Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU) With CDA James Story Opens at US Embassy Bogota

 

The State Department recently announced the opening of its Venezuela Affairs Unit (VAU) under the leadership of Charge d’Affaires James Story at the US Embassy in Bogota, Colombia:

The VAU is the interim diplomatic office of the U.S. Government to Venezuela, located at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota‎, Colombia, and has been established with bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress.  The VAU is continuing the U.S. mission to the legitimate Government of Venezuela and to the Venezuelan people.  The VAU will continue to work for the restoration of democracy and the constitutional order in that country, and the security and well-being of the Venezuelan people.

The VAU interacts with the government of interim president Juan Guaido, the democratically elected National Assembly, Venezuelan civil society, and the people of Venezuela.  The United States welcomes the support of the Government of Colombia, which is a further demonstration of its steadfast commitment to democracy and peace in the region.

The United States stands with interim President Juan Guaido, the National Assembly, and the people of Venezuela as they seek to regain their democracy.

Media inquiries about the VAU should be sent to VAUMediaUnit@state.gov.

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Pompeo Announces Departure of All Remaining U.S. Embassy Caracas Diplomats From Venezuela

 

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo announced the “temporary” departure of all remaining US Embassy Caracas diplomats from Venezuela. He also said that “We look forward to resuming our presence once the transition to democracy begins. ”

Two days ago, the State Department reissued its Level 4 Do Not Travel Advisory after the March 11, 2019 announcement of temporary suspension of operations of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas and withdrawal of diplomatic personnel in Venezuela. The advisory cautions American travelers to  “not travel to Venezuela due to crime, civil unrest, poor health infrastructure, and arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Keep the local staffers in your thoughts, personnel withdrawal does not include the local employees. See CDA James Story video here with a message to the people of Venezuela.

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@SecPompeo Announces Withdrawal of All US Personnel From Venezuela, Also Who Needs the Next Curveball?

 

In a most worrisome development, Secretary Pompeo announced the withdrawal of all remaining  personnel from US Embassy Caracas in Venezuela. The announcement cites  the “deteriorating situation” and the staff’s presence becoming “a constraint on U.S. policy” as the reasons for the withdrawal.

When the secretary of state calls his own diplomats’ presence “a constraint” — as in a limitation, a hindrance, an impediment — on U.S. policy specific to a particular country, what does that tell you? That the talking is done? What comes after all talks are done, or in this case, after all tweets were sent?

And when the secretary of state announces the evacuation of all remaining personnel from the embassy, what signal is he sending Maduro? How will Maduro respond? We don’t know about you, but we’re worried; why announce this evacuation prior to it actually happening? What arrangements are being made for private Americans still in Venezuela?

Then there’s this, of course, which shows a willingness to assign blame because it was convenient and easy. This was also the week when #miltaryintervention was briefly trending on Twitter. It looks like that’s about to get loud again.

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Venezuela Special Envoy Elliot Abrams Gets a Protest, and a Grilling in Congress

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

After thirty or so years, Elliot Abrams is back at the State Department. This time as the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Venezuela (see @SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela).

On February 13, together with Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department and USAID’s Steve Olive, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Abrams appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to talk about Venezuela at a Crossroads.

Note that the State Department’s WHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Venezuela did not testify at this hearing.

Protesters interrupted Mr. Abrams testimony, and the grilling he received from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) received much commentary. For those too young to remember the old times, see Brown University’s Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,  a project developed from its applied ethics and public policy course on Good Government.

It is likely that this is not an isolated incident; that every time Mr. Abrams appear before a committee in Congress, or before the media that his past will never be too far away; he may have been pardoned but he has not been forgotten. Even when he is there to talk about Venezuela, people will ask him questions about Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, human rights, El Mozoteetc. etc. etc.

Which makes one wonder why he was appointed to this job in the first place. Whatever message there is will pale in the presence of the messenger.

On February 14, Cuba accused the U.S. of moving special forces in preparation for a Venezuelan intervention under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis. Reuters reported that that Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, and he said “it is a new lie.”

A side note, with the Senate’s confirmation of William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States — it’s like we’re back to the 80’s.  On December 25, 1992, this was the NYT headline: Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’:

[…]

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.
[…]
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline,” likening today’s pardons to President Richard M. Nixon’s dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. “It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,” he said. “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.”

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

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U.S. Sanctions Venezuela’s State-Owned Oil Company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.

