro Government is moving towards an Interest Section in DC but the United States has already accepted interim President Juan Guaido’s appointment of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires in the United States as of January 25. “Mr. Vecchio will have authority over diplomatic affairs in the United States on behalf of Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is now closed for consular services; we don’t know if it’s been vacated. How or where the recognized Venezuelan CDA conducts diplomatic affairs remain to be seen.  But it does not look like the US is looking to set up a reciprocal Interest Section.

So we’re back to what’s going to happen when the 30-day window runs out.

 

Related posts:

Meanwhile in Caracas and online, Maduro is shown dancing, going on a military march, and on patrol  in the  “coasts of Puerto Cabello in Amphibious Tanks, willing to defend our Homeland.”

Maduro showing off his dance moves.

Maduro showing off a military march in a green shirt!

Maduro showing off a ride.

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U.S. Interests Section Havana Needs a New Embassy Seal ASAP, Senators Fume About Security

— Domani Spero
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I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

President Barack H. Obama, December 17, 2014

 

It did not take long. Really.

According to BuzzFeed, two Republican senators have already threatened to block congressional funding for a future U.S. Embassy in Cuba and an ambassadorial nomination after the Obama administration announced sweeping changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“I anticipate we’re going to have a very interesting couple of years discussing how you’re going to get an ambassador nominated and how you’ll get an embassy funded,” Rubio, an ardent opponent of lifting the Cuban embargo, said.

 

 

Sorry about this, you may have to cover your eyes!

 

Here’s a crib sheet for our elected reps:

The U.S. Interests Section (USINT) is in the former United States Embassy building that was built by Harrison Abramovitz architects and opened in 1953. The 6-story building was reopened in 1977, renovations were completed in 1997.

The functions of USINT are similar to those of any U.S. government presence abroad: Consular Services, a Political and Economic Section, a Public Diplomacy Program, and Refugee Processing unique to Cuba.

The objectives of USINT in Cuba are for rule of law, individual human rights and open economic and communication systems.

Bilateral relations are based upon the Migration Accords designed to promote safe, legal and orderly migration, the Interests Section Agreement, and efforts to reduce global threats from crime and narcotics.

 

Our de facto embassy has a staff of 51 Americans. Its total funding excluding salaries for FY2013 was $13,119,451, appropriated by Congress, of course. Our U.S. Congress.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.  Prior to taking up this position in August 2014, Ambassador DeLaurentis served for three years as the Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.  Prior to that posting, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

There’s more via State/OIG’s 2014 inspection report of USINT Havana:

USINT is located in a U.S. Government-owned building constructed in 1951 as a chancery and substantially renovated in the early 1990s. The land was first leased from the Cuban Government in 1949 for a 90-year term with a 90-year extension. In exchange, the U.S. Government leased three residences (in Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago) to the Cuban Government, also for 90 years.

The Department constructed and first occupied the U.S. Government-owned COM residence in 1942. The original eagle from the monument to the victims of the battleship Maine, which was toppled following the Bay of Pigs invasion, adorns the grounds. Representational, family, and guest spaces are well appointed. The residence is well maintained and furnished [….]

Short-term-leased properties in Havana include an annex, which houses Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, And Migration, a warehouse, the DCM residence, a two-house Marine detachment compound, and residential housing for all other USINT American staff. These properties are all covered under an umbrella lease agreement with PALCO.

A special note, dedicated to our elected representatives who made lots of noise about security and protecting our diplomats overseas in the aftermath of Benghazi — the State Department Inspector General recommended that the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations “implement a comprehensive plan to address security, structural, fire safety, and space planning deficiencies” at the U.S. Interests Section Havana…” 

We’d like to know that these congressional concerns extend to our diplomats who have been serving in Havana for years under our de facto embassy.

 

Related posts:

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

 

 

 

 

 

U.S.Embassies Face Host Country Harassment:  From Petty Actions to Poisoning of Family Pets

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

ABC News’ Kirit Radia wrote recently about how the US Embassy in Moscow is facing cold war-era harassment:

One American diplomat’s tires were slashed. Another’s personal email was hacked. Still others reported mysterious break-ins.

