Tag Archives: Cuba

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.

 

 

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.

 

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.

New White House communications director has traveled to Cuba to scout investment opportunities

The Miami Herald

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.

Scaramucci, whose appointment on Friday led to the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is the founder of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital. He also is behind the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference that brings together business and government leaders. In 2016, the conference — for the first time —included a panel on Cuba in which the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio was one of the speakers.

At the offices of OnCuba in Havana, a digital media outlet owned by Cancio, Scaramucci was quoted in an interview published in May 2016 about his idea of ​​creating an “investment fund” for Cuba, adding that, “we are eager to exchange (ideas)… about the best ways in which we can contribute to the development of the country, the services and the quality of life of citizens.”

Scaramucci told OnCuba that he first traveled to the island in 2012.

“When I saw that the U.S. policy of rapprochement was heading to reconciliation and the ease of the embargo, I started to get in touch with people to get an idea of whether it was really possible to implement my projects here,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Scaramucci shared the interview on a May 4, 2016 post and wrote that during his visit to Cuba he “saw a very beautiful country. I am very hopeful for the future of Cuba and excited to welcome the Cubans to the SALT Conference!”

Cancio confirmed that Scaramucci is “a good friend.

“He is a very successful businessman and I hope his new vision will be good for the White House and President Donald Trump,” Cancio said.

Trump recently took steps to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba and ban business with companies linked to the Cuban military, which controls most of the Cuban economy. It also imposed some limitations on individual travel by Americans to the island and ordered more audits for travelers. However, he did not entirely undo all of the easing of restrictions implemented by former President Obama.

Before taking a harder approach on Cuba, several media outlets, including Newsweek, Bloomberg and the Miami Herald reported the Trump Organization’s interest in doing business with Cuba, even though the U.S. embargo prohibits it.

“I think the situation is oversimplified to one country being capitalist and the Cuban system originating from communism, and as a consequence, there’s an embargo,” Scaramucci said in the interview. “However I think that many Americans would like to get in touch with Cuba and its culture.”

“I have always said that to speak and give an opinion about Cuba, people should travel to the island and be in contact with all kinds of Cubans,” said Cancio, who has served as an adviser for several U.S. companies interested in business on the island. “Anthony has had that opportunity and I hope he can be a new, more calm and coherent voice about Cuba’s past and present.”

“Today I sleep more calmly that there is a person close to Trump who can share that vision stemming from the experience on his visits to Cuba,” he added.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady: Crackdown on Cuba key to peace in Venezuela

