U.S. Expels Two Cuban Diplomats at U.N. 

On September 19, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. had expelled two unnamed Cuban diplomats at the U.N. in New York City “for abusing their privileges of residence. This is due to their attempts to conduct influence operations against the United States.”[1]

In addition, the Department stated, “travel within the United States by all members of Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations will now essentially be restricted to the island of Manhattan.”

The U.S. takes “any and all attempts against the National Security of the United States seriously, and will continue to investigate any additional personnel who may be manipulating their privileges of residence.”

Cuban Reaction[2]

Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded on Twitter. He said, “The expulsion of two diplomats from the #Cuba Mission in the [U.N.] and the greater restriction of movement to the rest are aimed at provoking a diplomatic escalation leading to the closure of bilateral embassies, further tightening the blockade and creating tensions between both countries.”

In addition, Rodriguez said,”I categorically reject the unjustified expulsion of the two officials of the Permanent Mission of #Cuba at the UN and the tightening of movement restriction to diplomats and families. It is vulgar slander to accuse that they performed acts incompatible with diplomatic status.”

The deputy director of the MINREX, Johana Tablada de la Torre, also objected. He said the U.S. “did the same in 2003 behind this measure. It is also expected to coincide with the imminent announcement of the new #Cuba report on the #Blocking [U.S. embargo] to the UN Secretary General, a new distraction from the growing international questioning of political cruelty #EstadosUnidos.”

Cuba Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, tweeted about the expulsion on Thursday. “Timing is everything. This is happening a few hours before the arrival in New York of the #Cuba delegation attending . . . [U.N. General Assembly] and the very same day a new investigation (Canadian) rejects previous theories (American) about ‘attacks’ on foreign diplomats in Havana.”

The Cuba Mission to the U.N. issued a statement that on September 12, the U.S. advised the mission of accusations against the two diplomats and demanded Cuba’s response within 48 hours. Cuba did just that.” However, “the US side, in flagrant violation of basic principles of the diplomatic protocol, decided to respond through a tweet. This, despite the fact that the channel of consultations between the two missions was open from the beginning of the process.”

Upon the two diplomats return to Havana on September 20, Foreign Minister Rodriguez at a press conference did not respond to a journalist’s question of whether Cuba would expel two U.S. diplomats under the principle of reciprocity. Instead Rodriguez said, “Cuba will give appropriate and timely response to these actions of the United States Government and we call on the international community, in particular the diplomatic community accredited to the UN and the people of the United States to repudiate these actions aimed at damaging the relationship with Cuba.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Required Departure of Cuban Diplomats from Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations (Sept. 19, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba: Diplomat Expulsions, Gas Crisis Part of US Offensive, N.Y. Times (Sept. 20, 2019).

[2] Gaouette & Hansler, US expels two Cuban diplomats to the UN citing national security, CNN (Sepet. 19, 2019); Officials expelled from UN mission arrive in Cuba, Cubadebate (Sept. 20, 2019); These are the two Cuban diplomats expelled by the US, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019); Reactionary anti-Cubans: The regime blames its ‘usual suspects’ after the expulsion of its diplomats in the US, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 21, 2019).

 

 

 

 

Canadian Analysis of Medical Problems of Its Diplomats in Cuba

A new study commissioned by the Canadian government concluded that fumigation against mosquitoes in Cuba and not “sonic attacks” may have caused about 40 U.S. and Canadian diplomats and family members in Havana to fall ill.[1]

The researchers for this study said that they had detected different levels of brain damage in an area responsible for memory, concentration and sleep-and-wake cycle and that “there are very specific types of toxins that affect these kinds of nervous systems … and these are insecticides, pesticides, organophosphates — specific neurotoxins.” They then concluded that cholinesterase, a key enzyme required for the proper functioning of the nervous system, was being blocked there.

Some pesticides work by inhibiting that enzyme, the report said, and during the 2016-2018 period when diplomats became ill, normal fumigation in Cuba was stepped up due to the Zika epidemic in the Caribbean. That increased fumigation in and around residences where they lived in Cuba was conducted by both Cuban and Canadian authorities.

