Canada sent doctor to Cuba to examine diplomats after sound attacks

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—The federal government sent a doctor to Cuba to examine Canadian diplomats who suffered everything from nosebleeds to short-term memory loss amid concern about mysterious acoustic attacks, newly declassified memos show.
In August, Ottawa acknowledged that an unspecified number of Canadians in Cuba had been affected, but Global Affairs has said little about the events.

The June visit to Havana by Dr. Jeffrey Chernin of Health Canada revealed symptoms similar to those experienced by U.S. personnel in Cuba, the internal Global Affairs Canada notes say.
Word of the perplexing phenomenon — which remains unexplained — emerged during the summer, prompting the United States to bring many diplomats home from Havana and to expel Cuban representatives from Washington.

In August, Ottawa acknowledged that an unspecified number of Canadians in Cuba had been affected, but Global Affairs has said little about the events.
The newly disclosed records, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, show that as early as May, Canada’s mission in Havana was seeking help in working out “next steps” for Canadian staff having problems.
“Many of the symptoms are similar to signs of extreme stress, and there is the possibility that there could be mental health effects caused by the fear of being targeted,” wrote diplomat Karen Foss. “Either way, testing should help to rule out cases and reassure personnel that we have the means to be able to provide duty of care.”
Symptoms included headaches, dizziness, nausea, hearing loss, nosebleeds and cognitive issues including loss of short-term memory.

But Canadian officials were puzzled about who or what might have been behind the purported attacks.
“There are no answers,” Foss wrote in a May 28 email. “We are left to (sift through) what we know about … the targets and possible suspects.”
About a week later, Foss advised that the head of Canada’s mission in Cuba had called a meeting of staff to advise of the “increased threat level.”
A security situation overview noted a need to review who in the mission “is most vulnerable because of any pre-existing condition or other consideration that means they are at greater risk if they are targeted.”
Canadian officials quietly began drafting statements in case the “situation is leaked to the press” — noting there were hints the issue was being discussed at a Virginia school.
By June 9, the mission was underscoring the need for help from a federal medical adviser and stressing that new diplomatic personnel bound for Cuba should be made aware as soon as possible of the strange ailments affecting staff.
Local guards were asked to increase their patrols around the residential properties of Canadian staff and to be extra vigilant in reporting.
Dr. Chernin arrived in Havana on June 18 to meet concerned staff individually and take part in a townhall-style meeting a few days later. The doctor found that symptoms, experience and recovery varied, but he seemed to rule out viral causes such as the flu or hearing loss due to age.
Privy Council Office and Global Affairs Canada officials held a subsequent meeting with Cuban counterparts to encourage “closer collaboration” on fact-finding, explore the possibility of greater security in areas where Canadian diplomats were living “to discourage further attacks” and express Canada’s ongoing commitment to good relations.
All Canadian personnel experiencing symptoms have undergone testing in Canada or the U.S., Global Affairs spokeswoman Sujata Raisinghani said Thursday.
However, she declined to say how many diplomats and family members have been affected.
“The government of Canada continues to work closely with Cuban authorities to ascertain the cause of these unusual symptoms.”

Cuba doesn’t need a Castro clone

The Washington Post

In Havana on Dec. 20, a group of artists and activists were preparing to perform a piece titled “Psychosis.” The plot revolves around a person enclosed in a very small space, showing signs of madness, who wants to leave. The play was inspired by events in 2010 at a psychiatric hospital in Havana, where 26 patients died of hunger and cold. The story is obviously a metaphor about the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro, who have ruled the island for nearly six decades, intolerant of dissent and free speech. In the performance, there were to be allusions to Raúl Castro and terms such as “dictatorship.”

Predictably, before the performance, the authorities swooped in and made arrests. The director was detained temporarily, as well as the chief actor. Also arrested was activist Lia Villares. When released Dec. 22, she said she had scratched a message on the prison cell walls: “Art Yes, Censorship No. I am free.” She was fined for defacing the walls. The authorities warned her sharply against any activity on behalf of Cuba Decide. The movement advocates a plebiscite for free elections and free speech in Cuba and is led by Rosa María Payá Acevedo, whose father, Oswaldo Payá, championed the Varela Project seeking these goals in earlier years. Clearly, the Castro regime does not like the idea that Cubans could “decide” anything about their own destiny.

Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a suspicious 2012 car wreck, founded the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba. The movement’s current national coordinator, Eduardo Cardet, a doctor, was arrested in November 2016 for criticizing Fidel Castro a few days after his death. Recently, he was moved to a notorious prison in Havana and then beaten brutally.

Firework display explodes uncontrollably in Cuba leaving dozens injured

The Parrandas festival in Remedios is known for its raucous celebrations and a fireworks contest between two of the town’s neighborhoods.

The Christmas Eve event draws thousands of Cubans and foreign tourists each year.
Cuban state radio says 22 people were burned.

Radio station CMHW reported on its website that the accident left at least two adults in “very delicate” condition.

It also said six children between the ages of 11 and 15 had been hurt, describing their conditions as ranging from serious to critical.

All the victims appeared to be Cuban.

State media did not immediately provide further information.

Surprise! Cuban dictator Raúl Castro will stay in power past February

According to Cuban official media, the Cuban dictator will not ‘retire’ on February 24 as promised, because of the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.

This is hard to believe! The destruction caused by one hurricane is used as an excuse to keep in power the dictator that has caused more destruction and suffering to the Cuban people and the Cuban nation in the last 59 years, than all hurricanes and earthquakes combined.

In the end, it would not make any difference whether he or his hand chosen puppet Diaz-Canel has the title of ‘president.’ The suffering and destruction in Cuba will continue until all the Castros and their puppets are finally gone from the face of the Earth.



On Christmas Eve, he was a happy child in Cuba. On Christmas Day, alone in a new country

The author’s ninth-grade class from “el Colegio Salesiano de Guines” in Cuba. Pictured in the center is the principal from the school, Father Mendez, (no relation). Armando Mendez, the author, is the second boy from the left in the front row. The photograph is from 1960-61, the last school year Armando Mendez completed in Cuba.

The Miami Herald

On Christmas Day, 1961, I lost my innocence.
Instead of waking up to presents given by loving parents, family and friends, I received goodbyes from aunts, uncles, cousins, school friends, my dog, my town, my school, my parents and my grandmother.
In my suitcase, I packed my memories. Would I ever see my beloved Güines again? I could hear my mother and grandmother crying behind closed doors, and my father giving me advice on what to do and not to do as I left for this flight — the flight of Pedro Pan into Never-Never Land. I didn’t understand the reasons why; I only knew that my parents and all the adults, including the headmaster of the Salesian school where I had been since kindergarten, thought that this flight was for the best. Best because I would be going to the promised land of freedom, even though I had to go by myself, like Wendy and her siblings, leaving my parents behind.
I remember arriving at the airport of Rancho Boyeros and going into the “fish bowl,” sitting next to other children of all ages who like me were looking at their parents behind the glass. We put up a brave front, although inside we were all crying. We were stripped of not only our personal possessions, such as the ruby ring given to me by my grandfather, but of our happy times together with our families. Parents and children separated by glass and by a Communist government that was going to indoctrinate their children. As I ascended the stairs to the plane, I kept looking back trying to catch a glimpse of my parents; I don’t know if it was the tears, but I was unable to see them one last time.

Read more here: the 45-minute flight, a myriad of thoughts assailed me. I was afraid of how I was going to survive separated from my parents. Who was going to take care of me? Where would I sleep? Where was I going to live? How was I going to survive when I didn’t even know English? Too soon, and before I had answers to any of these questions, we arrived at our destination: Miami.
As I and approximately 150 other children arrived, we were herded like cattle, according to our age group and gender. The girls were sent to Florida City; boys 16 years old and older were sent to Matecumbe in the Keys. I, along with boys 15 and younger, was sent to Kendall. The Catholic Welfare Bureau had set up these centers to house the children of Operation Pedro Pan.
Upon arrival at the Kendall camp, we were assigned a bunk bed, shown where to put our meager possessions and have a meal. I quickly remembered my father’s words when I was presented with the first plate of food in a new land, cornmeal, which I didn’t like. “Eat son, whatever is put in front of you, because you don’t have a choice. It’s either eat or go hungry.”
How different it was. At home, if I didn’t like something, Abuelita prepared something else for me. Here, at the Kendall camp, the lessons started right away: Eat cornmeal or go hungry. As we were getting ready for bed, I looked at the sad faces of my companions, the children of Pedro Pan. I’m sure my own face also reflected the sadness that overwhelmed all of us because of the separation. Each one of us dealt with our loss differently – some cried, some nervously giggled and one boy started taking flight with a knife because he wanted to go home. When he was finally calmed down by the counselor, he started whimpering like a wounded dog; his heart, like mine, was wounded by leaving behind all that was near and dear to us.
As I lay in bed that Christmas Day night, I thought how quickly and irrevocably life changes. On Christmas Eve, I was a happy, innocent, pampered child, and on Christmas Day, I became a man. How ironic that they chose that name for this operation, Pedro Pan – Peter Pan, the child who never grew up. No, I grew up overnight; I ceased being a child the moment I became part of the Pedro Pan Operation and left Güines, Cuba, never to return again.

