Diosdado Cabello, the “Pablo Escobar of Venezuela” may have issued a death order against Marco Rubio

The Miami Herald

Powerful Venezuelan lawmaker may have issued death order against Rubio

One of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders may have put out an order to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the South American country’s government, according to intelligence obtained by the U.S. last month.

Though federal authorities couldn’t be sure at the time if the uncorroborated threat was real, they took it seriously enough that Rubio has been guarded by a security detail for several weeks in both Washington and Miami.

Believed to be behind the order: Diosdado Cabello, the influential former military chief and lawmaker from the ruling socialist party who has publicly feuded with Rubio.

At a July 19 Senate hearing, the same day he was first spotted with more security, Rubio repeated his line that Cabello — who has long been suspected by U.S. authorities of drug trafficking — is “the Pablo Escobar of Venezuela.” A week ago on Twitter, Cabello dubbed the senator “Narco Rubio.”

The death threat was outlined in a memo to several law enforcement agencies disseminated last month by the Department of Homeland Security. The memo, designated “law enforcement sensitive” but not classified, was obtained by the Miami Herald.

The memo revealed an “order to have Senator Rubio assassinated,” though it also warned that “no specific information regarding an assassination plot against Senator Rubio has been garnered thus far” and that the U.S. had not been able to verify the threat. That Cabello has been a vocal Rubio critic in Venezuelan media was also noted, a sign federal authorities are well aware of the political bluster complicating the situation.

According to the memo, Cabello might have gone as far as to contact “unspecified Mexican nationals” in connection with his plan to harm Rubio.

The U.S. believes Cabello controls all of Venezuela’s security forces. Rubio, a Republican, has President Donald Trump’s ear on U.S. policy toward Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Washington declined to comment Saturday. Venezuela’s Ministry of Communication and Information said Sunday it could not respond to media queries until Monday. Messages sent to some of Cabello’s email addresses were not immediately returned.

Rubio declined comment through a spokeswoman. His office had previously sent reporters’ questions about the security detail to Capitol Police, which did not respond Saturday but has in the past also declined comment.

Capitol Police “is responsible for the security of members of Congress,” Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan said in a statement. “It would be inappropriate for DHS to comment on the seriousness of the threat.”

Lawmakers have been on heightened alert since a June 14 shooting in Virginia targeted Republican members of Congress practicing baseball. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of California was critically injured. He was protected by Capitol Police officers — who ultimately killed the shooter — only because he is a member of congressional leadership.

Capitol reporters first noticed police officers trailing Rubio almost a month ago. When he was interviewed last week by Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4, Rubio’s security included at least one Miami-Dade County Police officer. MDPD was one of the law-enforcement agencies asked to help protect Rubio.

Trump: “I don’t rule out a military intervention in Venezuela”

CNBC

President Donald Trump on Friday said he would not rule out a “military option” in Venezuela.

“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary,” Trump told reporters at his New Jersey golf club on Friday.

The president did not answer a question about whether American troops would lead that potential operation.

“We don’t talk about it. But a military operation, a military option, is certainly something we could pursue,” he responded.

The Trump administration has issued sanctions against Venezuelan leader Nicholas Maduro, whom it calls a “dictator,” and more than two dozen other former and current officials. The U.S. accuses Maduro’s regime of violating human rights and subverting democratic processes.

‘Sonic attack’: Canadian diplomat in Cuba also suffered hearing damage

The Guardian

At least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss that US officials believe was caused by an advanced sonic device.

Brianne Maxwell, Canadian government spokeswoman for global affairs, said officials “are aware of unusual symptoms affecting Canadian and US diplomatic personnel and their families in Havana. The government is actively working – including with US and Cuban authorities – to ascertain the cause.”

Maxwell added that officials did not have any reason to believe Canadian tourists and other visitors could be affected.

Canada helped broker talks between Cuba and the United States that led to restored diplomatic relations.

In the autumn of 2016 a series of US diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of President Barack Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Some of the US diplomats’ symptoms were so severe they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation US officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.

It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.

The US officials weren’t authorised to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US retaliated by expelling two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington on 23 May. She did not say how many US diplomats were affected or confirm they had suffered hearing loss, saying only that they had “a variety of physical symptoms”.

The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement late on Wednesday that “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception”.

The statement from the Cuban foreign ministry said it had been informed on 17 February of the incidents and launched an “exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation at the behest of the highest level of the Cuban government”.

