Injured U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba: New Developments

There have been several recent developments regarding the U.S. and Canadian diplomats who have suffered injuries while serving in Cuba.

First, the two counties’ diplomats have sued their respective governments.

The Canadian lawsuit in Toronto on February 6 alleges that the Canadian government was slow to respond to complaints about these injuries and has failed to provide sufficient medical care.The suit seeks (CAN)$ 28 million [(US)$ 21]  in damages on behalf of 14 diplomats, spouses and their children.

The U.S. lawsuit, which was commenced on February 7 by some of the affected U.S. diplomats, is a Freedom of Information Request to obtain documents related to the State Department’s Accountability Review Board’s investigation of the situation.

Second, the State Department has commissioned the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a new study to understand “the possible causes of these cases and approaches for future incidents, whether of an apparent acoustic nature or a different environmental or clinical presentation.” This investigation will look at “health monitoring, medical interventions, risk assessment and exposure mitigation for overseas locations that may present a higher risk of adverse health effects.”

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Bilfsky, Canadian Diplomats Sue Their Government Over Mysterious Disease, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, Canadian Diplomats File suit Over Injuries Suffered in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Feb. 7, 2019); Atkinson, State Dept. asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in Cuba, Axios (Feb. 5, 2019); Center for Democracy in the Americas, State Department asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in Cuba: U.S. personnel file suit, U.S.-Cuba News Brief (Feb. 8, 2019). 

Canada Reducing Cuba Embassy Staff 

On January 30, the Canadian foreign ministry (Global Affairs Canada) announced that another of its diplomats in Havana had fallen mysteriously ill. [1]

This is the 14th such case.  “To date, no cause has been identified.” As a result, Canada is removing up to half of its embassy staff.

The Canadian statement added, “Canada has a positive and constructive relationship with Cuba. We have had close cooperation with the Cuban authorities since the health concerns of our employees posted in Havana first surfaced in the spring of 2017.”

Cuba’s Ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal, said Cuba “understands the obligations of the government of Canada to protect its diplomatic personnel in any part of the world, and to try to find answers to the health symptoms reported in Cuba, [which] remains committed to preserving the good state of relations and expanding its ties with a country to which strong ties of friendship and cooperation unite us.”[2]

Nevertheless, the Cuban Ambassador found the Canadian decision to reduce its Havana Embassy staffing “incomprehensible.”  It does “not help solve or find answers to the health symptoms that diplomats have reported and will have an inevitable impact on the conduct of relations.” Instead, this decision “favors those in the United States who use this issue to attack and discredit Cuba. It is known that individuals with a high responsibility for foreign policy in the United States are committed to provoking a climate of bilateral tension and being able to point Cuba as a threat.”

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[1]  Global Affairs Canada, Statement on health and security of Canadian diplomatic staff in Havana, Cuba (Jan. 30, 2019); Assoc. Press, Canada Cutting Canadian Staff at Cuba Embassy in Half, N.Y. Times (Jan. 30, 2019). Other posts about Canadian diplomats’ illnesses in Cuba may be found in the ” U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016-??” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com–Topical: CUBA.

[2] Josefina Vidal: Decision by the government of Canada to withdraw part of the diplomatic staff favors those in the United States who attack Cuba, CubaDebate (Jan. 31, 2019)

Update on Trump Administration’s Threat To  Allow U.S. Litigation Over Cuba’s Expropriated Property

A prior post reported that the Trump Administration was considering not continuing the waiver of the right of certain owners of Cuban property that was expropriated in 1959-60 to bring litigation in U.S. federal courts.  Here are two updates.

First, Engage Cuba, an U.S. bipartisan coalition supporting normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, published a strong objection to such a move.[1] Here are the reasons for its objection:

  • “There are 5,913 certified claims of seized American property in Cuba . . . [and] the State Department estimates that a flood of up to 200,000 claims if the suspension [of the right to sue] were ended.”
  • “Property claimants would be more successful in earning compensation through high-level diplomatic engagement, given that foreign companies are unlikely to cooperate.“
  • “Future attempts to encourage legal business with Cuba would be much more difficult . . . [and the authorization of U.S. litigation] would have a chilling effect on the broader effort to continue normalizing relations and could spill into other areas like travel, academic exchange, and research collaboration.”
  • “As U.S companies are not exempt from Title III suits, they could face a slew of lawsuits and would be extremely unlikely to expand operations in Cuba despite their past success on the island.”
  • “Companies based in Europe and Canada are among the top foreign investors in Cuba [and] Canada, the U.K. [and Mexico] all have laws prohibiting their companies from complying with Title III suits . . .[plus the] European Union . . . has indicated it will do [the same] . . . if the law goes into effect. The result could be a retaliatory measure that allows litigation against U.S. companies. These legal tensions could also spill over into other aspects of bilateral relationships with U.S. allies.”
  • “Thousands of U.S. lawsuits against Chinese companies could upset an already delicate trade relationship and provoke retaliation. Meanwhile, the U.S. has already left a vacuum in Cuba for adversarial influence, particularly from Russia and China. As business with U.S. companies becomes less viable for the Cubans, they will increasingly turn to our adversaries, who offer them favorable credit terms and invest in high-profile projects.”
  • U.S. “isolation rarely allows for improvements in human rights, and Cuba is no exception. Strained relations with our allies will only escalate this problem. Without a multilateral effort to hold the Cuban government accountable, the U.S. will have a harder time pushing Cuba toward greater freedom.”

Second, an anonymous Administration source said that it is very likely to act on this  proposal, but limit it to only the 6,000 existing claims and to exempt U.S. companies currently doing business in Cuba. Although this would reduce the harmful effects of such a change, it still is objectionable for the reasons advanced by Engage Cuba.

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[1]   Engage Cuba, Urgent: Trump Administration May Allow Lawsuits for Confiscated Property in Cuba (Jan.—2019).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Canadian Government Also Baffled by Medical Problems of Diplomats in Cuba

For nearly two years the U.S. publicly remains baffled by the causes of the medical problems of 26 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba. Twelve Canadian diplomats while in Cuba also have suffered similar problems, and the Canadian government publicly also remains baffled.[1]

Now the Canadian government has engaged brain injury experts from the Brain Repair Center, affiliated with Dalhousie University, the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Isaak Walton Killam Health Center, to investigate the symptoms and possible causes that left Canadian diplomats and family members with a series of mysterious symptoms.[2]

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[1]  See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2]   Campion-Smith, Ottawa teams with brain injury experts as it probes mystery attacks on Canadian diplomats in Cuba, Toronto Star (Sept. 30, 2018); Experts in brain injuries will examine Canadians affected by the ‘attacks’ in Havana, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 2, 2018).

Russia Is Identified as Suspect of Harming U.S. Diplomats in Cuba 

On September 11, 2018, NBC News exclusively reported that U.S.intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia is “the main suspect” for causing the medical problems of the 26 U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba. In addition, NBC reports that “the victims [also] include multiple CIA officers, at least one member of the U.S. military, and representatives of other agencies.”[1]

This conclusion is reported to be “is backed up by evidence from communications intercepts, known in the spy world as signals intelligence.” This prompted the U.S. investigation to turn to “the Air Force and its directed energy research program at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, where the military has giant lasers and advanced laboratories to test high-power electromagnetic weapons, including microwaves. . .  Although the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves.”

NBC News further reports that although “the U.S. believes sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers, they are also exploring the possibility that one or more additional technologies were also used, possibly in conjunction with microwaves, officials and others involved in the government’s investigation say.”

On August 14, “the U.S. convened officials from the Energy Department, the National Institute of Health, the State Department and the Canadian government at the Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, according to State Department medical officials. U.S. experts attending a neurotrauma conference in Toronto were linked in by videoconference as [University of Pennsylvania] physicians presented their most recent technical findings. But the summit ended with no new medical revelations”

“The strong U.S. suspicion that Russia is behind the incidents means that Cuba’s government is no longer considered the likely culprit. Still, officials did not rule out the possibility that the Cuban intelligence services may have offered the Russians some level of cooperation or tacit consent.”

Nevertheless, NBC News said the evidence “is not yet conclusive enough, however, for the U.S. to formally assign blame to Moscow.”

Indeed, on September 11, Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokesperson, in response to a journalist’s question, said the following: [2]

  • “We have seen . . . a firestorm of reports out there today assigning blame to the Russian Government according to some unnamed U.S. Government officials. I would caution you all to be very skeptical of those officials’ statements right now. As you should be aware, the investigation continues into what has caused. . . – what we have called health attacks on our State Department employees who have been working in Cuba. There is no known cause, no known individual or group believed to be responsible at this time. We are looking into it. Our position has not changed. The investigation is ongoing. We have not assigned any blame and we continue to look into this, so I want to be very clear about this.”