Chirps, hums and phantom noises — how bizarre events in Cuba changed embassy workers’ brains

The Washington Post

They would sometimes wake in the night to hear a disembodied chirping somewhere in the room, or a strange, low hum, or the sound of scraping metal.
Sometimes they felt a phantom flutter of air pass by as they listened. Others in the room would often not notice a thing, the Associated Press reported, and the noises would cease if the person moved just a few feet away.
And then, usually within 24 hours of these bizarre events, bad things happened to those who heard the noises.
What exactly two dozen Americans experienced at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba — in incidents last year and then again in August — remains a mystery to science and the FBI. They have alternately been blamed on a high-tech sonic weapon or a mysterious disease, and have caused a diplomatic crisis because U.S. officials blame Cuba for the attacks.
Now physicians are preparing to release a report on what happened to the people who heard the sounds, the AP reports, including physical changes in their brains.
Workers and their spouses at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Havana began complaining of maladies in late 2016, as Anne Gearan wrote for The Washington Post, after hearing strange, localized sounds in their homes.

Their symptoms included a loss of hearing or sight, vertigo and nausea. Some people struggled to recall common words.
For lack of other explanations, U.S. officials initially blamed a “covert sonic weapon,” the AP reported. Although medical experts largely dismissed the theory, the United States continues to blame the incidents on the Cuban government and has recalled many diplomatic workers, and considered closing the embassy, which opened in 2015.

Meanwhile, the AP reported, physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania have been treating the victims and trying to figure out what happened to them.
While what caused the phantom sounds is still unknown, tests have revealed at least some of the workers suffered damage to the white matter that lets different parts of their brains communicate with each other.
The physicians are planning to publish their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, according to the AP, which quoted several unnamed U.S. officials who aren’t authorized to talk about the investigation.
The discovery only deepens the mystery, and makes the possibility of a sonic attack even less likely in the eyes of medical experts. As The Post has written, other theories include an electromagnetic device, chemical weapons or a hitherto unknown disease.

“Physicians are treating the symptoms like a new, never-seen-before illness,” the AP wrote, and expect to monitor the victims for the rest of their lives, although most have fully recovered from their symptoms by now.
The physicians are working with FBI agents and intelligence agencies as they look for a source, and U.S. officials have not backed down from their accusations against the Cuban government, which denies any involvement despite a history of animosity between the two countries.

When asked about the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Dec. 6 he had told the Cuban government “you can stop it.”

“What we’ve said to the Cubans is: Small island, you got a sophisticated security apparatus, you probably know who’s doing it, you can stop it,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at a news conference at NATO on Wednesday.

He said he’s told U.S. officials to withhold any personal information about the victims from the Cubans — and “not to provide whoever was orchestrating these attacks with information that is useful to how effective they were.”

Nestle, Cuba lay first stone for $55 million coffee and biscuit factory


HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba and Swiss firm Nestle (NESN.S) on Tuesday laid the first stone of a $55 million coffee and biscuits factory joint venture in the Mariel special development zone, the latest major foreign investment in the Communist-run island.

Nescor is Cuba’s third joint venture with Nestle and reflects President Raul Castro’s drive to attract international capital to help update the Soviet-style command economy and stimulate growth.

Cuba created the zone around the Mariel port just west of Havana four years ago, offering companies significant tax and customs breaks. Its aim to replace imports with Made in Cuba goods has become all the more pressing because aid from socialist ally Venezuela is falling, resulting in a cash crunch.

Nestle Vice President Laurent Freixe said in an interview after the symbolic stone-laying ceremony that negotiations with Cuban partner Coralsa and Mariel authorities had taken just 18 months, a “record speed”.

The factory would be operating at the end of 2019 manufacturing coffee products, said Freixe, head of Nestle’s Americas division. Biscuits and other culinary products would come later. The company exports goods to Cuba and the other two joint ventures are one producing ice cream and the other bottled water and other beverages.