It said the decision to expel two Cuban diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”

The ministry said it had created an expert committee to analyse the incidents and had reinforced security around the US embassy and US diplomatic residences.

“Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for visitors and foreign diplomats, including US citizens,” the statement said.

US officials told the Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children had been involved. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating.

Cuba employs a state security apparatus that keeps many people under surveillance and US diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. Like virtually all foreign diplomats in Cuba, the victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.

However, officials familiar with the probe said investigators were looking into the possibilities that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba’s formal chain of command.

Nauert said investigators did not yet have a definitive explanation for the incidents but stressed they take them “very seriously,” as shown by the Cuban diplomats’ expulsions.

Ailments in Cuba could be result of intel operation gone wrong, expert says

CBS News

U.S. diplomats serving in Cuba have been experiencing health problems, and the cause is a mystery.

It began last year — in Havana. More than a dozen staffers at the U.S. Embassy experienced unexplained ailments that included symptoms like headaches and sleeplessness.

Sources say some suffered permanent hearing damage and some had to return home.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert addressed the report in a Thursday press briefing.

“We don’t know exactly where this came from,” Nauert said. “We cant blame any one individual or a country at this point yet.”

But so far, the investigation has shown that the culprit is likely a high-tech sonic device that can’t be heard by humans, but clearly can be harmful.

Officials believe it was operating in or around the homes of Embassy workers.

The question is: Who put it there and why?

“It’s audio but it’s beyond the range of our ears,” said Vince Houghton, an intelligence historian and curator at the International Spy Museum.

He says Cuba, or even the Russians, could have been carrying out an intelligence operation that went south.

But Houghton and other intelligence experts say it could also have been a routine intimidation campaign taken to another level.

“This could be new technology that had a side effect that no one had expected,” Houghton told CBS News. “On the other hand, it could have been designed … to harass, to make people feel uncomfortable.”

To retaliate, the U.S. kicked out two Cuban diplomats in May.

The Cuban government called the expulsions “unjustified” and “baseless” on state-run television Wednesday night.

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it “has never, nor would it ever, allow … the Cuban territory [to] be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families.”

There are indications that diplomats are still being affected, and it’s not just the U.S. Canada says at least one of its diplomats suffered severe hearing loss. The FBI and State Department continue to investigate.

They should sue Obama for their hearing loss!

USA Today

The U.S. has expelled two Cuban diplomats in retaliation for a bizarre incident purportedly involving a covert sonic device that allegedly left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert on Wednesday spoke only cryptically about the matter, referring to an “incident” without elaboration.

Cuba has strongly denied any allegations of wrongdoing.

The purported affair began in late 2016 when a series of U.S. diplomats in Havana began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case, the Associated Press reported.

Several of the diplomats had recently arrived at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Obama’s re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba and relaxation of travel restrictions.

Nauert said that as a result of the incident, two Cuban diplomats were ordered to leave their embassy in Washington on May 23.

“We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some U.S. personnel’s assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents,” she said. “Under the Vienna Convention, Cuba has an obligation to take measures to protect diplomats.”

She did not say how many U.S. diplomats were affected or confirm they suffered hearing loss, saying only that they had “a variety of physical symptoms.” She said none were life-threatening.

In a lengthy statement late Wednesday, the Cuban foreign ministry said “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

The statement said the government had been informed of the incidents Feb. 17 and launched an “exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation at the behest of the highest level of the Cuban government.”

It said the decision to expel two Cuban diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”

The ministry said it created an expert committee to analyze the incidents and reinforced security around the U.S. embassy and U.S. diplomatic residences.

“Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for visitors and foreign diplomats, including U.S. citizens,” the statement said.

The affair is playing out against a backdrop of a change in U.S.-Cuban relations following the inauguration of President Trump, who has tightened travel restrictions to the island nation.

U.S. officials told the Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children were involved. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating.

The victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government, which keeps an eye on diplomats and other foreigners through its state security apparatus.

Officials familiar with the probe, however, told the AP that investigators were looking into the possibility the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba’s formal chain of command.

U.S. diplomats in Cuba said they suffered occasional harassment for years after Washington established limited ties with the the communist government in the 1970s. Similar harassment was visited upon Cuban diplomats in Washington by U.S. agents. The use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats, however, would be unprecedented.

Venezuelan military brigade rebels against Maduro’s dictatorship

US NEWS

Venezuelan ruling party chief Diosdado Cabello says Sunday that there was a “terrorist” attack at a military base controlled by troops loyal to the government and several people were arrested.

