Monthly Archives: November 2017

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.

 

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.