U.S. at U.N. Condemns Cuba’s Imprisonment of Political Opponents 

On October 12 the State Department announced that on October 16 the U.S. will commence a campaign “Jailed for What?” about the continuing plight of Cuba’s political prisoners. This will take place in the U.N. Economic and Social Council and will be led by Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, U.S. Representative to the Council and will also involve  Ambassador Michael Kozak of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro; Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of the Institute of Race and Equality; former Cuban political prisoner Alejandro Gonzalez Raga; and others.[1]

The Department’s release stated, “The estimated 130 political prisoners held by the Cuban government are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.] and many other democratic governments support. Holding the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom are key components of President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum of 2017.”

Cuban Protest

When the Council met on the 16th to consider this U.S. initiative, about 20 Cuban diplomats and supporters staged a noisy protest. [2] They shouted, chanted “Cuba si, bloqueo no [Cuba yes, blockade no]” in protest against a decades-old U.S. trade embargo that will be the subject of an October 31 resolution in the U.N.. General Assembly. They also banged their hands on desks to drown out the U.S. presentation.

U.S. Presentation

Nevertheless, U.S. Ambassador Currie and others, including OAS Secretary-General Almagro, persisted. The Ambassador’s prepared remarks were the following:[3]

  • “A few weeks ago, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel came here to the United Nations and painted a rosy picture of his country as a paragon of solidarity, democracy, and human rights. But to the more than five thousand Cubans who were arbitrarily detained for political reasons in 2017, this is a sick joke.
  • More and more, Cuban repression relies on raids of activists’ homes and offices, short-term detentions, and public denunciations known as ‘repudio.’
  • At the same time, reputable NGOs report that well over 100 Cubans currently languish in jails or under house arrest as political prisoners. The Cuban government tried, convicted, and sentenced many on arbitrary charges like ‘contempt’ of Cuban authorities or ‘pre-criminal social dangerousness’ – bogus legal constructs meant to deny human beings of their most basic rights to free thought and expression.
  • In the case of independent journalist Yoennis de Jesus Guerra Garcia, it was the specious charge of illegally slaughtering livestock, which police found after he ran several press accounts critical of local authorities.
  • However, their real transgression was to protest, criticize the regime, question the irrevocable character of socialism in Cuba, or exercise their freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Cuban constitution.
  • Cuba’s political prisoners are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.]and many other democratic governments support, and that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The urgency of this injustice is exemplified by the grave state of health of Cuban democratic activist Tomas Nunez Magdariaga, who spent 62 days on a hunger strike in protest of his unjust imprisonment. We welcome his long overdue release and return home.[4]
  • President Trump is taking action to hold the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom.
  • Today, we come to the [U.N.] to remind the world that today, in Cuba, there are political prisoners. They come from all over Cuba, these men and women – activists, lawyers, workers, from different faiths and walks of life.
  • They are united in their quest to speak out for a better, freer, more democratic Cuba for themselves and their children. And their imprisonment is not only a violation of the fundamental freedoms all of us cherish, but it is also a human tragedy.
  • We are grateful for the participation today of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who has championed the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the Americas, including for Cuba’s political prisoners.
  • We welcome Carlos Quesada, a civil society activist whose organization works side by side with activists in Cuba and other Latin American nations to enhance their ability to promote and protect the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable people.
  • We are especially honored to have with us today Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a Cuban journalist and former political prisoner, who will tell us his firsthand experience of the horrors of the Cuban prison and justice system.
  • And we will hear from Miriam Cardet, whose brother, Eduardo, is currently serving a three-year sentence in a Cuban jail. Eduardo is a leader in the Christian Liberation Movement who criticized Fidel Castro in November 2016. Several days later, he was arrested. Though witnesses at the scene say authorities beat him during his arrest, it is Cardet who was sentenced for assault
  • The ‘Jailed for What’ campaign will draw attention to the cases of specific political prisoners.
  • We urge our partners to join with us in calling on the Government of Cuba to release all political prisoners.
  • Many Member States in the [U.N.] call themselves friends of Cuba. The [U.S.] is proud to call ourselves friends of the Cuban people.”

Afterwards Currie said, “I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban delegation did today. It was really shocking and disturbing. You can understand very well why people feel afraid to speak their minds … with this kind of government, this kind of thuggish behavior. It has no place here in the United Nations.” She added that the U.S. would raise objections to this protest with the proper U.N. authorities.

Cuban U.N. Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo protested to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the event, and on Tuesday she described the event as a “political comedy. Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it. On the contrary, the U.S. lacks the morals to give lessons, much less in this matter.”