The incidents are all signs, U.S. officials and experts said, that aggressive, Soviet-era counterintelligence tactics are back in fashion in Russia.

The number of incidents targeting American diplomats in Moscow has increased in recent years to levels not seen since the Cold War, officials said.

Taken together, they paint an escalating pattern of intimidation and harassment that is believed to be led by Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB), a successor to the Soviet KGB.
[….]
Some of the alleged Russian actions seemed petty. In several instances, U.S. officials returned home to find their belongings had been moved or a window left open in the middle of winter. American diplomats have also been trailed more overtly by Russian security agents.

Others attempted to interfere with diplomatic work, like disrupting public meetings with Russian contacts. Uniformed guards provided by Russia to stand outside the embassy, ostensibly for protection, have harassed visitors and even employees trying to enter the building.
[…]
Ambassador McFaul was followed almost everywhere he went in an aggressive, at times threatening way by both Russian security agents and pro-Kremlin television stations, even while attending private events with his family.

In one notably flagrant episode, according to officials, McFaul was stranded in the Russian Foreign Ministry parking lot after police stopped his driver for a minor infraction and revoked his driver’s license on the spot.

Read in full: US Embassy in Moscow Faces Cold War-Era Harassment.

On October 29, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it believed “the allegations could have been cooked up at the suggestion of the U.S. State Department,” according to TASS and accused the United States of spying on official Russians in the United States, as well as the following:

[T]he United States is making regular attempts to recruit our diplomats by means of gross provocations involving the use of illegally obtained personal data, including information on the health of family members,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

Perhaps this is in reference to the 49 Russian Diplomats/Spouses Charged With Picking Uncle Sam’s Pocket in Medicaid Scam? That one where the FBI says that of the 63 births to the Russian diplomats and their spouses in New York City between the years 2004 and 2013, 58 of those families, or 92% were allegedly paid for by Medicaid benefits.

In any case, we can tell you that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow is not alone when it comes to host country harassment.

Belarus

In Belarus where parliamentary democracy ended with the 1994 presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, both American and local nationals have also been subjected to regular harassment by the Belarusian security services.  “To visit Embassy Minsk is to step back in time to an era when American diplomats in Eastern Europe operated in inhospitable environments,” reports the OIG. The following is excerpted from the State/OIG inspection report from September 2013:

American staff residences have been entered surreptitiously [REDACTED]. The embassy and all U.S. and Belarusian staff are under constant physical surveillance.
[…]
Staff members operate on the assumption that everything sent on unclassified systems or spoken on the telephone is monitored by Belarusian security services and other local security agencies. See OIG, Belarus September 2013 (pdf).
[…]
In July 2012 authorities installed police checkpoints at all embassy gates and at the public affairs office. Police take personal information from both U.S. and Belarusian citizens before allowing visitors to enter. Except in rare cases, when U.S. Government officials make temporary visits to Minsk, host-country authorities require that an equivalent number of permanent American staff members leave the country to maintain the five-person limit. This restriction and persistent harassment hamper mission operations and program implementation.

Take a look at this current staffing that has been the norm for a while:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29

Pakistan

In May 2012, State/OIG noted the official harassment of US Mission Pakistan by the Pakistani Government.  We should note that Pakistan is the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in FY2012 at $1.821B, after Israel and Afghanistan. In the FY 2014 budget request, Pakistan slipped to #4, dislodged by Egypt, but still receiving foreign assistance in the amount of $1.2B.  Below is what the OIG inspector wrote about the harassment of U.S. mission elements in Pakistan; most of the section on this topic, of course, is redacted from the report:

