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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full report here.

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Trump Announces New Visa Restrictions For Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, Somalia

Posted: 12:17 am ET
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President Trump issued E.O. 13780 on March 6 (Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States). It revoked the January 27 order, and reissued the ban for the same six countries – Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, with Iraq excepted (see Trump Revokes Travel Ban EO, Reissues New Executive Order For Six Muslim Countries Minus Iraq).

As we’ve pointed out previously here, there’s something in EO 13780 that did not get as much attention as the travel ban.  Section 2 (a) and (b) of the E.O. requires the review of immigration-related information sharing by foreign governments.

Sec. 2.  Temporary Suspension of Entry for Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern During Review Period.  (a)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall conduct a worldwide review to identify whether, and if so what, additional information will be needed from each foreign country to adjudicate an application by a national of that country for a visa, admission, or other benefit under the INA (adjudications) in order to determine that the individual is not a security or public-safety threat.  The Secretary of Homeland Security may conclude that certain information is needed from particular countries even if it is not needed from every country.

(b)  The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, shall submit to the President a report on the results of the worldwide review described in subsection (a) of this section, including the Secretary of Homeland Security’s determination of the information needed from each country for adjudications and a list of countries that do not provide adequate information, within 20 days of the effective date of this order.  The Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide a copy of the report to the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Director of National Intelligence.

The report required under Section 2(b) was reportedly submitted in mid-July to the President. The State Department subsequently sent a guidance cable to all posts worldwide to help foreign governments understand the requirements and how they can start meeting them. We understand that posts were told to request a response from their host government counterparts to enable them to respond to the State Department by July 21.

On September 24, President Trump announced new security measures that establish minimum requirements for international cooperation to support U.S. visa and immigration vetting and new visa restrictions for eight countries. The announcement cites Section 2 of Executive Order 13780 — “if foreign countries do not meet the United States Government’s traveler vetting and information sharing requirements, their nationals may not be allowed to enter the United States or may face other travel restrictions, with certain exceptions.” Below are the country-specific restrictions per Fact Sheet: Proclamation on Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats:

Country-Specific Travel Restrictions:

  • The United States maintained, modified, or eased restriction on 5 of 6 countries currently designated by Executive Order 13780. Those countries are Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.
  • The United States lifted restrictions on 1 of 6 countries currently designated by Executive Order 13780: Sudan.
  • The United States added restrictions and/or additional vetting on 3 additional countries found to not meet baseline requirements, but that were not included in Executive Order 13780. These countries are: Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.
  • The country specific restrictions are as follows:

Chad – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorists, the government in Chad does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information, and several terrorist groups are active within Chad or in the surrounding region, including elements of Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

Iran – The government in Iran regularly fails to cooperate with the United States Government in identifying security risks; is the source of significant terrorist threats; is state sponsor of terrorism; and fails to receive its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Iran as immigrants and as nonimmigrants is suspended, except that entry by nationals of Iran under valid student (F and M) and exchange visitor (J) visas is not suspended, although such individuals will be subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.

Libya – Although it is an important partner, especially in the area of counterterrorism, the government in Libya faces significant challenges in sharing several types of information, including public-safety and terrorism-related information; has significant inadequacies in its identity-management protocols; has been assessed to be not fully cooperative with respect to receiving its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States; and has a substantial terrorist presence within its territory. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Libya, as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

North Korea – The government in North Korea does not cooperate with the United States Government in any respect and fails to satisfy all information-sharing requirements. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of North Korea as immigrants and nonimmigrants is suspended.

Somalia – Although it satisfies minimum U.S. information-sharing requirements, the government in Somalia still has significant identity-management deficiencies; is recognized as a terrorist safe haven; remains a destination for individuals attempting to join terrorist groups that threaten the national security of the United States; and struggles to govern its territory and to limit terrorists’ freedom of movement, access to resources, and capacity to operate. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Somalia as immigrants is suspended, and nonimmigrants traveling to the United States will be subject to enhanced screening and vetting requirements.

Syria – The government in Syria regularly fails to cooperate with the U.S. Government in identifying security risks; is the source of significant terrorist threats; has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism; has significant inadequacies in identity-management protocols; and fails to share public-safety and terrorism information. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Syria as immigrants and nonimmigrants is suspended.