Cuba’s Formal Opposition to the U.S. Initiative

Meanwhile in Havana the Cuba foreign Ministry released the following lengthy statement against the U.S. campaign:[5]

  • “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba rejects in the strongest manner the defamatory campaign against Cuba on human rights, launched on October 16, by the [U.S.] government at the headquarters of the [U.N.]
  • As already warned, this action is part of the sequence of declarations against our country made in recent weeks by high-level officials of the United States government, which show growing hostility towards Cuba and the Cuban Revolution.
  • It is striking that it takes place only two weeks before the vote by the UN General Assembly on the draft resolution entitled ‘Need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States government against Cuba.’
  • This type of action pursues the objective of making pretexts to maintain and intensify the blockade,which constitutes a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of Cuban women and men.
  • The government of the United States has no moral authority whatsoever to criticize Cuba.Instead of worrying about the alleged ‘political prisoners”’who, they claim, would exist in Cuba, they should do so for the violations of human rights that take place in their own territory. In our country there are no political prisoners since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
  • A country whose electoral system is corrupt by nature and has a government of millionaires,destined to apply savage measures against low-income families, the poor, minorities and immigrants cannot speak of human rights and democracy . A country in which, in electoral campaigns and political processes, there are no ethical limits, hate, division, selfishness, slander, racism, xenophobia and lies are promoted. In which money and corporate interests are what define who will be elected.
  • In the [U.S.], the right to vote is denied to hundreds of thousands of Americans because they are poor. In nine states, those who have legal bills or judicial fines to pay cannot vote. In Alabama, more than 100,000 people with debts were removed from the voters lists in 2017. The information media are the preserve of corporate elites. An extremely small group of corporations controls the content that the public consumes, while any version or discrepant opinion is annulled or marginalized.
  • It is a shame that in the richest country in the world about 40 million people live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty and 5.3 million in conditions of absolute poverty. The life of the ‘homeless’ is miserable. In 2016, 553 742 people spent their nights outdoors in the [U.S.].
  • The design and application of policies has been hijacked by the so-called ‘special interests,’ that is, corporate money. The lack of education, health and social security guarantees, restrictions on unionization and terrible gender discrimination are everyday practices.
  • American women are clearly discriminated against in the workplace and continue to receive lower wages than men for doing the same jobs. The poverty, health and safety problems of children are worrisome. People with disabilities suffer violent abuse. Sexual harassment and widespread rapes motivate multiple complaints and protests. The murders of LGTBI people increased during 2017, in a context of continued discrimination against this group in state and federal legislation.
  • In the [U.S.], the average wealth of white families is seven times higher than the average wealth of black families. More than one in four black households had a net worth of zero or negative. The unemployment rate of blacks is almost double that of whites.
  • The government of the [U.S.] should answer for the 987 people who died during 2017 at the hands of law enforcement agents using firearms. According to these data, African-American people, who make up 13% of the population, accounted for almost 23% of the victims.
  • There is systematic racial discrimination in the application of the law and in judicial bodies. Black male offenders were sentenced, on average, to sentences that were 19.1% longer, than those offenders who were in similar situations.
  • Hate crimes based on race reached a record in recent years and only in 2016, a total of 6,121 hate crimes occurred in the [U.S.].
  • Violent crimes have been increasing. The government of that country, at the service of the arms lobby, does not exercise effective control over them, which caused a continuous increase in homicides, even among adolescents.
  • The [U.S.] should put an end to the separation of migrant families, and to the imprisonment of hundreds of children, even in cages, separating them from their parents. While the United States turns its back on the human rights mechanisms of the [U.N.], Cuba maintains a high level of activity and cooperation, which has earned it respect in the relevant organs of the Organization and among the member states.
  • The [U.S.], which was the promoter and support of the bloody military dictatorships in our region, with the complicity of the OAS, has declared the validity and applicability of the Monroe Doctrine as an instrument of foreign policy, in total disregard of the Proclamation of America. America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace.
  • In the Cuban archipelago, the only prisoners who are deprived of their rights and dignity, tortured and confined for long periods, without legal basis, courts of justice or due process, are the ones maintained by the [U.S.] government in the detention center. arbitrary and tortures in the Guantánamo Naval Base that illegally occupies part of our territory.
  • In the Monday session of the Commission of Socio-Humanitarian Affairs of the General Assembly of the [U.N.], the Permanent Representative of Cuba, Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, presented the denunciation of this provocation that received the express repudiation of 11 countries. The Ambassador of the [U.S.] to the ECOSOC, was left without arguments and in absolute isolation.
  • The Coordination Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, summoned in an emergency, met with the presence of 91 delegations, of which 17 intervened expressly in opposition to the slanderous maneuver.
  • The Permanent Missions of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela were there in solidarity with Cuba. As was seen in the television images, the Member States and the other guests, almost without exception, declined to participate in the farce on Tuesday, which was attended by ‘representatives’ of alleged ‘non-governmental’ organizations. . . .
  • Fulfilling scrupulously the requirements published by the Department of State, 22 representatives of 9 US non-governmental organizations that advocate the end of the blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba were registered to participate. Curiously, all but one were prevented from attending by the undemocratic hosts. Other guests were expelled from the room.
  • The journalists, who ended up being the majority of those present, showed faces of fun or resignation, in the case of those intended to please the owners or publishers of the profitable disinformation industry.
  • It is of special concern that the anti-Cuban “event” was allowed to take place in the great headquarters of the [U.N.] Organization and that it was held on World Food Day, precisely by the State that votes against the The right to food” Resolution of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
  • To do so, the rules governing the use of [U.N.] rooms and services have been violated, which make it clear that ‘only events that are consistent with the purposes and principles of the [U.N.] and are justified by their relevance to the work of the Organization.’The Department of State of the [U.S.] intends again to use the facilities of the [U.N.] as its private preserve. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounces that an action of this nature cannot be considered in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Organization, nor relevant to its work, when it is specifically directed against the independence and self-determination of a Member State, and in the framework of a campaign of hostility and threats against Cuba, repudiated by the international community.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs respectfully requests from the General Secretariat of the [U.N.] a rigorous and urgent investigation of what happened, of whose result it informs the General Assembly in a timely and appropriate manner so that appropriate measures can be taken to prevent these aggressive acts against sovereign States. “ (Emphases in original.)

