U.S. Needs Immigration To Keep Growing and Maintain Prosperity

A new report by the U.S. Census Bureau examines the impact of different levels of immigration on the growth, age and racial diversity of the U.S. work force.[1]

The report concedes, “International migration is difficult to project because political and economic conditions are nearly impossible to anticipate, yet factor heavily into migration movements into and out of a country. While we make no attempt to predict future policy or economic cycles, we do recognize the uncertainty surrounding migration and the impact that different migration outcomes could have on the future population.” Therefore, the Bureau “produced three alternate sets of projections that use the same methodology and assumptions for fertility, mortality, and emigration but differ in the levels of immigration that they assume: high, low, and zero immigration.”

The report’s summary stated, “Higher international immigration over the next four decades would produce a faster growing, more diverse, and younger population for the United States. In contrast, an absence of migration into the country over this same period would result in a U.S. population that is smaller than the present.”

“Beyond influencing the number of people in the population, immigration patterns over the next four decades will also shape the racial and ethnic composition of the population. In 2016, Asians were the fastest-growing racial group in the nation, and immigration was the primary driver behind the growth in this group. If immigration increases, the Asian alone population could grow by as much as 162 percent between 2016 and 2060 and go from 5.7 percent of the total U.S. population to 10.8 percent. The future size of this population is particularly sensitive to immigration. Under a scenario with no immigration, the Asian alone population in the United States would decline over time, representing just 4.5 percent of the total population in 2060.”

“Regardless of immigration, the population is expected to continue to age between now and 2060. Low fertility rates coupled with large cohorts of baby boomers reaching their ‘golden years’ are expected to shift the age distribution of the population so that the share of the population aged 65 and older exceeds the share of the population under the age of 18. The timing of this shift, however, will vary depending on the amount of immigration that occurs. High immigration levels will delay this milestone more than a decade relative to scenarios with lower levels of migration.”

“Over the next four decades, the population is expected to increase from its 2016 level in two out of the three alternative scenarios. In the high scenario, the population will increase by 124 million, reaching 447 million in 2060. In the low scenario, the 2060 population is projected to be 376 million, representing an increase of 53 million people. Under a zero immigration scenario, the population is projected to increase until 2035, at which point the population would peak at 333 million. After that, the population is projected to decline through 2060, when it could reach a low of 320 million.”

“The share of the population that is White alone is projected to decline in all scenarios of population projections between 2016 and 2060. For the high, middle, and low scenarios, the number of residents classified as White alone actually increases from the 2016 values, but these increases are outpaced by increases in the other racial and ethnic groups. “

“The population aged 65 and older is projected to surpass the population under the age of 18 in size in all immigration scenarios. The date at which this occurs is earliest in the zero immigration scenario (2029), followed by the low immigration scenario (2031), and then the high (2045). By 2030, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be aged 65 and older. In the high scenario, this milestone is reached in 2028. For the low scenario, it occurs in 2026; and in 2025 for the zero scenario.”

Conclusion

William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, reviewed the report and concluded, “We desperately need immigration to  keep our country growing  and prosperous.The reason we have a good growth rate in comparison to other developed countries in the world is because we’ve had robust immigration for the last 30 to 40 years.”

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[1]  U.S. Census Bureau, A Changing Nation: Population Projections Under Alternative Migration Scenarios (Feb. 13, 2020); Lang, U.S. population will decline faster without steady immigration, Census report says, Wash. Post (Feb. 13, 2020). 

Immigrants Come to America to Work

This is the title of a column by Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal. He concludes that indeed immigrants do come to work, not to go on the dole. He cites several reasons for this conclusion.[1]

First, they do not go to the states with the most generous public benefits like New York and California. Instead, the Brookings Institution’s analysis of census data, between 2010 and 2018 shows that “the five states with the fastest-growing foreign-born populations are North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Delaware and Iowa.” During that same period, South Dakota’s immigrant population grew by 58.2% while New York’s by only 3.5%.

Second, in 2018 the percentage of U.S. workers who were foreign-born reached its highest level since 1996 while its unemployment rate was 3.5%. versus 4% for the native-born. And the labor participation rate for the foreign-born was slightly higher, 65.7% versus 62.3%.This has occurred during a period of record low unemployment, contrary to the concern that immigrants were displacing the native-born.

