US takes steps to make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba

CNBC

he Trump administration is imposing travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba.
The prior administration pursued a thawing of relations with the island nation.
Americans wanting to visit Cuba will have to go as part of organized tour groups run by U.S. companies under the new rules.
The Trump administration is imposing travel and commerce restrictions on Cuba that will make it harder for Americans to visit the island nation.
New rules are coming out Wednesday that put in place President Donald Trump’s partial rollback of the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening with Cuba.
Americans wanting to visit Cuba will have to go as part of organized tour groups run by U.S. companies. A representative of the sponsoring group must accompany the travelers. The Treasury Department is exempting trips booked before Trump announced his Cuba policy on June 16.
The State Department is also publishing a list of dozens of hotels, shops and other businesses that it says are linked to Cuba’s military. Americans are banned from doing business with them — making travel even more complicated.

 

JFK files a trove of Miami secrets

The Miami Herald

If the federal government makes good on a 25-year-old pledge Thursday and releases 30,000 secret documents about the Kennedy assassination, the results might look a little bit like a 1963 Miami phone book.
The trove of files, mostly from the CIA and FBI, contains thousands of documents on South Florida people and organizations involved in efforts to topple Fidel Castro’s communist Cuban government in the early 1960s, when that was practically Miami’s leading industry.
Under a law enacted in 1992, the documents — supposedly the last batch of classified government files on the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy — must be opened to the public no later than Thursday unless President Donald Trump intervenes to block the process.
Trump tweeted last weekend that he would go through with the declassification. But he left himself a bit of wiggle room by adding that his promise was “subject to the receipt of further information.”
That was a reference to fierce lobbying by the CIA and FBI to keep at least some of the documents secret — an effort that is still going on. “[CIA chief] Mike Pompeo is definitely fighting hard to hold them back,” said Roger Stone, a longtime on-and-off Trump political associate.
Stone is also a Kennedy assassination researcher — his 2013 book “The Man Who Killed Kennedy” argued that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was behind the killing — and he said he spoke to the president a week ago, urging that the release take place.
Stone is convinced that it will. But he noted that the last batch of assassination documents to be released was so heavily censored (“redacted,” in CIA-speak) that much of it was useless. “I’m not confident we won’t have that again, that there won’t be a back-door bureaucratic effort to nullify the president’s decision,” he said.
Censorship isn’t the only threat to the documents. The National Archive’s last release of assassination files, in July, was marred by cyber-crash-and-burns that locked up computers for hours at a time. And researchers who got through found many of the documents were impenetrable pastiches of CIA jargon and code words.
“A lot of these files are going to be written in the language of the CIA’s operational directorate, which is not easy for outsiders to comprehend,” warned former CIA analyst Brian Latell, author of “Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, The CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy,” which contends that the assassination was carried out with at least the knowledge — and perhaps even help — of the Castro regime.
JFK files a trove of Miami secrets
Whether any of the South Florida-linked files are among those being hotly contested is impossible to know. But some assassination researchers told the Miami Herald that it’s likely they are.
“The CIA is not trying to keep these things hidden because there’s a signed confession to the Kennedy assassination in the archives,” said Gerald Posner, the Miami Beach author of “Case Closed,” which argues strongly that the assassination was not the result of a conspiracy. “It’s doing it because there’s stuff that’s embarrassing. And one thing that might be embarrassing is some of the activities of these anti-Castro groups that the CIA was friendly with.”
A peek inside the cyberbackdoor of the National Archives, where the documents are housed, reveals that many of those groups, their members and their associates are the subject of classified files. Using a digital search engine that the archives maintains to help it keep track of exactly what files it has, the Herald located nearly 3,000 files linked to various anti-Castro groups and figures — though their exact contents remains secret:
• Among the biggest caches of documents — more than 1,600 pages of them — concerns militant Cuban exiles Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch, who lived in the Miami area off and on beginning in the 1960s. (Bosch died in 2011; Posada Carriles is believed to still be here.)
They partnered in various violent attacks on targets associated with the Castro regime — including, allegedly, the bombing of a Cubana airline flight that killed 77 people, though they denied it and were never convicted. Bosch specialized in bombings of Cuban diplomatic posts; Posada Carriles, in attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. His last known one, in Panama, took place in 2000. He was convicted, then pardoned.
• Convicted Watergate burglars Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James McCord, Eugenio Martínez and Frank Sturgis, along with their former CIA boss, Howard Hunt, are mentioned in a collective 764 pages of files. All the men participated in militant anti-Castro attacks, and all lived in Miami at various times from the 1960s onward. Hunt, Barker and Sturgis have all died. The others live in South Florida.
• More than a thousand pages of the classified files refer to Manuel Artime, who helped plan the CIA backed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion and then was captured ashore. Ransomed home by the U.S. government, he was on stage next to President Kennedy during a huge “welcome home” rally for captured participants in the invasion. Living in Miami, he spent the next several years on armed attacks on Cuba; he died in 1977.
• Ricardo Morales, better known by the nickname Monkey as he moved through the nightscape of Miami conspiracy and narcotrafficking in the early 1980s, is the subject of 172 pages of documents. A former Cuban intelligence officer who defected in 1960, Morales spent several years under contract with the CIA as a paramilitary officer, fighting secret wars in, among other places, Africa. Later he turned to freelance anti-Castro work — he, too, was accused but never convicted of involvement in the bombing of the Cubana airliner — and then drug-running. He was shot to death in a Key Biscayne bar brawl in 1982.
• Tony Cuesta, who blew off a hand and an eye during a 1966 raid on Cuba by his Miami-based militant group Commandos L but continued to mastermind attacks against the island until he died in 1992, is the subject of 48 pages. Two other Miami-based anti-Castro groups, Alpha 66 and the Revolutionary Student Directorate, figure in 112 pages.
Both Cuba and Miami-based anti-Castro exiles have long been near the center of the vast complex of theories about who killed Kennedy. The motive for the exiles, supposedly, is their rage at the lack of U.S. battlefield help during the Bay of Pigs invasion, particularly Kennedy’s decision at the last minute to pull American air support.
Castro’s purported motive is more direct: his knowledge that the Kennedy administration was trying to kill him through various exotic CIA-supplied weapons, including an exploding seashell and a poisoned diving suit. The Cuban dictator had even issued a not very veiled threat to an American reporter in Havana: “U.S. leaders should think if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders they themselves will not be safe.”
To add intrigue to the Cuba angle, Lee Harvey Oswald — the malcontent Texas Marxist who fired the bullets that killed Kennedy, according to the much-disputed official investigation conducted after the assassination by the Warren Commission — visited the Cuban and Russian embassies in Mexico City about six weeks before the assassination in search of visas to visit the two countries.
Journalist-historian Jefferson Morley believes that the documents scheduled for release this week may shed more light on what Oswald was up to and, more importantly in his view, what the CIA knew about him.
Morley’s new book, “The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton,” offers evidence that Angleton — one of the most powerful yet cryptic spies in the history of American intelligence — knew Oswald was in Mexico and was following his activities closely.
Morley notes 151 pages of testimony Angleton gave in secret in 1975 to a U.S. Senate investigating CIA activities is among the documents scheduled for declassification. He think it may include material on Oswald’s visit to Mexico.
“Angleton was interested in Oswald from the start and used him for intelligence purposes,” Morley told the Herald. “From these files, we might find out a lot more about what those purposes were.”

