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Archive for Cuba

Newsline: Cuba condemns US cuts to embassy staff over ‘health attacks’

A senior Cuban official is condemning Washington’s decision to make the withdrawal of 60 percent of the U.S. Embassy staff permanent in response to mysterious ailments affecting American diplomats. Carlos Fernandez de Cossio says the decision is motivated by politics and has nothing to do with the safety of diplomats. The new director of U.S. issues at the ministry told reporters Monday that the cuts will hurt consular services and make travel more difficult for ordinary citizens. He says it may also erode long-standing cooperation on migration. The State Department made the cuts permanent last week. It initially scaled back staff in October in response to hearing loss and other ailments affecting at least 24 U.S. citizens. U.S. investigators have not determined a cause and Cuba denies any wrongdoing.



Newsline: Malfunctioning Surveillance Gear, Not Sonic Weapons, Could Explain Cuba Embassy ‘Attack’

Bizarre reports of US diplomatic staff in Cuba suffering from symptoms resembling brain trauma, allegedly after hearing unsettling sounds resembling scraping metal or insects buzzing, have continued to baffle medical researchers. But a team from the University of Michigan may have come up with a credible explanation for the incident, per the Miami Herald. Kevin Fu and other members of the university’s Security and Privacy Research Group say that they believe that the sounds could have been caused by improperly placed Cuban spy gear. According to their research, if two inaudible ultrasound surveillance devices were placed too closely together, the resulting interference could become audible—meaning the Cubans may have actually just screwed up rather than intentionally harmed the Americans, the Herald wrote: Fu and his team used recordings of the sound obtained by The Associated Press and applied reverse-engineering to replicate what was heard by diplomats. By combining various ultrasound signals, they discovered that the resulting distortion produced an audible sound similar to what was heard in the original recording. “When a second inaudible ultrasonic source interfered with the primary inaudible ultrasonic source, intermodulation distortion created audible byproducts that share spectral characteristics with audio from the AP news,” the university report said.


Newsline: US makes staff cuts permanent at embassy in Cuba

The U.S. is making permanent its decision last year to withdraw 60% of its diplomats from Cuba. The severely reduced staffing at the U.S. Embassy is because of unexplained “health attacks” on some employees, the U.S. State Department said Friday. The State Department said the embassy “will operate as an unaccompanied post, defined as a post at which no family members are permitted to reside.” The move, which goes into effect Monday, stems from late 2016 when a series of U.S. diplomats in Havana began suffering unexplained losses of hearing and the beginnings of neurological symptoms. The statement said the department still does not have “definitive answers” on the source or cause of the attacks and that an investigation continues.



Newsline: Scientists Seek Clues To Illness In US Staff in Cuba

They described hearing loud, unusual noises in either their homes or hotel rooms. Afterwards, they experienced concussion-like symptoms such as memory and thinking problems, headaches, dizziness and balance issues. But the exact nature of what harmed more than 20 U.S. government personnel stationed in Havana, Cuba, last year remains mysterious, reports a team led by Dr. Douglas Smith of the University of Pennsylvania. All that can be said for sure is that “we have identified a new syndrome that may have important public health implications,” Smith said.



Newsline: New head of US embassy in Cuba faces critical road ahead

A new chargé d’affaires begins his role at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba Saturday as relations between the U.S. and Cuba are at a low point since diplomatic relations were renewed in 2015 after more than 50 years of hostilities. Just this week, the U.S. received a barrage of criticism for creating an internet task force with the aim of expanding internet access on the island. According to a State Department official speaking on background to NBC News, Philip Goldberg is scheduled to assume duties as the interim chargé d’affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Havana starting February 10. The news was first reported by Reuters on Feb. 7.



Newsline: Cuba grants visa to senior US diplomat to lead Havana embassy

Cuba has given a visa to a senior American diplomat to lead the U.S. embassy in Havana, a U.S. official said, in a sign both nations want to keep open lines of communication despite a sharp deterioration in relations since President Donald Trump took office. The diplomat, Philip Goldberg, will take up the post as charge d‘affaires within days, the U.S. official said. He will head a mission that Washington stripped of many staff four months ago amid a dispute over mystery illnesses among its diplomats on the Communist-run island. He is likely to spend about six months in the position though the length of his stint is not certain, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Goldberg would be the highest ranking U.S. foreign service officer to serve as charge d‘affaires in Havana, said the U.S. official. The fact that Washington selected a diplomat of his rank – one of the senior-most serving career U.S. diplomats – and that Havana accepted him when it could have stalled or rejected him suggests a desire on both sides to maintain links.



Newsline: Desperate Cubans seek US visas in Colombia after Havana embassy cutbacks

The once-quiet villa that houses the Colombian embassy in the plush Miramar suburb of Havana is a hub of activity as Cubans line up outside from dawn until dusk, sheltering from the sun and rain under umbrellas and trees. Colombian consul Luis Fernando Cordoba said his team was working much longer hours than usual and getting back-up to cope with higher demand for visas. The United States said it would process Cuban family reunification requests at its Bogota embassy. Bogota, the capital of Colombia, is an approximate three hour flight from Havana, and Colombia requires Cuban visitors to obtain visas. The United States has a deal with Cuba to issue 20,000 U.S. visas a year to Cubans seeking to emigrate, agreed after a 1994 rafter exodus to prevent them from taking to the sea illegally in makeshift craft. Washington issued more than 800 immigrant visas to Cubans per month from March to August last year, State Department data shows, but just 168 in September, 16 in October and 196 in November in the wake of the scaling back of its Havana embassy. The Trump administration said it had no choice but to reduce staffing, given it believed two dozen of its diplomats and family members in Havana had been sickened in a mysterious spate of attacks. A U.S. official told Reuters last week the government will not send staff back yet.