Friday, February 28, 2014

Ukraine: Effective February 28, US Department of State Discourages All Non-Essential Travel

The Department of State warns US citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine, and particularly the Crimean Peninsula, due to the potential for instability following the departure of former President Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government.

Groups have staged protests, set up roadblocks, and occupied government buildings in several cities throughout Ukraine since November 2013.  All US citizens in Ukraine, and those considering travel to Ukraine, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of political instability and the possibility of violence.

The Department of State authorized the departure of family members of US government personnel from Ukraine on February 20, 2014.  All Peace Corps Volunteers departed on February 25, 2014. The US Embassy in Kiev's Consular Section is open for all public services.  The Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving US citizens in other parts of Ukraine is limited.

The Department of State urges US citizens who travel to Ukraine to carefully evaluate the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in Crimea and the eastern cities of Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkiv.  While the transition to a new government has been largely peaceful, the police presence in Kiev and other cities remains limited and there is still a potential for violence between supporters of different political parties.  Large crowds remain in Kiev's Independence Square and adjacent areas.  Since February 27, demonstrations and clashes have occurred in several cities in Crimea and eastern parts of Ukraine.   

Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country. Drivers, especially in Crimea, may encounter roadblocks that restrict access on certain roads.  Commercial air travel could be delayed or cancelled with little or no notice.  Travelers should check with their airlines for possible flight delays or cancellations prior to travel.  

The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly.  US citizens throughout Ukraine should avoid large crowds.  Those in Kiev should keep away from the downtown areas of Kiev near Independence Square and government buildings.  US citizens should be prepared to remain indoors for extended periods of time should clashes occur in their vicinity.

Protests in Kiev began on November 21, 2013, following the Government of Ukraine’s announcement that it was suspending preparations to sign an association agreement with the European Union.  On February 22, following three months of large protests and violent clashes, former President Yanukovych departed Kiev.  The Ukrainian Parliament established a new government on February 27.  Groups that oppose the new government and support closer ties with Russia have staged demonstrations in cities throughout eastern and southern Ukraine. Unidentified, armed soldiers have occupied several government buildings, including airports, and established roadblocks on the Crimean peninsula and there are media reports that the airspace above the region has been closed and flights cancelled.  

US citizens living or traveling in Ukraine are strongly encouraged to enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest travel updates and to obtain updated information on security within Ukraine.  By enrolling, US citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency. 

For inquiries regarding US citizens in Ukraine related to the current unrest, please call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444, or email the Department of State at  These numbers are available from 0800 hours through 2000 hours, EST, Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays). For emergency assistance for US citizens in Ukraine, you may contact the US Embassy in Kiev at +380-44-521-5000 during regular business hours, or after-hours at +380-44-521-5000.  The US Embassy is located at 4 A.I. Sikorsky St. (formerly Tankova) in Kiev.

For the latest security information, US citizens should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet website, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, Travel Warnings, and Country Specific Information can be found.  Follow us on Twitter  and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook  as well.  Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 0800 hours through 2000 hours, EST, Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays).

Switzerland: Government Prepared to Freeze Financial Assets of Ukraine's Ousted President Viktor Yanukovych

According to, the Swiss government said on Thursday (February 27) it was prepared to freeze any funds Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, 63, might have in Swiss banks.

The Swiss government has decided "in principle to freeze any possible funds Mr. Yanukovych may have in Switzerland," foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told AFP in an email.

The full decision, which would be published on Friday (February 28), obliged Swiss banks to show increased vigilance when it comes to Ukrainian funds, he added. 

COMMENT: Asked whether Yanukovych or his entourage would be blocked from receiving visas to the country if they were to make such an application, the foreign ministry spokesman would only say that "Switzerland is following very closely the situation in Ukraine." 

It is unclear whether Yanukovych himself has funds in the wealthy Alpine nation, but his son, Alexander, reportedly opened a branch of his Management Assets Company (MAKO) in Geneva in late 2011. 

Unfortunately, Yanukovych's conglomerate reportedly controls nearly half of the Ukrainian coal production and an estimated one-third of its electricity production and distribution.

Global Impact: Ousted Ukrainian Leader Now in Moscow, Russian Troops Reportedly Enter Crimea

According to CNN, the rear-view mirror of ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych, 63, seems to become increasingly opaque by the moment.

