Drop in Foreign Tourists for Cuba  

For the First Quarter of 2018, Cuban Tourism Ministry’s commercial director, Michel Bernal, told a news conference in Havana that Cuba had a 7% decline in foreign tourists.  The reporting of this press conference by Reuters of London and by Cuban sources has interesting differences.

Reuters’ Report[1]

There are two major reasons for this reduction.

First is the reduction of U.S. tourists, which was only 56.6% of what it was for the same quarter in 2017. Director Bernal said that this decline was attributable to the U.S. restrictions and warning on travel to Cuba that were imposed by the Trump Administration.

Another reason for the overall decline was unjustified foreigners worries about the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma last September and that has been largely repaired.

The overall decline has hurt Cuba’s private sector (the self-employed sector in Cuban terms) that operates bed-and-breakfasts, private restaurants and guides.

Cuban Reports

The primary source of information for Cubans is the hard-copy issues of Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba. There also are Cuba’s Internet sources: Cubadebate and Diario de Cuba.

  1. Granma’s Report[2]

Granma did not mention the overall 7% decline in tourism for the first quarter of 2018. Instead it stressed (a) that the “growth of the Cuban tourist industry . . . is a sign of the confidence of the sector in the security and stability of the Greater Antilles;” and (b) Cuba’s recent receipt of “the Excellence Award as the safest country for tourism during the XXXVIII International Trade Fair -Fitur 2018, which took place in January in Madrid.”

Granma did acknowledge that Mr. Bernal had mentioned there had been a “slowdown caused mainly by hurricanes Irma and Maria,” but that Cuba still expected five million tourists this year. Also mentioned was what it called the U.S. “’unjustified ‘travel alert, ‘which tells the citizens of that country “’to reconsider travel to Cuba.”‘ The measure of aggression it tried to justify with the supposed risk of suffering ‘acoustic attacks’ on which, after months of research, there is no evidence or scientific evidence.”

  1. Cubadebate’s Report[3]

This report mentioned the 7% overall decline in the first quarter, the projection of 2 million foreign visitors through May and 5 million for the entire year.

It also reported that the largest number of visitors were Canadians followed by Cubans living abroad. In third place were “American visitors, who because of the blockade imposed by their government cannot travel to the island as tourists and whose arrivals decreased at the end of 2017 due to the passage of Irma, in addition to the restrictive measures promoted in September [2017] by the President Donald Trump. [The reduction of American visitors also was] influenced by travel alerts to Cuba, issued by the State Department after the alleged incidents that occurred in previous months in which officials of the US Embassy in Havana were implicated.”

Cubadebate is a Cuban website published by the Circle of Cuban Journalists against Terrorism , in which Cuban journalists and other nationalities collaborate. It aims to be “a space for information and exchange on topics related to subversion actions and defamatory campaigns organized against Cuba.”  It is published in seven languages, including Spanish and has become the most visible digital medium on the Cuban website.

  1. Diario de Cuba’s Report[4]

A more detailed report of the press conference appeared in Diario de Cuba. It had the 7% decline of tourists in the first quarter. It also said that after Canadians and Cubans living abroad, “US visitors appear in third place, despite measures taken by President Donald Trump, late last year, which included a travel alert to its citizens after the symptoms experienced by diplomatic personnel in Havana.”

Although this blogger has not been able to ascertain much information about this source, it is believed to originate outside Cuba, probably in the U.S., and is believed to be affiliated with Cubanet, which describes itself as an independent source of Cuban news since 1994.

Conclusion

It is not surprising that the number of American visitors to Cuba has declined and that it is attributable in substantial part to the Trump Administration’s harsh rhetoric against Cuba[5] the new U.S. regulations about Americans’ travel to Cuba[6] and the new State Department Travel Advisory about Cuba.[7]

Americans, however, should recognize that there are still 12 categories for legal travel to Cuba by Americans,[8] that the new State Department Travel Advisory for Cuba does not ban travel to the island and instead suggests Americans reconsider any plans to travel to the island and that the asserted basis for the Department’s urging Americans to reconsider is the reported adverse health incidents experienced by some U.S. diplomats who were staying in only two hotels in Havana (Hotels Nacional and Capri).[9] Moreover, Americans also should recognize that visitors to Cuba, especially from the U.S., help to support the privately owned bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants, tour guides and others, which now has nearly 30% of the Cuban economy and which is a potential force for changes in Cuba.

In short, as a three-time traveler to Cuba, I urge my fellow Americans:  go to Cuba and have a great time![10]

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[1] Acosta, U.S. visits to Cuba plunge following Trump measures, Reuters (April 24, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Visits to Cuba Plunge Following Trump Measures, N.Y. Times (April 24, 2018).

[2] Pérez, We are a safe tourist destination, Granma (April 24, 2018)

[3] Rectified note: 7% decrease in tourist arrivals to Cuba in the first quarter, Cubadebate (April 24, 2018).

 

[4] The arrival of tourists to Cuba in the first quarter of the year decrease by 7%, Diario de Cuba (April 25, 2018).

[5] See, e.g., President Trump Announces Reversal of Some Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017)

[6]  See, e.g., New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities,  dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 8, 2017); Reactions to New U.S. Regulations About U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Cuban Entities, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 9, 2017); Additional Reactions to New U.S. Regulations Regarding Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Nov. 11, 2017).

[7] See, e.g., A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 19, 2017); State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 11, 2018); Perplexing Status of U.S. Travel to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 30, 2018).

[8] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Frequently Asked Questions Related to Travel to Cuba (Questions 5 through 37).

[9]U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Advisory.

