Americans remain stranded abroad as State Department struggles to respond

After Uribe and her family booked a commercial flight with Eastern Airlines, they heard from the State Department that they had been selected for a charter flight, but “after so much misinformation from the embassy, ​​we didn’t trust them.”

Some of the errors perceived by the agency can also be seen as the inevitable result of an unprecedented crisis that has burdened the agency’s resources worldwide and challenged virtually every aspect of society.

“Among other things, you know that you are in a crisis because it is chaotic,” said another former civil servant. “If everything worked smoothly, it would only be a very busy normal day.”

For example, the former official said, embassies that do not answer phones or send messages back, which many stranded Americans have reported as a typical result in countries with closed borders, can be expected during a crisis of this magnitude.

The former official said when an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, the embassy there was besieged by phone calls, thousands in the first hour.

“This is absolutely inevitable. Normal operation cannot answer that in any way,” said the official – and answering individual phone calls at this point in time would not necessarily be the best use of staff time, regardless of that.

At least one other aspect of the state’s response was more surprising to those who previously worked in these professions.

An American Airlines plane flew to Peru earlier this week to pick up U.S. citizens stranded in Lima, but had to turn around after the state was unable to obtain permission from the Peruvian government to land. Negotiations were held that apparently failed while the plane was in the air, according to an email from Congress officials to Americans stuck in Peru.

“I would say it is probably incredibly rare that an airplane is on the move without a permit,” said the former official.

Senator Marco Rubio, who tweeted frustratedly over a “lack of urgency” by the state to hold Americans in Peru on Tuesday, accused “some at the middle level”.

“We didn’t need you to pursue that, we needed you to solve it,” he said.

A Rubio spokesman said expressly that “the person who occupies the Peruvian desk has been” following “the problem for a week but has done nothing and the ambassador has essentially given up the post to return to Washington.

After Rubio expressed his frustration with the state, the agency sent Deputy Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung to Peru.

A spokesman for the State Department confirmed that Ambassador Krishna Urs left Peru on March 20 and “continues to work with senior Peruvian officials from Washington.”

The former officials who spoke to POLITICO believe that the careers work to the best of their ability.

“Personally, I can’t believe that the specialists in the department didn’t know exactly what to do and reported it in the chain,” said one of the former officials.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo himself provoked frustration and harsh criticism from the Democrats when he posted a picture of him and his wife on the weekend working on a puzzle and watching TV while leaving thousands of Americans stranded.

“I have voters stuck overseas. Can you detach yourself from your ass and take her home?” tweeted Arizona Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego in response.

Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have repeatedly condemned the state for failing to act quickly enough to bring stranded citizens home because their offices are flooded with voters’ requests for help.

MP Bill Keating, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told State Department officials that his office had worked hard.

“The people we work with only work around the clock and do more to bring people home,” said Keating. “These people deserve tremendous recognition. You are in difficult situations and understaffed. “

There are more than 20 voters from his southeastern Massachusetts district who have asked his office for help and are in a “really difficult situation,” said Keating. “You can’t exaggerate the stress that families feel.”

A number of Congress Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, sent unsolicited Comments to POLITICO praising the government’s repatriation efforts after the agency informed them of this story.

“We know that there are still many Americans trapped overseas, but I can assure you that the State Department and Secretary Pompeo are working 24/7 to get them home as soon as possible,” said Michael McCaul (R- Texas, member of the House Foreign Affairs Ranking)) in a statement.

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