Third, according to the libertarian Cato Institute, “the native-born make use of means-tested welfare and entitlement programs at significantly higher rates than their foreign-born counterparts.” Moreover, “immigrants are less likely to consume welfare benefits and, when they do, they generally consume a lower dollar value of benefits than native born Americans.”

Fourth, “the assumption that people who arrive poor will stay that way is ahistorical. Immigrants are self-selecting. The poorest of the poor can’t afford the trip, and the ones who do come tend to be more motivated and less risk-averse than nonimmigrants.”

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[1] Riley, Immigrants Come to America to Work, W.S.J. (Jan. 28, 2020).

 

Minnesota’s Challenges of Declining, Aging Population

Minnesota has an aging, declining population coupled with shortages of skilled and other labor, as discussed in prior posts.[1] Here is additional information on that subject along with words about the problems of shortages of medical care in rural parts of the nation and the challenges of having more immigrants.

Skilled Labor Shortages[2]

As of September 30, 2019, “the number of job vacancies in Minnesota continues to climb and is now at the highest total on record — which state officials said continues to be of concern because it could slow economic growth. . . . More than half of the job vacancies were in the seven-county Twin Cities area. . . . While most of the openings statewide are in the health care and social assistance field, nearly 8% are in manufacturing.”

These shortages have led to employers expanding “job candidate lists to include older workers, people with disabilities, people of color and other groups sometimes marginalized from good-paying jobs.”

Other responses to these shortages include employers busing metro-area residents to companies in smaller nearby cities, buying houses to rent to new employees, investing in apartment buildings for renting to the newcomers, engaging in social media campaigns about the companies and their towns, designing high school courses for needed job skills, and sponsoring social activities for newcomers.

Warning signs of a downturn in the U.S. and Minnesota economy, however, threaten this demand for more skilled and other labor. On October 1, a report showed that nationwide factory activity in September fell to the lowest level since 2009, the last month of the Great Recession. As a result, some economists now consider the manufacturing sector to be in a recession. This  follows months of worrying earnings and other economic reports that signaled slowing economies around the world and heightened pressures as U.S. factories scrambled to deal with the shortage of skilled workers and the fallout from a volatile trade war with China.

Creighton University’s Economic Forecasting Group, which measures activity in Minnesota and eight other states including the Dakota, said through its Director, Ernie Goss, “Based on the last two months of surveys of manufacturing supply managers, both the U.S. and Mid-America economies are likely to move even lower in the months ahead.”  The probability of a recession during the first half of 2020 has “risen significantly” over the past few months.

Another expert, Thomas Simons, senior money market economist at Jefferies LLC, said that the Mid-America economy has been expanding in 2019 at a pace well below that of the nation and that  recent reports were “troubling,” “weaker than expected” and dragged down by “non-organic forces” such as the trade war and Boeing’s grounding of its entire fleet of 737 Max Jets. . .  Manufacturing itself is in a recession, but it does not mean that the overall economy is in a recession.” These thoughts were echoed by Tom Hainlin, national investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis: “Easily the biggest issue that [manufacturing executives] talk about is trade. . . . The manufacturers are not just worried about the trade war between the Trump administration and China, but also unresolved trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, Germany’s weak economy and unfinished U.S. trade policies that affect Europe’s auto industry.”

Another bit of negative news came on October 1 when the World Trade Organization slashed its forecast for trade growth for this year and next. World trade in merchandise is now expected to expand by only 1.2 percent during 2019, in what would be the weakest year since 2009, when it plunged by nearly 13 percent in the midst of the worst global financial crisis since the Great Depression. The W.T.O. warned that intensifying trade conflicts posed a direct threat to jobs and livelihoods, while discouraging companies from expanding and innovating.

In response to this new negative news, global stock markets declined on October 1 and 2.

Medical Care Shortages [3]

Rural areas in Minnesota and other states also are facing shortages of primary-care physicians and other doctors. “In the medical desert that has become rural America, nothing is more basic or more essential than access to doctors, but they are increasingly difficult to find. The federal government now designates nearly 80 percent of rural America as ‘medically underserved.’ It is home to 20 percent of the U.S. population but fewer than 10 percent of its doctors, and that ratio is worsening each year because of what health experts refer to as “the gray wave.” Rural doctors are three years older than urban doctors on average, with half over 50 and more than a quarter beyond 60. Health officials predict the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade as the number of urban doctors remains flat.”