A news conference earlier today (February 28) from vantage point in southeastern Russia underscored just how dim his prospects appear to be, as the ousted Ukrainian president complained that his host, Russian President Vladimir Putin, was hardly spending much time with him.

"I consider that Russia must and has to act," Yanukovych told reporters who had assembled in the city of Rostov-on-Don, near the southwestern border with Ukraine, some 700 miles south of Moscow.

According to CNN, tension dramatically mounted in Ukraine's Crimea region late on Friday as its ambassador to the United Nations warned Russia against any further violation of its territorial borders, a warning that came as Washington urged Russia to pull back from the region or face possible consequences.

"We are now deeply concerned by reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside Ukraine," US President Barack Obama said in televised comments from the White House. "...It would be a clear violation of Russia's commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine and of international laws."

Obama said any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would be "deeply destabilizing, and he warned "the US will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine."

COMMENT: Ukraine accused Russian Black Sea forces of trying to seize two airports in Crimea but said Ukrainian security forces prevented them from taking control.
Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov earlier characterized the presence at the airport of unidentified gunmen, who wore uniforms without insignia, as an "armed invasion."
At a press conference outside the UN Security Council, Ukraine's ambassador to the UN, Yuriy Sergeyev said the country was prepared to defend itself and urged the UN's moral and political support for the Kiev government, particularly in Crimea.
Nowhere is that feeling more intense than in Crimea, the last big bastion of opposition to the new political leadership. And Ukraine suspects Russia of fomenting tension in the autonomous region that might escalate into a bid for separation by its Russian majority.
The U.S. State Department warned Americans to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine, particularly the Crimea region, "due to the potential for instability following the departure of former President Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government."

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday morning about the airport and military activities, and Lavrov told Kerry that the Russians "are not engaging in any violation of the sovereignty" of Ukraine. Russia has a military base agreement with the country.

Making his first public appearance since his ouster Saturday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said the newly appointed interim government was not legitimate and did not represent the majority of Ukraine's 45 million citizens.

In Russia, intimation often means as much as overt clarity. That being said, although the ousted former president of the Ukraine and Putin have only spoken on the phone as 700 miles separates them, hardly a suggestion that the two are bosom pals.

If anything, Putin is strategically keeping his special guest at a distance.

In a rambling news conference that lasted far too long, the ousted leader spoke interestingly in Russian, instead of the Ukrainian that he has used at official functions.

The former Ukrainian leader said that he had left his country only after his life and the lives of his family were threatened and that he planned to return to his country when it is safe to do so.

Seemingly, Yanukovych called for a national referendum "as soon as possible," suggesting that he actually expects to return to Kiev. 

Yanukovych, who is wanted in the Ukraine on charges related to the killings of demonstrators last week in Kiev, denied having ordered police to fire on them, killing scores of citizens.

According to, state-run TV in Russia has characterized the former neighbor as a coward who betrayed those who stood by him.
The conflicting messages indicate that while Russia still considers him the legitimate president of Ukraine, it is far from happy with his handling of Ukraine's crisis.

Anatoly Kucherena, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, said Yanukovych's life was in danger in Ukraine and that Russia had no choice but to grant his request for protection, but it did not necessarily mean that he still had the Kremlin's support.

Global Impact: Second Member of "Cuban Five" Spy Ring Released Earlier Today

According to The Guardian,  a second member of the “Cuban Five” spy ring was released yesterday (February 27) from a US prison after spending more than 15 years behind bars.

The five inmates, hailed as heroes in Cuba, were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the US. They were known as part of the “Wasp Network” sent by Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida.

Fernando González known to US authorities by his alias, Ruben Campa, completed his sentence at 0400 hours time in a prison in Arizona, Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said.

González was turned over immediately to immigration officials. He will be deported to Cuba as soon as possible, said Michelle Alvárez, spokeswoman for the Miami US Attorney’s Office.

COMMENT: Trial testimony showed they sought to infiltrate military bases, including the headquarters of the US Southern Command and installations in the Florida Keys. They also kept tabs on Cuban exiles opposed to the communist government in Havana and sought to place operatives inside campaigns of US politicians opposed to that government, prosecutors said.

Havana maintains that the agents posed no threat to US sovereignty and were only monitoring militant exiles to prevent terrorist attacks in Cuba, the best known of which was a series of bombings of Havana hotels that killed an Italian tourist in 1997. Cuban leaders regularly call for the men to be released.