Relevant to the NBC News report is the increase of Cuba-Russia cooperation on various matters in recent years. A noted U.S. expert on Cuba, Professor William LeoGrande, provided the following summary of the recent Cuba-Russia rapprochement:[3]

  • In 2000 “when Putin “succeeded Boris Yeltsin as Russian president,” Putin  “began rebuilding Russia’s global influence by repairing relations with traditional allies.” The first step was “Putin’s 2000 trip to Havana, which resulted in expanded trade deals. . . .”
  • “Raul Castro in 2009 visited Moscow during which the two governments signed 33 cooperative agreements, including $354 million in credits and aid for Havana.“
  • In July 2014, Putin visited the island again and agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion in Soviet-era debt, with the remainder to be retired through debt-equity swaps linked to Russian investments.
  • When Raul Castro returned to Moscow in 2015, Russia had signed agreements to invest in airport construction, the development of the Mariel port and metallurgy and oil exploration, and had also agreed to lend Cuba 1.2 billion euros—about $1.36 billion at the time—to develop thermal energy plants.”
  • In September 2016, Russia announced a new package of commercial agreements in which it will finance $4 billion in development projects focusing on energy and infrastructure, and Cuba will begin exporting pharmaceuticals to Russia.

According to LeoGrande, “Both Havana and Moscow refer to their relationship as a ‘strategic partnership’ that has diplomatic and military components. Diplomatically, Cuba supports Moscow’s positions on Ukraine, Syria and NATO expansion. Militarily, Russia is refurbishing and replacing Cuba’s aging Soviet-era armaments. Russian naval vessels visit Cuban ports, and Russia reportedly wants to establish a new military base on the island.”

Conclusion

Interestingly as of the early morning of September 12, this blogger has not found any published reactions to the NBC News report from Russian or Cuban governments. Nor has there been other reporting or comments from U.S. officials or U.S. or international news organizations.

Be on the outlook for reactions to the NBC News report.

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[1] NBC News, U.S. Officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China (Sept. 11, 2018); Reuters, Russia the Main Suspect in U.S. Diplomats’ Illness in Cuba: NBC, N.Y. Times (sept, 11, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—September 11, 2018.

[3] Professor LeoGrande ‘s Comments on the Strengthening Cuba-Russian Relationship, dwkcommentaries (Jan. 3, 2018). See also Trump’s Hostility Towards Cuba Provides Opportunities for Russia, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 19, 2017).

Cameroon’s Human Rights Record Being Subjected to Universal Periodic Review by U.N. Human Rights Council: The UPR Hearing                    

This year Cameroon’s human rights record is the subject of its third  Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior posts reviewed the nature of the UPR process and the pre-hearing papers for this UPR. Now we review Cameroon’s May 16 UPR hearing with a focus on the various comments made about the current conflict between the majority Francophones and the minority Anglophones.[1]

This hearing was limited to 3 ½ hours (210 minutes) and each of the 76 countries was limited to 1 minute 25 seconds (85 seconds).

Cameroon Government’s Comments

The Cameroon Government opened the hearing with comments by H.E. Mr. Mbella Mbella, its Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Near the end of his remarks, he said, “The social crisis in the North-West and South-West (Anglophone regions) began at the end of 2015 with strikes of lawyers and teachers. In response the government created the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to protect and ensure the balance of security and freedom.”

Earlier he laboriously discussed the process of preparing this national report, the implementation of recommendations from the prior UPR, the ratification of various human rights treaties, the adoption of the National Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and the records of prosecutions and convictions for violations of human rights.

U.N.  Members’ Comments

There were 76 governments that made comments at the hearing (32 of whom were also Human Rights Council members plus 44 other U.N. members). Most of the comments and recommendations concerned Cameroon’s ratifying and enforcing various international human rights treaties, protecting the rights of children, women and LGBTQ people and other topics.