One example of this shortage is the State of Texas, where “159 of the state’s 254 counties have no general surgeons, 121 counties have no medical specialists, and 35 counties have no doctors at all. Thirty more counties are each forced to rely on just a single doctor.”

A related problem is the closure of at least 113 rural hospitals in the U.S. since 2010. It, therefore, should not be surprising that “elderly patients are more likely to die when the nearest rural hospital closes and they have to travel farther for treatment of time-sensitive conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, according to a study by a new University of Minnesota health economist.” This study also invalidates  the theory that rural patients might do better after a hospital closes because they would travel farther for higher-quality care.

 Challenges of More Immigrants [4]

The Minnesota city of Worthington has been cited in this blog as an example of a city that has successfully welcomed and integrated immigrants. Its “population has surged from fewer than 10,000 in 1990 to more than 13,000 today and its residents expect it to exceed 14,000 in the near future with immigrants constituting roughly one-third of the population.  And the median age is under 36.”

“Some of the [Worthington] immigrants are entrepreneurs, who described the difficulties they had in getting their businesses started and frustration over lack of stores with their favorite foods and police forces still almost exclusively locally born white people. But they still expressed optimism about their future in this community.”

Worthington had recently been visited by “Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. At a community meeting in the town he said, “If you do the math, there are three choices we have as a society. One choice is just accept slower growth. A second choice is to subsidize [human] fertility. Or number three, you can embrace immigration. Now the advantage we have in the U.S. is that, while we are not perfect, we are better than just about any other country at embracing immigrants and integrating them in our society.”

More recently, the Washington Post published a critical article about this small city as it struggles to meet the educational needs of the children of these immigrants and the costs of doing so.

This article reports that in the past six years, more than 400 unaccompanied minors have been placed in Worthington’s . . .[county]— the second most per capita in the country. . . . Their arrival has helped swell Worthington’s student population by almost one-third, forcing administrators to convert storage space into classrooms and teachers to sprint between periods, book carts in tow.” As a consequence, “the number of ELL [English language learner] students in Worthington has nearly doubled since 2013, to 35 percent of students. In the high school, where most unaccompanied minors are placed, it has almost tripled.”

In response, the Worthington school district has “scrambled to hire Spanish-speaking teachers, who are part educators, part parents, part therapists. Many unaccompanied minors live with unfamiliar relatives who offer little support. Teachers often fill the void, arriving early, staying late, even buying their students groceries.”

To meet this challenge, the school district over the last five years has “asked residents to approve an expansion of its schools to handle the surge in enrollment. Five times, the voters have refused” with another scheduled this Fall. According to this article, “The driving force [in this Trump-supporting county]behind the defeats has been a handful of white farmers,’ who provide a major portion of its tax base. One activist said, ““White people here don’t want to pay for people of color and undocumented children to go to school.”

The Executive Director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Veena Iyer, disagreed  with the Washington Post article. She said, “Immigrants keep Worthington strong, growing, and working — and many residents welcome them. The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota has worked in Worthington for more than a decade. We have seen many residents respond with welcome arms and generosity as one wave of immigrants after another arrived. This century’s immigrants reversed a decline in population and prosperity that threatened Worthington and that still characterizes too many rural communities. . . . These immigrants come from Guatemala and Mexico, and also from Laos, Myanmar and Ethiopia. In all, they come from 80 different countries and speak more than 40 languages. They are young — with an average age of 36 — and hardworking. Immigrants make large contributions to the local economy and help make Worthington a vibrant and dynamic community. . . . Immigrants remain a crucial part of Worthington’s past, its present and its hope for the future.”

The Washington Post article, however, spurred Michele Bachmann, the former Republican member of the House of Representatives from a district north of the Twin Cities and far away from Worthington, to write an article in the leading newspaper of the State, lamenting the “ideological civil war” in the town created by the immigrants’ causing “significant social disruption and severely strain[ing] local resources.”

Bachmann’s article prompted a letter to the editor from a former senior vice president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, who voiced three criticisms of Bachmann. First, she failed to recognize that immigrants pay state and federal income and payroll taxes, sales taxes when they shop and real estate taxes whether they are homeowners or renters. Second, she also failed to recognize that immigrants “are significant contributors to the development and growth of our economy.” They “start businesses and help existing ones to grow” and replace “our retiring baby boomer workforce.” Third, she failed to suggest “ways to redesign [our broken immigration system] to support 21st century community growth and the development of our economy.”

