A forthcoming article in the Journal of the American Medical Association describes brain abnormalities in U.S. diplomats who had been stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Havana Cuba and who have been suffering hearing, vision, balance and memory damage. The article is written by physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania who have treated the diplomats with input from the State Department’s medical unit and other government doctors.
The abnormalities are in the brain’s white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate with one another. But doctors still do not know how patients ended up with the white matter changes or how exactly those changes might relate to their symptoms.
U.S. officials also will not say whether the changes were found in all 24 patients. Most patients have fully recovered, some after rehabilitation and other treatment, officials said. Many are back at work. About one-quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.
U.S. officials have told the Associated Press that investigators have now determined:
The most frequently reported sound patients heard was a high-pitched chirp or grating metal. Fewer recalled a low-pitched noise, like a hum.
Some were asleep and awakened by the sound, even as others sleeping in the same bed or room heard nothing.
Vibrations sometimes accompanied the sound. Victims told investigators these felt similar to the rapid flutter of air when windows of a car are partially rolled down.
Those worst off knew right away something was affecting their bodies. Some developed visual symptoms within 24 hours, including trouble focusing on a computer screen.
Physicians are treating the symptoms like a new, never-seen-before illness. After extensive testing and trial therapies, they are developing the first protocols to screen cases and identify the best treatments.
Doctors still don’t know the long-term medical consequences and expect that epidemiologists, who track disease patterns in populations, will monitor the 24 Americans for life. Consultations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are underway.
According to Elisa Konofagou, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who is not involved in the government’s investigation, acoustic waves never have been shown to alter the brain’s white matter tracts.”I would be very surprised. We never see white matter tract problems” even though ultrasound in the brain is used frequently in modern medicine.
Apparently unconnected with this AP report, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to a journalist’s question on this issue at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on December 6. The Secretary said the following:
“We are convinced these were targeted attacks. We have shared some information with the Cubans, and there are two restrictions I’ve placed on sharing information. One is respect for the privacy of individuals and their medical conditions, and the second is not to provide whoever was orchestrating these attacks with information that’s useful to how effective they were. What we’ve said to the Cubans is a small island, you got a sophisticated security apparatus, you probably know who’s doing it, you can stop it. It’s as simple as that. So that’s what we’ve asked the Cubans. We understand the Cubans don’t like the actions we’ve taken. We don’t like our diplomats being targeted.”
This medical report should at least eliminate Cuba’s recent assertion that the U.S. was lying about medical problems being experienced by some U.S. diplomats. The report also casts doubt on the notion that the cause was some kind of sonic attack. But the report leaves open the broader question of the cause and the perpetrator.
Secretary Tillerson’s comments are not very helpful. The reported U.S. physicians’ conclusion of observable brain abnormalities for at least some of the diplomats apparently was reached only recently and leaves other issues unresolved. Therefore, even if Cuba has a “sophisticated security apparatus,” it should not be surprising that Cuba has not uncovered a cause or a perpetrator.
This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.
A previous post examined the recent history of Cuba’s relations with the European Union (EU), including their negotiations on improving relations in 2014 and earlier this month. Another set of such negotiations or meetings took place in Havana on March 23-24 with the EU’s 
The most recent meetings were with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.
She met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Also present were Stefano Manservisi, Mogherini’s chief of staff; Herman Portocarero, EU Ambassador to Cuba; and Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. (To the left is a photograph of Mogherini and Castro.)
In addition, Magherini met with the President of the National Assembly of Popular Power, Esteban Lazo Hernández; Vice President of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge; and Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca.
Afterwards Magherini said that although the pace of progress in the EU-Cuba talks on improving their relations was “slow,” it was gaining “political momentum” and that the two parties had “decided to speed up the rhythm of our negotiations, hopefully to manage to finalize the framework of our dialogue and agreement by the end of this year.” She also referred to the signing of a program between the island and the EU in the amount of 50 million euros until 2020, which will be used in commercial areas and especially in agriculture and complimented Cuba for its essential role in regional processes such as the Colombia-FARC peace negotiations taking place in Havana.
A Cuban newspaper reported the President Castro observed that “in a friendly atmosphere,” the two of them “exchanged ideas about the links between the EU and Cuba .They agreed on the importance of developing relationships of mutual respect, based on the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. Also, they discussed issues of common interest of the international agenda.”