The Canadian (and U.S.?) embassies actively sprayed in offices, as well as inside and outside diplomatic residences — sometimes five times more frequently than usual. Many times, spraying operations were carried out every two weeks, according to [Canadian?] embassy records. Toxicological analysis of the Canadian victims confirmed the presence of pyrethroid and organophosphate — two compounds found in fumigation products. There also was a correlation between the individuals most affected by the symptoms and the number of fumigations that were performed at their residence.

The Canadian researchers will now collaborate with Cuban officials to determine whether any Cubans suffered similar brain injuries.

The Canadian study was conducted by a team of researchers affiliated with the Brain Repair Centre at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. In charge was Dr. Alon Friedman, from the Department of Neurosciences and Medical Pediatrics, Dalhousie University, Canada.

Reactions

Cuban experts consider that the hypothesis presented by the Canadian team is a serious attempt to explain the symptoms reported through scientific research, “although it is premature to reach conclusions,” says Doctor of Science Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, General director of the Neurosciences Center of Cuba.

So far no U.S. reactions to this study have been found.

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[1] Friedman, Calkin & Bowen, Havana Syndrome: Neuroanatomical and Neurofunctional Assessment in Acquired Brain Injury Due to Unknown Etiology (May 24, 2019); Reuters, Exposure to neurotoxin may have caused Canadian, U.S. diplomats’ ailments in Cuba, Globe & Mail (Sept. 19, 2019); Havana syndrome: Exposure to neurotoxin may have been cause, CBS News (Sept. 19, 2019); Confirmed: “There is no Havana syndrome caused by mysterious weapons,” Cubadebate (Sept. 16, 2019); Cuban authorities endorse the new theory on the health conditions of diplomats, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 20, 2019). The medical problems of U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba have been discussed in many posts in this blog. (See “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” and “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2019” sections in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

 

 

Guantanamo Bay: The World’s Most Expensive Prison   

According to the New York Times, the U.S. total cost last year of operating the detention facility or prison at Guántanamo Bay, Cuba exceeded $540 million. This consists of the costs of holding the prisoners — including the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — paying for the troops who guard them, running the war court and doing related construction.” This does not include classified expenses, presumably a continued CIA presence in Guantanamo.[1]

With only 40 prisoners now housed there, that means each of them costs the U.S. Government at least $13 million per year.

The U.S. “military assigns around 1,800 troops to the detention center, or 45 for each prisoner. The troops work out of three prison buildings, two top-secret headquarters, at least three clinics and two compounds where prisoners consult their lawyers. Some also stand guard across the base at Camp Justice, the site of the war court and parole board hearing room.”

“The 40 prisoners, all men, get halal food, access to satellite news and sports channels, workout equipment and PlayStations. Those who behave — and that has been the majority for years — get communal meals and can pray in groups, and some can attend art and horticulture classes.”

“The prison’s staff members have their own chapel and cinema, housing, two dining rooms and a team of mental health care workers, who offer comfort dogs.”

In 2013 the Defense Department issued an annual report that said the annual cost of operation Guantanamo Bay was $454.1 million. Moreover, that report “put the total cost of building and operating the prison since 2002 at $5.2 billion through 2014, a figure that now appears to have risen to past $7 billion.”

Conclusion

This blog has published many posts regarding the legal basis for the U.S. use of this part of Cuba (a 1903 lease for use as a “coaling or naval station only, and for no other purpose”), the annual rent paid by the U.S., but not accepted by Cuba ($ 4,085), and the pros and cons of Cuba’s repeated assertion that the U.S. presence in Guantánamo is illegal.

Now the exorbitant U.S. cost of operating these facilities presents another reason why the U.S. should close these facilities and work out an agreement for return of this territory to Cuba, including a ban on Cuba’s letting Russia or another nation occupy and use the facilities.

On September 18 President Donald Trump, in response to a journalist’s question about the expense of operating Guantánamo, said, “I think it’s crazy. It costs a fortune to operate, and I think it’s crazy.” However, he did not say he would consider closing the Guantanamo facility. Instead, he said , “We’re looking at a lot of things.”[2]

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[1] Rosenberg, The Cost of Running Guantánamo Bay: $13 Million Per Prisoner, N.Y. Times (Sept. 17, 2019).