Nescor goods would be destined both for the Cuban market and tourists visiting Cuba, while it could eventually also export Cuban coffee, Freixe said.

Nestle last year already exported Cuban coffee as a limited “Cafecito de Cuba” edition of Nespresso single-use brewer pods, including to the United States.

“It sold at an impressive speed,” said Freixe. “Within a few days that line was sold out, which shows the potential.”

Before being able to export Cuban coffee, Nestle would first need to help Cuba increase its harvest, Freixe said, which has steadily declined since the 1959 revolution.

The new factory could double Nestle’s turnover in the country over the medium term from $135 million currently, he said.

So far, Cuba has approved 31 projects for the Mariel zone including nine with multinationals, Director Ana Teresa Igarza said at the ceremony.

There was no longer the same flurry of business interest in the zone as when it was created but the interest that remained was more serious, she said.

Mariel was on the list of Cuban entities that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump banned U.S. firms from doing business with.

Just one U.S. company, Rimco, the Puerto Rican dealer for heavy machine maker Caterpillar (CAT.N), has signed a deal with Mariel to open up shop there, getting approval just on time before the new U.S. regulations were issued earlier this month.

Igarza declined comment on whether Mariel continued to negotiate with other U.S. companies but said it would be open to doing so.

Cuba had the lowest election turnout in four decades. Is the government losing its grip?

The Miami Herald

The voter turnout for Cuba’s recent elections would be considered massive most anywhere. But in a country under communist rule for nearly six decades, Sunday’s unprecedented drop in the number of ballots cast shattered the illusion of unanimity at a time when the country faces a complex generational transition of power.

The 85.94 percent turnout for island-wide municipal elections was the lowest participation since the late Fidel Castro imposed a socialist version of elections in 1976.

Another 8.19 percent of the votes were left blank or annulled, according to official numbers made public on Monday by the president of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Alina Balseiro. That represents more than 20 percent of the population who didn’t care enough to vote or rejected the government-sanctioned candidates.

“The results show that they are losing their grip, that they are not as strong as they used to be,” Cuban opposition activist Ailer González said.

Sunday’s round of balloting was for 12,515 members of 168 municipal People’s Power Assemblies, Cuba’s version of local governments. The process will conclude in February when the newly elected members of the National Assembly of People’s Power select the head of the Councils of Ministers and State.

Election results came in late on Monday and stories on the outcome were quickly buried in the state-controlled press.

But the lower-than-expected turnout was clear by 5 p.m. Sunday. The NEC reported that 82.5 percent of the more than 8.8 million registered voters had cast ballots and extended the voting period for one hour, to 7 p.m., because of “intense rains in central and eastern Cuba,” according to the official Communist Party newspaper Granma.

A turnout of nearly 86 percent would be extremely high for any Western democracy. But in Cuba turnout usually hit 97-98 percent during the 1980s and 90s, and was slightly lower in the 2000s.

Voter turnout started to noticeably drop after 2010, the first elections after Raúl Castro officially succeeded his older brother Fidel, and hit 90 percent in the last election in 2015.

The real numbers this year may be even lower than what was announced, according to opposition activists who have long questioned the official statistics made public by the NEC.

“Their trustworthiness is zero for me. It’s naive to believe that they are going to honorably count the results,” said dissident Antonio Rodiles. Turnout is usually very high, he added, “because even though people know that it’s theater, they also know that they keep track of who votes.”

Among the tactics regularly used to get voters to precincts are home visits during election day to ask people why they have not yet voted, Rodiles added. “They often use children, the so-called Pioneers, who also deliver ballots to the homes” of disabled voters.

Turnout in the island’s second largest city, Santiago de Cuba, was “very low,” José Daniel Ferrer, head of the dissident Cuban Patriotic Union, said in a video posted on the internet Sunday. Communist party militants “were desperately going house to house in the late afternoon looking for voters who refused to go to the polls.”

The weekend elections had been postponed for a month because of disruptions caused by Hurricane Irma. The results indicate that the successor to Raúl Castro, who has promised to retire in February, will inherit a country very different from the one ruled since 1959 by the Castro brothers.

Granma published a photo of Raúl Castro casting his vote Sunday morning, but the official comments to the news media came from Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, another hint that he is Castro’s most likely successor.

The future presidents of Cuba “will always defend the Revolution and will rise from among the people. They will be elected by the people,” Díaz-Canel told journalists.

