Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for Central America

Newsline: Philippine embassy in Mexico damaged by quake

There are no reports yet of any Filipino casualty in the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico on Tuesday, September 19, but the quake has damaged the country’s embassy there, Malacañang said. “The Philippine embassy in Mexico City has been damaged by the earthquake. All our embassy officials and staff are safe, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs,” said Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella in a statement on Wednesday, September 20. Embassy personnel are continuously monitoring the situation and are coordinating with the Filipino community in Mexico. The earthquake has killed nearly 140 people after toppling buildings and sowing panic in the capital.

https://www.rappler.com/nation/182727-philippine-embassy-mexico-damaged-earthquake

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Newsline: Top US diplomat says closing embassy in Cuba ‘under review’

The Trump administration will press its concerns about unexplained incidents harming American diplomats in Cuba during a meeting this week in Washington, as the United States considers shuttering its recently re-opened Embassy in Havana. U.S. diplomats will host Cuban official Josefina Vidal, who has been the public face of Cuba’s diplomatic opening with the U.S., and other Cuban officials, a State Department official told The Associated Press. Vidal has served as the chief of U.S. affairs for her country’s foreign ministry and was recently named Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, whose diplomats also were harmed by the mysterious incidents. The United States plans to raise concerns and discuss the status of the ongoing investigation, which has yet to determine a cause of culprit for what the U.S. has variably called “incidents” or “health attacks.” The Trump administration will be represented by John Creamer, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Cuba, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity. On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disclosed that the Trump administration is considering closing down the embassy, the strongest indication to date that the United States might mount a major diplomatic response. The two former foes reopened embassies in Washington and Havana in 2015 after a half-century of estrangement. “We have it under evaluation,” Tillerson said of a possible embassy closure. “It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.” Of the 21 medically confirmed U.S. individuals affected — diplomats and their families — some have permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, The Associated Press has reported. The State Department has emphasized that the U.S. still doesn’t know what has occurred. Cuba has denied any involvement or responsibility but stressed that it’s eager to help the U.S. resolve the matter.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-us-diplomat-says-closing-embassy-cuba-under-080641984–politics.html

Newsline: Bahamas Embassy Driver Paid $46k Overtime in Washington

Bahamas audits looking into the operations of Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ embassies, consulate general offices and a permanent mission, has pointed to apparent loose protocols where there is “excessive” overtime pay, “exorbitant” spending and thousands in uncollected revenue among other shortfalls. At the Bahamas Embassy in Washington, DC, the ambassador’s chauffeur was paid $46,883.13 in overtime during a three-year period from 2014 to 2016, while at the Bahamas Consulate General’s office in DC, the messenger/driver received overtime amounting to $21,534.92. Auditors said at the embassy in DC, officials paid a company $22,484 for an event, but the entity did not perform the duties which were agreed upon. And at the Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, over a period of two year – July 2014 to June 2015 and July 2015 to June 2016 – a total of $28,291.34 was spent to accommodate the hosting of diplomatic and promotional events.

http://www.tribune242.com/news/2017/sep/14/embassy-driver-paid-46k-overtime/

Newsline: US senators urge to close Cuba embassy after acoustic attacks on diplomats

Five GOP senators are calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take more action to protect U.S. diplomats from harassment and acoustic attacks during their service in Cuba. They’re urging Tillerson to remind the Cuban government of its obligation to protect American diplomats and to demand that it take verifiable action to remove these threats to American diplomats and their families. The senators also asked Tillerson to immediately declare all accredited Cuban diplomats in the United States persona non grata and, if Cuba does not take tangible action, to close the U.S. embassy in Havana. In recent months, U.S. Foreign Service officers on temporary duty assigned to the embassy in Havana were mysteriously attacked at four hotels, triggering a range of symptoms in line with similar attacks that began in late 2016, according to a source familiar with the incidents. The first hotel attack began in March, according to the source who identified the hotels as the Nacional, Melia Cohiba, Melia Habana and Capri. The Associated Press first reported Thursday an American diplomat was attacked at the Hotel Capri. Three of the four hotels are within walking distance to the Malecón, Havana’s famed seaside esplanade, and the U.S. embassy.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/five-gop-senators-ask-tillerson-to-close-cuba-embassy-after-attacks-on-diplomats/

Newsline: Mystery of sonic weapon attacks at US embassy in Cuba deepens

The blaring, grinding noise jolted the American diplomat from his bed in a Havana hotel. He moved just a few feet, and there was silence. He climbed back into bed. Inexplicably, the agonizing sound hit him again. It was as if he’d walked through some invisible wall cutting straight through his room. Soon came the hearing loss, and the speech problems, symptoms both similar and altogether different from others among at least 21 US victims in an astonishing international mystery still unfolding in Cuba. The top US diplomat has called them “health attacks”. New details learned by the Associated Press indicate at least some of the incidents were confined to specific rooms or even parts of rooms with laser-like specificity, baffling US officials who say the facts and the physics don’t add up. Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and US intelligence agencies involved in the investigation. Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the US government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August – nine months after symptoms were first reported.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/14/mystery-of-sonic-weapon-attacks-at-us-embassy-in-cuba-deepens

Newsline: Mexico Expels North Korean Ambassador After Latest Nuclear Test

Mexico ordered North Korea’s ambassador to leave the country in 72 hours in response to the Asian nation’s latest nuclear tests. Ambassador Kim Hyong Gil was declared persona non grata and will have to vacate the embassy in Mexico City, the Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. Mexico said it absolutely rejects North Korea’s nuclear activity, calling it a serious risk for peace and international security and a growing threat to the region, including its “fundamental allies” of Japan and South Korea. The expulsion comes as U.S President Donald Trump’s administration presses countries to cut diplomatic and economic ties with Kim Jong Un’s regime over the nation’s missile and nuclear weapons program. Vice President Mike Pence urged Latin American leaders last month to break all diplomatic and economic ties with North Korea during a trip to the region. The U.S. wants the United Nations Security Council to tighten economic sanctions at a meeting on Sept. 11. The U.S. is circulating a draft resolution at the U.N. that would bar crude oil shipments to North Korea, ban the nation’s exports of textiles and prohibit employment of its guest workers by other countries, according to a diplomat at the world body.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-07/mexico-expels-north-korean-ambassador-after-latest-nuclear-test

Newsline: 16 US Embassy Staff In Cuba Treated After ‘Health Attacks’

At least 16 U.S. government employees in Cuba have been treated after experiencing symptoms including hearing loss. Employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba started experiencing odd medical symptoms starting in late 2016, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has characterized as “health attacks.” “We can confirm that at least 16 U.S. government employees, members of our embassy community, have experienced some kind of symptoms,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday. “They have been provided medical treatment in the United States as well as in Cuba. We take this situation extremely seriously.” “This is something that we have not experienced in the past,” she added, saying that the “incidents are not ongoing at this point.” At least one Canadian diplomat reportedly experienced similar symptoms. The State Department determined that “diplomats were either attacked deliberately with a sound device or were somehow exposed in a way that caused them to suffer these very severe symptoms,” according to Weissenstein. A sound device or devices that caused the symptoms was likely placed near or in the embassy staff’s homes, he says.

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/08/25/545993212/at-least-16-u-s-embassy-staff-in-cuba-treated-after-health-attacks