Dangerous sound? What Americans heard in Cuba attacks

It sounds sort of like a mass of crickets. A high-pitched whine, but from what? It seems to undulate, even writhe. Listen closely: There are multiple, distinct tones that sound to some like they’re colliding in a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect.
The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks. The recording, released Thursday by the AP, is the first disseminated publicly of the many taken in Cuba of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon.
The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen. Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer.
What device produced the original sound remains unknown. Americans affected in Havana reported the sounds hit them at extreme volumes.
Whether there’s a direct relationship between the sound and the physical damage suffered by the victims is also unclear. The U.S. says that in general the attacks caused hearing, cognitive, visual, balance, sleep and other problems.
The recordings from Havana have been sent for analysis to the U.S. Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analyzing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services, the AP has learned. But the recordings have not significantly advanced U.S. knowledge about what is harming diplomats.
The Navy did not respond to requests for comment on the recording. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert wouldn’t comment on the tape’s authenticity.
Cuba has denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. The U.S. hasn’t blamed anyone and says it still doesn’t know what or who is responsible. But the government has faulted President Raul Castro’s government for failing to protect American personnel, and Nauert said Thursday that Cuba “may have more information than we are aware of right now.”
“We believe that the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats,” said White House chief of staff John Kelly.
Not all Americans injured in Cuba heard sounds. Of those who did, it’s not clear they heard precisely the same thing.
Yet the AP has reviewed several recordings from Havana taken under different circumstances, and all have variations of the same high-pitched sound. Individuals who have heard the noise in Havana confirm the recordings are generally consistent with what they heard.
“That’s the sound,” one of them said.
The recording being released by the AP has been digitally enhanced to increase volume and reduce background noise, but has not been otherwise altered.
The sound seemed to manifest in pulses of varying lengths — seven seconds, 12 seconds, two seconds — with some sustained periods of several minutes or more. Then there would be silence for a second, or 13 seconds, or four seconds, before the sound abruptly started again.
A closer examination of one recording reveals it’s not just a single sound. Roughly 20 or more different frequencies, or pitches, are embedded in it, the AP discovered using a spectrum analyzer, which measures a signal’s frequency and amplitude.
To the ear, the multiple frequencies can sound a bit like dissonant keys on a piano being struck all at once. Plotted on a graph, the Havana sound forms a series of “peaks” that jump up from a baseline, like spikes or fingers on a hand.
“There are about 20 peaks, and they seem to be equally spaced. All these peaks correspond to a different frequency,” said Kausik Sarkar, an acoustics expert and engineering professor at The George Washington University who reviewed the recording with the AP.
Those frequencies might be only part of the picture. Conventional recording devices and tools to measure sound may not pick up very high or low frequencies, such as those above or below what the human ear can hear. Investigators have explored whether infrasound or ultrasound might be at play in the Havana attacks.
The recordings have been played for workers at the U.S. Embassy to teach them what to listen for, said several individuals with knowledge of the situation in Havana. Some embassy employees have also been given recording devices to turn on if they hear the sounds. The individuals weren’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly and demanded anonymity.
Cuban officials wouldn’t say whether the U.S. has shared the recordings with Cuba’s government.
Another big question remains: Even if you know you’re under attack, what do you do? Still dumbfounded by what’s causing this, the United States has been at a loss to offer advice.
The embassy’s security officials have told staff if they believe they’re being attacked, they should get up and move to a different location, because the attack is unlikely to be able to follow them, the commenting individuals said. The AP reported last month that some people experienced attacks or heard sounds that were narrowly confined to a room or parts of a room.
The State Department has said 22 Americans are “medically confirmed” to be affected and that the number could grow. The symptoms and circumstances reported have varied widely, making some hard to tie conclusively to the attacks. The incidents began last year and are considered “ongoing,” with an attack reported as recently as late August.
Cuba has defended its “exhaustive and priority” response, emphasizing its eagerness to assist the U.S. investigation. Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story but have complained in the past that Washington refuses to share information they say they need to fully investigate, such as medical records, technical data and timely notification of attacks.

Dr. Darsi Ferret, who helped expose the lies about Cuba’s ‘free healthcare’ was found dead in Florida

I am very sorry to report the death of Dr. Darsi Ferret, a well-known Cuban dissident and human rights activist, who in 2007 worked closely with me to help expose the lies about Cuba’s ‘free healthcare’ that were portrayed on Michael Moore’s document “Sicko”, which claimed that healthcare in Castro’s Cuba was “free and much better than healthcare in the U.S.”.
According to press reports, Darsi was found dead on Friday morning in the offices of Dar-TV, a TV channel in West Palm Beach. The cause of his death is not known at this time. He was 47 years old.
My deepest condolences to his two sons, his sister, his ex-wife and the rest of his family.

In June of 2007, I was contacted by a producer of ABC/20-20, who had seen photos of Cuban hospitals on my website.

ABC was preparing a program about private healthcare in the U.S. compared to government healthcare in other countries. It also wanted to know if the information about healthcare in Cuba, presented on Sicko was true or pro-Castro propaganda.