[2] Baker, Trump Says ‘It’s Crazy’ to Spend $13 Million Per Inmate at Guantánamo, N.Y.Times  (Sept. 19, 2019).

 

Japan Implements New Law Allowing Increased Immigration

A prior post discussed Japan’s economic problems created by its aging, declining workforce and population.   In reaction to those problems, Japan has adopted a new law, effective this April, to encourage immigration, but with limitations designed to prevent social and political turmoil that the U.S. and Europe have been experiencing from immigration.[1]

The new law was proposed by Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who made an economic argument for welcoming overseas workers. He has said they would boost the economy and fill jobs that Japanese people often don’t want. However, Mr. Abe “told a group of economic officials and business leaders he has “no intention of implementing a so-called immigration policy,” meaning he didn’t envision setting a target for permanent admissions of immigrants.

Instead, he said, the point was “to aid sectors of the economy in real need by accepting foreign workers for limited stays and without their family members.” Initially only five sectors or industries were proposed for coverage by the new law, but after complaints by other industries, the scope of the program was expanded to 14 industries.

The new visa program requires candidates to prove a basic level of Japanese-language ability. The language requirement is important to foster acceptance of foreign workers and discourage cultural enclaves that could trigger a backlash, said  Junko Yagasaki, a law professor at Meiji University in Tokyo.

In many cases, foreign workers in Japan cannot bring family members and can’t stay longer than five years.  Only in the most labor-starved industries can foreigners secure a path to permanent residency—and the government can cut off the flow if the shortage eases.”

In addition, the new program allows the government to dial back immigration if there is a recession or technological shift that eliminates the need for foreign help. Economists at Mitsubishi Research Institute forecast that Japan’s labor shortage will peak at around two million people next year and gradually fall back to zero around 2028 because of expected advances in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Japan expects to use the new program to admit around 340,000 foreign workers in lower-skilled positions over the next five years. “In the past four years, the number of foreign workers in Japan has nearly doubled to 1.46 million, and the new visa system promises to accelerate the influx.”

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[1] Gale & Davis, The Great Immigration Experiment: Can a Country Let People in Without Stirring Backlash?, W.S.J. (Sept. 11, 2019).

 

Cuba Struggling with Energy Shortages     

On September 11, after several days of marked cutbacks on public transportation, Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel warned on national television that Cuba was facing an immediate energy crisis due to lack of diesel fuel. As a result, he said, “There may be problems with the distribution of products that depend on diesel-fueled transport, in public transport and in energy generation, which we’re trying to take measures to avoid.”[1]

 The Cuban Government’s Initial Comments on the Shortages

In those September 11 remarks, the President recognized problems with the supply of fuels that have caused the congestion of the bus stops, but insisted that it is a “short-term” situation and called the Cubans, tired of going through moments of this type, to see it as ” a workout.” “We have a strategy to win. Beauty is in the challenging situations … what happens is convenient.”

He also called for “sharing the promotion of savings as a practice of life and altruism as an attitude to the lack of fuel.” Likewise, to “confront with rigor and firmness manifestations of crime associated with the diversion of resources, and to the possible opportunistic attitude with which certain people may behave in the middle of this situation (…) raising prices, monopolizing products or speculating.”

There was no new “special period,” Diaz-Canel said, even though “there may be tense situations in the distribution of some products and the provision of services to the population in the coming days.” Now, however, “we have strengths that didn’t exist [in the 1990s] and that draws a qualitatively different scenario.” However, according to Diario de Cuba, the following “new strengths” are distrusted by the Cuban people: the “economic and social development strategy” of the [Communist Party of Cuba],” the “conceptualization of the economic and social model,” the “basis for the elaboration of the economic and social plan to 2030 and to keep moving forward” and the new Constitution.

This shortage will continue until the expected September 14 arrival of a tanker with diesel fuel and then another shipment at the end of the month. Contracts for October shipments are being negotiated.

A related problem was the negative impact on Cuban imports of food.

The government officials blamed the U.S. for this shortage. The U.S., they said, persists in “trying to prevent the arrival of fuel to Cuba” and applying “unilateral measures to limit our contracts with shipping companies that deliver resources to Cuba.” Some of these shipping companies have ceased to provide this service.