González was originally sentenced to 19 years but had his prison term reduced after the 11th US circuit court of appeals said he was wrongly labeled a supervisor of other spies for certain activities. Two others also had their prison sentences reduced by that same court order, including 55-year-old Antonio Guerrero, who is scheduled to be released in September 2017.

One of the five, Gerardo Hernández, is serving a life prison sentence for murder conspiracy for his role in the 1996 killings of four “Brothers to the Rescue” pilots whose aircraft were shot down by Cuban fighter jets.

Global Impact: Increasingly, European Governments are Issuing Travel Warnings on Red Sea Resorts

According to Lebanon's The Daily Star, Belgium warned tourists Friday (February 28) against traveling to the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after a "serious threat."

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders gave no details of the threat, although the travel warning stems from the bombing of a South Korean tour bus that killed three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian driver in south South Sinai earlier this month which was claimed by an al-Qaeda-inspired franchisee.

COMMENT: Presumably, similar warning issued by the German and Netherlands foreign ministries no doubt influenced Belgium to similarly warn its citizens.

Brussels had previously warned tourists against going to the Gulf of Aqaba. Thursday's warning therefore encompasses the entire Sinai region, the foreign minister said.

In the Sinai bus attack, the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group said it is "part of our economic war against this regime of traitors" in Egypt.

The Sinai and its coastline are popular with Western tourists and the area has largely avoided the violence rocking major Egyptian cities since a popular uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Foreign travelers choosing to ignore their governments' travel warnings re: Red Sea resorts should have a designated return ticket and a seat assignment from local area international  airports of Hurghada, Sharm el-Shiekh and Marsa Alam. Ideally, seat assignments should be in first or business class.

India: Russian Tourist, 28, Severely Beaten by Indian Mob After Ignorantly Ringing a Sacred Bell in Goa

According to the UK's Daily Mail, Russian tourist Sergey Bogdanov, 28, was vacationing in India and is now recovering from serious injuries after he was reportedly beaten by an Indian mob in one of Goa's coastal villages. 
Bogdanov said the small village seemed “really peaceful” with friendly locals until he decided to visit a temple where he took a few pictures and saw a bell, which he rang.

“Apparently the bell is only rung on sacred days or when somebody dies, and before I knew it there was a mob rushing to the temple and I was dragged out onto the streets and kicked and beaten with sticks,” Bogdanov said.  

“Some monks dragged me away from the mob but they didn’t help me at all, and I had to make my own way to the local medical center where doctors who had heard about my apparently sacrilegious act also refused to help other than giving me a few bandages.”

COMMENT: Bogdanov subsequently contacted his mother in Russia who immediately flew to Mandrem to help him and try to arrange for him to fly back to Russia where he can receive the medical attention he needs.

Bogdanov, who sustained disfiguring gashes and bruises to his face, has since appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin with a video message and the Russian Embassy in New Delhi pleading for help to get him back home.

As is often said, when you know little of a foreign culture and particularly its religion, don't touch  or do anything and observe locals very carefully. Act or don't act as they do.

One of the downsides for all foreign visitors who travel abroad on a shoestring is in not having the funds or resources to seek competent medical treatment in a developing country and in returning to their home country.

Presumably, it is highly unlikely that former KGB colonel and present day Russian President Vladimir Putin will reveal his compassionate side by sending Mr. Bogdanov a return ticket.

Many foreign ministries, including the US Department of State, routinely enable their citizens to sign a promissory note indicating that they will repay a specific amount by a specific date, although such arrangements are not honored by all governments.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Egypt: Update--German Government Opts to Urge German Citizens to Leave Egypt, Foreign Office Decides to Roll the Dice

According to The Telegraph, the German branch of Tui Travel, Europe’s largest tour operator, and other companies are sending home hundreds of German tourists after the German government changed its travel advice to the region. 

Tui UK; however, the parent company of Thomson and First Choice, has told Telegraph Travel it has no plans to do the same for British tourists. 

A spokeswoman said Tui UK is following the advice of the British Foreign Office, which, while advising against all but essential travel to South Sinai, did not apply the warning to Sharm el-Shiekh.