Conclusion

The raucous Cuban protest at the U.S. event was undiplomatic and rude and should be condemned. The lengthy formal statement from the Cuba Foreign Ministry also tested the limits of diplomatic norms, but it could have been submitted at the event without the spectacle of the Cuban protest.

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[1] State Dep’t, U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor To Launch Campaign on Cuba’s Political Prisoners at the United Nations (Oct. 12, 2018); Assoc. Press, US: Cuba’s Political Prisoners Are ‘Affront’ to Democracy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2018).

 [2] Reuters, At U.N., Cuban Diplomats Shout Drown U.S. Event on Political Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuban Diplomats Disrupt UN Meeting Called by US on Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018).

[3] U.S. Mission to the U.N.,  Remarks at a U.S. Event Launching the “Jailed for What?” Campaign Highlighting Cuba’s Political Prisoners (Oct. 16, 2018)

[4] On October 15,  Tomás Núñez Magdariaga was released from a Cuba prison after his 62 days on hunger strike. He asserted that he had been tortured five times in prison. (Released  Tomás Núñez Magdariaga after 62 days on hunger strike, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 16, 2018.)

[5] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban Foreign Ministry rejects defamatory campaign to justify the blockade, CubaDebate (Oct. 16, 2018).

U.S. Protests Cuban Detention of Democratic Activist   

On October 4, the U.S. State Department issued a protest of the Cuban government’s detention of Tómas Nuńez Magdariaga, a democratic activist.[1]

The U.S. said that he “had been on a hunger strike for more than 50 days in protest against his wrongful imprisonment,” that “his health is in a critical state, and that the authorities have denied his family the opportunity to see him.”

The statement added that Nuńez was  “a member of Cuba’s largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, on false charges and convicted him in a sham trial, during which they denied him the opportunity to present witnesses in his favor.”

As a result, the U.S. condemned these practices “in the strongest terms, and calls on the Cuban government to release Mr. Nunez, whose life hangs in the balance, and all political prisoners in Cuba.”

Similar protests were made by the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Senator Marco Rubio and  the non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The Commission added that there were at least 224 arbitrary short-term detentions for political reasons. [2]

Apparently a critical prosecution witness against Nunez was Aldo Rosales Montoya. However, Rosales recently submitted an affidavit to the court that his trial testimony was false and done on instructions from Cuba’s State Security. As a result, Rosales has been accused of perjury.[3]

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, The Wrongful Detention of Tomas Nunez Magdariaga in Cuba (Oct. 4, 2018).

[2] The Secretary General of the OAS reiterates the demand for freedom for Nuńez Magdariaga, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 1, 20180;

 

 

The Human Rights Commission denounces the ‘disturbing situation of Tomás Nuńez Magdariaga, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 3, 2018).

 

[3] The accuser of Nuńez Magdariaga reiterates before the Prosecutor’s Office that he committed perjury, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 5, 2018)

U.S. and Cuba Meet About Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

On September 13, a Cuban delegation met with U.S. representatives in Washington, D.C. to discuss the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats on the island. The Cuban multidisciplinary group, made up of nine scientists and physicians, members of a panel of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, was headed by Johana Tablada, United States Deputy Director General of the Cuba Foreign Ministry, and the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., José R. Cabañas . The US team was chaired by Kenneth Merten, Assistant Principal Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, and made up of medical personnel from the U.S. Department of State.[1]

The following accounts strongly suggest that not much was accomplished at this meeting.

 U.S. Comments[2]

The only official U.S. comments about this meeting were provided after the meeting at the State Department’s general press briefing by the  Department’s spokesperson, Heather Nauert. She said, “[Some] officials from the Cuban Government are here at the State Department today. . . .to discuss some of the medical issues that our people have experienced [in Cuba].” This included some information “about what our people have been experiencing.”

 An anonymous U.S. official said this “meeting was organized after Cuba complained that Washington has withheld important details about the affected Americans’ medical conditions.”

Other U..S. officials “have frankly admitted in background conversations that they still have no idea who or what may be responsible.”

Cuban Comments[3]

The more extensive Cuba Foreign Ministry statement said the following.

