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Archive for Central America

Newsline: Canada closes Haiti embassy as violent protests trap Quebec tourists

Canada closed its embassy in Haiti Thursday amid violent street protests that have trapped dozens of Canadians in the Caribbean country (https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2019/02/14/canada-closes-haiti-embassy-as-violent-protests-trap-quebec-tourists.html). Global Affairs Canada had updated its travel advisory for Haiti a day earlier, advising against all non-essential travel to the country. “We will continue to evaluate the security situation over the coming days to determine what steps are necessary to ensure that our diplomats and their families are safe,” Global Affairs said in a statement Thursday. It said it has people on the ground to provide assistance to Canadian citizens in Haiti as needed. A group of tourists from Quebec are stuck in a Haiti hotel, unable to make it to the Port-au-Prince airport because of violent street protests. The only highway linking the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Indigo Beach resort to the airport is considered extremely dangerous, and people are staying off it. The hotel on the Caribbean country’s Cote des Arcadins is about 75 kilometres north of the capital.


Newsline: Canadian diplomats who worked in Cuba suing Ottawa for $28M

Canadian diplomats who were based in Havana are suing the federal government for $28 million in connection with mysterious health issues consistent with traumatic brain injuries experienced while they were in Cuba. The group suing the government includes 15 people: five diplomatic staff members, their spouses and children, who worked in Cuba between 2016 and 2018. According to the statement of claim filed in federal court, the group—all unnamed plaintiffs— allege that over the past few years these diplomatic families have “been targeted and injured, suffering severe and traumatic harm by means that are not clear.” These diplomatic families—who spoke with CTV News under the condition of anonymity—have reported symptoms similar to concussions such as dizziness, confusion, headaches, and nosebleeds (https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/havana-syndrome-canadian-diplomats-who-worked-in-cuba-suing-ottawa-for-28m-1.4285732). “My brain just doesn’t work the way it used to,” one woman said, adding that she sometimes suddenly loses her balance. “My kids are having nosebleeds,” said another. “My youngest son is passing out for no reason.” The statement of claim refers to the mysterious illness as the “Havana Syndrome.” It remains unclear what has caused these diplomats to experience these symptoms. It had been thought perhaps it was a sonic attack, or even crickets. American diplomats in Havana have been thought to be the targets of what U.S. officials have called “health attacks,” as they have also reported similar symptoms that the American government has been probing. The group alleges that the Canadian government mishandled the crisis, deliberately withheld information from these Canadian diplomats, damaged their reputations and put their families in harm’s way.

Newsline: Canada to halve staff at Cuba embassy after another diplomat falls ill

Canada has decided to remove up to half of its embassy staff in Cuba after another diplomat fell mysteriously ill – bring the number of confirmed unexplained health cases to 14 since early 2017. Ottawa confirmed Wednesday that the staff at the embassy in Havana was going from about 16 positions to up to eight. The 14 Canadians affected includes diplomats and some of their family members, officials said. A senior Canadian government official said in a briefing for journalists that the latest case involves a diplomat who arrived at the Caribbean island in the summer and reported symptoms on Dec. 29.


