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State Department Politics Include Services And Information

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The politics of the Bush administration do not make us all cry out with glee. Still, for the US citizen traveling abroad (in a protected bubble-tour or with walking stick and backpack), the spring breaker/summer vacationer and for the expatriate community, they are the American rock upon which we rely for protection.

I, an expatriate living in southern Mexico, am beginning to write about the expatriate experience. The effort is difficult because it is my life, it is complex, and it is hard to write about oneself without boring even the writer. The series will succeed and last forever or I will abandon it. I don't know. But today, 10 July 2006, I read the "Warden Alert" from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico and that sent me to the search engines and links where I found the State Department and its services waiting on the Internet.

This was not my first time thinking of them. Over the past decade I have had to call, to use their normal consular services, and to turn to them for advice on a few occasions. When we suffered severe injury from anti-American violence I was able to ask their assistance from Washington, and from the consular agent in Merida. They offered help to the extent that they could. Due to many circumstances we could not follow up on it and have had to accept the suffering. But we do know that they are there. Eight years ago when a form that I could not fathom was needed to finish our application for legal residence here, it was the Mexican consul in Merida who (after months of trying to track down the way to obtain the form) said, "Oh, just write the State Department of the state in the US where you lived." He was not only right but provided the phone number for the offices in Albany, New York that could then send out the missing form.

On 7 July, the Embassy sent out this cautionary advice to US citizens:

Warden Notice Regarding Election-Related Demonstrations in Mexico City, Mexico.

The U.S. Embassy advises its citizens in Mexico to avoid demonstrations that may be held in support or protest of the results of the Mexico’s recent Presidential election. The Mexican Constitution prohibits political activities by foreigners, and such actions may result in detention and/or deportation. Media reports indicate that demonstrations are planned to be held in Mexico City beginning July 8, 2006. U.S. citizens are encouraged to avoid any large crowds, to avoid downtown Mexico City and surrounding areas during active demonstrations.

We wish to remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any protests. Since the timing and routes of marches and demonstrations are always subject to change, U.S. citizens should monitor local media sources for new developments.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Internet web site where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found. Up to date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States, or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

American citizens traveling or residing overseas are encouraged to register with the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate on the State Department's travel registration website at https://travelregistration.state.gov.
For any emergencies involving American citizens, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Office of Citizens' Consular Services Reforma Ave 305, Col Cuauhtemoc Mexico, D. F., Mexico CP 06500 Tel: (011)(52)(55) 5080-2000 or e-mail: ccs@… . For additional information, please refer to the Embassy website .

U.S. citizens traveling abroad or living abroad should note these sites for emergencies: the State Department provides information for travelers and expatriates.

In early June they issued a worldwide cautionary statement: This Public Announcement updates information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against Americans and interests overseas. This supersedes the Worldwide Caution dated December 12, 2005 and expires on December 6, 2006.

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. Americans are reminded that demonstrations and rioting can occur with little or no warning. The publication in the international press of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, for example, led to widespread demonstrations and riots in several countries.
The March, 2006 bombing near the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, illustrates the continuing desire of al-Qa’ida to strike official American targets. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics to include assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.

Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target private interests or “soft targets” with a reduced security posture. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, clubs, restaurants, hotels, places of worship, schools, public areas, and locales where Americans gather in large numbers, including during holidays. Financial or economic targets of value may also be considered as possible venues; the failed attack on the Abqaiq oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia in late February, 2006 is one such example.

In the wake of the July, 2005 London bombings and the March, 2004 train attacks in Madrid, Americans are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems. In addition, extremists may also select aviation and maritime services as possible targets.

U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster their personal security. For additional information, please refer to A Safe Trip Abroad.

U.S. government facilities worldwide remain at a heightened state of alert. These facilities may temporarily close or periodically suspend public services to assess their security posture. In those instances, U.S. embassies and consulates will make every effort to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens. Americans abroad are urged to monitor the local news and maintain contact with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

As the Department continues to develop information on any potential security threats to U.S. citizens overseas, it shares credible threat information through its Consular Information Program documents, available on the Internet. In addition to information on the Internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. or outside the U.S. and Canada on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

The first place travelers leaving the US or residing outside the US should check is at State Department Travel Services .

For those of us (much more later) who have chosen to live abroad — and there are many of us — the Department has guidelines and tips for expatriates ("Americans Resident Overseas" in their language) under Living Abroad . They have some good advice:
Among the highest priorities of the Department of State and our missions abroad is the safety and security of locally-resident Americans overseas. In the past year, the Department has intervened to assist in the evacuation of Americans from half a dozen countries throughout the world as a result of serious political or economic unrest, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. Hundreds of expatriate Americans each year are forced by personal emergencies (e.g. death or illness in the family) to return to the U.S. on short notice. Evacuations, especially under crisis conditions, are inevitably very disruptive and distressing for those involved.

