Friday, November 18, 2011

Peace Corps Officially Suspends Program in Kazakhstan, Digital Diplomacy Crash Lands!

Logo of the United States Peace Corps.Image via WikipediaYesterday, I posted about the reported suspension of Peace Corps operations in Kazakhstan.  (Read After 18 Yrs in Kazakhstan, Peace Corps Will Reportedly Suspend Operations Due to Safety Issues). Today, Peace Corps officially confirmed it. See statement below:

Washington, D.C. | November 18, 2011 -- Peace Corps has suspended its volunteer activities in Kazakhstan based on a number of operational considerations. All 117 Peace Corps volunteers serving in the country are safe and accounted for, and will soon be participating in a transition conference.

“The Peace Corps has made significant contributions to the development of Kazakhstan for almost two decades,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “For the past 18 years, Peace Corps volunteers have worked alongside their Kazakhstan counterparts to create a lasting impact that lives on in schools, clinics, NGOs and community and youth centers throughout the country. We thank the government and people of Kazakhstan for welcoming Peace Corps volunteers into their communities, and we are grateful for their strong support and partnership over the years.”

Kazakhstan is celebrating its 20th anniversary of independence this year. According to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, Kazakhstan is one of the most developed countries in the world to host a Peace Corps program.

Peace Corps has operated in Kazakhstan without interruption since 1993. Over 1,120 Americans have served in Kazakhstan since the program was established, working with communities in projects focused on teaching English, education, youth development, HIV/AIDS prevention, and community development.

Families with questions or concerns may contact the Peace Corps’ Counseling and Outreach unit, which maintains a 24-hour, 7 days a week duty system. The telephone number during standard office hours is (800) 424-8580, extension 1470; the after-hours number is (202) 692-1470.

"Operation considerations" ... sounds like they could not hire a truck or something.

No mention of the sexual assaults/rape incidents, or allegations of espionage against PCVs.  Apparently, there are also reports of racial persecution against African-American volunteers.  Read more here.

In the one case of espionage allegations, Alexander M. White, who joined the Peace Corps in 2010 took to his blog to write a personal statement addressing the allegations.  His case  made it to the local papers and his blog post on November 7, 2011 blares with the blog title,

Мен шпион емеспін: I am not a spy!

There doesn't seem to be any "rapid response" or "correction for the record" on this issue from either the U.S. Embassy or the Peace Corps office in Astana.  Why was it hard to release a statement clarifying the role of PCVs?  Would it have upset our partner in the GWOT? If this happened in Egypt or Pakistan, wouldn't the embassy have rolled out its "correction for the record" already?
"Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers in the Peace Corps. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers' safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve."

The official Peace Corps statement above is not posted anywhere in the US Embassy Astana's website, not in the embassy's Facebook page, not in the US Peace Corps in Kazakhstan website and oh, Ambassador Fairfax's FB page talks about an outstanding article he read:

Ambassador Ken Fairfax:
I just read an outstanding article by Kazakhstan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yerzhan Kazykhanov, on the need to improve relations between the Islamic countires and "the West." He makes great points by approaching the question from the perspective of Kazakhstan's multiethnic secular society and Kazakhstan's role as the current chair of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The Peace Corps is pulling out of the country after 18 years of continuous operation and the embassy's media arm says nothing about it ... but we're told about what the ambassador is reading.

This is a great example of digital diplomacy crash landing in Kazakhstan!

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