Cabello reported via Twitter that troops acted quickly to control the situation in the early morning at the Paramacay base in the central city of Venezuela.

The announcement came after a small group of men dressed in military fatigues, some armed with assault rifles, released a video declaring themselves in rebellion in Carabobo state, where Valencia is located.

In the video a man identifying himself as Capt. Juan Caguaripano said that any unit refusing to go along with its call for rebellion would be declared a military target.

The South American has for months been in the throes of a political crisis with protests that have left more than 100 dead, nearly 2,000 wounded and over 500 detained.

On Saturday prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was returned home to serve his sentence under house arrest, days after being hauled back to prison in the middle of the night in a move that drew international condemnation.

The activist’s wife Lilian Tintori said in a message on Twitter that she and her husband remained committed to achieving “peace and freedom for Venezuela.”

Lopez was released from prison July 8 and placed under house arrest after serving three years of a 13-year sentence on charges of inciting violence at opposition rallies. Many human rights groups considered him a political prisoner.

But he was taken back into custody last Tuesday along with former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma in what many believed was a renewed crackdown on the opposition following the election of delegates to a new, all-powerful constitutional assembly charged with overhauling the nation’s charter.

That assembly voted unanimously on Saturday to remove Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, a longtime government loyalist who broke with President Nicolas Maduro in April. Cries of “traitor” and “justice” erupted during the vote to oust Luisa Ortega from her post.

Delegates said they were acting in response to a ruling by the government-stacked Supreme Court, which banned Ortega from leaving the country and froze her bank accounts while it weighs criminal charges against her for alleged irregularities.

Ortega refused to recognize the decision and vowed to continue defending the rights of Venezuelans from Maduro’s “coup” against the constitution “with my last breath.”

“This is just a tiny example of what’s coming for everyone that dares to oppose this totalitarian form of government,” Ortega said in the statement she signed as chief prosecutor. “If they’re doing this to the chief prosecutor, imagine the helpless state all Venezuelans live in.”

She alleged that authorities were desperate to get their hands on dossiers containing information on dirty dealings by high-level officials, including sensitive details about millions of dollars in bribes paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Assembly delegates later swore in as her replacement Ombudsman Tarek William Saab, who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration for failing to protect protesters from abuses in his role as the nation’s top human rights official.

The constitutional assembly was seated despite strong criticism from the United States, other countries and the Venezuelan opposition, which fear that it will be a tool for imposing dictatorship. Supporters say it will pacify a country rocked by violent protests.

Its installation is virtually certain to intensify a political crisis that has brought four months of protests in which at least 120 people have died and hundreds more have been jailed.

Maduro also wants the assembly to strip opposition lawmakers of their constitutional immunity from prosecution, saying their constant conspiring to oust him shouldn’t be protected.

While members of congress say they will only be removed by force, the opposition is struggling to regain its footing in the face of the government’s strong-arm tactics and the re-emergence of old, internal divisions.

A Canadian family experiences Cuba’s “great healthcare”

CBC

Cole Antinello was on vacation with his family last week when he got sick

A Canadian mother and her sick son are desperate to get back home after an illness forced Cole Antinello, 7, off an airplane tarmac in Cuba, leaving them stuck in hospital and searching for answers.

Nicole Antinello of Caledonia, Ont. flew to Cuba for a holiday on July 14 with her seven-year-old son, alongside her 76-year-old mother and her 16-year-old daughter.

Towards the end of the trip, the family started experiencing flu-like symptoms, she said. It hit Cole the hardest — and officials flagged the Caledonia Centennial School student as too sick to fly when sitting in his seat on the tarmac in Cuba, about to take off to come home.

“He had a fever and chills, and thought he was going to throw up,” Antinello told CBC News from Cuba. The family was pulled off the plane, and Cole was rushed to a pediatric hospital in Holguin.

There, doctors diagnosed Cole with appendicitis and wheeled him into surgery to have his appendix out — but his mother says she isn’t sure that was the right diagnosis.

The doctors pushed on his abdomen to gauge his pain level, and though her son said “Ow,” he “just wasn’t in a whole bunch of pain,” Antinello said. The doctors also performed a blood test, which she says revealed a an irregularity.

“The doctors started speaking in Spanish, and then they turned around and said he needed his appendix out.”

Mother alleges hospital conditions were ‘like a warzone’

According to the Mayo Clinic, a physical exam to assess pain and a blood test can both be used to help diagnose appendicitis. Urine tests can also be ordered, alongside imaging tests like an ultrasound or CT scan — but those options weren’t available in the hospital, Antinello told CBC News.