Bruno Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s “willingness to work to advance these links and . . . constructive engagement with the negotiations for an agreement on political dialogue and bilateral cooperation that is underway.” He also noted Cuba’s appreciation for the votes of EU members in support of Cuba’s resolution against the U.S. blockade (embargo) at last Fall’s U.N. General Assembly meeting.
Magherini and Bruno Rodriguez will see each other at the Summit of the Americas on April 10-11 in Panama, to which both Cuba and the EU are invited for the first time before the two of them meet in Brussels on April 22. In addition, Cuban officials will attend a summit of European and Latin American leaders scheduled for June in Brussels.
On March 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Havana with Cuban President Raúl Castro. Also present were Mikhail L. Kamynin, Russian Ambassador to Cuba; Alexander V. Schetinin, the Director of Latin America at Russia’s Foreign Ministry; Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; and Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister, Rogelio Sierra Díaz. (Above is a photograph of Larov and Castro.)
The participants discussed the excellent state of their relations and ratified the willingness to work together in the effective implementation of the bilateral economic agenda and deepen exchanges in areas of common interest. Castro thanked Russia’s support for ending the U.S. economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba and reiterated his country’s opposition to the unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its NATO allies against Russia.
Larov said, “Normalization between the United States and Cuba makes us happy. We salute this rapprochement,” and “we call for the lifting of the (U.S.) trade and financial blockade of Cuba as soon as possible.”
Earlier Larov met separately with Foreign Minister Rodriguez and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. They discussed bilateral cooperation and the interest of Russian companies in investing in Cuba’s development.
Simultaneously a Russian ship of the class generally used for intelligence gathering was in the Havana Harbor as shown in the photograph to the left by Desmond Boylan/Associated Press.
These meeting emphasize that Cuba’s redefining its relationships with the U.S. is not the only bilateral issue facing Cuba and that the U.S. is in competition with the EU and Russia for improving economic relations.
Another factor influencing all of these discussions is Cuba’s construction of a deep-sea port at Mariel to accommodate larger ships going through an expanded Panama Canal, which announced this week that the expansion should be completed next year. (To the right is a photograph of one portion of the expanded canal.)
Since 1996 the European Union (EU) has had an overall strategy about engaging with Cuba that the EU calls its Common Position on Cuba. In early 2014, the EU determined that this Position would not be a precondition to negotiations and thus the two countries held negotiations in April 2014 in Havana and in August 2014 in Brussels. The third round of these negotiations took place in Havana, March 4-5, 2015, with the next round to take place in Brussels on a date to be determined. 
After reviewing the EU Common Position on Cuba and the subsequent history of EU-Cuba relations, we will discuss the recent negotiations and their implications.
EU’s Common Position on Cuba 
On December 2, 1996, the Council of the European Union  adopted its Common Position on Cuba, whose objective was “to encourage a process of [Cuban] transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement in the living standards of the Cuban people. A transition would most likely be peaceful if the present regime were itself to initiate or permit such a process. It is not European Union policy to try to bring about change by coercive measures with the effect of increasing the economic hardship of the Cuban people” (Para. 1).
The Common Position also acknowledged “the tentative economic opening undertaken in Cuba to date” and the EU’s “wish to be Cuba’s partner in the progressive and irreversible opening of the Cuban economy. The [EU] considers that full cooperation with Cuba will depend upon improvements in human rights and political freedom, as indicated by the European Council” (Para. 2). To achieve these objectives, the E.U.
“(a) will intensify the present dialogue with the Cuban authorities and with all sectors of Cuban society in order to promote respect for human rights and real progress towards pluralist democracy;
(b) will seek out opportunities – even more actively than heretofore – to remind the Cuban authorities, both publicly and privately, of fundamental responsibilities regarding human rights, in particular freedom of speech and association;
(c) will encourage the reform of internal legislation concerning political and civil rights, including the Cuban criminal code, and, consequently, the abolition of all political offences, the release of all political prisoners and the ending of the harassment and punishment of dissidents;
(d) will evaluate developments in Cuban internal and foreign policies according to the same standards that apply to [EU] relations with other countries, in particular the ratification and observance of international human rights conventions;
(e) will remain willing in the meantime, through the Member States, to provide ad hoc humanitarian aid, subject to prior agreement regarding distribution; currently applicable measures to ensure distribution through non-governmental organizations, the churches and international organizations will be maintained and, where appropriate, reinforced . . .; [and]
(f) will remain willing, through the Member States, also to carry out focused economic cooperation actions in support of the economic opening being implemented” (Para. 3).