Posted: 3:35 am EST

 

On January 28, the United States sanctioned Venezuela’s state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (@PdVSA). During the WH briefing on Venezuela, NSA John Bolton told reporters that the US Embassy Caracas has been “drawn down significantly” when asked about personnel at post.

Tomorrow afternoon,  is reportedly scheduled to meet with the Chargé d’Affaires of , Carlos Alfredo Vecchio at the White House.

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.

@SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela

Posted: 3:35 am EST

 

On January 25, Secretary Pompeo announced that he was “incredibly excited” that Elliot Abrams “a seasoned, principled, and tough-minded foreign policy veteran is joining our State Department team.” Pompeo cited Abrams’ work during the Reagan years as  “former assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs and as assistant secretary for inter-American affairs.” He also cited Abrams service under President George W. Bush where the new special envoy previously “served on the National Security Council as the senior director for democracy, human rights, and international affairs; senior director for North African and Near East affairs; and deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy.”

Pompeo told reporters that “Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.”

Left unmentioned was Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh’s Iran/Contra report which notes that Elliott Abrams — “Pleaded guilty October 7, 1991, to two misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about secret government efforts to support the Nicaraguan contra rebels during a ban on such aid. U.S. District Chief Judge Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., sentenced Abrams November 15, 1991, to two years probation and 100 hours community service. Abrams was pardoned December 24, 1992.” (see Summary of Prosecutions xxiii and Chapter 25 U.S. v. Elliott Abrams 375).

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser John Bolton, also could not contain his excitement, tweeting: “Pleased to hear that my good friend Elliott Abrams is rejoining State as Special Envoy for Venezuela. Welcome back to the fight.”

On January 27, Secretary Pompeo also issued the following statement on the appointment of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States:

The United States accepted interim President Juan Guaido’s designation of Carlos Alfredo Vecchio as the Chargé d’Affaires of the Government of Venezuela to the United States on January 25. Mr. Vecchio will have authority over diplomatic affairs in the United States on behalf of Venezuela.

After his accreditation, Mr. Vecchio met with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, who reaffirmed the United States’ strong support for interim President Guaido’s leadership of Venezuela. The United States looks forward to working with Mr. Vecchio and other diplomatic staff as designated by interim President Guaido.

 

And here is a blast from the past, a 1995 video from a Rose show of Friday 03/31/1995 with then Representative Robert Torricelli, former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and journalist Allan Nairn discuss the potentially illegal intervention in the Guatemalan military:

Pompeo on US Embassy Venezuela: US to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that they’re protected.” And if they’re not?

Posted: 4:11 pm PST

Secretary Pompeo appeared today at the State Department Press Briefing Room to announced the appointment of Elliott Abrams as the “it” guy for Venezuela. We will blog about that separately. But here is the secretary of state’s response on the concern about the U.S. diplomats left in Venezuela as Maduro’s 72-hour deadline approaches.

MR PALLADINO: Let’s go to Washington Post. Carol Morello.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I think a lot of people are concerned about the diplomats who are down there. Would you tell us what you’re prepared to do if tomorrow, when the 72-hour deadline passes, they – the Venezuelans cut off electricity and water, maybe even surround the building, or even try to go in to bring out the diplomats by force? Could you be specific about what you are prepared to do in the event of any of these scenarios? And how can you assure people that they are protected?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I appreciate that question. There’s been no activity that’s taken more of our time over the past days than ensuring the protection of all those folks that are under our chief of mission authority there in Venezuela. We’re working diligently to make sure that they are protected. There’s no higher priority for the Secretary of State, and you should know no higher priority for the President of the United States. We have discussed this at some length.

With respect to the way we will deliver that, we’ve made clear to everyone that it is our expectation that the U.S. officials that are there, that have now been invited to be there by interim President Juan Guaido have a right, they have the privileges and immunities that accrue to having been invited to be there by the duly credentialed leader of Venezuela, and we have every expectation that those rights will continue to be protected.

You would have seen today that we have ordered a – have an ordered departure. We’re beginning to move some of our staff out. This is consistent with what the State Department does every day. The first briefing I get every morning is all around the world, every mission, every consulate, every facility where we have officers, I receive a briefing on risk and risk analysis. We’ll continue to do that in Venezuela. It is literally a 24/7, moment-by-moment exercise to evaluate risk to the people who work for me in the State Department, and we’ll get this right. We will make sure that we protect our folks on the ground and take all appropriate measures to ensure that they’re protected.

Thank you.

QUESTION: And if they’re not?

MR PALLADINO: Thank you guys.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you all.