Official Pakistani obstructionism and harassment, an endemic problem in Pakistan, has increased to the point where it is significantly impairing mission operations and program implementation (REDACTED (b) (5).  The issue of harassment must be made an integral part of high-level policy discussions with the Pakistani Government regarding the future of the bilateral relationship.
[…]
Official Harassment:  U.S. official entities operating in Pakistan have long been subjected to unusual, government-initiated obstructionism and harassment. That harassment has reached new levels of intensity, however, after the events of 2011. The embassy describes the harassment as deliberate, willful, and systematic. While other diplomatic missions have experienced similar treatment, the United States is clearly the principal target. The harassment takes many forms: delayed visa issuances; blocked shipments for both assistance programs and construction projects; denials of requests for in-country travel; and surveillance of and interference with mission employees and contractors. (REDACTED).

The scope and impact of official Pakistani harassment and obstructionism is described in the Background section of this report.  (LOOONG REDACTION).

The good news here is that so far, except in Homeland, no ex-CIA director has yet been kidnapped and spirited out of Islamabad while locked in the trunk of a car.

Cuba

Beyond petty harassment like blocked shipments and delayed visa issuance, perhaps the worse ones are reports of harassment out of Havana, Cuba where the OIG in 2007 says that “USINT life in Havana is life with a government that “let’s you know it’s hostile.”

Apparently, retaliations at that time have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime had also gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal apparently, had been  “to instigate dissension within USINT ranks. “

C’mon, poisoning the pets?!

Fast forward to 2014 and not much have changed.  Here is what the OIG report says:

  • Mission employees face a difficult working environment. U.S. officers can meet only with certain government officials. They are allowed to travel only a limited distance from Havana without special permission. Shipments of supplies, mail, and personal effects are frequently delayed. Normal banking operations are nonexistent. Consumer goods are scarce and expensive. Communication facilities are substandard.
  • Surveillance of U.S. and local employee staff members by Cuban authorities is pervasive.
  • USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside that area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.
  • Shipments of official procurements take 6 months or more to be cleared even after receiving pre-clearance from the Ministry of External Relations–another lengthy process. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.
  • Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

At least there’s no more poisoning of the family pets of the U.S. Interest Section Havana staffers.  And no one, as far as we know, has been reported to accept the offer of  “*Cigars, señora?” from a handsome young man. (*from an FS spouse short fiction about life in Cuba via American Diplomacy).

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U.S. Interests Section Cuba (USINT) — 12 Plus Things We Learned About Assignment Havana

— Domani Spero  

State/OIG recently posted its inspection report of the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, Cuba.   Post which is headed by career diplomats, John P. Caulfield, the Chief of Mission and Conrad R. Tribble, the Deputy Chief of Mission received a good overall review with a few exceptions. “U.S. Interests Section Havana advances U.S. objectives in a challenging environment. The Chief of Mission and his deputy provide strong leadership.”

Among the main judgments: 1) The consular section has reduced waiting times for Cuban visa applicants and deftly handled the increase in American citizens cases; 2) The political/economic section meets high standards in its reporting, despite limited information and host government restrictions that limit opportunities to make representations to the Cuban Government, and 3) The management section performs well under difficult conditions that hamper its ability to provide seamless administrative support.

An important point, USINT is not in regular communication with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Foreign Missions on issues of reciprocity. Since the movement of diplomatic pouches, cargo, and personal shipments is covered under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, OIG recommends that USINT should inform the Office of Foreign Missions (OFM) and the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) on a regular basis of delayed shipments and other reciprocity issues.  On May 1, President Obama announced his nomination of Gentry O. Smith as Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service.  He will, of course, be stuck in the Senate for the next several months.   (Note: We understand that OFM no longer reports to DS but now reports directly to U/S Management).  Also, the report describes low morale among First and Second Tour (FAST) officers.  However, the final report does not include the curtailments of ELOs/FAST officers from post.

The inspection took place in Washington, DC, between September 3 and October 17, 2013, and in Havana, Cuba, from November 5 through 21, 2013. The overseas portion of the inspection was truncated because of the partial Federal Government shutdown. Ambassador Pamela Smith (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Paul Cantrell, Eric Chavera, Mark Jacobs, John Moran, John Philibin, Iris Rosenfeld, and Steven White conducted the inspection.