The government officials  also pointed out that Cuba produces about 40 percent of its demand for petroleum that is uses to operate its thermoelectric plants.

Díaz-Canel concluded his address with these words, “These are times of Fatherland or Death.”

Only the preceding day (September 10) Diaz-Canel held a public meeting to discuss the status of projects to construct and maintain the country’s roads. He said the government intended to spend more than 174  million pesos on such projects by 2020. Such efforts this year had been adversely affected by lack of fuel and cement and limited financial resources.

The Cuban Government’s Other Comments on the Shortages[2]

 On September 12, President Diaz-Canel again appeared on television to comment on the shortage. He said, with a laugh, “”Now we have to go tighter.” After the prior announcement of the shortage, he has “received revolutionary feelings, support, understanding . . . [that] is more than a fuel supertanker can contribute.” People express “concerns,” but few “dissatisfactions.” There is “enthusiasm,” especially “among young people,” with the call for “austerity” and “solidarity.”

The next day, Friday, “Cubans queued for hours for public transport on Friday at peak times in Havana, sweating in the heavy heat, while queues at gas stations snaked several blocks long, as a fuel shortage that the government blames on U.S. sanctions began to bite.” In addition, government inspectors “flagged down workers with state cars or trucks to get them to pick others up.” An ordinary 55-year-old Cuban, Alexei  Perez Recio, said, “The transport situation is getting ugly, even if the state says it is only temporary” as he was fixing up his bicycle he had not used since the Special Period. “I have to have (my bike) ready.”

Reactions[3]

 An editorial in Diario de Cuba, which is a website from Madrid, Spain, complained about the Cuban government’s again blaming the U.S. embargo for the island’s ills, not “the lack of foresight of the Cuban Government, nor its profound inefficiency or the failed system it defends.”

The Government’s solution, according to this editorial, was to reprogram trains, ask the people to squeeze together on the buses and seek solidarity from the citizens.

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[1] Diaz-Canel evaluates the progress of economic programs in Cuba, Cubadebate (Sept. 10, 2019); Assoc. Press, Cuba’s President Warns That Energy Cutbacks Are Looming, N.Y. Times (Sept, 11, 2019); Cuban President announces measures to deal with conjunctural fuel shortage, Granma (Sept. 12, 2019); Havanans support government measures to face energy situation, Cubadebate (Sept. 12, 2019); ‘We have to endure, it’s a few days’: Diaz-Canel minimizes the fuel crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019); Cubans warned of imminent severe fuel crisis due to US sanctions, BBC News (Sept. 12, 2019).

[2] ‘We have to endure, it’s a few days’: Diaz-Canel minimizes the fuel crisis in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019); Gamez Torres, Cuban leader blames Trump for oil shortages, announces more austerity measures, Miami Herald (Sept. 12, 2019); Diaz-Canel: ‘Now we have to go tighter, ’Diario de Cuba (Sept. 13, 2019); Reuters, Cuba’s Acute Fuel Shortage Begins to Bite, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2019).

[3] Editorial: What the Round Table explained about the ‘conjuncture’ in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 13, 2019).

 

Implications for Cuba of Dismissal/Resignation of John Bolton as U.S. National Security Advisor 

While acting as National Security Advisor, John Bolton was a strong advocate for U.S. hostility towards Cuba.[1] His dismissal on September 10 [2] raised the hope that this might lead to the U.S. backing away from at least some of these hostile policies.

Those hopes apparently were unjustified.[3]

On September 12, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted, “Just spoke to [President Trump] on #Venezuela. It’s true he disagreed with some of the views of previous advisor [John Bolton]. But as he reminded me it’s actually the DIRECT OPPOSITE of what many claim or assume. If in fact the direction of policy changes it won’t be to make it weaker.”

This was confirmed by the President in his tweet later the same day: “In fact, my views on Venezuela, and especially Cuba, were far stronger than those of John Bolton. He was holding me back!”

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[1] E.g., John Bolton’s New Threat Against Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Apr. 2, 2019); National Security Advisor Bolton Discusses New U.S. Sanctions Against Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (April 19, 2019).

[2] Baker, Trump Ousts John Bolton as National Security Advisor, N.Y. Times (Sept. 10, 2019).