The producer, Melissa Scott, came to Miami and told me she was planning to go to Havana with an ABC cameraman and other technicians to film inside the hospitals that are used by regular Cubans, not the hospitals for foreigners who pay the Castro brothers in hard currency and that were shown on Michael Moore’s documentary.

I explained to her that this was impossible because the Cuban regime would never allow it, but that if she wanted, I knew a Cuban doctor who was very familiar with the reality of healthcare in Cuba and could go inside the hospitals and film using a concealed camera.

For the next 3 months, I took part on daily three-way phone conferences between Ms. Scott in New York, Dr. Darsi Ferret in Cuba and myself. Unbelievable as it may seem, ABC didn’t know how to do a three-way conference call with Cuba, so I had to do it from my house phone. It was at a time when there were very few cellular phones in Cuba and Darsi didn’t have a phone in his house and much less a cell phone. He had to go to the home of another dissident, who lived nearby, and wait for our call. I would call each morning and let them know the time we were going to call in the afternoon, to make sure they could advise Darsi to be there.

The producer, who didn’t speak Spanish, would tell me what she wanted him to film and I would convey that to Darsi. We were always concerned that government agents would find out and arrest him, but he was never worried and always willing to take the risk. “I want the world to know the truth,” he would tell us.

Even though ABC News had a bureau in Havana, they refused to get involved in any of the filming or to interview Darsi, or other dissidents, because they were afraid that Cuba could close the bureau and expel those working there. They wouldn’t even provide a camera for Darsi to use, and we had to spend weeks looking for one in Cuba.

At the end, when Darsi finally got all the films that the producer wanted, he told me: “Mi hermanito (his favorite phrase) I have the DVD ready, how do you I get it to you?” I called ABC in New York and they told me they had someone in Cuba who could transmit it to them through the Internet. But the person this person refused to do it because he had not filmed the material.

So, after all this work we had a DVD with all the films taken without government permission, and no way to get it out of Cuba. I called a good friend, Maria Werlau who had originally put me in touch with Darsi, and asked her if she could help. She contacted the president of a country that was formerly part of the Soviet Union and he agreed to help. Darsi took the DVD to their Embassy in Havana, and they sent it to their Consulate in Cancun and from there to my house in Miami.
I wanted to tell this story for people to know the risks that Dr. Ferret took in order to expose the lies of the Cuban regime and Michael Moore’s documentary. He suffered prison and beatings several times while he was in Cuba, for his work in defense of human rights.

The videos and photos that appeared on ABC 20/20 and also on Fox News’ Hannity can be seen below:

*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.

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.

5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana

The Hill

Five GOP senators are pressing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to expel all Cuban diplomats from the U.S. and shutter the American Embassy in Havana.

In a letter to Tillerson dated Thursday, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and James Lankford (Okla.) admonished Cuba for failing to ensure the security of U.S. diplomats based in the country.

“Cuba’s neglect of its duty to protect our diplomats and their families cannot go unchallenged,” the letter reads.

The letter comes as the number of Americans confirmed to have suffered mysterious health symptoms during stints in Havana continues to rise. That number was updated to 21 this week.

Some Americans have experienced permanent hearing loss and mild brain damage, or concussions, from the so-called “health attacks,” the cause of which remains unknown.

“The safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families posted overseas remains one of our high priorities and a shared responsibility of those nations that host U.S. diplomatic facilities,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to remind the Cuban government of its obligation and to demand that it take verifiable action to remove these threats to our personnel and their families.”

Symptoms were first reported in fall 2016 and were initially believed to have continued until spring 2017. But the State Department revealed earlier this month that an incident happened as recently as August. U.S. officials are investigating the matter.

The incidents were made public in early August, when the State Department revealed that the U.S. had expelled two Cuban diplomats from the country’s embassy in Washington.

It remains unclear who is responsible for the attacks, and the Cuban government has repeatedly denied any wrong-doing. The Associated Press reported Friday that, after hearing of the attacks, Cuban President Raul Castro voiced concern and befuddlement to Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a U.S. diplomat in Havana.

The Cuban government even offered to allow the FBI to investigate the matter — a level of access rarely offered by foreign governments, according to the AP.

The U.S. relationship with Cuba is a tense one, after President Trump earlier this year said his administration would clamp down on the travel and trade restrictions former President Obama had relaxed during his tenure.