 Impact of Lower Immigration Numbers [5]

The latest data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Service indicates that the net increase of immigrants in the U.S. population “dropped to almost 200,000 people in 2018, a decline of more than 70 percent from the prior year.” According to the Chief Demographer at the Brookings Institution, William Frey, said this “was likely caused to a more restrictive approach by the Trump administration.”

Mr. Frey also pointed out that of the 14 states with the lowest concentrations of foreign-born people, 12 voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. In half of those 12 states, Asians dominated recent immigrant gains and in 10 of those states, immigrants are more likely than native-born residents to hold bachelor’s degrees.

Another expert, David Bier of the Cato Institute, observed, “It’s remarkable. This is something that really hasn’t happened since the Great Recession. This should be very concerning to the administration that its policies are scaring people away.”

Also favoring more U.S. immigration was the Chair of the Latino Donor Collaborative, Sol Trujillo, who said if  “the U.S. Latino population were an independent economy, its gross domestic product would be the fastest-growing among the world’s developed economies. U.S. Latino GDP is now $2.3 trillion, as detailed in a new report that estimates the group’s economic output by measuring their share across 71 industries.” Continued growth of the U.S. economy requires the continued growth of Latino immigration to counteract the decline in U.S. labor-force growth.

In addition, Trujillo says, “Latinos also strengthen the economy by creating jobs. Latino entrepreneurs produce more than $700 billion annually. And as Latinos in the U.S. have become wealthier, they increasingly contribute to the economy as consumers. They account for nearly 30% of America’s growth in real income. With that comes purchasing power, and from 2010-17 real consumption by Latinos in the U.S. grew 72% faster than the rest of the population.”

Trujillo continues. “The U.S. needs an immigration policy focused on recruiting people who are ready to work in every sort of job, who have demonstrated an exemplary work ethic, and who have become essential workers in many industries.” This requires “comprehensive reform of immigration laws and policies.”

Conclusion

Once again, Minnesota and other states with aging, declining population need more immigrants. The Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions are contrary to the U.S. national interest and need to be abolished as soon as possible.

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[1] E.g., Minnesota Facing Slowdown in Labor Force Growth, dwkcommentaries.com (September 3, 2019); Rural Minnesota Endeavoring To Attract Younger People, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 2, 2019).

[2] DePass, Job vacancies in Minnesota rise again, StarTribune (September 30, 2019); Forgrave, Worker shortage sparks Minnesota businesses to think outside the box, StarTribune (Sept. 29, 2019); DePass, Manufacturing in Minnesota slumps but faring better than nation as a whole, StarTribune (Oct. 1, 2019); Goodman, Global Trade Is Deteriorating Fast, Sapping the World’s Economy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 1, 2019); Tsang, Stocks Slide as Investors Face New Evidence of a Slowdown, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2019); Bernhard & Vigna, U.S. Stocks Drop on Worries About Growth, W.S.J. (Oct. 2, 2019) .

[3]  Saslow, ‘Out here, it’s just me;’ In the medical desert of rural America, one doctor for 11,000 miles, Wash. Post (Sept. 28, 2019); Olson, Deaths rise after hospitals close, StarTribune (Sept. 29, 2019).

[4]  Outstate Minnesota City Aided by Immigrants, dwkcommentaries (Aug. 5, 2018); Miller, Immigrant kids fill this town’s schools. Their bus driver is leading the backlash, Wash. Post (Sept. 22, 2019); Iyer, Immigrants make our community stronger, StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2019); Bachmann, Washington Post article shows that open borders rip our towns apart, StarTribune (Sept. 26, 2019); Letters re Bachmann, Star Tribune (Sept. 30, 2019);

 

[5] Tavernise, Immigrant Population Growth in the U.S. Slows to a Trickle, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2019); Trujillo, Latino Workers Save America From Stagnation, W.S>J. (Sept. 25, 2019).