“On September 13, 2018 a meeting took place in Washington D.C. between U.S. and Cuban expert scientists to exchange on the health symptoms reported by U.S. diplomats accredited in Havana.”

Before this meeting, “the Cuban team had reviewed the scarce information about the alleged incidents submitted by the [U.S.] Embassy, the publications by a medical team from the University of Pennsylvania, (especially an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)), and the works by other scientists, as well as the conclusions of police investigations conducted separately by the authorities of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).”

“In the meeting, the Cuban team received a summary of the information previously reported in JAMA describing the results of medical examination of some of the diplomats. The Cuban team presented their analysis of the shortcomings of this study, challenged its main conclusions and the scientific interpretation of the  symptoms presented to them.”

“At the end of the . . . [meeting], the Cuban experts verified that the information provided is unable to support the hypothesis of health attacks and brain damage suggested so far by the Department of State, as well as the explanations of the symptoms which according to the Department of State, were reported by their diplomats.”

“The Cuban experts particularly reaffirmed that with the information exchanged it is not possible to demonstrate the existence of a new neurological medical syndrome of brain lesion type, nor it is possible to assert that a brain damage like those caused by a blow to the head  was produced without cranial trauma. This idea is impossible.”

The Cuba team “observed that the medical evidence presented has serious limitations. The majority of the cases described . . . symptoms such as: headaches, nausea, dizziness, subjective balance and sleep disorders, which are caused by functional disorders and conditions such as: hypertension, stress and many others with high prevalence in the U.S. and worldwide. The accuracy of the reports could have also been affected by the average of 203 days that lapsed from the time the alleged incidents took place to the date when medical research was conducted.”

“The neuro-psychological tests, considered to be more objective, were assessed with unusual criteria which, applied to a group of healthy individuals, would qualify all of them as ill. If the internationally established  criteria would have been applied only two subjects could be considered afflicted, the cause of which, could be attributed to different pre-existing conditions.”

“According to those studies, only three individuals were found to have mild or moderate hearing loss, with each audiogram showing correspondence with three different diseases that were probably preexisting.”

“The neuro-images showed no evidence of brain damage. Two individuals showed mild signs and a third one showed moderate signs that, according to the JAMA report, are not specific, are present in many diseases and could be attributed to processes that occurred before those persons travelled to Cuba. It has been impossible for the Cuban experts to access these images.”

“he scientific studies, the Cuban police and FBI investigations, as well as the information shared by the Department of State show a lack of evidence of any kind of attack or deliberate act. The Cuban delegation rejected categorically the use of the term ‘attack’ when there is no evidence whatsoever that support the term. The US officials underscored that they did not have an explanation for the incidents.”

“Cuba expressed its willingness to cooperate and reiterated that it is its highest interest to find an explanation to the reports described. As of February 2017, when the U.S. Embassy in Havana informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the alleged ‘acoustic attacks’ against some officials of said diplomatic mission, Cuba has requested and provided the highest cooperation to clarify what happened, and early on suggested to hold a meeting between medical experts from both countries.”

“The Cuban delegation regretted the lack of access to clinical data and to the doctors who assessed the diplomatic personnel who reported health symptoms. Nevertheless, the Cuban team considers that today’s meeting was a positive step, and yet insufficient. To date, the scientific and medical exchange has only taken place indirectly through the publication of scientific articles, political statements and regrettable press leaks.”

“The Cuban medical team extended an invitation to the U.S. investigation team to hold another scientific exchange in Havana in the near future that can be also attended by those professionals who treated the U.S. diplomats”

Essentially the same points were made at a press conference in Washington immediately after the meeting.

Conclusion

This blogger continues to be amazed at the number of theories that have been advanced to explain these health problems and by the U.S. Government’s public inability to assign blame for these problems. [4]

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[1] Lee (Assoc. Press), US, Cuba meet on mysterious ‘health attacks’ in Cuba, Wash. Post (Sept. 13, 2018); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Officials Discuss Mysterious Embassy Health Incidents, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2018); Lee (Assoc. Press), No progress as US, Cuba meet on mysterious ‘health attacks,’ Wash. Post (Sept. 13, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—September 13, 2018.

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Specialists from Cuba reject notion of health attacks and brain damage in U.S. diplomats, CubaMinRex (Sept. 14, 2018); Cuban specialists reject the theory of “health attacks” and “brain damage” to US diplomats, Granma (Sept. 13, 2018); Cuban specialists reject in Washington theory of “health attacks” and “brain damage” to US diplomats, Cubadebate (Sept. 13, 2018); Harris, Cuban Experts Insist No Proof exists of Attack on diplomats, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2018).

[4]  See posts listed  in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

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).

Continuing Controversy Over Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (and China)

Since late 2016 some U.S. diplomats (now 26 in number) have complained about various medical problems that surfaced while they were serving in Cuba.[1]

The U.S., however, continues to assert publicly that despite subsequent investigations the U.S. does not know what or who caused the problems. Most recently, on September 6, 2018, at a House hearing, Kenneth H. Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated that the “Department does not currently know the mechanism for the cause of the injuries, the motive behind these attacks in Cuba, when they actually commenced, or who is responsible.” At the same hearing, Charles Rosenfarb, the State Department’s Medical Director, testified, “We’re seeing a unique syndrome. I can’t even call it a syndrome. It’s a unique constellation of symptoms and findings, but with no obvious cause.”[2] (Emphases added.)