Below we’ve listicled the twelve things we learned about the assignment in Havana that we did not know before, plus a couple of other things that apparently did not make it to the final report.

 

#1.  The mission had 51 U.S. direct-hire employees, a cap jointly agreed to by the United States and Cuba.  USINT cannot sustain the elevated pace of nonimmigrant visa adjudications without increasing the number of consular officer positions.  However, because of the cap, it is unlikely that new permanent officer positions can be established in the short term.

500px-Australian_State_Route_51

 

 #2. Sixteen employees work in the Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs, one of the Department’s largest country desks.  […] Not all the coordination office’s operations are transparent to USINT or to working-level office staff …Compounding these difficulties, the coordinator has not visited USINT since his previous assignment in Havana more than a decade ago.

500px-Korea_Expressway_No.16

#3.  USINT officers’ travel is limited to within Havana province. Permission to travel outside the area requires sending a diplomatic note a minimum of 5 days before travel begins.

 

#4. Materials and supplies sourced in the United States can take 6 months or longer to procure, ship, and clear into Cuba; that is if the Cuban Government doesn’t reject them.

 

#5. Unclassified pouches with personal mail are often rejected and sent back to the United States. Incoming household effects, which take 1 day to sail from Miami to Havana, have sat for months in the port awaiting clearance; the same holds for personal vehicles and consumables.

 

#6.   The mission makes effective use of eligible family members to fill gaps and augment its workforce to meet critical needs.  All family members who wish to work have jobs.

 

#7.  Offices go without equipment and supplies, the maintenance section lacks materials to repair buildings and residences, and employees and their families go without familiar foods, medicines, clothes, children’s toys, transportation, computers, and books.

 

#8.  USINT pays the Cuban Government a monthly fee for each employee’s services. The Cuban Government withholds a large portion of the fee, ostensibly as the employee’s contribution to the social welfare system, and pays employees a salary that can be as little as the equivalent of $10 per month.

 

#9.  In addition to the clearance delays, staff report that the Havana port authority has only one crane and one forklift (not always operable) to move containers, adding to delays.

 

# 10.  On a more positive note, employees state that Cuban packers are some of the best they have experienced in their careers. Unfortunately, Cuban customs authorities open and x-ray both inbound and outbound shipments before they will clear them.

 

#11. Productivity increased by a factor of four, as the consular section went from interviewing 120 to 150 applicants per day to an average of more than 500.[…] Consular managers schedule appointments assuming that each officer will interview at least 110 applicants per day. In reality, some officers interview as many as 140 applicants a day, but others interview as few as 80. The rate at which the top producing officers are expected to interview is not reasonable or sustainable for the long term.

 

#12. [M]ission employees operate vehicles that are damaged, unsightly, and possibly unsafe. One vehicle is missing interior door panels and its gear shift knob. In Cuba, diplomatic vehicles can be sold only to other diplomatic missions. No mission has expressed interest in purchasing USINT’s unserviceable vehicles.

PLUS

 

#13. What’s that?   Just couple or so sections accounted for the loss of multiple officers at post? Miserable.  So as a consequence, 3 out of 8 permanently assigned Entry Level Officer (ELO)/First and Second Tour (FAST) officers curtailed? You wouldn’t know it from reading the IG report. Blame it on this ‘swallow da bad stuff’ contraption:

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

#14.  Pardon me?  One officer curtailed Havana to go to Pakistan?  Yo, Pakistan! Then one officer … what?  A West Point grad, quit post and the Foreign Service in mid-tour? And then there’s one that did not work out … when we heard these, we’re like ….

Image via Imgur

Image via Imgur

 

That’s it, until the next listicle.

 

Related item: Inspection of U.S. Interests Section Havana, Cuba (ISP-I-14-10A)  [729 Kb]  05/31/14   | Posted on May 8, 2014

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