“Thomson and First Choice always follow UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice,” Tui UK said. “Their overall level of advice for Hurghada, Marsa Alam and Sharm el- Sheikh, the only areas of Egypt that we currently operate to, has not changed.”  

COMMENT: Yesterday (February 26), German authorities recommended its citizens refrain from traveling to the beach resorts in Sinai and said those already there should make arrangements with their travel agent to return early, according to Reuters. Germany is one of the largest markets for tourism in Egypt, along with Russia.  

Thomas Cook Germany said it was bringing back customers this weekend and that they would be refunded for the days of their holiday that were missed. 

The tour operator Alltours also said 120 holidaymakers were returning from Sharm el-Sheikh tonight. 

“The safety of our customers is always our number one priority and the UK FCO advises that enhanced security measures are in place to protect resort areas as a precaution,” she added. 

“Our experienced overseas resort team is updating all those currently on holiday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam and is reporting that customers are enjoying their holidays as normal.” 

The resorts of Hurghada and Marsa Alam are more popular for Germans than Sharm el-Sheikh, which is favored by Britons. 

British travelers who have holidays booked in Sharm el-Sheikh will not be able to claim a refund or change their itinerary unless the Foreign Office warning is changed to include the resort. 

Egypt suffered its worst September ever last year in terms of visits from international tourists, with a 90% year-on-year drop in numbers compared to September 2012. 

The FCO ban against all but essential travel to the South Sinai peninsular outside of Sharm el-Sheikh followed an explosion on a tourist bus near Taba, another resort, that killed three tourists on February 16. Advice to avoid all travel to the North Sinai region was already in place. 

British tourists staying in Sharm el-Sheikh have effectively been confined to the resort as they will be unable to travel on excursions elsewhere in the peninsular. 

The Foreign Office describes the threat of terrorism as “high” and suggests that attacks on foreigners are a possibility. 

"We believe that terrorists continue to plan attacks," it says. "Attacks could be indiscriminate and occur without prior warning. 

"Terrorists could target protesters and Egyptian authorities. Attacks have mainly been aimed at the security forces, their facilities and other government buildings. You should take great care near these buildings. Attacks targeting foreigners can’t be ruled out.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Global Impact: Qantas Airways to Cut 5,000 Jobs, Half-Year Losses Estimated at US$211 Million, Shares Decline by 7%

According to The Australian, Qantas Airways on Thursday (February 27) said it will cut 5,000 jobs and post a half-year loss of US$211 million amid tougher competition, causing its shares to drop by 7%. 
The Australian flag carrier said the 5,000 jobs would be cut as part of plans to reduce costs by AU$2 billion over three years. The job cuts amount to just under one sixth of Qantas' workforce of 32,000. The airline has struggled unsuccessfully on international routes and its dominance on Australian domestic routes has been eroded.
Qantas Airways Ltd. chief executive Alan Joyce said the Qantas fleet would be reduced from eleven to seven aircraft types, and wages would be frozen until the airline makes a profit. He would discuss the job cuts with unions on Friday.
Australia had been "hit by a giant wave of international airline capacity," with a 46% increase in passenger seats since 2009, more than double the global increase of 21% in the same period, Joyce said.
"We are facing the toughest conditions Qantas has ever seen," Joyce said. "This performance by our airlines is unacceptable and the current position is unsustainable," he said, referring to Qantas and its Jetstar Group subsidiary.Vw gallery
The Australian government is considering reducing foreign ownership restrictions legislated in 1992 before the state-owned airline was privatized, which would allow the airline to receive a cash infusion by bringing in a new investor or investors.
COMMENT: The government has also discussed with Qantas providing a standby debt facility backed by a government guarantee, for which Qantas would pay a fee.
Qantas argues that the 49% cap on foreign ownership, 35% limit on ownership by foreign airlines and 25% cap on ownership by any single foreign investor put it at a disadvantage against state-owned competitors in raising capital.
State-owned Air New Zealand, which has 24.5% stake in Qantas' major rival Virgin Australia, posted a record half-year profit of 140 million New Zealand dollars ($116 million) on Thursday (February 27).%V

Qantas warned in December 2o13 that its loss could be as high as AU$300 million and that 1,000 jobs might have to be eliminated. That warning led to Qantas' debt being downgraded from investment grade to junk.View galying 

