United States / Cuba (Security threat levels - 2 / 1): On 17 December 2014, the United States announced that it will begin the process of restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba, marking the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in 50 years. As part of the new policy shift, the U.S. will seek to review the designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, will ease a travel ban for U.S. citizens, will reduce financial restrictions, will increase telecommunication links and will make efforts to lift the 54-year-old trade embargo. The diplomatic breakthrough was partly due to the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor who was arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in Cuban prison for allegedly attempting to "foment a Cuban Spring" after traveling to Cuba under a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program to distribute satellite phones to the island's small Jewish population. In exchange for his release, the U.S. handed over three Cuban intelligence agents who were captured and convicted of espionage in 2001.
Kenya (Security threat level - 4): On 18 December 2014, security was increased around the Parliament building in downtown Nairobi after Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) opposition members threatened to block roads in the area over a proposed security bill that would grant the government wide-ranging powers. Reports indicate that police officers dispersed any group larger than a few people, and no travel disruptions were reported; however, the parliament speaker suspended the vote after opposition members clashed with supporters of the bill inside the Parliament chamber. Several lawmakers were injured in the scuffle. The session was rescheduled for later in the day. The law in question has caused controversy in Kenya, as critics claim that it threatens civil liberties.
Liberia (Security threat level - 4): On 17 December 2014, supporters of rival candidates for the Montserrado County senate seat clashed near the Rally Time Market in the capital city of Monrovia, located on United Nations Drive. The two sides threw stones at each other and engaged in physical altercations; police officers were deployed to the scene to create a buffer between the two sides. At least five people were injured, and business activities were halted for several hours in the city center as a result of the violence. Senate elections will be held on 20 December after repeated delays. Further demonstrations are likely in the lead-up to the election; travelers should avoid all gatherings, as they have the potential to turn violent.
Nigeria (Security threat level - 5): On 18 December 2014, reports emerged that Boko Haram militants attacked the northeast village of Gumsuri, located in northern Borno state, four days earlier. The militants were equipped with heavy firearms and Molotov cocktails. At least 32 people were killed and 185 others were kidnapped in the attack, and much of the village was destroyed. Reports of the attack were slow to emerge because the militants had destroyed telecommunication towers in the area during previous attacks.
Argentina (Security threat level - 2): On 17 December 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires issued the following Security Message: “This message is to alert U.S. citizens that in recent years strikes, protests, looting and an uptick in criminal activities have occurred during the holiday season in Argentina. We recommend that U.S. citizens exercise extra caution at this time of year, monitor local media and follow the suggestions below.
“Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security. …”
Kenya (Security threat level - 4): On 17 December 2014, the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated its travel advice, which reads in part as follows: “On 16 December 2014 Kenya announced that it had revoked all work permits granted to foreigners working in the charitable sector, effective immediately. The Ministry of Devolution directed all local and international NGOs with expatriate staff to update the work permit records of their employees with the NGO Board’s offices. The Ministry also advised that expatriates are not permitted to work in the charity sector using tourist visas. All foreigners working in the charity sector require a valid work permit issued through the Charity Register.”
Liberia (Security threat level - 4): On 17 December 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia issued a Security Message, which reads in part as follows: “Senatorial elections will be held on Saturday December 20, 2014. Election candidates are expected to hold campaign events beginning Monday December 15 through 6:00pm on Friday December 19. Provisional election results are expected to be announced early in the week of December 22. While regulations in place prohibit large gatherings, these restrictions will be largely self-policed by political parties and candidates. The most potentially problematic areas are Montserrado, Bong, and Sinoe Counties, but U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant throughout the country.
"You are advised to avoid large crowds and demonstrations and are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of awareness regarding your surroundings. Gatherings can escalate from peaceful to violent confrontations quickly and without warning. You are advised to use extreme caution while driving, particularly in reduced lighting conditions.”
Uganda (Security threat level - 4): On 18 December 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Kampala issued a Security Message, which reads in part as follows: "U.S. Embassy Kampala wishes to remind U.S. citizens to be vigilant during the upcoming holiday season and of the continued threat of potential terrorist attacks in the country. The targets for these attacks could include large gatherings at hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and diplomatic missions. U.S. citizens are encouraged to review their personal security plans, remain aware of their surroundings, and monitor local events.
"Consider the following security tips when traveling around Uganda during the holiday season:
"- Remember that crowds are very dynamic and that security situations can change quickly in large gatherings, with the potential to escalate into violence with little advance notice. Have an exit plan.
"- Know the nearest 'safe areas'- such as the nearest police station.
"- Avoid areas of protests or demonstrations.
"- Take extra precautions when driving through crowds. Always keep windows up and doors locked. Plan your route in advance to avoid expected areas of congestion and chokepoints. Maintain space to maneuver in traffic. Park only in controlled, safe locations.
"- Ensure you and your family members know what to do in an emergency."
Niger: Republic Day (Public holiday. Offices and businesses close.)
Qatar: National Day (Public holiday; many offices and businesses close.)
Anguilla: Separation Day
Argentina: Anniversary of the ousting of Fernando de la Rua
Liberia: Senate election
Asian Calendar: Dongzhi (Winter Solstice)
Sao Tome e Principe: São Tomé Day
Tanzania: Local elections
Tunisia: Presidential runoff election
Comoros: Assembly of the Union election
Zimbabwe: National Unity Day
Japan: Emperor's Birthday (Public holiday)
Christianity: Christmas Eve
Libya: Independence Day
Christianity: Christmas Day
Pakistan: Birthday of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah
Christianity: Boxing Day/ St. Stephen's Day (aka Day of Goodwill)
Slovenia: Independence Day
Tunisia: Presidential Election (second round, if necessary)