Category Archives: Obama’s Cuba Policy

*Breaking News* US cuts embassy staff by 60%, urges no travel to Cuba

The Miami Herald

The United States is warning Americans against visiting Cuba and ordering more than half of U.S. personnel to leave the island, senior officials said Friday, in a dramatic response to what they described as “specific attacks” on diplomats.
The decision deals a blow to already delicate ties between the U.S. and Cuba, longtime enemies who only recently began putting their hostility behind them. The embassy in Havana will lose roughly 60 percent of its U.S. staff, and will stop processing visas in Cuba indefinitely, the American officials said.
In a new travel warning to be issued Friday, the U.S. will say some of the attacks have occurred in Cuban hotels, and that while American tourists aren’t known to have been hurt, they could be exposed if they travel to Cuba. Tourism is a critical component of Cuba’s economy that has grown in recent years as the U.S. relaxed restrictions.
For now, the United States is not ordering any Cuban diplomats to leave Washington, another move that the administration had considered, officials said. Several U.S. lawmakers have called on the administration to expel all Cuban diplomats. In May, Washington asked two to leave, but emphasized it was to protest Havana’s failure to protect diplomats on its soil, not an accusation of blame.

Is time to bring our diplomats home!: New ‘sonic’ attack reported in Cuba, 19 Americans now affected

Nineteen Americans are suffering from a range of symptoms, including mild traumatic brain injury and hearing loss, related to mysterious “sonic harassment” attacks in Cuba — with a new incident reported just last month.
Previously, U.S. officials said the incidents started in December 2016 and ended this past spring. But State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert revealed Friday that a new incident occurred in August and is now part of the ongoing investigation.
“We can’t rule out new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community,” warned Nauert, who has described the situation as “unprecedented.”
The U.S. government, including the FBI, continue to investigate who and what are behind the incidents, but with no firm answers so far.
The American Foreign Service Association said Friday that its representatives met this week in Washington, D.C., with Foreign Service Officers posted at the U.S. embassy in Havana who have faced diagnoses including mild traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss, but also loss of balance, severe headaches, cognitive disruption and brain swelling.
Traumatic brain injury is caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head or body that may cause temporary dysfunction of brain cells or more lasting damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms can be immediate or appear days or weeks later, ranging from loss of consciousness or confusion to sensory problems, memory loss, or headache and nausea.
AFSA said they only met with 10 affected because the others were not available; the State Department has said that some of those affected have remained at their posts in Havana.
Sources have told ABC News that some U.S. officials were exposed to a sonic device in Havana that caused serious health problems and physical symptoms. Sound waves above and below the range of human hearing could potentially cause permanent damage, medical experts have told ABC News.
No device or piece of equipment has been discovered yet, according to Nauert. Some of the affected Americans are still experiencing symptoms “because the symptoms are experienced at different times, because the symptoms are different in various people,” according to a State Department official.
The Cuban government, which denies any involvement, is said to be cooperating with the ongoing U.S. investigation, but the two governments are not working together on the matter.
In May 2017, the State Department asked two Cuban officials working at the embassy in the United States to depart the country. The State Department said that the move was not a form of retaliation or a sign that the U.S. believes Cuba is behind the attack but rather to punish Cuba for its failure to keep American diplomats safe — something it is obligated to do under an international treaty known as the Vienna Convention.
AFSA is encouraging the State Department and U.S. government to “do everything possible to provide appropriate care for those affected, and to work to ensure that these incidents cease and are not repeated.”
“What has happened there is of great concern to the U.S. government,” Nauert has said, defending the U.S.’s response. “Let me just reassure you that this is a matter that we take very seriously…. It is a huge priority for us and we’re trying to get them all the care that they need.”
There have been no reports of other embassies experiencing this, a senior State Department official said.

Botched surveillance job may have led to strange injuries at US embassy in Cuba

The Guardian

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.

Trump Weighs Slowing Cuba Opening With Curbs on U.S. Tourists

Bloomberg

President Donald Trump plans to follow through on a campaign promise by rolling back the Obama administration’s effort to open Cuba to U.S. tourism and trade, with new limits being considered on travel and investment by U.S. companies.

Trump’s advisers are preparing options including curbs on American travel to the island and restricting partnerships between U.S. companies and entities with ties to the Cuban military, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Final options haven’t yet been presented to Trump, though a decision is expected before a visit by the U.S. president to Miami on Friday. The people familiar with the plans, both outside the White House, spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions are ongoing.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Monday declined to describe Trump’s plans for President Barack Obama’s Cuba liberalization policy. “When we have an announcement on the president’s schedule we’ll let you know,” he told reporters.