However, only the following 14 countries specifically addressed the current conflict between the Francophone-Anglophone communities:

  • Australia. Concerned about “recent violence between Cameroon security forces and protesting minority groups in [its] South-West and North-West [regions].” Recommends Cameroon “lift unnecessary restrictions on freedom of assembly, investigate alleged excessive use of force in disbursing demonstrators and assure arrested protestors receive fair trials.”
  • Austria. Concerned about “deterioration of the situation of the communities in the Anglophone regions of the country.” Recommended “ending the practice of secret detentions and ensure that no one is detained in a secret site, including unregistered military detention sites.” Recommended Cameroon “engage in a dialogue at the policy level with representatives of the Anglophone communities so as to identify appropriate measures to adequately respond to the violence affecting the South-West and North-West regions.”
  • Belgium. Concerned about “repressive approach in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon that runs the risk of exacerbating violent tendencies when there is a need for dialogue.” Recommended that Cameroon “take appropriate measures to ensure that the security forces act in compliance with laws and international human rights standards, conduct “independent and transparent inquiries on allegations of excessive use of force and bring perpetrators to justice.”
  • Canada.. Expressed “condolences to families of victims of violence… especially … as a result of tensions linked to claims of Anglophone community in North-West and South-West. Recommended that Cameroon “engage in sustained dialogue with representatives of the Anglophone community in North-West and South-West so as to provide consensus-based solutions while upholding human rights.”
  • Chile. Concerned with “general crime environment that exists in the English-speaking areas of the country as well as the accepted use of force against protestors in these regions.”
  • Czech Republic. Recommended “investigation of alleged torture and other ill treatment of other detained persons and incommunicado detainees.” Recommended “recognition of the right of citizens to express their views in dealing with programs of the English-speaking provinces.”
  • Germany. Concerned about reports of “violations of freedom of press and assembly, especially in the English-speaking areas of the country.”
  • Haiti. Recommended “effective implementation of the official Bilingualism Policy in consultation with all stakeholders to ensure equal treatment of the English-speaking minority.”
  • Honduras. Recommended “effective implementation of the Bilingualism Policy so as to ensure the English-speaking population does not suffer discrimination in employment, education and access to legal services.”
  • Republic of Korea. Recommended that Cameroon “redouble its efforts for the full and effective implementation of the official bilingual policy and ensure that the Anglophone minority are not subject to inequality in access to public services, administration of justice and freedom of speech. “
  • Slovakia. Concerned by “reports of human rights violations and abuses such as arbitrary arrest and extrajudicial executions by government forces and armed forces against members of the country’s Anglophone minority.”
  • Switzerland. Concerned by “violations of fundamental freedoms in the framework of the Anglophone crisis and anti-terrorism efforts. Demonstrations have been violently repressed and arbitrary arrests and detentions in difficult conditions have been made. “ Recommended that Cameroon’s “anti-terrorism law be reviewed and amended to ensure it is not used to restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly. “Recommended that “any reported cases of violations or abuses by Cameroon’s security forces are subjected to independent inquiry and prosecution.”
  • United Kingdom. Noted that “the Anglophone crisis has led to violence and disruption to many people and urged the government and all parties to fully respect and guard human rights.” Recommended that the government “allow various international agencies to have access to Anglophone separatists leaders extradited by Nigeria and held incommunicado by Cameroon since January 2018.”
  • United States. U.S. expressed concern overcredible allegations of human rights violations and abuses by security forces.  We call on the government to credibly investigate these allegations and hold those responsible to account.  We are also concerned by reports of harassment and intimidation of youth, civil society, journalists, and opposition leaders, particularly in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly and freedoms of association and expression.” (Emphases added.)

The U.S. also called on the Cameroon government “to respect the human rights of everyone, including the 47 [Anglophone] Cameroonians forcibly returned from Nigerian custody to Cameroonian authorities in January.  We expect the government of Cameroon to afford all individuals detained all of the rights and protections provided under domestic and international law.” (Emphasis added.)

 Finally the U.S. made these recommendations: “(1) Acknowledge and investigate credible allegations of human rights violations and abuses, and hold those responsible to account.(2) Respect the rights of peaceful assembly, and freedoms of association and expression, including when exercised online, and afford all of those detained all the rights enshrined in Cameroon’s constitution and under international law. (3) Decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations and immediately cease targeted discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons.”[2]

It also is noteworthy that France, which governed what is now the Francophone area of Cameroon after World War I until 1960, made comments without saying anything about the current Francophone-Anglophone conflict. Nor did two members of the troika for this UPR—Iraq and South Africa—while the third member of that group—United Kingdom—did as noted above.

Cameroon Government’s Response

At the end of the hearing, Cameroon’s Foreign Minister made a lengthy response to the many comments made by the other countries. He ended those remarks with the following extensive comments about the “Anglophone problem.”

“After World War II, under U.N. supervision, we obtained independence from France and the United Kingdom and created a single country by merging the two colonial states. There were not separate English-speaking and French-speaking countries, and now these linguistic groups have merged and are mixed and cannot be separated.”