Cuba, on the other hand, continues to assert that it did not cause the problems and indeed that there is no scientific basis for any contention that the diplomats suffered any kind of medical issues. For example, in June 2018, a Cuban diplomatic official said that Cuba had “challenged the U.S. on the use of the word ‘attack.’ “There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word ‘attack.’ We see it as politically motivated.’” He also noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.[3]

In the meantime, at least the following four theories about causation of the medical problems have emerged.

University of Pennsylvania Theory[4]

Physicians at the University of Pennsylvania examined the affected diplomats and in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) asserted the following key findings:

  1. The patients “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.”
  2. The patients have experienced “persisting disability of a significant nature” involving “hearing, vision, balance and brain symptoms similar to the brain dysfunction seen with concussions, but without histories of head trauma.”
  3. In most cases, the affected diplomats reported hearing a loud, painful noise that they later associated with their symptoms, but the physicians concluded, “There is no known mechanism for audible sound to injure the brain” and “it is currently unclear if or how the noise is related to the reported symptoms.”
  4. “Viruses or chemical exposures are unlikely,” but could not be “systematically excluded.”
  5. “Advanced MRI scans spotted a few changes in some patients in what are called white matter tracts,” but these might be attributed to previous events.
  6. “Several of the objective manifestations consistently found in this cohort,” including vision and balance abnormalities, “could not have been consciously or unconsciously manipulated.”

In August 2018 JAMA published letters from 10 neurologists and doctors from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany that questioned the conclusions of the University of Pennsylvania report. They said it could have misinterpreted the result of medical tests or ignored disorders that cause symptoms among a large group of people, as psychological factors.

Smith and two colleagues published a response that said they are performing “advanced neuroimaging studies” of the patients and are “hoping to identify structural brain changes that may underlie the neurological manifestations.”

University of Michigan Theory[5]

A team of computer scientists from the University of Michigan’s Security and Privacy Research Group in March 2018 concluded that “if ultrasound played a role in harming diplomats in Cuba, then a plausible cause is intermodulation distortion between ultrasonic signals that unintentionally synthesize audible tones. In other words, acoustic interference without malicious intent to cause harm could have led to the audible sensations in Cuba.” The conclusion of the research paper itself also states, “our experiments do not eliminate the possibility of malicious intent to harm diplomats.” (Emphasis added.)

If I correctly understand this theory, the audible sound similar to that heard in Cuba requires at least two ultrasound sources that interfere with each other and this suggests that the audible sound was accidental and not intended. This supports Cuba’s consistent assertion that it did not intend to do anything to harm the American diplomats, an assertion that makes obvious sense from Cuba’s own self-interest of avoiding antagonizing the U.S.

Microwave Theory[6]

The lead physician and author of the University of Pennsylvania report, Dr. Douglas H. Smith, recently told the New York Times that “microwaves were now considered a main suspect and that the team was increasingly sure the diplomats had suffered brain injury.” He added, ““Everybody was relatively skeptical at first [but] everyone now agrees there’s something there.”

According to the Times, “Strikes with microwaves, some experts now argue, more plausibly explain reports of painful sounds, ills and traumas than do other possible culprits — sonic attacks, viral infections and contagious anxiety. In particular, a growing number of analysts cite an eerie phenomenon known as the Frey effect, named after Allan H. Frey, an American scientist. Long ago, he found that microwaves can trick the brain into perceiving what seem to be ordinary sounds.” Moreover, “scientists have known for decades that the brain can perceive some microwaves as sound.” Indeed, “The false sensations, the experts say, may account for a defining symptom of the diplomatic incidents — the perception of loud noises, including ringing, buzzing and grinding. Initially, experts cited those symptoms as evidence of stealthy attacks with sonic weapons.”

Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego, is a leading proponent of the theory that pulsed microwaves could explain the symptoms. She has authored a paper that will be published in coming days in the journal Neural Computation.  The symptoms experienced by the Cuba patients match symptoms in other people who are “electrosensitive,” according to her analysis, which relies on the JAMA study and news reports.

Asked about the microwave theory, the State Department said the investigation had yet to identify the cause or source of the attacks. And the F.B.I. declined to comment on the status of the investigation or any theories. In addition, In addition, members of Jason, a secretive group of elite scientists that helps the federal government assess new threats to national security, say it has been scrutinizing the diplomatic mystery this summer and weighing possible explanations, including microwaves.

James C. Lin of the University of Illinois, a leading investigator of the Frey effect, described the diplomatic ills as plausibly arising from microwave beams. Dr. Lin is the editor-in-chief of Bio Electro Magnetics, a peer-reviewed journal that explores the effects of radio waves and electromagnetic fields on living things. In his paper, Dr. Lin said high-intensity beams of microwaves could have caused the diplomats to experience not just loud noises but nausea, headaches and vertigo, as well as possible brain-tissue injury. The beams, he added, could be fired covertly, hitting “only the intended target.”

