Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Central America

Newsline: Rihanna appointed as ambassador to her native Barbados

After seven years as a cultural ambassador for her native Barbados, the pop star, 30, has been appointed the nation’s “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary,” according to a press release from the country’s Government Information Service. “Rihanna has a deep love for this country and this is reflected in her philanthropy, especially in the areas of health and education. She also shows her patriotism in the way she gives back to this country and continues to treasure the island as her home,” Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley said in the statement. “She has also demonstrated, beyond her success as a pop icon, significant creative acumen and shrewdness in business. It is therefore fitting that we engage and empower her to play a more definitive role as we work to transform Barbados.” Having already helped promote tourism to Barbados since 2008, Rihanna will now also promote the country’s education and investment efforts as part of her new responsibilities. In the statement, Rihanna was quoted as saying she “couldn’t be more proud” of being given the chance to help shape the future of her home country.



Newsline: China opens embassy in Dominican Republic after it deserts Taiwan

China’s most senior envoy inaugurated a new embassy in the Dominican Republic on Friday after the Caribbean country cut ties with Taiwan in a move that prompted US concern over the island’s dwindling number of allies. Self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its own, now has formal relations with only 17 countries, almost all of them small and less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific, including Belize and Nauru. “We have witnessed a historic breakthrough,” said Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi, the government’s top diplomat, in an speech televised by Chinese state media. Along with the Dominican Republic’s decision in May, Panama and El Salvador have also switched recognition to Beijing in the past two years. The United States recalled its top diplomats from those countries and warned that China was offering economic incentives in a bid for domination.


Newsline: Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on embassy personnel. The State Department said new arrangements would be made for refugee applications, but that hasn’t happened yet. The result is a dramatic drop in the number of Cuban refugees coming to Florida — from some 600 a month in late 2017 to fewer than 40 a month today. In December 2016, about 600 Cuban refugees arrived safely in the Tampa Bay area and some 7,000 statewide. Since then, because of two developments, the numbers have plummeted. First, in January 2017, after restoring diplomatic relations severed more than five decades earlier and reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana, President Barack Obama ended wet foot, dry foot. From that point through last September, when embassy services were suspended, an average of 94 Cubans refugees arrived each month in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, according to the state Department of Children and Families. Statewide, the monthly average for this eight-month period was 1,016. From last September through June, the average monthly numbers have fallen to 38 in the Tampa Bay area and 375 statewide. This nine-month period is the latest for which figures were available from the state. The numbers might not include all refugees processed in the two or three months after the suspension.


Newsline: Cuba says US withholds info on diplomat attacks

Cuba said the United States is continuing to withhold important information that could help in the investigation into mysterious incidents that have injured some two dozen Havana-based American diplomats, including some with brain damage, since late 2016. After meeting with U.S. officials at the State Department, members of a team Cuba assembled to look into the incidents said their requests for patient records and other information had again been rebuffed and rejected.


Newsline: U.S. now believes Russia is behind ‘sonic attack’ on 26 embassy personnel in Cuba

Russia is believed to be behind the strange “sonic attacks” that have left U.S. diplomats with concussion-like injuries in Cuba and China, according to a report. Communications intercepts, known as “signals intelligence,” that point to Russia as the culprit have been collected as part of an ongoing investigation by the FBI, CIA and other agencies in the US, multiple sources reportedly told NBC News. The evidence, though, isn’t conclusive enough to formally blame Moscow. Twenty-six U.S. workers have been hurt in the attacks that occurred in their homes or hotel rooms beginning in 2016. Most reported hearing high-pitched sounds, leading investigators to suspect a sonic weapon. The FBI later said sound waves alone couldn’t have caused the symptoms, which included brain injuries, hearing loss, cognitive problems, difficulty with balance and problems with vision and hearing. A U.S. employee experienced similar symptoms following an attack earlier this summer in Guangzhou, China. Now scientists are saying microwaves could be to blame, according to CNN. The unexplained incidents have worsened relations between the Cuba and the U.S., which pulled out most of its diplomats from Havana and tossed 17 Cuban counterparts from Washington. Cuba has denied any involvement, and officials there don’t believe a sonic device is to blame.


Newsline: Cuba’s “Sonic Attack” on the U.S. Embassy Could Have Been Merely Sounds Emitted by a Listening Device

The Associated Press made recordings available of the sounds that the employees reported hearing. If those indeed were the sounds, that would rule out the microwave auditory effect where the microwave-induced vibrations exist only within the head. Chen Yan, Kevin Fu and Wenyuan Xu (of Zhejiang University and the University of Michigan) showed the sounds in the AP recordings are characteristic of those produced by the interaction of two inaudible ultrasound beams via an effect known as intermodulation distortion. Ultrasound is widely used in burglar detectors, room occupancy sensors and other increasingly common appliances, and some individuals report unpleasant audible sensations from such devices. Intermodulation distortion is increasingly being employed to jam microphones used to record concert music illegally or for eavesdropping. Yan and colleagues report ultrasound can be used for eavesdropping purposes as well, by picking up vibrations in objects produced by human speech. In short, it is reasonable to guess the sounds were inadvertently produced by ultrasound devices, possibly even spytech, but without malicious intent against the embassy personnel. The incidents occurred about the time of the 2016 U.S. election, and the Cubans undoubtedly were desperate for intelligence about U.S. intentions. There is even a historical parallel to the recent incidents: In 1972 it became publicly known the Soviets had been irradiating the U.S. embassy in Moscow with low-level microwave energy from the 1950s through the 1970s. Neither side disclosed the reason for this. (A reasonable guess is the Russians were trying to disrupt U.S. listening equipment or to collect data from their own bugs in the building.) The media published hyperbolic stories about supposed attempts to harm the embassy staff, fueling a generation of speculation about microwave “neurowarfare.”


Newsline: Body found in Trinidad and Tobago may be El Salvador embassy worker’s

The body of a man was found in bushes on Warren Road, Cunupia in a Toyota Fortuner SUV. While police have not confirmed an identity as yet, they believe the dead man could be Jose Tito Rivas, an El Salvador Embassy driver. Cunupia police got a report yesterday, at around 9 am, about a car found on the road near some bushes. When they checked, they found the body wrapped in a sheet in the car. The car, which had the registration number PCM 321, is said to be registered to the El Salvador Embassy, where Rivas worked. Rivas was also reported missing, and was last seen in St James according to police. Calls to the embassy went to voice mail.