The Wall Street Journal

The civilized world wants to end the carnage in Venezuela, but Cuba is the author of the barbarism. Restoring Venezuelan peace will require taking a hard line with Havana.
Step one is a full-throated international denunciation of the Castro regime. Any attempt to avoid that with an “engagement” strategy, like the one former US president Barack Obama introduced, will fail. The result will be more Venezuelas rippling through the hemisphere.
The Venezuelan opposition held its own nationwide referendum on Sunday to document support for regularly scheduled elections that have been cancelled and widespread disapproval of strongman Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.
The regime was not worried. It said it was using the day as a trial run to prepare for the July 30 elections to choose the assembly that will draft the new constitution.
The referendum was an act of national bravery. Yet like the rest of the opposition’s strategy — which aims at dislodging the dictatorship with peaceful acts of civil disobedience — it’s not likely to work. That’s because Cubans, not Venezuelans, control the levers of power.
Havana doesn’t care about Venezuelan poverty or famine or whether the regime is unpopular. It has spent a half-century sowing its ideological “revolution” in South America. It needs Venezuela as a corridor to run Colombian cocaine to the US and to Africa to supply Europe. It also relies on cut-rate Venezuelan petroleum.
To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus. In a July 13 column, titled “Cubazuela” for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba website, Roberto Alvarez Quinones reported that in Venezuela today there are almost 50 high-ranking Cuban military officers, 4500 Cuban soldiers in nine battalions, and “34,000 doctors and health professionals with orders to defend the tyranny with arms”. Cuba’s Interior Ministry provides Maduro’s personal security. “Thousands of other Cubans hold key positions of the state, government, military and repressive Venezuelan forces, in particular intelligence and counter-intelligence services.”
Every Venezuelan armed-forces commander has at least one Cuban minder, if not more, a source close to the military told me. Soldiers complain that if they so much as mention regime shortcomings over a beer at a bar, their superiors know about it the next day. On July 6, Reuters reported that since the beginning of April “nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination”.
The idea of using civilian thugs to beat up Venezuelan protesters comes from Havana, as Cuban-born author Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a recent El Nuevo Herald column, “Venezuela at the Edge of the Abyss.” Castro used them in the 1950s, when he was opposing Batista, to intimidate his allies who disagreed with his strategy. Today in Cuba they remain standard fare to carry out “acts of repudiation” against dissidents.
The July 8 decision to move political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez from the Ramo Verde military prison to house arrest was classic Castro. Far from being a sign of regime weakness, it demonstrates Havana’s mastery of misdirection to defuse criticism.
Cuba’s poisonous influence in Latin America could be weakened if the international community spoke with one voice. The regime needs foreign apologists like former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the leftist wing of the Vatican. It also needs the continued support of American backers of the Obama engagement policy, who want the US to turn a blind eye to human-rights abuses.
Yet there are limits to what can be brushed off. When opposition congressmen were attacked by Cuban-style mobs on July 5, and their bloodied faces showed up on the front pages of international newspapers, the Zapateros of the world began to squirm. That was Havana’s cue to improve the lighting for Maduro.
First Maduro claimed he knew nothing about it, though his Vice-President was on the floor of the legislature while it was happening. That was not believable.
Three days later came the sudden decision to move Lopez from military prison to house arrest. Maduro said it was a “humanitarian” gesture.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, an acolyte of Fidel, said it was a “product of dialogue and ­tolerance.”
Thus the images of the savagery in the National Assembly receded while photos of Lopez, kissing a Venezuelan flag outside his home, popped up everywhere. Mission accomplished and Lopez remains detained.
For too long the world has overlooked the atrocities of the Cuban police state. In 1989 Fidel was even a special guest at the inauguration of Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez. Today the “special guests” are brutalizing Venezuela as the world wonders what went wrong.

Editorial: Pressure on Cuba’s dictators

Providence Journal 

Donald Trump has not always shown much interest in the promotion of human rights abroad. He has mindlessly praised the Chinese regime’s massacre at Tiananmen Square and expressed little concern about Vladimir Putin’s human rights-abusing thugocracy in Russia. On the other hand, he recently spoke out about the terrible human rights abuses that continue in Cuba.

A little more than a year ago, Barack Obama traveled to Cuba on a landmark visit. His Cuban sojourn came on the heels of several major shifts in our policy toward the Communist Caribbean island. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were restored, a good move for our country. Cuba now has an embassy in Washington, and the U.S. has one in Havana. Cuba was removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Several travel limits were eased, as were restrictions on U.S. banks’ activities on the island.

There was a good reason to seek changes. Fifty years of hostility between the United States and Cuba had done little to improve the human rights situation on the island, which remained appalling. Ditto for the country’s sclerotic, state-run economy, which had left millions mired in abject poverty. It was time for a new approach.

Unfortunately, the new approach has not led Cuba to alter its ways in the least. The political system remains grotesquely oppressive; nearly 10,000 political arrests were reported in 2016 alone, and free speech remains just a dream. (Almost 500 political arrests occurred even as President Obama was visiting Cuba.)

Perhaps needless to say, the Castro regime still refuses to hold free and fair elections. The economy, meanwhile, has remained tightly controlled.