Thailand: Update--Thai Anti-Corruption Agency to Bring Charges of Negligence Against PM on February 27

According to Reuters, Thailand's anti-corruption agency is to bring charges of negligence against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Thursday (February 27) as anti-government protesters demand her ouster in a violence-rich standoff that seems to  be slipping out of control.
Intermittent bursts of gunfire and grenade blasts have become the norm at night in a conflict that has taken a heavy toll on tourism in the capital of Bangkok, famous for its golden temples and unbridled sex.
Guitarist Eric Clapton has pulled out of Bangkok concert scheduled for Sunday (March 2) as a result of the deteriorating threat environment. 
Roughly 200 Yingluck supporters, referred to as "Red Shirts," have become more aggressive in recent days by padlocking the gates of the National Anti-Corruption Commission and demanding that all members of the Commission quit, setting the stage for a major confrontation. 
COMMENT: At the moment, PM Yingluck Shinawatra, 46, was in the northern city of Chiang Mai, her family's home town, on Wednesday (February 26) and reportedly is not  planning to appear at the proceedings. 
The charges against the PM relate to a disastrous rice subsidy scheme that paid farmers above the market price, which has been disastrous for the national budget, adding to the government's woes as unpaid rural workers demand their subsidies.
The protesters, whose disruption of a general election this month left Thailand in paralysis, want to topple Yingluck and erase the influence of her brother, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, seen by many as the real power in the country.
The protests have been marked by occasional small bomb blasts and gunfire in which 21 people have been killed and more than 700 wounded since the crisis began in November 2013.
The crisis pits the mainly middle-class and southern anti-government demonstrators, who are backed by the royalist establishment, against the largely rural supporters of Yingluck and Thaksin in the north and northeast.
The standoff also raises the question of whether the powerful military will step in, as they have many times in the past, most recently in 2006 to remove Thaksin, although the army chief has ruled out intervention at this time, albeit a bit late in the game.

Having observed Thai politics since the 1970s and 1980s, when I served in Bangkok with the US Department of State and in my periodic visits business visits back to the "Land of Smiles" since then, I foresee that  with continuing and escalating violence, Thailand is not far from the breaking point. 

Unfortunately, several opposing factions are in play at the moment: The "Red Shirts," who seem to be turning up the heat on behalf of the Prime Minister; the protesters who vary in six-digit numbers, but who have effectively generated street violence in the capital and neutralized Bangkok from its normalcy; the powerful military which after four months has failed to step in; Yingluck and Thaksin, both of whom are as corrupt as the other; and the protesters who are advocating a people's council, which is totally unconstitutional.

The end result is that the Thai economy, dependent heavily on tourism and regional trade, is on the verge of collapse with no one in authority exercising leadership, given the fact that the King is too ill to be an engaging or stabilizing force, as he has been in the past.

The other factor worth noting is that none of the multiple current players seem to be inclined toward any form of negotiation, compromise or consensus, which seems to be a losing proposition for the middle-class in the capital versus the rural farmers who have Thaksin's support with promised subsides, the latter of which are beginning to unravel due to the charges against the PM.

Regardless of where loyalties stand, polarization may have reached critical mass to the point that no one is going to emerge as a winner in this House of Cards. 

The losers, of course, are not the power players of the week, but rather  the Thai people who incorrectly chose bad leaders more concerned with protecting their personal "rice bowls" than with adhering to the rule of law and equity for all citizens.

US: Short Waiting List for Global Entry Pass Interviews Can be Found in Albuquerque International Sunport Airport