Trump has criticized Obama’s deal-making with Cuba as one-sided, and has said it allowed the Castro regime to continue human rights abuses. Obama re-opened the U.S. embassy on the island, relaxed travel restrictions on American citizens, and allowed U.S. airlines to establish direct flights and U.S. cruise lines to make ports of call in Cuba.

“All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro Regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them –- and that is what I will do, unless the Castro Regime meets our demands,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Miami last September.

Havana Hotel

New sanctions aimed at cutting off flows of money that benefit the Cuban military could affect U.S. hotel partnerships in Cuba, including the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana. The Cuban military had a stake in the hotel’s Cuban partner.

Other ideas under discussion, the people familiar with the matter said, include guidelines that would require Americans to formally explain how their travel to Cuba benefits the U.S. and the Cuban people, as well as increased scrutiny of travelers and the frequency of their visits.

Travel restrictions could impact U.S. airlines with direct flights to Cuba as well as the cruise industry. One advocate of Obama’s policies said a change would have less impact on a vacationer than on people seeking to do business or on Cuban-Americans who want to visit family on the island on a regular basis.

Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who backed Obama’s Cuba policy, said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned about what Trump will do.

Any additional restrictions on travel “will go over like a lead balloon, and it should,” Flake said in an interview on Monday. Under the travel limits in place preceding Obama, he said, Cuban-Americans with aging parents in Cuba might have been forced to decide which parent’s funeral to attend.

He also said he does not want to see curbs on Cuban entrepreneurship or the U.S. more focused on Cuba sanctions than on sanctions against North Korea or Iran.

Sanction Effects

Sanctions targeting the Cuban military could have widespread effects, given its large role in the country — perhaps touching even on remittances and agriculture. The impact would depend on how sanctions are structured.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a Washington-based group lobbying to end the 55-year old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, said that changes to Obama’s policy could have unintended consequences for U.S. businesses and jobs. “The idea that this is just some kind of modest step back is only true if it’s done extremely carefully in the end,” he said.

A report prepared by his group found that major airlines including American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., JetBlue Airways Corp., Southwest Airlines Co., United Continental Holdings Inc., and Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. have all taken advantage of Obama’s relaxed travel restrictions.

The island has not been as promising a business opportunity as U.S. airlines once expected, however. Already, Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc., Silver Airways Corp., and Spirit Airlines, Inc. have discontinued flights to Cuba entirely, and American, the largest carrier with service to Cuba, scaled back flights 25 percent earlier this year.

Flake said he and two Democratic senators, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, met last week with Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster to share their concerns but that McMaster did not signal the administration’s plans.

The president’s advisers have sought input from across his Cabinet but also have been working behind the scenes with critics of the Castro administration, including Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” Rubio said in a statement.

Trump, in Miami speech, set to roll back Obama’s Cuba policy

Fox News, By Serafín Gómez

President Trump will head to Miami on Friday, home to a large and influential Cuban-American community, to unveil his administration’s new Cuba policy — which will roll back central parts of his predecessor’s efforts to normalize ties with the Communist island nation, according to a senior administration official and other sources.

While details on the changes to the policy have yet to be fully revealed, a U.S. official suggested that Trump would call for Cuban President Raul Castro to push for more political freedom and to release democratic activists in Cuban prisons, among other initiatives.

Trump is at the same time expected to announce a reversal in some areas of former President Barack Obama’s previous steps toward normalizing relations including the opening of embassies between the two countries and the easing of flight restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

The final actions have not been set as the review over the specifics of the plan continues. However, there will likely be steps in restricting travel from the U.S. to Cuba; there are now daily flights from Florida to Cuba. Another directive being weighed is taking steps to limit American companies from dealing with businesses owned by the Cuban military, U.S. sources confirm to Fox News.

While campaigning in Miami during a stop in September of 2016, then-Republican presidential nominee Trump hinted at such a move, tying it to demands on the Cuban government.

“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order which means our next president can reverse them,“ Trump said. “And that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”

“Those demands include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people, and the freeing of political prisoners,” Trump added.

Key Republican lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, both Cuban-Americans from Florida, have been directly involved in working with the White House on the new Cuba policy, according to sources with direct knowledge of the situation.

Rubio, who opposed Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, has worked “diligently behind the scenes” with the administration to develop the approach, said a source directly involved in the policy discussions.

“I am confident the president will keep his commitment on Cuba policy by making changes that are targeted and strategic and which advance the Cuban people’s aspirations for economic and political liberty,” Rubio said in a statement.