Finally the EU Common Position stated, “As the Cuban authorities make progress towards democracy, the [EU} will lend its support to that process and examine the appropriate use of the means at its disposal for that purpose, including: the intensification of a constructive, result-oriented political dialogue between the [EU] and Cuba; the intensification of cooperation and, in particular, economic cooperation; the deepening of the dialogue with the Cuban authorities, through the appropriate instances, in order to explore further the possibilities for future negotiation of a Cooperation Agreement with Cuba” (Para. 4).
EU-Cuba Relations 1997-2013
The EU suspended ties with Cuba in 2003 after the regime of President Fidel Castro arrested 75 dissidents in 2003 in a fierce crackdown known as Black Spring.
Upon the imprisonment of these political dissidents, the EU imposed stiff sanctions on Cuba in 2003. High-level visits to Cuba were reduced, and Fidel Castro stopped European aid from entering the country. European embassies were encouraged to invite both government officials and political dissidents to cultural events. Thereafter the Cuban government officials declined to attend any such events. Between 2003 and 2005, Cuba and the EU experienced a time of tension and animosity.
In 2005, relations between the EU and Cuba began to warm up again with Spain’s encouragement. The Cuban government released 14 political prisoners in 2005, an encouraging sign for anxious EU members looking for signs of progress. Thereafter the EU suspended sanctions and gradually repaired the economic ties between the two entities. Between 2005 and 2008, Cuba released another six political prisoners, which prompted the EU to remove all sanctions. In addition, the 2008 change of power from Fidel Castro to Raúl Castro produced optimism in the EU regarding future relaxation of tension.
After October 2008, the EU committed around € 60 million for cooperation on post-hurricane reconstruction and rehabilitation, food security, climate change and renewable energy, culture, and education. Cuba also took part in several EU-funded regional programs. The first EU Country Strategy/Paper Indicative Program for Cuba was adopted in May 2010 making available € 20 million between 2011 and 2013 for food security, climate change adaptation, and expertise exchanges. The EU also allocated € 4 million to support the population affected by Hurricane Sandy in November 2012.
In 2010, Spain unsuccessfully tried to muster support for a change in the EU’s Common Position on Cuba. The need for unanimity for such a change was thwarted by Poland and Czech Republic – both former Soviet bloc nations – which have been opposed to shifts in relations with Havana.
EU-Cuba Negotiations, 2014
In early 2014, the Dutch Foreign Minister called on the EU to change its policy toward Havana during a visit to the Caribbean island in January 2014.
The EU then decided that its Common Position on Cuba was not working and would not be used as preconditions for EU negotiations with the country. As a result, the EU Foreign Affairs Council, on February 10, 2014, extended an invitation to Cuba to start negotiations for a future bilateral agreement.
Following Cuba’s acceptance of the invitation, they conducted such negotiations In April and August 2014 on a “Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement” which would serve as an enabling framework for closer engagement in support of the on-going reform and modernization process in Cuba. According to the EU, human rights remain at the heart of its policy towards Cuba while seeking to expand relations with all parts of Cuban society, promoting economic and social progress, dynamic dialogue and strengthened respect for fundamental rights.
The April 29-30, 2014, round took place in Havana and focused on establishing modalities and a roadmap for negotiations. An understanding was also reached on the overall structure of the agreement, after which the parties held a first exchange of views on the main chapters and elements.
The August 27-28, 2014, negotiations took place in Brussels. The parties concentrated on the cooperation heading in the proposed agreement with progress on the global structure of the chapter, the issues and sectors to be addressed, as well as on the concrete wording of a number of articles. The EU also made a presentation on the trade chapter that would enhance commercial and investment relations based on joint objectives and established rules and principles of international trade. The political and institutional issues were not addressed.
Immediately after the August session, Christian Leffler, the European External Action Service Managing Director for the Americas, stated the parties had made “substantial progress” towards agreeing on a trade and political co-operation treaty and would discuss “more sensitive political questions,” in the next round to be held in Havana.
In addition, the August session prompted a NGO (Civil Rights Defenders) to urge the EU to press Cuba to ratify and implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights  and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights , which Cuba had signed in 2008. The group also called for inclusion of Cuban civil society and political opposition in the discussions.