According to The Associated Press, low-risk travelers in the US can potentially by-pass the US' waiting in long lines by applying for America's "Global Entry Pass" at  Albuquerque, NM's International Sunport Airport where scheduled interviews for the coveted pass can be  obtained quickly in a matter of days not weeks or months.
According to AP, obtaining a "Global Entry Pass" can reduce waiting time in security checkpoints by up to 70%. 
Some visitors are taking advantage of the quick turnaround by also squeezing in a mini vacation to popular NM hotspots like Santa Fe and Taos, according to customs agents.
US citizens and permanent residents can apply for a pass by filling out an application online and paying a $100 fee.
COMMENT: Federal officials then perform a background check and book appointments with travelers who earn initial approval. That's where travelers can see which locations have the earliest openings. Often, it's Albuquerque, according to
With the passes, which are good for five years, travelers can use around 300 kiosks at more than 30 US airports. Travelers just scan their fingerprints and a receipt is generated for easy exit through customs and immigration.
Nevertheless, getting a pass often can take weeks or months, since travelers are required to schedule an in-person interview with customs agents from one of nearly 40 enrollment centers across the county. Most centers are in major hubs, and federal officials have opened satellite offices in some cities like Atlanta and Houston to help reduce waiting times for appointments.
It's a different story Albuquerque, where officials can sometimes book interview appointments within a day of an application's approval, said Tracy Thorpe, Albuquerque director for US Customs and Border Patrol.
The Albuquerque site also has another advantage: When travelers have questions about pending passes, phone calls are answered by people rather than recorded messages since the office doesn't receive much traffic.
According to US Customs and Border Patrol, more than 1 million "Global Entry Passes" have been approved nationwide since the program began. Of those, only around 3,000 have been processed at the Albuquerque office, which opened in June.
Global Entry also provides access to the "Transportation Security Administration PreCheck" initiative, which allows passengers to speed through special security lanes without taking off shoes or belts.

Brazil: Petrobras Plans to Be Included in Top Five Oil Producers by 2030

According to The Latin American Tribune, energy giant Petrobras has formulated a goal for itself to become among the world’s top five largest oil companies by 2030.

“Our goal is to be one of the five biggest global oil producers,” Petrobras CEO María das Graças Foster said during a teleconference in which she provided details on the company’s newly approved 2030 strategic plan.

Petrobras will achieve oil output of 4 million barrels per day in 2020, she said.

The company’s business and management plan for 2014-2018, which was also approved Tuesday (February 25) by Petrobras’ board and calls for a total investment outlay of $220.6 billion, forecasts oil production of 4.2 million bpd by 2020.

Petrobras’ refining capacity, meanwhile, is expected to rise from 2.12 million barrels per day in 2013 to 3.9 million bpd in 2030.

COMMENT: “With these increases, Brazil will guarantee its self-sufficiency in oil in 2015, when crude will no longer need to be imported, and self-sufficiency in oil derivatives in 2019, when it will no longer need (to maintain) its current (level of) growing diesel imports,” Foster said.

“Petrobras invested 104.4 billion reais ($44.43 billion) last year, up 24% from 2012 and the biggest outlay in the company’s history,” Foster said.

Some 94.6 billion reais ($40.26 billion) is to be invested this year, a drop of 9% compared to 2013.

Petrobras’ latest strategic plan takes into account new variables, including an expected slowdown in global oil demand, the United States’ potential self-sufficiency in natural gas in 2019 and the increase in non-conventional gas production.

The executive said the company’s results last year, when its net income rose 11% to 23.57 billion reais ($10.07 billion), were “very encouraging.”

In particular, Foster touted the 46 discoveries made in 2013 that lifted Petrobras’ proven reserves to 16.6 billion barrels.

The pre-salt, a massive, recently discovered oil frontier so-named because its reserves are located under water, rocks and a shifting layer of salt at depths of up to 7,000 meters (22,950 feet) below the surface of the Atlantic, is a focus of Petrobras’ investment plan and could vastly increase Brazil’s proven reserves and turn the country into a major crude exporter.

US: ATF, the Agency Responsible for the Accountability of Firearms, Has Lost More Guns Than Any Other Agency

According to Fox News, ATF agents are losing track of their government-issued firearms at an alarming rate, with records revealing multiple instances where agents have misplaced their service weapons on top of cars, in bathrooms and in automobile glove compartments. 
The incidents were reportedly catalogued in a report on Wednesday (February 26) in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Internal records obtained by the newspaper reportedly show ATF agents had their firearms lost or stolen at least 45 times between 2009 and 2013. 
Though most of the lost weapons were handguns, the newspaper reported that at least two were assault rifles.  The firearm was later found on an off-ramp. 
Another North Dakota agent left his gun on his car roof and forgot about it, until his daughter drove the car to a friend's house according to the news piece. The gun was never found. 
In yet another incident, two youngsters in Iowa reportedly found an ATF gun in a storm drain. Only then did the responsible agent tell investigators he had misplaced the gun. 
COMMENT: Interestingly, the ATF has a bigger problem with lost or stolen weapons than any other federal law enforcement agency. The newspaper previously reported on a questionable operation in Milwaukee during which an ATF machine gun was stolen from an agent's truck in 2012. All these incidents are separate from the discontinued Operation Fast and Furious, which allowed hundreds of guns to be sold and carried into México as part of an anti-trafficking sting. 
ATF guns are reportedly supposed to be stored in "secured, locked locations" when not being holstered by agents. The Journal-Sentinel reported that ATF has reduced the minimum punishment for the first-time loss of weapons from three days of unpaid suspension to one day -- supposedly to encourage agents to quickly report such misplaced firearms.