Venezuela – The government in Venezuela is uncooperative in verifying whether its citizens pose national security or public-safety threats; fails to share public-safety and terrorism-related information adequately; and has been assessed to be not fully cooperative with respect to receiving its nationals subject to final orders of removal from the United States. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family members as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas is suspended.

Yemen – Although it is an important partner, especially in the fight against terrorism, the government in Yemen faces significant identity-management challenges, which are amplified by the notable terrorist presence within its territory; fails to satisfy critical identity-management requirements; and does not share public-safety and terrorism-related information adequately. Accordingly, the entry into the United States of nationals of Yemen as immigrants, and as nonimmigrants on business (B-1), tourist (B-2), and business/tourist (B-1/B-2) visas, is suspended.

IRAQ: The Secretary of Homeland Security also assesses Iraq as inadequate according to the baseline criteria, but has determined that entry restrictions and limitations under a Presidential proclamation are not warranted because of the close cooperative relationship between the United States and the democratically elected government of Iraq, the strong United States diplomatic presence in Iraq, the significant presence of United States forces in Iraq, and Iraq’s commitment to combating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The Secretary recommends, however, that nationals of Iraq who seek to enter the United States be subject to additional scrutiny to determine if they pose risks to the national security or public safety of the United States.

The FAQ notes that these restrictions and limitations took effect at 3:30 p.m. eastern daylight time on September 24, 2017, for foreign nationals “who were subject to the suspension of entry under section 2 of E.O. 13780, and who lack a credible claim of a bonda fide relationship with a person or entity of the United States.” The restrictions and limitations take effect at 12:01 a.m. eastern daylight time on October 18, 2017, for all other foreign nationals subject to the suspension of entry under section 2 of E.O. 13780, and for nationals of Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela.

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@StateDept Orders Evacuation of US Embassy Venezuela Family Members, Authorizes Departure of Employees

Posted: 5:29 pm  PT
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On July 27, the State Department ordered the departure of family members and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas.  The State Department also issued a new Travel Warning for Venezuela, warning  U.S. citizens against travel to Venezuela due to social unrest, violent crime, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.  

All U.S. direct-hire personnel and their families assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Caracas are subject to an embassy movement policy that limits their travel within Caracas and many parts of the country.  Inter-city travel by car during hours of darkness (6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) is strongly discouraged and in some cases may be prohibited.  U.S. government personnel must also request approval for travel outside of Caracas.  These security measures may limit the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide services.  This replaces the Travel Warning issued December 15, 2016.

The political and security situation in Venezuela is unpredictable and can change quickly.  Since April 2017, political rallies and demonstrations occur daily throughout the country, often with little notice.  Disruptions to traffic and public transportation are common.  Demonstrations typically elicit a strong police and security force response that includes the use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and rubber bullets against participants, and occasionally devolve into looting and vandalism. Armed motorcycle gangs associated with the government frequently use violence to intimidate demonstrators.  Clashes between these groups have resulted in serious injuries and over 70 deaths.  U.S. citizens have reported being arrested, detained, and robbed while in close proximity to protests.

Security forces have arrested individuals, including U.S. citizens, and detained them for long periods with little or no evidence of a crime.  The U.S. Embassy may not be notified of the detention of a U.S. citizen and consular access to detainees may be denied or severely delayed.  The detained citizen may be denied access to proper medical care, clean water, and food.

Read in full here.

US Embassy Venezuela: Appointment Wait Time For Visas Now at 999 Days

Posted: 1:41 am ET
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Last month, the U.S. Embassy in Caracas announced that it is no longer able to provide new appointments for first-time business or tourist (B-1/B-2) visa applicants due to staff shortages. Apparently, the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for Embassy personnel.  So, there you go.  Limited numbers of appointments are available for other temporary visas, and immigrant visas will continue to be processed but Venezuelans interested in visiting or conducting business in the United States will have to review their plans given the length of the wait time to get a visa appointment. Below is an excerpt from the embassy announcement:

If you are applying for a renewal of your valid U.S. visa or are a first-time applicant for any of the petition-based, student, or investor visas (E, F, J, M, H, I, L, O, P, Q, R, T, U), limited numbers of appointments for those visa types will be made available.  Unfortunately, due to limited staff, wait times for these appointments will be much longer than in the past. During this time, we continue to offer appointments for immigrant visa applicants as these cases become ready for interview.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry has refused for many months to issue visas for U.S. Embassy personnel, resulting in staff shortages throughout the Embassy and also preventing visits by technicians to maintain, upgrade and repair our consular computer systems.  For many months, we have not had sufficient embassy personnel to handle the existing workload in Venezuela and, despite our best efforts, large backlogs of visa applications have accumulated.  Once the Foreign Ministry resumes issuing visas for U.S. diplomatic personnel, and those staff members are able to start working, we will begin to restore full visa services to the Venezuelan public.  We deeply regret that it is impossible for us to maintain our previous high standard of service to the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan citizens who visit the U.S. Embassy in Caracas each year.  We ask for your understanding and cooperation as we all work to overcome the many challenges during the current difficult times.

Screen Shot 2016-06-26

 

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CDC Issues Zika Virus Guidance For 14 Countries and Territories in the Western Hemisphere

Posted: 12:58 am EDT
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The Centers for Disease Control on January 15 issued an interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Out of an abundance of caution, the CDC is advising pregnant women to consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.  We have not seen any guidance from the State Department. If you are in the Foreign Service, pregnant, and assigned to these 13 countries in the Western Hemisphere, please contact State/MED for guidance.

Zika was reported for the first time in Brazil in May 2015, and the virus has since been reported in 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean:  Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  For a list of countries that have past and current evidence of the virus, please click here.

Map from cdc.gov

Map from cdc.gov

Below is an excerpt from the CDC announcement:

CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

This alert follows reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional studies are needed to further characterize this relationship. More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy.

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

  • Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.
  • Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

Because specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time, CDC will update this travel notice as information becomes available. Check the CDC travel website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika. Four in five people who acquire Zika infection may have no symptoms. Illness from Zika is usually mild and does not require hospitalization. Travelers are strongly urged to protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), or IR3535. Always use as directed.
    • Insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are safe for pregnant and nursing women and children older than 2 months when used according to the product label. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under 3 years of age.
  • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents).
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.

Read the full announcement here.

CDC is reportedly working with public health experts across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take additional steps related to Zika.  In addition, efforts are also underway across HHS to develop vaccines, improved diagnostics and other countermeasures for Zika according to CDC.

 

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Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rodriguez vs Secretary Kerry Blinken Higginbottom Sherman WHA’s Jacobson

Posted: 00:12 EDT
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Delcry Rodriguez (@DrodriguezVen) is the Venezuelan Foreign Minister. Her equivalent in rank in the U.S. Government is Secretary of State John Kerry.

A few weeks back, Western Hemisphere Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson (@WHAAsstSecty) tweeted four items on Venezuela. Note that she is the top diplomat at the State Department’s Western Hemisphere Affairs  bureau. She reports to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (“P”) Wendy Sherman, who in turn is outranked by the Deputy Secretary of State Higginbottom  (D/MR) and Deputy Secretary Blinken (D)  who  both report directly to Secretary of State Kerry.

So when Foreign Minister Rodriguez took on Assistant Secretary Jacobson on Twitter, one has to wonder, what was she thinking? Asst Secretary Jacobson is a top official at the WHA bureau but nowhere near the rank of a foreign minister.  Can you imagine Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arguing publicly with the State Department’s Toria Nuland from the EUR bureau? No. Can you imagine Secretary Kerry sparring publicly with a lower-ranked official from the Venezuelan foreign ministry? Nope.

So every time the foreign minister opens her mouth to argue, berate or call the WHA diplomat names, we’ll award the diplomatic  heavyweight  championship belt to the assistant secretary.  Assistant Secretary Jacobson wins simply by being in the same ring with Foreign Minister Rodriguez.

 

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Oh dear, that’s an ALL CAPS alert!