The third round of negotiations was scheduled for early January 2015 in Havana, but on December 8, 2014, Cuba cancelled that round because it said it felt “disrespected” by a March 2014 cultural exhibit in Washington, D.C., which featured photos of Havana by a Lithuanian artist. (The real reason for the suspension is now apparent: the then upcoming December 17th announcement of Cuba-U.S. rapprochement.)
March 2015 Negotiations
The latest round of negotiations was focused on the proposed agreement’s largest and most important chapter: Cooperation and Cooperation Dialogue Sectoral Policies. This included discussion of Political dialogue and issues related to national and government policy: governance, human rights, rule of law, and joint efforts in addressing global challenges.
Before the session, Christian Leffler said such talks with Cuba require “a clear vision, steady nerves and tons of patience” and “ no illusions there will be a sudden radical transformation of Cuban society and government structures.”
Afterwards Leffler said the parties had “progressed substantially in technical legal provisions and the scope of cooperation.” He also said that human rights “was deeply discussed,” but without reaching any concrete agreements, leaving the “finding of solutions” for future meetings without the EU seeking to “impose a model” on Cuba. (In the photograph, the Cuban delegation is on the left; the EU’s on the right.)
Leffler also noted that the recent decision of Cuba and the U.S. to restore normal diplomatic relations promises should aid the EU and Cuba in their negotiations. The EU goal is to advance a “concrete, constructive and honest dialogue, to identify areas of political and economic cooperation.”
Cuba reported making that the parties had made progress on issues such as labor, culture, education, health, agriculture, trade and aid.
Although no date has been set for the next round of negotiations, some of the 28 EU members are insisting the EU accelerate the process because of concern the U.S. might progress more quickly with normalization. Spain, which counts Cuba as a key trade partner, has urged fellow members to “give EU businesses the chance to compete with American companies” on the island. And French President Francois Hollande plans to visit Cuba on May 11, the first visit ever by a French president and the first by a European or American leader since the US rapprochement.
The EU is already Cuba’s top foreign investor. EU officials say the proposed accord would give Brussels a bigger role in Havana’s market-oriented reforms, position EU companies for Cuba’s transition to a more open economy and allow the Europe to press for political freedoms on the Communist-ruled island.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the EU and the U.S. are now competing to gain an economic competitive edge in future dealings with Cuba. This should be an additional argument for the U.S. quickly to rescind its designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism, ” to end the embargo of Cuba and to proceed on the many other issues to effectuate a normalization of relations with the island.
 EU Common Position on Cuba (Dec. 2, 1996 ). Before EU governments finally agree on a new piece of Union legislation, they usually reach a sort of pre-agreement called a common position. This can serve as a useful marker showing just how far governments have come towards agreeing the terms of a particularly complex piece of legislation. They have a certain legal weight and are published in the EU’s Official Journal. EU governments must adopt a common position before the European Parliament can begin its second reading of a particular proposal.
 The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is part of what is referenced as the International Bill of Human Rights, establishes international minimum standards for self-determination; legal redress; equality; life, liberty, freedom of movement; fair, public and speedy criminal trials, privacy; freedom of expression, thought, conscience, religion; peaceful assembly; freedom of association (including trade union rights); family; and participation in public affairs.. It also forbids “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; slavery; arbitrary arrest; double jeopardy; and imprisonment for debt. This treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966. Now 168 states, including the U.S., are parties to this treaty. The U.S. signed this treaty in 1977, but did not ratify it until 1992 with many qualifications (five reservations, five understandings, four declarations and a proviso), and the agency responsible for monitoring compliance with the treaty (U.N. Human Rights Committee) has criticized the U.S. for noncompliance with various provisions, including voting.
 The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights, also part of the International Bill of Human Rights, calls for the “progressive realization” of the rights to gain a living by work; to have safe and healthy working conditions; to enjoy trade union rights; to receive social security; to have protection for the family; to have adequate housing and clothing; to be free from hunger; to have health care and free public education; to participate in cultural life, creative activity and scientific research. This treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly in 1966, and now 162 states are parties thereto. Compliance is monitored by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The U.S. by President Jimmy Carter signed this treaty in 1977, but the U.S. has never ratified it and thus is not a party thereto.