UK: Update--Murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, Gets Life in Prison, 45 Years, Respectively

According to The Telegraph, Michael Adebolajo, 28, has been sentenced to life in prison and his co-conspirator Michael Adebowale, 22,  has been sentenced to 45 years in prison  after hitting British soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, 25, on the afternoon of May 22, 2013,  with a car and then the two ran over and bludgeoned the Drummer/machine gunner to death.

Rigby was off duty and walking along Wellington Street when he was attacked.

The two assailants then dragged Rigby's body into the roadway and remained at the scene until police arrived. They told passers-by that they had killed a soldier to avenge the killing of Muslims by British forces.

Both assailants then remained at the crime scene until police arrived at which point responding officers responded by shooting and wounding both of them when they were threatened. Subsequently, the two British nationals of Nigerian descent, who later converted to Islam, were both taken to the hospital.

COMMENT: Rigby was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Rigby, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, had served in Cyprus, Germany, and Afghanistan before becoming a recruiter and assisting with duties in the Tower of London. 

Rigby married in 2007 and had a two-year-old son, although he and his wife had separated. 

In 2010, Adebolajo was arrested in Kenya with five others. He reportedly  traveled using a British passport in the name Michael Olemendis Ndemolajo. Boniface Mwaniki, head of Kenya's anti-terrorism unit, said he believed Adebolajo was planning to train with Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group located in neighboring Somalia. Interestingly, no charges were ever filed against Adebolajo.

Had the British investigated Adebolajo more vigorously, it is possible that the bona fides of his passport in the name of  Michael Olemendis Ndemolajo might very well have flagged a discrepancy in his explanations.

On December 19, 2013, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale were found guilty of the murder of Lee Rigby.

Ukraine: US Department of States Updates Its Travel Warning, Nonessential Travel Discouraged

