Category Archives: Cuba

Tillerson says U.S. weighing closing embassy in Cuba over sonic attacks

Reuters

The United States is considering closing its embassy in Havana in response to an alleged sonic attack on U.S. personnel in Cuba, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday.
“We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered.”
Five Republican senators on Friday called for the Trump administration to retaliate against the Cuban government by expelling Cuban diplomats and possibly shuttering the U.S. embassy there over attacks that began in late 2016.
The State Department said in August that Americans linked to the U.S. embassy in Havana had experienced physical symptoms from “incidents” involving sound waves. Five Canadians were also affected.
Symptoms included nausea, dizziness and temporary loss of hearing or memory.
Cuba, the United States and Canada have investigated the attacks, but the probe has not yielded any answers about how they were carried out or who was responsible for them.
Cuba has denied involvement. The U.S. State Department has not blamed Havana for the attacks but asked two Cuban diplomats to leave Washington in May.

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

The Guardian

Reports of Cuba’s Deafening ‘Covert Sonic Device’ Are Only Getting Stranger

CNN 

The State Department has remained tight-lipped about the strange circumstances in which US diplomats to Cuba reportedly suffered permanent hearing damage from an “inaudible covert sonic device.” But new details reveal that “a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping” was also used to harass the American envoys. What’s more, the number of people who were harmed is reportedly even greater than was previously known.

According to government sources speaking to CNN on the condition of anonymity, at least 10 US diplomats and family members have been treated for various symptoms following the unexplained attacks that are believed to be part of a concerted harassment campaign. Five Canadian diplomats and their family members have also experienced some sort of “symptoms.” From the report:

In some of the attacks a sophisticated sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound was deployed either inside or outside the residences of US diplomats living in Havana, according to three US officials.

The weapon caused immediate physical sensations including nausea, headaches and hearing loss.

Other attacks made a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping across a floor, but the source of the sound could not be identified, the two US officials said.

The additional information that victims heard traditional, irritating sounds within the human hearing range certainly makes the reports of permanent hearing damage more understandable. And the revelation that family members were also affected makes this all sound more plausible. But still, if the sound was loud enough to cause damage, how could it possibly be so hard to identify the source? And were any neighbors in the areas that US diplomats were living not also suffering?

The fact that the psychological warfare on diplomats reportedly began in the fall of 2016 and remained secret until this month has made everything all the more mysterious. The New York Times reports that at least six patients were flown from Havana to The University of Miami at an unspecified time this year when a panicked Trump administration could not figure out what was wrong with the victims. The Times was told that “a sonic wave machine” was believed to have caused the symptoms which apparently became worse with prolonged exposure. Sources also claimed that one person had developed a blood disorder.

Steve Dorsey from CBS Radio in Washington DC was the first to ask State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert about the situation when she gave a press conference on August 9th. Nauert appeared to be taken aback by the question and stumbled to give the vaguest answers possible—only being willing to confirm an “incident” in which diplomats experienced “physical symptoms.” She also acknowledged that some American diplomats had come home and two Cuban diplomats were sent home from Washington, D.C. on May 23rd. “There was so much that harkened back to the days of the cold war that it was hard to believe at first,” Dorsey told Radio National. His initial source said at least one of the victims has been deaf for 10 months, and there are concerns it may be permanent.

Considering that President Trump has criticized the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and has called it “a completely one-sided deal,” it’s easy to be skeptical of this as all being some sort of cloak and dagger stunt to make Cuba look bad. The US embassy remains “fully operational” and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has only said, “We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just our diplomats but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved.” For hawkish Republicans, the incident has been an opportunity to point fingers at the Cuban leadership that they never wanted to deal with in the first place. “The Cuban government has been harassing U.S. personnel working in Havana for decades.” Marco Rubio told Dorsey on August 9th. “This has not stopped with President Obama’s appeasement.” Writing for Foreign Policy’s “Elephants in the Room” blog, Jose R. Cardenas declared, “Cuba is up to its old tricks again.”

But Cuba has repeatedly denied any involvement or knowledge of the attacks, setting up a special investigative unit to get to the bottom of the matter. The fact that Canadians were targeted as well certainly confuses the situation because the two nations have consistently had a good relationship since the US first cut off ties with Cuba in 1959. Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security in the Obama administration, told The New York Times “It just doesn’t strike me as something the Cuban government would do.” He says that “they’ve been pragmatic about Trump,” and indeed the president has done very little to scuttle the new relationship, despite his tough talk. This leads some to believe that a third country is trying to sabotage the US/Cuba relationship.

But even if we knew who was responsible for this bizarre circumstance, we still don’t know how such an attack would work. As far as what kind of weapon could be used to damage hearing without producing an audible sound, most outlets have had to resort to very cursory speculation. When Gizmodo originally reported the incident, we reached out to several experts on hearing damage to ask if they were aware of any scientific basis for such a device. No one wanted to give their medical perspective on the record and all seemed genuinely confused by the scenario.

The US Air Force has acknowledged its testing of “Direct Energy Weapons” and acoustic weapons that “use sound across the entire frequency spectrum to kill, injure, disable, or temporarily incapacitate people.” But the results of those tests and details of the weapons remain murky. And a study from 2014, showed that the human ear does respond to low frequencies that are typically understood to be outside the human range of hearing, but it made no conclusions about potential long-term damage.