[10] Given the new requirement for U.S. person-to-person travel to be with an organized group, one organizer of such groups worthy of consideration is the Center for Cuban Studies based in Brooklyn, N.Y. It specializes in small groups  with different themes such as African Roots of Cuban Culture, Art & Architecture and Cuba in Transition. In addition, for groups between 4 and 20 persons, it will create customized journeys.

American Teens Hear Strange High-Pitched Sound at Havana Airport

On December 31, 2017, an American father in his 40’s and his son and daughter, ages 15 and 14, were at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. Around 2:00 p.m. they were waiting to board their return Delta flight to Atlanta.

The teens asked their father what was making the annoying high-pitched noise. The father, however, heard nothing and asked them if they could tell the direction of this noise.  They could and tracked the sound to a green box on a wall near the ceiling of the departure area. The teens also said the device gradually changed the pitch to where it was inaudible and then it gradually came back to the pitch where they could hear it.

Here are the father’s photographs of that device in the upper right of the airport wall and of a closeup of the device showing a label with the words “toscano” and “Zoonic” and images of an insect, reptile, rodent and bird.

 

 

 

 

A quick Internet search revealed that it is an “ultrasound animal repeller” that “makes the stay of birds, reptiles, and rodents uncomfortable” by emitting “vibrations of high frequency (ultrasounds), alternating between ranges for different animals, so that they will never nest.”

In addition, the device’s Installation and Operating Instructions (in English) state that it has a “micro-switch with two positions, HIGH and LOW. . . . Normally better results are obtained in LOW (frequency) position, but may be bothered [bothersome?] for persons. It is recommended [to] use this position when usually not working [with] any person[s] around.”

The device’s manufacturer apparently is Toscano , which describes itself as an “electronics development & manufacturing” firm in Sevilla, Spain.

By all indications, this device is not manufactured with the intent to cause harm to humans. Some, but not all, of its sounds are audible and annoying to some people, but not others. The audibility of the device is not constant given that it gradually changes pitch to go beyond the hearing range and then it gradually comes back to the range.

This report raises many questions pertaining to the medical problems experienced by some U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana that by some accounts are caused by sonic sounds [1] These questions include the following:

  • How many of the devices have been sold to persons in Cuba?
  • What persons in Cuba bought the devices?
  • Where have they been installed in Cuba?
  • Who installed them?
  • Who maintains them?
  • Have any of these devices been installed in or near the U.S. or Canadian embassies or their diplomats’ residences or Hotel Nacional or Hotel Capri?
  • How difficult would it be for a single device to be obtained by an individual or entity in order to harass American/Canadian diplomats?
  • Are the devices in need of calibration and recalibration?
  • If they are not susceptible to malfunction, then why are they audible to only some people and not others?
  • Are the devices capable of producing health problems?  (Either in their normal state or altered?)
  • Did the U.S., Canadian or Cuban government notice these devices in their investigations?  If so, what did they conclude?

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[1]  The medical  problems of the U.S. diplomats in Havana have been discussed in many previous posts that are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2016–” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

 

More Mystery Surrounding “Medical Attacks“ on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba       

On September 14, the Associated Press reports an additional wrinkle to the mysterious medical attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.[1]

One of the diplomats was sleeping in a room at the recently renovated, luxurious Hotel Capri, a 60-year-old concrete tower steps from the Malecon. He was awakened by a “blaring, grinding noise.” He climbed out of bed, got up and moved a few feet away to silence. He returned to the bed, but immediately was hit by the “agonizing sound.” Soon thereafter he experienced hearing loss and speech problems. Below are photographs of the hotel and one of its rooms.

 

 

 

 

Now it has been discovered by the AP that some of the earlier incidents in Havana “were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity.” In addition, some of the victims are having “problems concentrating or recalling specific words.”

Indeed, the cases have shown “different symptoms, different recollections of what happened. . . . In several episodes victims knew it was happening in real time, and there were strong indications of a sonic attack. Some felt vibrations, and heard sounds — loud ringing or a high-pitch chirping similar to crickets or cicadas. Others heard the grinding noise. Some victims awoke with ringing in their ears and fumbled for their alarm clocks, only to discover the ringing stopped when they moved away from their beds. The attacks seemed to come at night. Several victims reported they came in minute-long bursts. Yet others heard nothing, felt nothing. Later, their symptoms came.”

These cases continue to baffle U.S. and Cuban officials. “Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack — by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia, or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.”

“Sound and health experts are equally baffled. Targeted, localized beams of sound are possible, but the laws of acoustics suggest such a device would probably be large and not easily concealed. Officials said it’s unclear whether the device’s effects were localized by design or due to some other technical factor.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, New Details Deepen Mystery of US Diplomats’ Illness in Cuba , N.Y. Times (Sept. 14, 2017). Previous posts have discussed these issues regarding U.S. diplomats in Cuba: U.S. and Cuba Have Diplomatic Dispute (Aug. 10, 2017); Another State Department Briefing Regarding Cuban Diplomatic Dispute (Aug. 10, 2017); Update on U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Dispute Over Health  Conditions of U.S. Diplomats Stationed in Cuba (Aug. 23, 2017); At Least 16 U.S. Diplomats Who Had Served In Cuba Have Medical Problems (Aug. 24, 2017) (comment on 8/23/17 post); Washington Post Editorial Blames Cuba for Americans Medical Problems in Cuba (Aug. 25, 2017) (comment on 8/23/17 post); News About Cuba-Related Medical Problems from Canada and London (Aug. 26, 2017) (comment on 8/23/17 post); In August, New Cases of Injured U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Sept. 2, 2017); Two More U.S. Diplomats Serving in Cuba Have Medical Problems (Sept. 13, 2017) (comment on 9/2/17 post).