In February, ProPublica in a lengthy investigation mentioned that federal investigators were weighing the microwave theory. This article also mentioned that a wife of a member of the embassy staff had looked outside her home after hearing the disturbing sounds and had seen a van speeding away.

Kenneth R. Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, has studied microwave phenomena while working at the Naval Medical Research Center in Bethesda. Foster, who was not involved in examining the diplomatic personnel, said that the reported illnesses remain mysterious and that he doesn’t have an explanation.

Nevertheless, Foster said, “But it’s sure as heck not microwaves.” Such a theory is “wildly impossible.” According to Dr. Foster, “to actually damage the brain, the microwaves would have to be so intense they would actually burn the subject, which has never happened in any of these incidents.” Foster added that there is no technology capable of using microwaves to produce the kinds of symptoms that the U.S. diplomats have experienced — and not for lack of trying. “Actually the Navy was interested in seeing whether this could be used as a weapon, and we spent a lot of time thinking about it, but the phenomenon was simply too weak to be of any conceivable use.”

A rejection of this theory also was voiced by University of Cincinnati neurologist Alberto J. Espay, who said, “Microwave weapons is the closest equivalent in science to fake news.”

A Cuban diplomat, Fernández de Cossío, Director for United States at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, insisted that the microwave theory cannot explain the symptoms suffered by the U.S. diplomats in Havana. Mr. Fernández de Cossío accused the U.S. of carrying a deliberate political manipulation. On Monday, CNN reported that Dr. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, a neurologist investigating on behalf of the Cuban government, also dismissed this theory.

The strangest reaction to the microwave theory came in  a Washington Post editorial. After reviewing the pros and cons of the theory, it concluded, “the microwave explanation has again raised a question about whether the United States has discovered more than is being said about the perpetrators. If there are known culprits, they should be identified and held to account.”

Neuro-Weapon Theory[7]

A team put together by the State Department to investigate this problem consisted of Dr. Michael Hoffer of the University of Miami and an expert in brain trauma and otolaryngology; Dr. Carey Balaban, professor of otolaryngology, bioengineering and neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh; and Dr. James Giordano, professor in the departments of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center, and an expert in “neurotechnology” and its use in the military.

This team independently studied the first tests taken of  those affected. And  this team believes that the patients likely were hit by  a weapon that uses directed energy and is capable of causing a “cavitation” effect or air pockets, in fluids near the inner ear. The bubbles can travel quickly through two pathways that carry blood to the brain from the inner ear — the cochlear and the vestibular — and “function as a stroke,” Giordano said.

Such “neuro-weapons” can be biological, chemical, or in the case of the incidents in Havana, “directed energy weapons.”  The team was unable to conclude exactly what method the perpetrators of the attacks used but reduced it to the following possibilities:

▪ Ultrasonic (acoustic) exposures were considered “very possible and probable.”

▪ Electromagnetic pulsing was also described as “very possible and probable.”

▪ The team reported that the use of microwave energy was possible, but “unlikely.”

Conclusion

I am not a scientist or medical doctor and am unable to evaluate the merits and demerits of the above theories. I, therefore, specifically invite comments with additional information or thoughts.

But I also confess that I am amazed that after nearly two years the official U.S. public position is an inability to identify the cause or perpetrator.

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[1]  Previous posts about these issues are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of Lists of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] U.S. House Foreign Affairs Comm., Western Affairs Subcomm., U.S. Policy Toward Cuba  (Sept. 6, 2018); Kaplan & Ashenbach, Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuban diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 6, 2018).

[3] Recent U.S.-Cuba Developments, dwkcommentaries.com (June 15, 2018), Cuba Still Baffled by Illness of U.S. Diplomats, dwkcommentaries.com (June 11, 2018).

[4] Swanson, et al., Neurological Manifestations Among US Government Personnel  Reporting Directional Audible and Sensory Phenomena in Havana, Cuba, JAMA (Mar. 20, 2018); Medical Report on U.S. Diplomats with Health Problems Occurring in Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2018); What affected the US diplomats in Cuba? Ten scientists question the ‘attacks,’ Diario de Cuba (Aug. 15, 2018); Gianoli, et al., Neurological Symptoms in US  Government Personnel in Cuba, JAMA (Aug. 14, 2018); Mojena, The truth is that they do not want to listen, Granma (Aug. 17, 2018); Do ‘Sonic Weapons’ Adequately Explain ‘Health Attacks’ on Diplomats in Cuba?  Snopes (updated Sept. 4, 2018); Rasenick, et al., Letter: Cuba ‘sonic attack’ conspiracy theories and flawed science, Guardian (June 1, 2018); Sample, Cuban ‘acoustic attack’ report on US diplomats flawed, say neurologists, Guardian (Aug. 14, 2018).

[5] Possible Solution to Mystery of “Sonic Attacks” on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Mar. 4, 2018).