 

 

Major Difficulties in Reinvigorating U.S. Rural Areas

As previously discussed in this blog, most rural areas of the U.S. have aging, declining population. Therefore, this blog has advocated for increasing immigration and having these immigrants settle in the small and medium-size towns in these areas.[1]

However, Eduardo Porter, an economics writer for the New York Times, presents persuasive reasons why  reinvigorating these rural areas has been and will be very difficult.[2]

He starts by pointing out that for the last 25 years the 60 million people now living on farms and in hamlets and small towns have experienced “relentless economic decline” in terms of median income and population along with an increase in median age. Moreover, their share of U.S. population and income are shrinking while crime and opioid abuse are increasing. The result is “intensifying ruralization of distress,” with “distress”  measured “as a combination of data ranging from joblessness and poverty to abandoned homes and educational attainment.” Indeed, he says, “These days, economic growth bypasses rural economies.”

Although many ideas have surfaced on how to address and alleviate these problems, Porter is very doubtful that they will be successful.

The primary reason is “the inescapable reality of agglomeration, one of the most powerful forces shaping the American economy over the last three decades. Innovative companies choose to locate where other successful, innovative companies are. That’s where they can find lots of highly skilled workers. The more densely packed these pools of talent are, the more workers can learn from each other and the more productive they become. This dynamic feeds on itself, drawing more high-tech firms and highly skilled workers to where they already are.”

Therefore, he endorses a suggestion in a Brookings Institution report that any effort to address the problems of rural America should “focus on middle-sized places that are near big tech hubs and have some critical infrastructure, rather than scatter assistance all over the landscape.”

Another suggestion is to help rural residents relocate to prosperous cities and, therefore, focus on developing affordable housing in these cities.

Moreover, not all cities are equal in this regard. A Wall Street Journal article asserts, “Technology is creating an economy in which superstar employees work for superstar firms that gather them into superstar cities, leading to a stark geographic concentration of wealth.[3] The article cites to a study by the Brookings Institution that created an index of every metro area in the U.S.  according to the extent to which their workers use computers in their jobs (their digitalization), Those indices resulted in the following list of superstar cities:

  San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.

  California-Lexington Park, Md.

  Huntsville, Ala.

  Boulder, Colo.

  Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C.

  Trenton, N.J.

 Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va.-Md.-W.Va.

 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, Mass.-N.H.

  Austin-Round Rock, Texas

  San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.

  Ann Arbor, Mich.

  Salt Lake City, Utah

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[1] See the posts listed in the “U.S. Population & Immigration”  section in List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: United States (POLITICS).

[2]  Porter, The Hard Truths of Trying to ‘Save’ the Rural Economy, N.Y. Times (Dec. 14, 2018).

[3] Mims, Where You Should Move to Make the Most Money: America’s Superstar Cities, W.S.J. (Dec. 15, 2018).

Small Chance of Liberalized U.S. Rules for Agricultural Exports to Cuba  

The U.S.-China trade war initiated by the Trump Administration has had a significant negative impact on U.S. agricultural exports to that country. In response, some U.S. senators and representatives have been pressing for relaxation of U.S. restrictions on such exports to Cuba. These advocates include Senators Heidi Heitkamp (Dem., ND), Amy Klobuchar (Dem., MN) and Tine Smith (Dem., MN)  and Representatives Collin Peterson (Dem., MN) and Tom Emmer, (Rep., MN). [1]

In addition, a bipartisan group of over 60 agricultural associations, businesses and elected officials from 17 states have urged the two congressional agriculture committees to include in the pending farm bills a provision to remove restrictions on private financing of U.S. agricultural exports to the island. [2]

This week Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel in New York City for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly met separately with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (Dem., OR), Rep. Karen Bass (Dem., CA), Rep. Kathy Castor (Dem., FL), Rep. Robin Kelly (Dem., IL) Rep. Gregory Meeks (Dem., NY) and Rep. Roger Marshall (Rep., KA). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.”

But legislation to expand such exports by allowing credit sales to Cuba did not make it into the pending farm bills in both houses of the Congress, and most observers and participants think chances are nil of such a provision being added. And Senator Heitkamp’s provision in the Senate bill to allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use federal funds to develop the Cuban market could easily be cut from the bill in a conference committee.

The reason has more to do with politics than economics, according to Ted Piccone, a specialist in Latin American issues at the Brookings Institution. “It basically comes down to domestic politics in Florida,” Piccone said.

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[1] Spencer, Little appetite for effort to bolster ag trade with Cuba, StarTribune (Sept. 21, 2018).