She called the conditions in the hospital “disgusting,” with water running down the walls, constantly running toilets, and construction happening right next to her son’s room. “There was dust everywhere,” she said. “It looked like a warzone.”

After the surgery, doctors told the family that Cole’s appendix hadn’t burst. He has since been discharged from hospital, and is now staying at a nearby hotel. But, she says, he has since fallen ill again.

Antinello says the family purchased travel insurance for medical emergencies through Manulife.

“Now, we’re waiting for the insurance to guarantee payment for the hospital bills before we’re allowed to leave the country,” she said. Antinello’s daughter and mother are set to fly out tonight, while she and her son are hoping to fly out on Friday night.

A Manulife spokesperson said she couldn’t comment on the situation.

“The health and well-being of our customers is our priority and we take great care to ensure their needs are met,” said Shabeen Hanifa, media relations manager. “Manulife takes the responsibility of protecting the privacy of our customers very seriously and are not able to discuss specific details of any case.”

‘I haven’t slept in days’

Global Affairs Canada told CBC News that they are aware of the situation, and that their thoughts are with Cole and his family.

“Canadian consular officials in Guardalavaca and Havana are in contact with local authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family as required,” said spokesperson Brianne Maxwell in an email. “To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released.”

A GoFundMe page has been launched by some of Antinello’s friends to help out with costs. She says that she’s not trying to cover medical bills (as insurance should take care of those), but she is trying to pay for flights (which aren’t covered under her plan, she says), as well as hotels, food, and her rapidly expanding phone bill.

Antinello, who is currently off work on disability leave, says she has had to up the limit on one of her credit cards to keep going.

As of Wednesday morning, the fundraising page had raised $2,030 of an $8,000 goal — though Antinello says she wasn’t aware that’s how much her friends were asking for. “We don’t need that much,” she said.

More than anything, she and her family just want to get home, she says.

“I haven’t slept in days. It’s so scary, and my head is spinning, and I just want to get back home to Canada.”

New White House communications director has traveled to Cuba to scout investment opportunities

The Miami Herald

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.

Scaramucci, whose appointment on Friday led to the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is the founder of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital. He also is behind the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference that brings together business and government leaders. In 2016, the conference — for the first time —included a panel on Cuba in which the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio was one of the speakers.

At the offices of OnCuba in Havana, a digital media outlet owned by Cancio, Scaramucci was quoted in an interview published in May 2016 about his idea of ​​creating an “investment fund” for Cuba, adding that, “we are eager to exchange (ideas)… about the best ways in which we can contribute to the development of the country, the services and the quality of life of citizens.”

Scaramucci told OnCuba that he first traveled to the island in 2012.

“When I saw that the U.S. policy of rapprochement was heading to reconciliation and the ease of the embargo, I started to get in touch with people to get an idea of whether it was really possible to implement my projects here,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Scaramucci shared the interview on a May 4, 2016 post and wrote that during his visit to Cuba he “saw a very beautiful country. I am very hopeful for the future of Cuba and excited to welcome the Cubans to the SALT Conference!”

Cancio confirmed that Scaramucci is “a good friend.

“He is a very successful businessman and I hope his new vision will be good for the White House and President Donald Trump,” Cancio said.

Trump recently took steps to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba and ban business with companies linked to the Cuban military, which controls most of the Cuban economy. It also imposed some limitations on individual travel by Americans to the island and ordered more audits for travelers. However, he did not entirely undo all of the easing of restrictions implemented by former President Obama.

Before taking a harder approach on Cuba, several media outlets, including Newsweek, Bloomberg and the Miami Herald reported the Trump Organization’s interest in doing business with Cuba, even though the U.S. embargo prohibits it.

“I think the situation is oversimplified to one country being capitalist and the Cuban system originating from communism, and as a consequence, there’s an embargo,” Scaramucci said in the interview. “However I think that many Americans would like to get in touch with Cuba and its culture.”

“I have always said that to speak and give an opinion about Cuba, people should travel to the island and be in contact with all kinds of Cubans,” said Cancio, who has served as an adviser for several U.S. companies interested in business on the island. “Anthony has had that opportunity and I hope he can be a new, more calm and coherent voice about Cuba’s past and present.”

“Today I sleep more calmly that there is a person close to Trump who can share that vision stemming from the experience on his visits to Cuba,” he added.