[6] Broad, Microwave Weapons Are Prime Suspect in Ills of U.S. Embassy Workers, N.Y. Times (Sept. 1, 2018); Kaplan & Achenbach, Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuba diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 6, 2018); Could ‘Microwave Weapon Really Have Caused US Embassy Workers’ ‘Bizarre Symptoms? LiveScience (Sept/ 5, 2018); Foster, Cuba’s “Sonic Attack” on the U.S. Embassy Could Have Been Merely Sounds Emitted by a Listening Device, Scientific American (Sept. 7, 2018); Editorial, A literal secret weapon is hurting U.S. diplomats abroad. What is it? Wash. Post (Sept. 7, 2018).

[7] Gámez, Doctors reveal possible ‘neuro-weapon’ used in alleged attacks in Cuba, Miami Herald (Sept. 7, 2018).

 

U.S. House Hearing on U.S. Policy Towards Cuba  

On September 6, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee held a hearing on U.S. policy on Cuba.[1]

The subcommittee heard from the  following five witnesses, the first four of whom were from the  State Department and the last (Mr. Mazanec) from the U.S. Government Accountability Office: (1) Kenneth H. Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; (2) Peter Bodde, Coordinator, Health Incidents Response Task Force; (3) Charles Rosenfarb, M.D., Medical Director, Bureau of Medical Services; (4) Todd Brown, Assistant Director for Countermeasures, Bureau of Diplomatic Security; and (5) Brian M. Mazanec, Ph. D.

Since the audio recording of the hearing is virtually impossible to hear, the following are the highlights of the prepared and printed statements of two of the witnesses and the brief comments from the Washington Post article.

Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Merten

Human Rights. The Department continues to monitor “human rights developments in Cuba and actively engages with members of Cuban civil society. . . . The Department and USAID also continue to administer U.S. government funded programs to promote democracy and support the critical work of human rights defenders on the island. . . . we regularly speak out against the regime for repression and abuse and raise these concerns directly with the Cuban government.

Cuban Economy. The State Department’s “Cuba Restricted List . . . identifies entities and subentities with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise. . . . [It seeks to ] redirect economic activity that once supported the Cuban military toward the Cuban private sector and Cuban people.”

The Department’s Cuba Internet Task force. It is charged to “develop recommendations on 1) the role of media and unregulated flow of information to Cuba and 2) expanding internet access in Cuba” and is scheduled to complete its work by June 2019.

Promoting Stability and Prosperity. The Department has “1) reviewed democracy programs in Cuba to ensure they align with the criteria set forth in the LIBERTAD Act; 2) provided a report to the President detailing the Cuban regime’s human rights abuses against the Cuban people and its lack of progress towards a “transition government” as described in the LIBERTAD Act; 3) provided a report to the President on bilateral engagement with Cuba to ensure it advances U.S. interests; 4) took a stand at the UN against Cuban anti-embargo propaganda; and 5) continues to work with the Department of Homeland Security to discourage dangerous, unlawful migration that puts Cuban and American lives at risk.”

“Health Attacks” on U.S. Personnel.  Merten reminded the subcommittee that “the Department first became aware of these health complaints and an increase in Cuban harassment in late December 2016, [bit] it was not until months later, after highly specialized medical testing was performed and analyzed by experts, that we began to understand the spectrum of severity and confirm the extent of the health effects. That confirmation indicated that these incidents went beyond routine harassment previously experienced by U.S. diplomats in Havana.”

He then stressed that  the “Department does not currently know the mechanism for the cause of the injuries, the motive behind these attacks in Cuba, when they actually commenced, or who is responsible.” (Emphasis added.)

He also emphasized that the U.S. Government was committed to long-term support for the affected personnel.

He mentioned that Secretary of State Pompeo has established an Accountability Review Board that had submitted its report on June 7 and that the Secretary has accepted all of its recommendations.

 Dr. Rosenfarb

“We’re seeing a unique syndrome. I can’t even call it a syndrome. It’s a unique constellation of symptoms and findings, but with no obvious cause,” testified Dr. Rosenfarb.

 Dr. Mazane

His prepared statement summarized the GAO’s July 30, 2018 report (released on September 6) that reviewed the State Department’s management of these health incidents and made recommendations for improvements in same.

Conclusion

 This blog previously has criticized the U.S. so-called democracy promotion activities in Cuba and the U.S. Cuba Internet Task Force because they are unilateral attempts to impose U.S. values on Cuba. Instead, this blog has advocated for the U.S. attempting to develop such programs with the cooperation of the Cuban government. This blog also has also called for the U.S. to ends its embargo of Cuba.[2]

A future post will discuss the latest developments regarding U.S. diplomats who have had medical problems arising from their being stationed in Havana.

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[1] U.S. House Rep., Foreign Affairs Comm., Western Hemisphere Subcomm., U.S. Policy Toward Cuba (Sept. 6, 2018); Kaplan & Ashenbach, Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuban diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 6, 2018).