[3] Rubio, Tweet (Sept. 12, 2019); Trump, Tweet (Sept. 12, 2019); Trump: My views on Venezuela and Cuba were stronger than those of John Bolton, Cubadebate (Sept. 13, 2019).

 

 

 

Cuba and European Union Draw Closer Together 

On September 9 in Havana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, pledged the EU’s help for development of Cuba’s economy.[1]

At a joint press conference with Cuba Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, Mogherini said, “The EU is Cuba’s top commercial partner and investor, and we have tripled cooperation in the last two years.” She also said the EU would continue to offer financial support for Cuba’s economic reforms that would encourage foreign investment on the island.

She noted that  the two countries already held bilateral talks on topics such as sustainable development and human rights within the framework of the 2017 Political Dialogue and Cooperation pact. She said, “We have also continued the dialogue on the situation in the region and cooperation, on Venezuela in particular.”

There also was discussion of the U.S. intensification of its embargo (blockade) against Cuba, and its extraterritorial effects.

Earlier Mogherini, met with Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel. She was accompanied by the EU Ambassador to Cuba, Alberto Navarro; the Chief of Staff of the EU’s High Representative, Stefano Grassi; and the director for the Americas, Edita Hrda. Diaz-Canel was accompanied by Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; its General Director of Bilateral Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, Emilio Lozada García; and the Cuban Ambassador to the European Union, Norma Goicochea Estenoz.

Last week the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPAC) and CubaDecide called for national protests on Sunday (September 8) against the conference with the EU, and on Sunday Cuban officials arrested more than 100 people who were planning to hold such a protest to demand a stronger EU stance on Cuba violations of human rights. Another Cuban group, the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba (PDC-Cuba), called on the EU to denounce Cuba’s violations of human rights and democratic freedoms. In addition, almost 400 activists sent a letter to Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs commending its criticisms of Cuba’s human rights abuses.

After Mogherini’s visit to Cuba, two Cuban opposition groups– Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba (ASIC) and the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba (GIRSCC)—leveled denunciations of Mogherini’s statements on the island. They said, “It is outrageous to see this commissioner throwing flattery at the Castro dictatorship – one of the bloodiest and most repressive in the world, which for 60 years has violated, cruelly and systematically, the most elementary and precious rights of its population – at a time when that suffocates with renewed commitment to Cuban democratic dissent.”

Moreover, the two groups said, “We still do not understand, otherwise, how the commissioner, in her repeated trips to Cuba, has never approached the organized political expressions of the democratic opposition, not even a single opponent victim of oppressive actions of the dictatorship.”

These two groups recalled that “coinciding with their arrival in Cuba, State Security forces violently broke into the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), in Santiago de Cuba, arresting 22 of its militants and confiscating all documentary material and solidarity that was in that center.” Moreover, they said that this year “the actions of harassment, trials and arbitrary detentions against independent trade union activists and their families have become even more cruel and systematic, with the aim of suppressing ASIC and arresting its main leaders.”

Conclusion

The increased EU-Cuba economic collaboration is one of the consequences of the U.S. continuing embargo (blockade) of the island and the various Trump Administration’s policies and actions hostile to Cuba. In short, these U.S. policies and actions are also hostile to U.S. economic interests.

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[1] Acosta, Marsh & Osterman, EU stresses support for Cuba even as U.S. hikes sanctions, Reuters (Sept. 9, 2019); Diaz-Canel received Federica Mogherini, Cubadebate (Sept. 9, 2019); Federica Mogherini: the Government of Cuba ‘is a key partner for us,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Bruno Rodríguez and Mogherini tie loose ends before the Cuba-European Union Council, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Cuban organizations call on the EU to denounce the omission of Havana’s commitments, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); The EU must demand from Havana the same conduct as the rest of its member states: OCDH, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); More than 30 activists released, ‘some of them very beaten,’ denounces UNPACU, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019);Brussels offers Havana more financing to accompany the ‘update’ of its economy, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 10, 2019); Second Cuba- European Union Joint Council held in Havana, Granma (Sept. 11, 2019); Organizations consider Mogherini’s ‘outrageous’ statements in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019).