Now, once more, with feelings:

 

Meanwhile in Cuba:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And as if things are not strange enough in the U.S.-Venezuela relations, take this one:
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US Embassy Caracas: Chargé Lee McClenny Gets the Spotlight, Plus Two Weeks to Downsize

Posted: 17:03 EST
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Yesterday, we blogged about some weekend developments in Venezuela. See Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis! Today, our man in Caracas, Lee McClenny is on the spotlight. Wait, how many times was McClenny’s name misspelled as “Clenny” in Venezuelan government statements before today’s meeting?

 

Some better pix:

Here is his brief bio via Embassy Caracas:

Mr. McClenny is a career Foreign Service officer, rank of Minister-Counselor, who joined the U.S. diplomatic service in 1986.  He began service as Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas in July 2014.

Immediately prior to this assignment, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Prior to that, he was the Principal Officer in Montreal, Canada, and his previous overseas assignments include tours at the U.S. embassies in Manila, London, Guatemala City, Belgrade, and Ottawa.  He has also been assigned at the U.S. Department of State and on detail assignments at the National Security Council, in Washington, DC; at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, in London; and at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in Brussels.  Mr. McClenny is a recipient of the Presidential Meritorious Service Award as well as the Superior Honor Award and the Meritorious Honor Award.  He speaks Spanish, French, and some Serbo-Croat and Russian.

A native of San Francisco, California, Mr. McClenny enjoyed an itinerant childhood, growing up in several cities around the U.S. and abroad.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington, in Seattle, and is a graduate of the State Department’s Senior Seminar.  He is married to Katherine Latimer, of Montreal, Canada, and has an adult son and daughter, both of whom live in the U.S.  In their spare time, Mr. McClenny and Mrs. Latimer enjoy reading, cinema, scuba diving, active sports, and the outdoors.

U.S. Embassy Caracas is a 20% hardship and 42% COLA post. According to Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety 2014 report, the country is listed as the third most violent city in the world — up from sixth place in 2012 — by the Mexican non-governmental organization (NGO) Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal).

And then this:

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Hookay.  Are we also giving the Venezuelan government two weeks to downsize its staff in BostonChicagoHoustonMiamiNew YorkNueva OrleansSan Francisco, and of course, Washington, D.C.?

 

Venezuela: Nicolas Maduro’s Theory of Everything — Blame The Yanquis!

Posted: 19:07 EST
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Saturday was going swell and all until I saw the news out of Venezuela. Apparently, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is not handling the TP for oil offer from Trinidad and Tobago very well.  The Caracas Chronicles calls it Revolutionary TPlomacy or quite simply “toilet paper diplomacy.”  It’s not  just toilet paper, of course,  but …

“The concept of commodity sharing is simple -– the Government of Trinidad and Tobago will purchase goods identified by the Government of Venezuela from T&T’s manufacturers, such as tissue paper, gasoline, and parts for machinery,” Persad-Bissessar said.

 

 

Running out of TP.  A TP-oil swap.  While you’re digesting that, take time to read Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez’s New Yorker piece, Comedians Waiting for Cars and Coffee.

Bloomberg Business reported that due to the plunging oil prices, “Venezuela’s economy will contract 7 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, while inflation, which accelerated to 69 percent in December, is already the fastest in the world.”

In 2013,  Venezuela Kicked Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

In 2014, Venezuela (Where Almost No One Has Toilet Paper) Kicked Out Three U.S. Diplomats for “Flaming” Student Protests

It’s that time of year again.  One wonders when is President Maduro going to declare “Blame the Yanquis for Everything” as the national motto? Of course, sometimes, it just has to be somebody closer.

On February 19, the twice elected mayor or Caracas, Antonio Ledezma was arrested reportedly by some 80 men on charges that he was part of a conspiracy to mount a coup against the Maduro regime.

According to The Economists, this is just the latest of a dozen alleged plots against the president whose government has approval ratings below 20%.

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Here’s something shocking; I’ll never look at a box of cereal the same way again:

 

The NYT also reported that four American missionaries were detained on Wednesday in Ocumare de la Costa, a small coastal town west of Caracas.  The missionaries from the Evangelical Free Church in Devil’s Lake in North Dakota were reportedly providing medical aid to the coastal town’s residents and support to a local church. I don’t know about you but this is not hopeful news for American tourists or for approximately 36,000 Americans living in Venezuela.

 

And there were dueling protests.