[2] See the following sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA: U.S. Embargo of Cuba, Cuban Human Rights, Cuban Economy, U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba and U.S. Cuba Internet Task Force.

 

 

State Department’s Cuba Accountability Review Board Report

On August 30, the U.S. Secretary of State submitted a report to Congress about the Cuba Accountability Review Board’s (ARB) investigation and report regarding the State Department’s responses to medical problems of some U.S. diplomats in Cuba. [1]

The ARB’s 30 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Department were grouped into the following six areas:

  • “Accountability: The ARB found the lack of a single designated senior-level Department official with responsibility for responding to the attacks resulted in insufficient communications with employees and impeded coordination within the Department and with other agencies. The ARB recommended elevating the overall responsibility for the Cuba response to the Deputy Secretary of State. In May, the Deputy Secretary – at the Secretary’s request – established the interagency Health Incidents Response Task Force to direct a multi-agency response to the unexplained health incidents that have affected U.S. government personnel and family members stationed overseas. The Department has committed to reviewing – and revising when necessary – procedures for ensuring continued senior-level leadership at all times, as well as validating and strengthening guidance for Chiefs of Mission (including Chargés), emphasizing their responsibility for the safety and security of personnel abroad. The Department is establishing a new position solely responsible for longer-term outreach and assistance to personnel affected by these incidents.”
  • “Interagency Coordination: The ARB found that interagency information sharing should be enhanced to improve understanding of the problem and more coordinated initial responses. The ARB noted the Department’s well-established and successful procedures for dealing with crisis situations and highlighted the benefit of reviewing its processes for communication and coordination with interagency partners, as well as reminding leaders of these processes. The Department agrees with these recommendations and will re-issue guidance outlining the various tools and processes Washington and posts abroad have available to prepare for and respond to crisis situations. The Department will reinforce the importance of proper and timely implementation of these procedures, and is committed to working with interagency partners to ensure coordination of efforts on the response to the incidents.”
  • Medical Issues: The ARB found the Department’s Bureau of Medical Services provided competent and professional response to an unprecedented situation, but they had insufficient resources to support the long-term care and follow-up needed for these types of incidents. To address the ARB’s recommendations, the Department, in coordination with other appropriate U.S. government agencies, is identifying and reviewing applicable legal authorities and resources for long-term medical follow-up and treatment for U.S government personnel and families impacted by the incidents in Cuba, and will seek legislative remedies where necessary. The Department is also working closely with the Department of Labor to allow for the proper adjudication of workers’ compensation claims from Department personnel. Additionally, the ARB recommended the Department make pre-departure and post-assignment medical screening a mandatory condition for assignment to, or temporary duty in, Havana. The Department is in the process of developing policy modifications to make such screenings mandatory. The ARB also recommended the Department engage the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to undertake a comprehensive medical and epidemiologic study of the symptoms and clinical findings related to the incidents in Cuba. The Department is working with the CDC to support such an analysis.”
  • Internal Communication and Information Sharing: The ARB made several recommendations to facilitate communication and information sharing in the case of any future incidents. The Department is implementing the ARB’s recommendations, with the goal of: clarifying responsibilities, providing centralized points of contact to coordinate efforts, establishing clear notification protocols, and ensuring as much transparency as possible to those affected, taking into account the privacy of the individuals involved as well as sensitive law enforcement and national security information.”
  • “Risk/Benefit Analysis: The ARB made several recommendations to ensure the Department enacts its already established processes to conduct formal risk/benefit analyses and ensure any actions balance Department priorities with risk management. The Department is implementing these recommendations, and taking steps to enhance broader awareness of these processes throughout the Department. For example, the Department has processes to conduct an analysis at least once annually of mitigation measures and residual risks associated with operating at high threat, high risk posts and at those posts on Authorized or Ordered Departure for 90 days or more due to security reasons. The Department will continue to implement this approach.”
  • “Diplomatic Security: The ARB found individual offices within the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) responded to the Cuba incidents reports based on their respective areas of expertise, but that the overall response would have benefitted from the formulation and resourcing of a formal DS multi-disciplinary working group. The Department agreed, and DS formed a Health Incidents Response Working Group with members from all relevant DS offices reporting to the DS Assistant Secretary. This working group has increased communication among the various interagency investigative representatives, and ensured action items are addressed quickly and comprehensively. Additionally, to address future potential unexplained health-security incidents, the Department developed standardized formal guidance, leveraging existing crisis response processes, designed to ensure a consistent response from all agencies at post. All posts are reviewing and updating their emergency action plans to incorporate this guidance. The ARB also suggested the Department review its training programs for security personnel. DS is in the process of reviewing its training and briefing programs to ensure security officers have adequate knowledge of these types of incidents prior to going to post.

The report to Congress stated that the Department already had implemented half of the ARB’s 30 recommendations and is actively working to complete the rest.

“The ARB’s mandate was not to determine the cause of the unexplained health incidents.” (Emphasis added.)

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Accountability Review Board (Aug. 30, 2018). The underlying developments for the ARB are discussed in the “U.S. Diplomats’ Medical Problems in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.