Discovery of Brain Abnormalities in U.S. Diplomats in Havana with Medical Damage

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.”

Conclusion

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.

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[1]  Assoc. Press, Doctors Identify Brain Abnormalities in Cuba Attack Patients, N.Y. Times (Dec. 6, 2017)  Many previous posts to this blog have discussed the issues raised by the medical problems of some U.S. diplomats; they are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: Cuba.

[2]  U.S. State Dep’t, Press Conference at NATO, (Dec. 6, 2017); Harris, Tillerson Suggests Cuba Could Have Stopped ‘Targeted Attacks’ on U.S. Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Dec. 6, 2017); Assoc. Press, The Latest: Tillerson says diplomatic people were ‘targeted,’ Wash. Post (Dec. 6, 2017).

Cuba Meets with European Union and Russian Ministers

This week Cuban leaders have held meetings in Havana with the foreign ministers of the European Union and Russia.

European Union-Cuba

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 [1]

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.

EU +Castro

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.

Russia-Cuba [2]

 

Serguei-Lavrov-y-Raúl-Castro1

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.

CubaRussia-0a5c9

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.

 Conclusion

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.

culPanama Canalbra-cutAnother 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.)

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[1] This section of the post is based upon the following sources: Reuters, EU, Cuba to Speed Up Talks, Seek Deal by End of 2015, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raúl received the High Representative of the European Union, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Forte, Visit of European High Representative promotes relations with Cuba, Granma (Mar. 24, 2015); Abellán, EU foreign affairs chief steps up talks for new Cuba cooperation policy, El Pais (Mar. 24, 2015).

[2] This section of the post is based upon the following source Assoc. Press, Russian FM Visits Cuba, Calls for End of US Trade Embargo, Wash. Post (Mar. 24, 2015); Reuters, Russian Foreign Minister Praises New U.S.-Cuba Relations, N.Y. Times (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul held meeting with the Foreign Minister of Russia, CubaDebate (Mar. 24, 2015); Raul meets with Russian Foreign Minister, Granma (Mar. 25, 2015).

 

 

Mogherini–

 

https://dwkcommentaries.com/2015/03/10/european-union-and-cubas-negotiations-over-human-rights-and-other-issues/