[2] Engage Cuba, Agriculture Groups Support Farm Bill Cuba Provision that Would Save $690 Million (Sept. 5, 2018).

Criticism of Cuba’s New Regulations for Private Enterprise

Cuba’s 126 pages of new regulations for private enterprise (cuentapropistas), which were published on July 10, have been criticized by U.S. economist Richard Feinberg, a professor at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy and a Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He calls them “the revenge of the bureaucrats,” who are jealous of those in the private sector who are making much more money than employees of struggling state enterprises.[1]

The new regulations contain details about potential violations, penalties and fines, oversight and performance requirements. For example, an operator of a private day-care facility must devote at least 21.5 square feet per child plus provide a detailed inventory of personal toiletry items.

These regulations also are designed to virtually guarantee that most private businesses will not grow beyond 20 employees. For example, once a private employer hires more than 20 employees, the 21st employee must be paid six times the average wage for the first 20 employees.

In short, private enterprise is fine so long as they “don’t get too rich, diversify their businesses, open branches, try to evade taxes, resort to the black market, or provide too much competition to the state sector.” Indeed, a major motivation for the regulations is to halt growing inequities between ordinary Cubans and those in the private sector.

Moreover, the new regulations do not allow “for white-collar professionals to work for themselves, . . . private entrepreneurs to directly import for their businesses, and there is no recognition of their businesses as legal entities” and no provision for the creation of wholesale markets for the private sector.

These criticisms of the regulations were echoed in a  recent Cuban public opinion poll carried out by the CubaData Project with a team of academics from Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela. 87.6% believe that Cuban professionals should be able to establish businesses and businesses within their professions. In addition, a high percentage of those surveyed believe other political parties should be permitted and that the election of the island’s president should be direct.[2]

==============================

[1] Whitefield, New Cuba regulations for private enterprise on the island have a long list of don’ts, Miami Herald (Aug. 2, 2018). See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Cuba Announces New Regulations for Private Business (July 10, 2018); More Details on New Cuban Regulations for Private Business (July 11, 2018); Comment: Yet More Details on Cuba’s New Regulations for Private Business (July 13, 2018).

[2]  Survey: Cubans want more autonomy for their business, political pluralism and elect president, Diario de Cuba (July 30, 2018).

Continued Official Uncertainty Over Cause of Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba     

There has been lots of news over the U.S. diplomats with medical problems from serving in Cuba. But there is still official uncertainty over the cause of those problems and resulting cooler Cuba relations with the U.S. and warmer relations with Russia.

U.S. Trying To Hide the Attacks?[1]

CBS News on October 10 reported that one of the 22 U.S. diplomats who has suffered from purported “sonic attacks” in Cuba had asserted that the U.S. was trying to hide the attacks.

In addition, this individual reportedly told CBS that the attacks had happened at the Embassy itself, their Havana quarters and hotels, that the State Department “pressured” some U.S. embassy officials who had been injured to remain on the island and “waited too long” to withdraw personnel and that the initial treatment by doctors in Havana and at the University of Miami Hospital in the U.S. was “superficial and incomplete.”

The State Department denied these allegations later the same day.[2] Its Spokesperson, Heather Nauert, at a press briefing, said, “We have an ongoing investigation that’s being spearheaded out of the [U.S.] with our best investigators on that, so they continue to move ahead with that investigation. We still don’t know who is responsible and we still don’t know what is responsible for the injuries of our American staff.” (Emphasis added.)

Pressed by other reporters about the above comments by one of the victims and by the Department’s recent identification of only two Havana hotels where some of the attacks occurred, Nauert said the following:

  • “I was just speaking with one of our colleagues who served down there in Cuba and is recently back here in the [U.S.]. And I asked this person that very question: ‘How do you feel that we responded?’ And I’ve asked numerous of my colleagues that very question. . . . [W]e all care deeply about how our folks are doing down there. And I asked the question, ‘Do you feel supported by us? Do you feel that we were quick enough to respond?’ And the answer I got back was ‘yes.’ . . . it took a while to put this together, because the symptoms were so different.”
  • “But this person said to me once we figured out a pattern, . . . the State Department was extremely responsive. This person said to me that they . . . never felt the pressure to stay in Cuba, although they wanted to make it clear that they wanted to serve down there. These folks love what they’re doing, they feel a real dedication to . . .our mission down there in Cuba, the activities that they were involved with on behalf of the U.S. Government with local Cubans, and they were encouraged by the State Department to come forward, please get tested if you feel like you’ve had some sort of symptoms or something.”
  • “I don’t have the actual timeline in front of me that lays out when attacks took place at different locations, and I’m not even sure that that is something that we’re making public. But once we started to figure out what this was all about and started to investigate and realized that we were not able to protect our people, that’s when the Secretary made [the decision to reduce U.S. personnel at the Embassy in Havana].”