The State Department routinely provides standard advice to its employees on prudent steps to take to ensure they would be prepared in the event of such an evacuation. This and other advice on crisis preparedness is available on the Department's Web site, and we are summarizing the principal points below. The Department commends these elementary steps to you for your careful consideration.

They include logical suggestions for prudent people. After ten years I still haven't done them all.

The Department also keeps a website for registering travelers and expatriates with the Embassy at the Registration Home Page .

While you are perusing the helpful parts of the Department of State there are areas far more interesting for writers and bloggers. Here you can get a biography of the Secretary, Condoleezza Rice. There are surprises in it. A strongly academic streak of successes, for one thing.

Taking a college break or vacation to Mexico — a Spring Break whenever? At least take a look at the warnings on Know Before You Go!

They warn:

Over 100,000 American teenagers and young adults travel to resort areas throughout Mexico over Spring Break each year. While the vast majority enjoy their vacations without incident, several may die, hundreds will be arrested and still more will make mistakes that could affect them for the rest of their lives. Using some common sense will help travelers avoid these unpleasant and dangerous situations.

We all know vacationing students and Spring Breakers don't always pack their common sense, but it is always worth a try.

While taking care of all these personal traveling and expatriating precautions, this is also a great site to keep up with the activities of US diplomacy and international issues from the government's point of view. On 10 July, for example, the Secretary met with the Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs Khurshid Mahmood.

Their discussions, which were proffered to the media included discussion of the North Korean nuclear situation.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there has apparently been an agreement between China and Japan that there will be a postponement in the vote on the Japanese-sponsored resolution about North Korea in the UN Security Council. Does this reflect a difficulty in trying to get that unified response that you've been talking about? If not, what should we think it reflects?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, let's remember that we are in a significantly different position than we were several years ago when the problem of North Korea was in very many ways an American problem. This is now clearly an issue for the international community particularly for the five parties that have been a part of the six-party talks. We are proceeding along multiple diplomatic fronts. We, of course, are having discussions in the Security Council about a very important resolution to send a message to North Korea that it is not possible for it to continue in its current behavior, the latest installment of which was the missile launch.

Yes, the Japanese have agreed that it would be wise to allow China some time to have the diplomatic mission that China has launched to North Korea to perhaps take effect to see if the North Koreans can be convinced by the Chinese that it is in time — that it is indeed time to resume the six-party talks, that it is time to recommit to the September 19th agreement that the six parties signed, and that they should return to the status quo ante and resume their moratorium on missile launches. We've had very extensive and intensive diplomacy over this weekend and we believe, too, that this is the best course because while we are in the Security Council, it is also important that China, in particular, which has considerable influence with North Korea have this opportunity to let their diplomatic mission work. So that is what is going on here…

The Internet works in strange ways its wonders to perform. With luck even those with politics we might not love can be the American bastion to help and protect us in foreign places.

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About hfdratch

  • Dave Nalle

    Interesting and useful information here, but the introduction raised for me the somewhat personal question – answer or not as you choose – why have you decided to become an expat living in Mexico of all places?

    I have a friend who has done the same thing, and I know his peculiar reasoning, but IMO there are a lot nicer and more convenient places you could move to. What drew you to Mexico?

    Dave

  • http://bacalar.blogspot.com Howard Dratch

    Dave. I appreciate you reading this long-winded piece. It did come out of an attempt I am making to write about expatriation,being an expatriate and, perhaps, about being an ex-patriot. It is personal and difficult.

    I had a massive heart attack, could no longer work nor survive Upstate New York winters. The medics gave me a year, 5 tops. I never wanted a “normal” life and didn’t want to end it in boredom so we set out to see the South (from where I came). I bought an ’86 Bronco 4×4 and we headed south.

    We toured the Mexican Gulf coast and found this little (then) paradise . A gentle, small Mayan village in a quiet area near the Belize border. We are here – 12 years after the M.I.– Mexico saved my life. Now the area has changed and violence and rapid tourist development bring more changes.

    We live well here on pensions and a small income with a big house on the Lagoon and people to do all the things I can no longer do for myself. That was a change over New York taxes and costs.

    A favorite uncle is Mexican-American (though he never wants to admit it or speak Spanish) and I grew up in Ybor City, the Cuban barrio of Tampa. The area here reminds me something of my childhood.

    Very fine and highly violent things have befallen us as expatriates in Mexico. My dream of America is not the current reality there — reading BC.

    These are not the end of my thoughts about this life and you may hear more — if I am brave enough to publish them.

    Your interest is appreciated.

    Howard

  • Dave Nalle

    Thanks for the backstory. It’s helpful in putting your writings on Mexico and related issues in context.

    Living in Texas my wife and I to a lesser degree have developed a distaste for Mexico and the lifestyle there from trips to various regions. I’ve been to the Yucatan a couple of times and certainly wouldn’t want to live there, and the border areas are even less appealing. Friends tell me the area around Oaxaca is quite nice, but I haven’t been there yet.

    Dave