Newsline: The Real Story Behind the Havana Embassy Mystery

The most dire diplomatic crisis of the Trump administration, or maybe just the weirdest, began without much notice in November 2016, some three weeks after the new president was elected. An American working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana—some call him Patient Zero—complained that he had heard strange noises outside his home. In all, some two dozen people were eventually evacuated for testing and treatment. The outbreak at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba wasn’t the only mysterious illness to pop up in the headlines. Around the same time that embassy officials were preparing to fly home, more than 20 students at an Oklahoma high school suddenly came down with baffling symptoms—uncontrollable muscle spasms, even paralysis. But the Cuban mystery, the Trump administration insisted, was different. It was not some environmental mishap, but something far more diabolical. Encouraged by U.S. officials, the media quickly unfurled a story that the mysterious sound was an “attack”—an act of war. Some kind of “acoustic weapon” had been secretly aimed at the diplomats, in an effort to reduce them to brain-damaged zombies. By January 2018, some of the government’s own experts had ruled out a sonic attack. If you view what happened to the diplomats in Havana as an “attack,” you must look for something capable of producing such an assault. It would have to emit a sound that varied widely from listener to listener. It would have to strike only people who worked at the embassy. It would have to assail them wherever they happened to be, whether in their homes or staying at a hotel. It would have to produce a wide range of symptoms that seemed to bear no relation to one another. And it would have to start off small, with one or two victims, before spreading rapidly to everyone in the group. As it happens, there is and always has been one mechanism that produces precisely this effect in humans. Today it’s referred to in the medical literature as conversion disorder—that is, the conversion of stress and fear into actual physical illness. But most people know it by an older, creakier term: mass hysteria. Conversion disorder, according to the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, is the “rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms among members of a cohesive social group, for which there is no corresponding organic origin.” Scientists in Cuba were among the first to realize that the outbreak at the American Embassy conformed to mass hysteria. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, told The Washington Post, “If your government comes and tells you, ‘You’re under attack. We have to rapidly get you out of there,’ and some people start feeling sick … there’s a possibility of psychological contagion.” Some American experts who were able to review the early evidence concurred. “It could certainly all be psychogenic,” Stanley Fahn, a neurologist at Columbia University, told Science magazine. But the government also ignored data that didn’t fit its preferred theory. Early on, there was an outbreak of symptoms among Canadian officials in Havana. But Canada and Cuba enjoy good relations, so it made no sense for Cuba to be attacking Canadians. Likewise, an isolated report of a similar “attack” at the U.S. Embassy in China briefly made the news, but was eventually dropped from the narrative. U.S. officials further loaded the dice by selecting the people sent home for testing—presenting an incomplete and misleading set of data for doctors to examine. Since 2000, there have been more events of mass psychogenic illness than there were in the entire previous century. The prescribed treatment for psychological contagion—avoiding inflammatory rhetoric and letting everyone calm down—will be increasingly difficult in the age of the Twitter Presidency, when the populace is regularly needled into fits of panic. There is a new battlespace in America’s ongoing war over what is real, and it can be found inside the architecture of our own skulls.


Newsline: Honduras mulling moving embassy to Jerusalem

A delegation of senior officials from Honduras was recently in Israel, reportedly to explore the possibility of moving the Honduran embassy to Jerusalem, after secret talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a Hadashot TV news report Sunday, Honduras is demanding that Israel open an embassy in its capital, Tegucigalpa, and deepen bilateral trade in exchange for relocating its mission. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed the delegation’s visit, but said only that there was an “ongoing process of discussions that has yet to mature.” There was no immediate confirmation from Tegucigalpa.


Newsline: Haiti closes only Embassy in Africa

Haiti no longer has an Embassy in Africa, following the closure of its Embassy in Benin last week. According to Government officials, in July 2016, announced plans to close its only Embassy on the African continent but without specifying at that time the definitive nature or a date for the official move. “It remains understood that this decision will in no way affect the excellent relations of friendship, solidarity and cooperation that exist between Haiti and Benin, two sister countries united by strong historical and cultural ties,”the government noted. The Embassy says that while waiting for new provisions, members of the Haitian community living in Benin and elsewhere on the African continent will want to address to the Consulate General of Haiti in Paris for their consular documents request.


Newsline: 25 US employees at embassy in Cuba did suffer inner-ear damage

Two dozen U.S. diplomats and government employees who experienced dizziness and ear pain from a mysterious illness while assigned to Cuba were found to have suffered inner-ear damage, according to a new study by doctors who first treated them. The report said the majority of the 25 individuals reported intense pain in one or both ears and experienced tinnitus, or a ringing in ears. All of the individuals noticed “unsteadiness and features of cognitive impairment,” according to the report. The study by physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pittsburgh was published Wednesday in Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology journal. The doctors found that the patients displayed “abnormalities in the otolithic organs,” or damage to the inner ear that controls balance.