New Scientist did manage to get Dr. Toby Heys, Leader of the Future Technologies research center at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK, to speculate on what kind of device could possibly do what’s being reported in Cuba. Heys said that sound waves below the human range of hearing could theoretically cause damage but enormous subwoofers set to extremely high volumes would be required. The only other possibility he was aware of is directing ultrasound into the ear cavity, but he says this would have to be highly targeted with a clear path from the device to the victim’s ear. “It is all very Philip K. Dick territory,” Heys told New Scientist, acknowledging the tinfoil hat-nature of the circumstances.

If some nation really does have a weapon that causes hearing damage using inaudible sound, it would signal a new, terrifying chapter in psychological warfare. And it’s quite understandable that the US government would want to keep every detail of that situation secret. Generally, Heys is skeptical of the stories surrounding this incident but acknowledges, “we are living in a fairly surreal world right now.”

Nicolas Maduro Doesn’t Really Control Venezuela

Article pubished in The Atlantic by Moisés Naím

It’s hard to pick the Venezuelan president’s greatest flaw. Which is more serious: his cruel indifference to the suffering of his people, or his brutal autocratic behavior? Which is more outrageous: his immense ignorance or the fact that he dances on television while his henchmen murder defenseless young protesters in the streets? The list of Nicolas Maduro’s failings is long, and Venezuelans know it; over 80 percent of them oppose him. And it’s not just Venezuelans. The rest of the world has also discovered—at last!—his despotic, corrupt, and inept character.

And yet … Maduro doesn’t really matter. He is simply a useful idiot, the puppet of those who really control Venezuela: the Cubans, the drug traffickers, and Hugo Chavez’s political heirs. Those three groups effectively function as criminal cartels, and have co-opted the armed forces into their service; this is how it is possible that every day we see men in uniform willing to massacre their own people in order to keep Venezuela’s criminal oligarchy in power.

When Nicolas Maduro Was Dictator for a Day

The most important component of this oligarchy is the Cuban regime. Three years ago I wrote: “Venezuelan aid is indispensable to prevent the Cuban economy from collapsing. Having a government in Caracas that maintains such aid is a vital objective of the Cuban State. And Cuba has accumulated decades of experience, knowledge, and contacts that allow it to operate internationally with great efficacy and, when necessary, in a way that is almost invisible.” Havana’s priority remains controlling and plundering Venezuela. The supply of oil from Venezuela to Cuba is no longer as steady as it once was, due to the production troubles of the state-run oil company PDVSA. But the flows, while intermittent, have continued. Moreover, Cuban companies are the intermediaries of choice for many critical imports of foods and medicines to Venezuela.

And Cuba’s leaders know how to keep their Venezuelan allies in power—namely by exporting their own successful military-control strategies to Venezuela. Cubans have perfected the techniques of the police state at home: constant but selective repression, extortion and bribery, espionage, and persecution. Above all, the Cuban regime knows how to protect itself from a military coup: That is the main threat to any dictatorship, so controlling the armed forces is an indispensable requirement for a self-respecting dictator.

The Venezuelan regime has adopted these tactics. The effects are obvious: Officers who do not sympathize with the Maduro regime have been neutralized, while those who support it have gotten rich. It is no coincidence that there are more generals in Venezuela today than in NATO or the United States. Or that many high-ranking officials are exiled, imprisoned, or killed. That is why the hope that a group of patriotic, democratic, and honest officers will defend the nation, and not those who plunder it, has so far been only a hope.

But, in addition, Cuba—in stumbling across Venezuela—happened upon one of the most unprecedented gifts in the annals of geopolitics: Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, the president of a petro state who happily invited a bankrupt dictatorship to exert enormous influence in some of his country’s vital functions, from elections, economic policy, and politics to, of course, military and citizen surveillance. Cuban “advisers” were deployed at critical government agencies and soon started vetoing the decisions of the Venezuelan officials and in some instances imposing their views. The Venezuelans who resisted them were transferred or fired. The surprising influence that Cuba gained in Venezuela was essentially due to the close political alliance and deep emotional attachment that Chavez developed toward Fidel Castro. But even today, more than four years after Chavez’s death, the Venezuelan government makes few important decisions that are not stealthily influenced by the Cuban regime.

Another important player in today’s Venezuela is the drug traffickers, whose power is also a constraint on Maduro. Venezuela is one of the main drug routes to the U.S. and Europe. This status is worth billions of dollars, and the country is home to a vast network of people and organizations that control the illicit trade and the enormous amount of money it generates. According to U.S. officials, one such person is Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and so are a large number of military officers and other relatives and members of the ruling oligarchy.

This oligarchy, made up of Chavez’s political heirs, is the third major component of the real power in Venezuela. Of course, Maduro; his wife, Cilia Flores; and many of his relatives and associates are part of that oligarchy. In this elite there are different “families,” “cartels,” and groups that compete for influence on government decisions, for political appointments, and for the control of illicit markets—ranging from human trafficking to money laundering. The smuggling and selling of food, medicines, and all kinds of products are just a few of the many other corrupt activities that enrich the Maduro oligarchy as well as the Cubans, the military, and their civilian accomplices.

Getting rid of Maduro is necessary. But it’s not enough as long as three criminal cartels—who are intermingled in business, corruption, and the exercise of power—continue to control Venezuela.

View article at The Atlantic