“At the end of 2016 there was a corporate clamor by lawyers and teachers’ unions in the South-West and North-West. The government responded to these claims, and now no unions are making claims.”

“Some extremists used the unions claims to question the structure of the state by arguing for federalism. But the Constitution did not permit federalism. Instead the President asked for dialogue. Thus, the Prime Minister and Head of government intervened to conduct dialogue with the North-West and South-West. This resulted in a major decision to create the Commission for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, which recognized the country was a multi-ethnic state with different linguistic communications.”

“Nevertheless, the extremists continued to commit acts of violence—burning houses, kidnapping, rape and destructive calls for hatred of communities.”

“But there is no Anglophone problem as such. Instead the government is working for some decentralization without giving in to the violence. There has been progress in these efforts. Not all are asking for a separate country.”

“The states in the North-West and South-West maintain law and order and seek to protect the people against abuses and to assure freedom of expression and movement without violence.”

“Some of the protesters have treated law enforcement officers like animals by cutting off their arms and feet. No one will tolerate this.”

“There are no extrajudicial executions.”

“Pursuant to Cameroon’s extradition treaty with Nigeria, Cameroon requested, and Nigeria granted, extradition of 47 Cameroonians who had committed acts of terrorism in Cameroon. They are not refugees. In Cameroon they are properly housed and will answer to the rule of law with assistance of counsel. They were not arbitrarily arrested. Instead they were arrested in Nigeria pursuant to international arrest warrants.”

“There is freedom of expression in Cameroon marked by openness in media. There are 1,200 publications, 25 private television channels, 25 private cable channels and 107 private radio stations. This freedom of expression has been enhanced by a 2015 law about electronic communications and the creation of a special fund for audio-visual communications.”

“In 2017 there was a temporary suspension of the internet in the North-West and South-West due to some messages promoting violence. On April 20, 2017 the Minister of Communications advised global operators to reset connections.”

Conclusion

The final stage of the Cameroon UPR will take place in September 2018, at which time the final report will be presented by the Troika.

The comments about the Francophone-Anglophone conflict by 14 countries and by the Foreign Minister’s concluding comments will be discussed in a future post. Another post will address this blogger’s general reactions to the UPR process that are raised by his review of the recent UPR process for Cameroon and for Cuba.

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[1] U.N. Human Rts. Council,  Cameroon Review—30th Session of Universal Periodic Review (May 16, 2018)  The following quotations and analysis of the comments by the Cameroon Foreign Minister and by U.N. members are based upon listening to their recorded comments in English or translated into English by U.N. interpreters when some of their voices were difficult to hear or understand. Thus, there may be errors in the following account of their comments. The exception is the U.S. which published its comments on the website for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., Geneva.

[2] U.S. Mission, Geneva Switzerland, U.S. Statement at the UPR of Cameroon (May 16, 2018).

 

U.S. Establishes Task force To Coordinate Response to Health Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba and China 

On May 23, the U.S. State Department established the Health Incidents Response Task Force to coordinate a response to unexplained health problems affecting some diplomats stationed in Havana, Cuba and in China.[1]

As the Department’s press release stated, this group will “direct a multi-agency response to the unexplained health incidents that have affected a number of U.S. government personnel and family members stationed overseas” and coordinate “Department and interagency activities, including identification and treatment of affected personnel and family members, investigation and risk mitigation, messaging, and diplomatic outreach.” This Task Force “includes interagency partners, such as the Departments of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Justice, Defense and Energy, as well as other members of the foreign affairs community.”

As has been noted in previous posts, 24 U.S. personnel and family members who had served in Cuba have been “medically-confirmed as having symptoms and clinical findings similar to those noted following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury.[2] In addition, on May 16, 2018, “a U.S. government employee serving in China was medically-confirmed with similar findings.”

This Task Force, at least initially, ignores the recent request by an eminent Cuban scientist for the creation of a joint task force of Canadian, Cuban and U.S. scientists and medical personnel to conduct an investigation of these medical issues.[3]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Establishment of the Health Incidents Response Task Force (June 5, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Sets Up Task force Over Unexplained Diplomatic Heath Incidents, N.Y. Times (June 5, 2018).

[2] Previous posts about the medical incidents of U.S. diplomats in Cuba may be found in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Cuban Scientist Calls for U.S., Canada and Cuba Joint Investigation of Medical Problems of U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (May 30, 2018).