More about Venezuela here:

US Embassy Venezuela Now on Mandatory Evacuation For Non-Emergency Staff and Family Members

Posted: 8:37 pm PST

In the afternoon of January 24, the US Embassy in Caracas issued a Security Alert announcing the mandatory departure of non-emergency USG personnel from Venezuela:

On January 24, 2019, the State Department ordered non-emergency U.S. government employees to depart Venezuela.  The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Venezuela.  U.S. citizens should contact U.S. Embassy Caracas for consular assistance.  U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Venezuela should strongly consider departing Venezuela.  Commercial flights remain available.

Actions to Take:

Consider departing while commercial flights are available.
If choosing to stay, ensure you have adequate supplies to shelter in place.
Monitor local media for updates
Review personal security plans
Remain aware of surroundings

Assistance:

U.S. Embassy, Venezuela
https://ve.usembassy.gov/
For all inquiries about ACS services email acsvenezuela@state.gov or call +58 (212) 975-6411 between the hours of 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except U.S. and Venezuelan holidays.
For emergency assistance after hours call +58 (212) 907-8400

State Department – Consular Affairs
888-407-4747 or 202-501-4444

While the Security Alert does not specifically addressed USG family members at the US Embassy in Caracas, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to us that the ordered departure includes not just non-emergency direct-hire U.S. government personnel but also eligible family members of U.S. government personnel posted at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas. 

We were informed that the State Department is taking this action based on its current assessment of the security situation in Venezuela and that it has “no plans to close the Embassy.”

Also that “The United States will maintain diplomatic relations with Venezuela through the government of interim President Guaido, who has invited our mission to remain in Venezuela.”

We asked if there is a plan for USG-sponsored flights out of Venezuela and we were told that commercial flights remain available and that U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Venezuela should strongly consider departing the country.      

We should note that the host country government, in this case Venezuela’s is responsible for the safety of diplomatic personnel in country.  The State Department did not explain how Venezuela Interim President Guaido plans to protect the US Mission and personnel in Caracas given that he has no control over the military and security forces. 

The United States no longer recognizes the Maduro Government as the country’s legitimate government nor does it recognize its authority. So, whatever skeletal crew the US Embassy Caracas will keep, it will be in  country that has also declared our diplomats unwelcomed.  The United States has threatened appropriate action if the mission or US diplomats are harmed there, but that’s small comfort to the people in the crosshairs or loved ones watching this from afar.  

In the last 24 hours we have heard from folks using the words “bait” and “poker chips” to describe our people in Venezuela. Under the Trump Administration, Secretary Pompeo has declared the United States continuing diplomatic presence in Venezuela. Our diplomats will stay because they’re ordered to stay and they have a job to do. But what job is that exactly? Is there anyone in the 7th Floor who actually thinks Maduro will just sit back and watch when U.S. diplomats go about their business working with Interim President Guaido in Caracas? Really? 

On January 24,  also announced that the United States is ready to provide “more than $20 million in humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela …to cope with food and medicine shortages and the other dire impacts of their country’s political & economic crisis.”

The State Department has yet to elaborate the logistics of sending humanitarian aid to a country with two presidents, one who actually still runs the country but the United States does not recognize, and the other who does not run the country but the United States do recognize.

And then this via the Caracas Chronicles:

If Maduro manages to hang on through the coming few weeks, the hemisphere will find itself in the very uncomfortable situation of having no interlocutor in Caracas. If Nicolás Maduro grabs Peruvian diplomatic facilities, who is the Peruvian Foreign minister going to call to protest, Guaidó? If the government expropriates Colombian company assets, what good does it do Duque to call Guaidó to protest? If an American Airlines jet gets impounded in Maiquetía, who does Pompeo bawl out? If Canadian citizens get thrown in jail on plainly made up spying charges, who is Chrystia Freeland supposed to complain about consular access to? Gustavo Tarre?

When this happens, what are you gonna do, Mike? Read more: Guaidó’s Diplomatic Rulebook Problem.

@StateDept to Venezuela’s Maduro: You can’t break up with U.S. or PNG our unpaid diplomats!

Posted: 2:44  am EST
Updated: 10:33 am PST headline.