A senior Rubio adviser previewed what may be represented during Friday’s Trump Cuba policy rollout, including that the new approach would have to be in compliance with the “statutory provisions passed by Congress which govern US-Cuba policy.”

The aide also stressed that the new Cuba policy would be in the best interest of U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Part of the focus is to also encourage the emerging generation of Cuban leaders to take the reigns after Raul Castro steps down in 2018, as he publicly stated he would.

“Raul Castro and his closest advisors are mostly in their 80’s,” the senior aide told Fox News, stressing they are focusing on the “long term.”

“Cuba will soon have a new generation of leaders, one way or another. These policy measures are designed to lay the groundwork for them to empower the Cuban people to develop greater economic and ultimately political liberty.”

Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

The Miami Herald

After much anticipation that an announcement on Cuba policy changes would be made no later than Saturday, President Donald Trump — in the midst of various political crises — has not decided what to do, officials said.

The White House had considered holding an event May 20 to commemorate the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Cuban Republic, but Trump will begin an international trip on Friday and the review of the policy toward the island has not concluded, a spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald.

“The issue of Cuba is extremely complex, and the president does not want to rush it,” said the spokeswoman. “Besides, he won’t be here on May 20.”

The Trump administration is carrying out a review of Cuba policy that involves several federal agencies and is being coordinated by the National Security Council.

Rumors of an imminent announcement circulated around Capitol Hill and even crossed the Florida Straits to the island, although Havana seems less anxious than before, when Trump’s presidential victory and strong statements raised questions about the so-called “thaw” in diplomatic relations initiated by former President Barack Obama in 2014.

“Havana is confident that not much will happen,” said a businessman close to the Cuban government.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a drastic change would not make much sense because the Cuban communist government would quickly adjust to a policy of confrontation with its historical enemy, the United States, and because the island is in the throes of a significant transition — the expected retirement of Cuban leader Raúl Castro, 86, in February.

Continue reading Trump will not announce highly anticipated changes in Cuba policy

Cuban Dissident Artist ‘El Sexto’ Released from Maximum Security Prison

ArtnetNews

He had been held for two months without charge.

Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, aka El Sexto, was released over the weekend from the maximum security prison outside Havana, where he had been held for nearly two months.

The artist and activist had been held at El Combinado del Este, a maximum security prison used for hardened criminals as well as Cubans whose political views oppose the state. This was his third arrest since December 2014, first in relation to an artwork likening Raul and Fidel Castro to pigs, and again on the eve of a visit by former President Barack Obama to Cuba.

On November 26, 2016, El Sexto was violently taken from his home in Havana by police, who gave no reason for his arrest. He was scheduled to leave Cuba for Art Basel in Miami, where he had planned exhibitions and performances.

Cuban authorities did not give a reason for his release on Saturday, January 21, either; however, Pollock Fine Art London, a gallery that represents El Sexto, noted in a statement that it coincided with a recent communication sent to the Cuban government from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding their reviewing of a petition to declare the artist’s incarceration illegal according to international law.

More than 13,700 people signed an online petition on Change.org demanding El Sexto’s immediate release. “Short-term arbitrary arrests remain a common tactic to restrict freedom of expression in Cuba,” read the petition’s explanatory text.

Amnesty International also called for urgent action, calling the artist a “prisoner of conscience.”

After his release, El Sexto thanked the petitioners and Amnesty International, as well as other human rights organizations, activists, artists, and writers who supported him. He also expressed his gratitude to the international attorneys who fought for him: Centa B. Rek Chatjtur of the Human Rights Foundation, and Kimberley Motley, who was arrested in Havana on December 16 for attempting to publicize the artist’s unwarranted arrest and incarceration. He is currently at home with his family in Havana.

Obama sends an aide to sign a “counternarcotics, counterterrorism” agreement with a narco-terrorist regime

The Washington Times
With five days remaining in office, President Obama dispatched a top adviser to Cuba Monday for the signing of an agreement governing law enforcement issues such as counternarcotics operations between the two countries.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is meeting with Cuban officials about cultural engagements and establishing a legal framework for “counternarcotics, counterterrorism, legal cooperation, and money laundering, including technical exchanges that contribute to a strong U.S.-Cuba law enforcement relationship,” the White House said

Mr. Rhodes’ trip to Cuba follows last week’s announcement that the administration is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy that accepted any Cubans who made it ashore in the U.S. after fleeing the Communist country.

The White House said Mr. Obama’s goal is “to help the Cuban people achieve a better future for themselves and to advance the interests of the United States.”