“Are people forced to vote or do they take on a duty, take on an expression of continuity” in the socialist system? he asked. “I believe in continuity and I am certain that we will always have continuity.”

As in past years, Rodiles said, the government launched an intense campaign to get out the vote that included posters, TV announcements and “information linking the balloting to the regime’s continuation.” The state’s news media monopoly highlighted the fact that Sunday came one year and one day after Fidel Castro’s death.

Dissidents reported earlier that authorities had blocked more than 100 opposition activists linked to the #Otro18 campaign from running in the municipal elections.

A group also linked to #Otro18, the Citizen Observers of Electoral Processes, said the balloting was normal but alleged some “incidents” that damaged “the transparency of the process.”

Authorities blocked eight of its members from monitoring the counting of the ballots and kept about 20 voters from casting ballots around the country.

“There’s also a report that in one polling place … in Santiago de Cuba, a group of elderly voters were coerced to vote for one of the two candidates,” the group reported.

The organization said it deployed more than 270 observers in 13 of the 15 provinces — a small number for the more than 24,000 polling centers around the country — and added that its information “came from polling places closely monitored and with verifiable information.”

Cuba does not allow international observers to monitor its elections.

Ferrer said several members of his group were detained Sunday to block their plans to monitor vote counts. Opposition activist Rosa María Payá alleged similar harassment against members of Cuba Decide, a campaign demanding a plebiscite on the island’s political system.

Payá, Ferrer and other activists have been urging voters to deface their ballots or write in “Cuba Decide” or “plebiscite.” Several dissidents turned up at polling stations Sunday to request that blank or annulled votes be tallied as part of the total votes cast. The majority needed for election is now based on the number of valid votes cast. All the requests were denied.

“Today proved the Cuban electoral farce,” Payá said in a video recorded in Havana. “It proved the regime is afraid to count on the support of all Cubans.”

Despite a growing sense of political apathy and discontent in the country, González believes that the results won’t create a crisis for the Castro government. “They’ll use it to create an apparent sense of credibility and that the island is a normal country. In no country do 100 percent of people vote.”

Cuban Exiles Recount ‘Sonic’ Torture by Castro Regime

The Daily Signal

A group of Cuban exiles and former political prisoners gathered on Capitol Hill Wednesday to recount human rights abuses that they and their relatives suffered at the hands of the Fidel Castro regime.
In a hearing organized by Freedom House and the Justice Cuba International Commission, survivors told gripping stories about friends and family who were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for resisting communist rule in Havana.
The tales of two former political prisoners stood out among the heart-wrenching accounts of abuses, if only for their parallels to the strange, unexplained sonic attacks inflicted upon U.S. diplomats in Havana last year. Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez and Luis Zuniga, anti-Castro dissidents who were sent to hideous regime prisons, said they were repeatedly subjected to “ultra-sonic” torture over more than 20 years in confinement.
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“The methodology consisted of placing large loudspeakers around 4 feet high each … at both ends of the hallway of cells,” Zuniga recalled of his experience in 1979. “Then, they were connected to some sort of electronic device that produced high-pitched sounds.”
“The sounds oscillated from high pitch to very high pitch that almost pieced the eardrums,” he added.
Zuniga went on to describe symptoms from the torture sessions, saying that he began to feel “increasingly uneasy” and “unable to think.” Other prisoners suffered debilitating headaches. The brutal punishment lasted for days, he recalled, leading to the suicide of a fellow inmate.
“This torture was kept [up] for days and nights without a respite,” Zuniga said. “It ended when one of the prisoners … hung himself. He died from the torture.”
For the former prisoners and exiles gathered at Wednesday’s hearing, the memories of audio torture were made fresh this summer, when it was revealed that American diplomatic personnel had been subjected to similar treatment over the previous year. What the State Department described as “sonic attacks” may have occurred in diplomatic residences and hotels in Havana—not in the regime’s dank prisons—but many of the physical and mental effects were eerily similar to those described by Zuniga.
Victims of the mysterious attacks, which began in late 2016 and continued through this summer, experienced disturbing symptoms, including permanent hearing damage, memory loss, and impaired cognitive function. In several cases, the affected officials reported hearing noises similar to loud crickets and then experiencing physical distress.
Last month, the Associated Press obtained and released an audio recording of the noise that U.S. intelligence officials believe was used in some of the incidents. Like the sound described by the Cuban political prisoners, the noise heard by American diplomatic personnel was a high-pitched whine that modulated in intensity and tone.
The U.S. has not directly accused the Castro regime of carrying out the attacks. Investigators are looking into the possibility that Cuban intelligence, perhaps a rogue element of spies, orchestrated the provocations in order to derail the normalization of diplomatic relations begun under the Obama administration, reports Politico.
Whoever is to blame, the episode has certainly soured relations between Washington and Havana. In a series of diplomatic reprisals, the State Department reduced the size of its Cuban mission, ordered Havana to withdraw several of its own diplomats, and issued a special warning advising Americans to avoid travel to Cuba until further notice.
Those moves were a prelude to new travel and trade restrictions President Donald Trump implemented earlier this month, halting and reversing the bilateral rapprochement initiated by his predecessor. Trump, who came into office highly critical of the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba, has made good on his promise to take a tougher stance toward the Castro regime.
Trump’s position was met with unanimous approval among the exiles, their relatives, and Cuban-American politicians assembled at the Justice Cuba event. Rene Bolio, Justice Cuba’s chairman, told attendees that human rights abuses in Cuba did not end with Fidel Castro’s death and the succession of his brother, Raul Castro.
“It’s not a thing from the past,” he said.
Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Fla., one of the most ardent Cuba hawks in Congress, concluded the event with praise for the Trump administration’s hard line on Castro—and a swipe at President Barack Obama’s approach.
“I am exceedingly grateful that the policy of the last number of years, of trying to legitimize the corrupt, murderous [Castro] regime, of the visual of the president of the United States doing the wave at a baseball game with a tyrant—those days are over,” Diaz said.