 

On January 23, 2019, Venezuela President Nicholas Maduro break diplomatic relations with the United States. The U.S. diplomats in Venezuela were given  72 hours to leave the country. The announcement followed President Trump’s recognition of the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela. Later on January 23, the State Department issued a statement on the continuing U.S. presence in Venezuela, stating that it does not recognize the Maduro regime as the government of Venezuela nor does it recognize the legal authority of “former President Nicolas Maduro” to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare U.S. diplomats in the country persona non grata. The State Department statement also called on the Venezuelan military and security forces to “continue protecting the welfare and well being of all Venezuelan citizens, as well as U.S. and foreign citizens in Venezuela.” And that “the United States will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel.”

Perhaps popular support is with Juan Guaido as the Interim President of Venezuela, but the levers of power in government appears to remain with Maduro. And we doubt very much that Maduro will just step down quietly or peacefully just because the United States called on him to do so. In fact, he just called on the hardened and combatant people to be vigilant and to mobilized and defend the stability of the fatherland. “¡Ni golpismo, ni intervencionismo.”  No coups, no interventionism.

In a related note, Senator Rubio suggests on Twitter that U.S. diplomats present their credentials to the interim president. Diplomats typically present credentials through the ministry of foreign affairs. For now, it looks like on its website and on Twitter — @CancilleriaVE— that government arm is still squarely behind Maduro.

In the meantime, Embassy Caracas issued a Security Alert noting that visa services have been cancelled but that they are keeping normal business hours for U.S. citizen emergency services. The alert also indicates that “U.S. government personnel have been asked to keep their preschool and school aged children home from school on January 24.”

U.S. citizens are advised that protests may continue through the rest of the week. The U.S. Embassy will maintain normal business hours and will receive any U.S. citizens needing emergency services on January 24, 2019 from 8:00am to 3:00pm.  However, all visa appointments for January 24, 2019 have been cancelled. In addition, the movement of U.S. government personnel will be restricted to the following neighborhoods in Caracas: Valle Arriba and Santa Fe, as well as the Escuela Campo Alegre (ECA). U.S. government personnel have been asked to keep their preschool and school aged children home from school on January 24.

We understand that there are several dozens diplomats and family members in Caracas right now. Previous events indicate that in situations like this, there is typically an authorized or ordered departure, diplomatic terms for optional and mandatory evacuation of non-emergency personnel and family members. The goal is to minimize the footprint in country. Family members and non-emergency personnel gets an option to voluntarily depart first. As situation deteriorates, the State Department in the past declared posts/missions on “ordered departure” where leaving is mandatory for non-emergency personnel and almost always, for all family members.

Since the Embassy Alert has made reference to keeping preschool and school aged children home from school on January 24, we have a few questions:

#1. We understand that this recognition was not a surprise. We note that POTUS statement of recognition went up first, followed by VPOTUS video to Venezuelans, and the message of support later amplified by Secretary Pompeo. If so, why was there no authorized or ordered departure prior to the Trump Administration’s Guaido recognition announcement?

#2. Later on the 23rd, Secretary Pompeo released that statement about the continuing diplomatic presence in Venezuela. Again, if this was a well-thought out plan, why were non-emergency personnel and family members not ordered out of the country. Non-emergency personnel need not have to be there. Family members need not have to be there. So why are they there? A blog pal told us, I can’t think of a single good reason why they didn’t send families and non-emergency staff  out already”.  Well, we sort of can. Now that the State Department has declared the United States’ continuing presence in Venezuela after Maduro cut off diplomatic relations and ordered the departure of all diplomats,  it would look — bad/weak/take your pick — if the USG suddenly starts moving non-emergency personnel and family members out of the country. The thing is, they could have done all that earlier, but they did not. Why not? 

#3. Since Maduro appears to still hold power in the country, including military and security forces, the USG’s non-recognition of his government has consequences for our people on the ground. After 72 hours passes, what diplomatic protection is afforded U.S. diplomats who have been declared “not welcome” in their host country? One Maduro ally has reportedly already said that there will be “no prerogatives for U.S. diplomats.” What that means exactly, we’ll have three days to wait and see.

#4. Pompeo’s statement on continuing U.S. presence appears to be baiting Maduro, calling him a “former persident” with no authority in a country he still runs, and at the same time threatening appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel. So the United States will retaliate if Maduro or his people harm unpaid US-government workers and their families at the US Mission in Caracas. Oh, look who are lining up behind Nicolas Maduro!

#5. Also last one – a cornered animal is a dangerous one. And humans, the most dangerous of all.

And then this: Diosdado Cabello, President of the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela under Maduro reportedly says that there will be no prerogatives for U.S. diplomats. “Maybe the light goes in that sector, the gas doesn’t come,” said Cabello as “things that could happen” at the Americans.