U.S. Government Statements About the Attacks and Relations with Cuba

On October 12 White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, provided a very unusual press briefing. Unusual because the chief of staff rarely, if ever, provides such a briefing. The apparent major reason for the briefing was to provide a platform for him to deny that he was quitting or being fired as chief of staff. In addition, in response to a reporter’s question, Kelly stated, “We believe that the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats.”  But he provided no bases for that belief and was not challenged with additional questions by the journalists.[3] (Emphases added.)

Later that same day Kelly’s comment was interpreted (or qualified) by the State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, who said, “General Kelly, when he said we believe that they can stop the attacks, I think what he was referring to was, one, we have the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations]. And under the Vienna Convention, . . . the Government of Cuba, has a responsibility to ensure the safety of our diplomatic staff. That didn’t happen. But there’s also another well-known fact, and that is that in a small country like Cuba, where the government is going to know a lot of things that take place within its borders, they may have more information than we are aware of right now.”[4] (Emphases added.)

The next day, October 13, President Trump addressed the 2017 Values Voter Summit.  It included the following comment: “We’re confronting rogue regimes from Iran to North Korea and we are challenging the communist dictatorship of Cuba and the socialist oppression of Venezuela. And we will not lift the sanctions on these repressive regimes until they restore political and religious freedom for their people.”[5] (Emphases added.)

Two days earlier (October 11) Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech at a National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. in which he referred to meeting people from the Cuban communities here in the U.S., and had seen “the spirit of the Cuban exile community in this country firsthand.” On that same day, the Vice President continued. “President Trump announced a new policy to ensure that U.S. dollars will no longer prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the Cuban people. Under this administration, it will always be “Que viva Cuba libre![6] (Emphases added.)

Sound Recording[7]

The Associated Press obtained an audio recording of what some of the U.S. personnel in Cuba heard.  Says the AP, 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 AP adds that it has “reviewed several recordings from Havana taken under different circumstances, and all have variations of the same high-pitched sound.”

Similar Problems at U.S. Embassy in Moscow, 1953-1976[8]

The BBC reports that in May 1953 U.S. officials at the Moscow embassy detected a microwave frequency that oscillated above the upper floors at certain times, sometimes up to eight hours a day, and that autumn some embassy workers felt inexplicably ill. At first it was dizziness, palpitations, headaches, blood pressure too high or too low. But no one understood what was happening.

In 1962, those who were still there or even those who had already left had more severe symptoms: sudden cataracts, alterations in blood tests or chromosomes. In 1965 the U.S. began what was known as the “Moscow Viral Study,” a multimillion-dollar operation in which scientists apparently looked for the potential exposure of workers to an unknown strain of a mysterious and potent virus. The eventual conclusion was the Soviets were “bombing” the U.S. embassy with very low-level microwaves, which the U.S. called the “S ENAL Moscow.” This persisted until April 1976.

Cubans Doubt[9]

From Cuba, the Associated Press reports that “the common reaction in Havana is mocking disbelief” about the attacks.

The same tone was struck by Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first vice president who is widely expected to succeed Raul Castro when he steps down as president in February. He said, “A few spokespeople and media outlets have lent themselves to divulging bizarre nonsense without the slightest evidence, with the perverse intention of discrediting Cuba’s impeccable behavior.”

Mass Hysteria?[10]

Journalists from the Guardian newspaper in London reported that “senior neurologists” say that ”no proper diagnosis is possible without more information and access to the 22 US victims,” but speculate that the diplomats’ ailments could have been caused by “mass hysteria.”