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Because what do you do when queues for food are getting longer?  Hold a  major rally “for sovereignty and against U.S. interventionism,” claro que sí!  TeleSUR reported  that during the rally, Maduro announced that he would “reduce the number of U.S. diplomats working in Venezuela.”  The report includes the following actions directed against the United States:

  • Maduro to cheering crowd: “I have ordered the foreign minister, Delcy Rodriguez, to immediately, in compliance with article 11 of the Vienna Convention, to reduce and minimize the number of U.S. embassy officials in Venezuela. They have over 100 officials, while in the U.S. we have no more than 17.”
  • Rodriguez stated that current United States diplomats in Venezuela will have to re-apply for their visas.
  • The U.S. embassy will be required to inform his government of meetings that it has with different sectors of Venezuelan society.
  • United States citizens will have to pay the same price – in dollars –  “for obtaining a visa to travel to Venezuela as the U.S. currently charges Venezuelans to travel to the U.S.” (see the Visa Reciprocity Schedule note that fees are for visa processing and not for visa issuance).
  • Lists Americans who will not be allowed to travel to Venezuela “because of their involvement in human rights violations.” For starters, the list includes George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Ileana Ross-Lethinen, and Mario Díaz Balart.

 

 

It’s worth noting that the U.S. Embassy in Caracas is one of the top 10 nonimmigrant processing posts in the world.  In FY2013, the embassy issued 204,758 visitor’s visas and 6,184 student visas (pdf).  The wait time to get an appointment for a visitor’s visa in Caracas is currently 59 days.  Although the reported reduction of the US Embassy Caracas staff has not been confirmed by the State Department, it is highly likely that if it proceeds, the US Embassy Caracas will soon return to the 2011 wait time for appointments for visitors visas which hovered at 264 days. Or depending on how many consular officers will be left at post after this reduction of staff, we could see a much longer wait than that for Venezuelan applicants.

Here’s something else: in FY2013,  124 diplomatic visas (A-1, A-2) were issued to Venezuelan officials assigned to the United States.  That’s a lot more than “we have no more than 17” that the Venezuelan president announced at his blusterous rally.

In any case, the last Senate-confirmed Ambassador to Caracas was Patrick Duddy who served from August 6, 2007 to September 11, 2008, during the Bush Administration. He was later expelled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Eight months after that he was returned as Ambassador to Caracas by the Obama Administration. He left the mission on July 2010. That same month, Larry Palmer was nominated by President Obama.  By December 2010, the Venezuelan Government had withdrawn its agrément on the appointment of Larry Palmer to Caracas.

On October 1, 2013, the Venezuelan Government declared the U.S. charge d’affaires persona non grata and ordered her expulsion.  The United States Government reciprocated by declaring the Venezuelan charge d’affaires persona non grata. The U.S. Embassy in Caracas is currently headed by career diplomat Lee McClenny who assumed post as Chargé d’Affaires in July 2014. The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently headed by the former Venezuelan ambassador to Brazil, Maximilien Sanchez Arvelaiz.

Despite the difficult bilateral relations, we anticipate that Venezuela and the United States will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and embassies in one another’s capitals. Why? Below via the Congressional Research Service:

Venezuela remains a major oil supplier to the United States, even though the amounts and share of U.S. oil imports from the country have been declining because of Venezuela’s decreasing production and the overall decline in U.S. oil imports worldwide. In 2013, Venezuela provided the United States with about 806,000 barrels of total crude oil and products per day, about 8.2 % of total such U.S. imports, making Venezuela the fourth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil and products to the United States in 2012 (after Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico). This is down from 2005, when the United States imported 1.53 million bbl/d of total crude oil and products from Venezuela, accounting for 11% of total U.S. imports.129 According to U.S. trade statistics, Venezuela’s oil exports to the United States were valued at almost $31 billion in 2013, accounting for 97% of Venezuela’s exports to the United States.

The CRS report also notes that Venezuela is scheduled to have legislative elections in September 2015, and that a recall referendum for President Maduro is not possible until 2016. The country’s next presidential election is not due until December 2018.

So what’s in the fopo fortune cookie? “The next 3-4 years will continue to be loud and noisy. The Yanquis will be trotted out at fault at every opportunity.”

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The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

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The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

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