Amid growing isolation, North Korea falls back on close ties with Cuba

The Washington Post

In the midst of increasing international isolation, North Korea is sending its foreign minister to an old ally: Cuba. In a short message released Friday, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency announced that Ri Yong Ho and his delegation departed on their journey to Havana.
The move comes after a number of North Korean trading partners announced that they would be suspending trade with North Korea. Pyongyang’s seventh-largest trading partner, Singapore, announced that it would halt its trade ties with the country Thursday. In September, the Philippines — North Korea’s fifth-largest trading partner — said it would do the same.
In purely economic terms, Cuba is probably of negligible importance to North Korea compared to these nations: Official figures show that Havana fails to crack the top 10 trading partners, and it certainly falls far behind China, North Korea’s most important economic ally.
However, at this point, Pyongyang may be hoping to shore up international partners wherever it can.
“Looking at the vast number of countries that have announced severed ties with North Korea over the past few weeks, it makes a great deal of sense for the regime to attempt to reinforce the bonds that exist in whatever ways possible,” said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and co-editor of North Korean Economy Watch, in an email.
Notably, the move also comes at a time of increasing tension between Cuba and the United States following the Obama administration attempt at normalization of relations with Havana from 2014 onward. “Considering that the country’s own detente with the U.S. appears to have stalled,” Katzeff Silberstein said, referring to Cuba, “North Korea might (reasonably) see some particular momentum.”
For Havana and Pyongyang, warm relations are nothing new. Cuba and North Korea came to be allies during the early days of the Cold War — Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary who played a key role in Cuba’s revolution, visited North Korea in 1960 and praised Kim Il Sung’s regime as a model for Cuba to follow. Even after the Cold War ended, the two nations, now both isolated internationally, kept up their ties: Cuba also remains one of the few countries in the world to not have diplomatic relations with South Korea, for example.

The two nations were willing to flout sanctions to work together economically. In July 2013, a North Korea-flagged vessel was seized by Panamanian authorities carrying suspected missile-system components hidden under bags of sugar upon its return from Cuba. A report released the following year by a United Nations panel of experts concluded that the shipment had violated sanctions placed on North Korea, although Cuban entities were not sanctioned in the aftermath despite protests from the United States.
Crucially, the thawing of ties with Washington didn’t seem to significantly damage the relationship: In December 2016, a North Korean delegation to the funeral of Cuban leader Fidel Castro emphasized that the two nations should develop their relations “in all spheres” — a comment that was echoed by Raúl Castro, according to state media reports at the time.
Since President Trump took office in January, there have been signs that the thaw with Cuba is over. Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced strict new restrictions on U.S. travel and trade with Cuba, a move that largely followed through on Trump’s campaign promise to “terminate” the Obama-era normalization with Cuba.