President Trump, recognizing Cuba’s failure to budge, announced new Cuba policies in Miami last week. Crucially, he did not roll back all of the reforms that President Obama implemented. (Though in typical Trump fashion, the president was rather dishonest about this — he claimed, falsely, that he was “canceling” Obama’s policies.) For example, the embassies will remain open and direct flights between the U.S. and Cuba will continue to operate. That’s wise; it would be foolish to initiate another counterproductive deep freeze.

But President Trump announced his administration will crack down on the kinds of trips Americans can take to Cuba. (Pure tourism wasn’t permitted even under Obama, but this rule went largely unenforced.) The Trump administration will also impose restrictions on the kinds of business Americans can conduct on the island. The State Department is currently at work on a list of Cuban businesses that are controlled by the regime’s military and security services; Americans will be forbidden from doing business with them.

This seems an appropriate threading of the needle. Tourism provides funding to the repressive regime; likewise, the Cuban military and security services are the tools with which the police state is enforced.

Top NewsClick Now and Read Later.

As the president put it during his announcement, “To the Cuban government, I say, put an end to the abuse of dissidents, release the political prisoners, stop jailing innocent people, open yourselves to political and economic freedoms, return the fugitives from American justice, including the return of the cop killer Joanne Chesimard.” The people of Cuba would benefit greatly if their oppressors would begin to heed such cries for human rights and elemental justice.

Trump administration nearing completion of Cuba policy review

CNBCThe Trump administration is nearing completion of a policy review to determine how far it goes in rolling back former President Barack Obama’s engagement with Cuba and could make an announcement next month, according to current and former U.S. officials and people familiar with the discussions.

President Donald Trump’s advisers are crafting recommendations that could call for tightening some of the trade and travel rules that Obama eased in his rapprochement with Havana but which are expected to stop short of breaking diplomatic relations restored in 2015 after more than five decades of hostility, the sources said.

The policy review, coordinated by the National Security Council, is expected to pick up steam now that Trump has returned from his first foreign trip, one administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump threatened in a tweet shortly after his election in November to “terminate” Obama’s approach unless Cuba made significant concessions, something its Communist leadership is unlikely to do.

The White House said in February that Cuba policy was under comprehensive review and that human rights on the island would be a major part of any revised strategy.

Obama implemented his Cuba normalization measures through executive actions that bypassed Congress, and Trump is believed to have the power to undo much of it with the stroke of a pen.

Divisions in Trump administration

But there are divisions within his administration over to what extent he should go, especially given that Obama’s opening to Washington’s former Cold War foe has created opportunities for American companies ranging from telecommunications to airlines.

Some aides have argued that Trump, a former real estate magnate who won the presidency promising to unleash U.S. businesses and create jobs, would have a hard time defending any moves that close off the Cuban market.

A group of 54 U.S. senators reintroduced legislation last Thursday to repeal all remaining restrictions on travel to Cuba, signaling support for U.S.-Cuba detente on Capitol Hill.

But the Republican administration has been under heavy pressure from Cuban-American lawmakers such as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart to take a much harder line than Trump’s Democratic predecessor.

There is little support in the administration, however, for a full-scale reversal of Obama’s steps that began with a breakthrough with Cuban President Raul Castro in 2014.

Among the options under consideration are tightening restrictions on U.S. firms doing business with Cuban state or military enterprises and re-imposing stricter rules on Americans traveling there, according to people familiar with the discussions.

It remains unclear, however, which recommendation will make their way to Trump, though the sources said a list was likely to be ready for his consideration in coming days or weeks.

“We’re getting closer,” an administration official said.

An announcement of changes could come as soon as June, according to the official and people familiar with the matter.

The Daily Caller newspaper reported on Sunday that Trump would announce policy changes in a June speech in Miami, citing sources from a group opposed to the broader U.S. economic embargo that remains in place against Cuba.

But the timing could also depend on factors such as whether Trump fills key Latin America posts at the State Department and elsewhere that remain vacant, sources told Reuters.

The White House considered making a Cuba announcement on May 20 to mark the 115th anniversary of Cuba’s independence, but that coincided with Trump’s overseas trip and the review also was not yet finished, the sources said.