Masochists! Canadian tourist charged 10 times the cost of a broken TV at Cuban hotel

Lukis says he accidentally grabbed the TV when he was leaning to get something out of the mini fridge. He accepted responsibility for the damage and was charged more than $5,000 CAD
Calgary man warns Cuba travelers about fine print after paying 10X cost of damaged TV
Sunwing says resort’s exorbitant cost was due to ‘the challenges and expense’ of obtaining items in Cuba
The so-called rule of 10 wasn’t something Dan Lukis had ever heard of before his vacation to Cuba, but the fine-print policy that cost him more than $5,000 won’t soon be forgotten — nor will the pall it cast on his trip booked through Sunwing.
One evening, a few days into his all-inclusive stay at the Sanctuary at Grand Memories Varadero resort in April, the Calgary man lost his balance while reaching into the mini-fridge in his room, he recalls.
In an attempt to steady himself, he grabbed the television, sending it tumbling onto the floor.
Lukis said he admitted fault for the damage immediately, but when he asked hotel staff how he could rectify the situation, they came back demanding he pay 10 times the value of the TV — according to a rule of 10 policy established by local authorities and followed by the resort owner, Gaviota.
There was no further damage to the room, documented in photos taken by Lukis.
“We were being treated like criminals for something that was an accident,” Lukis told CBC News.
When he argued with staff about the cost, he said, they told him police and other authorities would get involved and prevent him and his girlfriend from leaving Cuba if he didn’t pay.
“It was kind of frightening. It was lucky I was able to scrounge up enough and go into quite a bit of debt on the credit card just to be able to get us out of the country,” he said
Hotel considered it ‘willful damage’
Lukis said he reached out to Sunwing, but the company deferred to the local authorities’ rule-of-10 policy, which Sunwing said was enforced by the resort, not Sunwing.
“Due to the challenges and expense associated with procuring furniture and electronics in Cuba, most resorts make available at check-in their policy relating to damages/ and this information is reinforced in the introductory briefing held by our Sunwing destination representatives,” Sunwing said in a statement.
Sunwing said it was informed by hotel management on April 15 that Lukis had damaged the TV.
“While Sunwing representatives did attempt to advocate on behalf of the customer, the property, owned by Gaviota, deferred to their published policy which reads ‘when damages caused by a break or loss of property, whether classified as fixed or useful assets, are the result of an intentional act of the clients or are linked to vandalism, the responsible person will be charged ten (10) times the value of the purchase price of the asset broken or lost,'” Sunwing said in a statement.
The hotel management reserved their right to apply the full penalty charge as per the stated policy.
Dispute over whether replacement TVs readily available
Sunwing’s communications manager, Rachel Goldrick, said buying a new TV isn’t that easy in Cuba.
“It’s impossible to just buy a television like you can in North America. You just can’t do it,” Goldrick said. “Goods don’t exist locally.… It’s not sort of like if something happened here, you could go to your local Walmart and take it back.”
Instead, Goldrick said, the room would likely be without a TV for months as the hotel went through the lengthy process to import a new one into the country.
However, Lukis disputes that, saying he saw similar televisions of the same size for sale in local stores and offered to buy one, but was told by the resort that it wouldn’t accept it as a replacement.
He also said he and his girlfriend were not informed of the rule-of-10 policy when checking into the resort and were not informed of it in the introductory briefing held by the Sunwing representative.
“They did no such thing,” Lukis said.
‘I feel it was really hidden and shady’
After returning home, Lukis came across a Daily Mail article detailing a British couple’s similar situation.
“Had I been clearly aware of that being a potential implication, perhaps I would have reconsidered. But I feel it was really hidden and shady. Just something that people really aren’t aware of,” Lukis said.
The local authorities’ rule-of-10 policy followed by the hotel is stated on the Sunwing website, which reads: “Rule of 10 will be in place, established by local authorities. In the case of damaged items, customers will be charged the value of the item multiplied by 10.”
But there is no mention of the policy on the resort’s web page or those of other organizations through which one can purchase all-inclusive stays at the Sanctuary at Grand Memories Varadero.
No one from the resort responded to requests for comment from CBC News.