The Department of State warns US citizens to defer all non-essential travel to Ukraine during the transition period following the departure of the President from Kiev or Kyiv on February 22, 2014, and while a new government is formed. 
US citizens in Ukraine, and those considering travel to Ukraine, should evaluate their personal security situation in light of political instability and the possibility of violence, particularly in Kiev and areas of eastern and southern Ukraine.  
On February 20, 2014, the Department of State authorized the departure of family members of US government personnel from Ukraine.  While the US Embassy Consular Section in Kiev is open for public services, the Embassy’s ability to respond to emergencies involving US citizens throughout Ukraine is limited.
The Department of State urges US citizens who travel to Ukraine to carefully evaluate the risks posed to their personal safety, particularly in the capital city of Kiev and areas in the east and south of Ukraine.  
While the transition has been largely peaceful, there is still a potential for violence between supporters of different political parties, particularly in eastern Ukraine.  
On February 22, President Yanukovych and many senior officials departed the capital.  Parliament subsequently voted to remove President Yanukovych and senior officials from office and to create a new government.  The Ministry of Interior, the armed forces, and the police and city administrations in Kiev, and in areas throughout Ukraine, especially in central and western Ukraine, have issued statements supporting the new government.  While in eastern Ukraine, President Yanukovych denounced the Parliament’s actions.  
A few areas in eastern and southern Ukraine have declared their support for President Yanukovych. Clashes between groups and security units that support President Yanukovych and supporters of a new government have occurred in several cities, mainly in southern and eastern parts of Ukraine.  Large crowds remain in Kiev Independence Square and adjacent areas. 
Since February 18, violent clashes have resulted in multiple deaths and hundreds of injuries to protesters and police.  Groups of young men, popularly called “titushky,” have attacked journalists and protesters and committed other random acts of violence in Kyiv and other cities.  Since February 19, the use of gunfire against protesters and journalists has been reported.
Ground transportation may be disrupted throughout the country.  Since February 18, local authorities have shut down the Kyiv Metro (subway) for extended periods and cancelled inter-city trains on some routes with little or no notice.  Drivers may encounter roadblocks set up by police and other groups that restrict access on certain roads in Kyiv and other cities.  Commercial flights to and from Ukraine are currently operating normally.
The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly. US citizens should avoid large crowds and keep away from the downtown areas of Kyiv near Independence Square and government buildings.  US citizens are advised to remain indoors after dark and to be prepared to remain indoors for extended periods of time.  
Protests in Kyiv began on November 21, 2013, following the Government of Ukraine’s announcement that it was suspending preparations to sign an association agreement with the EU.  On November 30, police severely injured several demonstrators in an attempt to remove them from Independence Square. Protesters retaliated by occupying Kyiv’s Independence Square and adjacent buildings. Violence escalated sharply on February 18, with multiple people killed and hundreds injured.  On February 22, President Yanukovych departed the capital for eastern Ukraine and the Parliament voted to relieve him of his presidential duties and form a new government. 
US citizens living or traveling in Ukraine are encouraged to enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive the latest travel updates and to obtain updated information on security within Ukraine. By enrolling, US citizens make it easier for the Embassy to contact them in case of emergency.
For inquiries regarding US citizens in Ukraine related to the current unrest, please call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the US and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444, or email the Department of State  These numbers are available from 0800 hours through 2000 hours, EST, Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays). For emergency assistance for US citizens in Ukraine, you may contact the US Embassy in Kyiv at +380-44-521-5000 during regular business hours, or after-hours at +380-44-521-5000.  The US Embassy is located at 4 A.I. Sikorsky St. (formerly Tankova) in Kyiv.
For the latest security information, US citizens should regularly monitor the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet website, where the current Worldwide CautionTravel Alerts and Travel Warnings, and Country Specific Information can be found.  Follow us on Twitter  and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook  as well.  Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 0800-2000 hours, EST, Monday through Friday (except US federal holidays).

Kenya: Four Tourists Victimized in Mombasa, Never Leave Valuables in Guest-Rooms

According to, police in Mombasa are looking for at least two Kenyan suspects said to have stolen goods and cash worth more than Sh400,000 (US$4,560) stolen from four foreign tourists at Tulia House and Camp in Mombasa earlier in the week.
Majed Delpisheh, 53, and his wife, Marziyeh Gholami, 35, had a laptop, a camera charger and a flash drive stolen from their guest room totaling Sh140,000 (US$1,596).
Also, a Spanish couple Igor Pascual and Sara Martín had two cameras, two mobile phones, an iPad, a tablet and a Spanish passport stolen that were worth an estimated Sh283,000 (US$3,226). 
COMMENT: After living abroad for some 30+ years, residing in eight countries and traveling to 65 others, it is safe to say that I've learned a good bit about how to travel safely abroad, particularly as it relates to protecting your "stuff."

Thus, I'd like to share with you what I've learned in all that time:

1. There is no "safe" country. Criminals can be found everywhere that you find vulnerable people who...don't pay attention to details;

2. If possible, stay in secure accommodations that include the following:

-- If your budget permits, stay in three star to five star properties;

-- Stay between the third and sixth floors;

-- Ensure that there is a safe-deposit box system in the lobby; some SD systems can actually accommodate larger items, so reserve boxes in advance;

-- Don't use "in-room" safes;

-- Don't leave valuables in plain view;

-- Never have more than $100 in local currency at any given time;

3. Always use an ATM card for cash withdrawals, you'll save a fair amount of money;

4. If you're carrying lots of cash, go to a bank and have it converted to a bank draft in your name;

5. Never use street-installed ATMs; criminals watch them all the time;

6. If you have rented a vehicle, ensure that you have full coverage, including contents; Don't leave valuables in plain view; 

7. Drink in moderation. If you're impaired, you'll make irreversible mistakes;  and

8. Consider insuring all of your electronic devices through:; and

9. Always bring a well-used backpack that can safely accommodate lots of gear, as "laptop cases" are on every criminal's "to-do" list.

All foreign travelers to Kenya should be also be AWARE that according to the US Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), Nairobi is designated as "Critical" threat for both crime and transnational terrorism, the highest level of threat on the Department's four-tier threat categorization system of "Critical, High, Medium and Low" threat.