Cuba-Russia Relations[11]

According to the Miami Herald, “after the election of President Donald Trump, the pace of [Cuba’s] bilateral contact with Russia has been frantic,” even more so after the eruption of U.S.-Cuba relations associated with the medical problems of U.S. diplomats. Here are such examples:

  • Just days before Foreign Minister Rodriguez’ September 26 meeting with Secretary of State Tillerson at the State Department, the Minister met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly gathering. The conversation was “confidential,” according to a press release issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
  • On July 26 Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal, the main negotiator with the U.S., went to Moscow and met with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
  • Cuba’s ambassador to Russia has met with Ryabkov at least five times so far, this year.
  • Last December, just after the election of Mr. Trump, Russia and Cuba signed an agreement to modernize the Cuban army, and this year Russian officials — including military personnel — have made frequent visits to Havana.
  • In March, the Russian company Rosneft signed an agreement to ship 250,000 tons of crude oil and diesel to offset the decline in Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba.
  • Rosneft also has discussed other joint projects with Cuba for oil extraction and the possibility of modernizing the Cienfuegos refinery, operated jointly by Cuba’s CUPET and Venezuela’s PDVSA.
  • In April, Russia offered to fund $1.5 million in U.N. projects in Cuba for hurricane recovery and later pledged to support recovery efforts following damage caused by Irma.
  • In September, Cuban Vice President and Minister of Economy Ricardo Cabrisas signed a package of agreements with Russia in the energy, rail transport and elevator-supply sectors.
  • Recently, Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, which has an office in Washington, and the Russian news agency Sputnik signed an official cooperation agreement.

These developments are no surprise to Richard Feinberg, an expert at Brookings Institution and a former U.S. policymaker for Latin America during Bill Clinton’s administration. He says, “[Vladimir] Putin’s message is not difficult to understand. [He] longs to regain the past imperial glory and relations with Cuba follow that same pattern.” Feinberg added, “From the point of view of the Cubans, they are looking to diversify their relationships. As closer economic relations with the U.S. do not seem likely for at least the next few years, they are looking for alternative allies, especially from countries with strong states like Russia and China that can offer favorable payment terms, something very welcome in an economy with poor international credit standards.”

Conclusion

In the above and the many other reports about the medical problems affecting some U.S. personnel serving in Cuba, I find it astounding that there still is official uncertainty about the cause or causes of the medical problems.

It also is astounding that no journalist or other commentator has publicly asked whether the U.S. has investigated whether the problems were caused by a secret and perhaps malfunctioning U.S. program or device and if so, to provide details. Such a possibility would help explain the delay in the U.S. public announcement of this set of medical problems and the apparent U.S. reluctance to share details of its investigation with Cuban investigators, all as discussed in previous posts to this blog. Moreover, this possibility would render various U.S. reactions—reducing the U.S. personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats and the latest U.S. travel warning—as cover ups and as excuses for additional tightening of U.S. screws on Cuba.

Moreover, Trump’s hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, which are unjustified in and of themselves, have adverse effects on other important U.S. interests, including the prevention of increasing Russian influence in Latin America.

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[1] Cuba victim tells CBS News “complaints were ignored,” CBS News (Oct. 10, 2017); ‘Washington was trying to hide the acoustic attacks,’ says one of the victims, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 10, 2017).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—October 10, 2017.

[3]  White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Chief of Staff General John Kelly   (Oct. 12, 2017); Assoc. Press, White House Says Cuba Could Stop Attacks on Americans, N.Y. Times (Oct. 12, 2017).

[4] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-October 12, 2017.

[5] White House, Remarks by President Trump at the 2017 Values Voter Summit (Oct. 13, 2017); Reuters, U.S. to Maintain Cuba, Venezuela Sanctions Until Freedoms Restored: Trump, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2017).

[6] White House, Remarks by Vice President Mike Pence at National Hispanic Heritage Month Reception (Oct. 11, 2017)

[7] Assoc. Press, Dangerous Sound? What Americans Heard in Cuba Attacks, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2017).

[8] Lima, The “Moscow Sign”, the mysterious Soviet Union bombardment of the US embassy, which lasted more than two decades during the Cold War, BBC News (Oct. 14, 2017).

[9] Assoc. Press, ‘Star Wars’ Fantasy? Cubans Doubt US Sonic Attacks Claims, N.Y. Times (Oct. 13, 2017).

[10] Borger & Jaekl, Mass hysteria may explain ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, say top neurologists, Guardian (Oct. 12, 2017).

[11] Gámez, Amidst growing tensions with U.S., Cuba gets cozier with Russia, Miami Herald (Oct. 13, 2017).