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Archive for Cuba

Newsline: Canadian government reinstating some visa services at embassy in Cuba

The Canadian Embassy in Havana is reinstating some visa and biometric services after months of pushback from Canadians and Cubans. Starting Aug. 1, Cuban residents will again be able to get the fingerprints and photos needed for applications done at the embassy, as well as drop off passports and pick up visas at the building. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/visas-embassy-cuba-havana-1.5226806) Early this summer, the government announced it was suspending services like visa and permanent residency processing in Havana due to unexplained illnesses among Canadian and U.S. diplomats dating back to the spring of 2017.


Newsline: Mystery illnesses and a side-lined U.S. embassy spell trouble for Cuba

President Obama on December 17, 2014 announced a U.S. opening to Cuba. Months later there was a U.S. embassy in Havana. Beginning in late 2016, however, some diplomats there –CIA agents among them – experienced strange noises, hearing loss, headaches, impaired memory, confused thinking, dizziness, impaired vision and more. Expressing safety concerns, the State Department in September, 2017 recalled most of its employees from its Embassy in Cuba. No longer was the Embassy able to perform regular functions. Yet in China and Canada, where U.S. diplomats exhibited similar symptoms, U.S. embassies went on with their work. Something else was different: the afflicted U.S. diplomats in Cuba, but not in the two other countries, were judged by the FBI to be “possible victim[s] of a crime.” (https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/mystery-illnesses-and-a-side-lined-u-s-embassy-spell-trouble-for-cuba/) Speculation as to what caused the symptoms has ranged from psychiatric illnesses like conversion reaction and mass hysteria to viral infections, chemical agents, microwaves, and confused reactions to sounds produced by a raucous brand of Cuban cricket. U.S. officials introduced the idea of a “covert sonic device.” They and the media refer to “sonic attacks.” President Trump and Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio led in blaming Cuba for leaving the diplomats unprotected, or causing their illnesses, or both. Ostensibly the U.S. government attended to the stricken diplomats out of solicitude for their welfare. But increasingly officials looked like they were exploiting the illnesses to exert pressure on Cuba’s government.

Newsline: Cuba says ‘no proof’ of attack on US embassy workers

Mrs Johana Tablada, deputy director for North America at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told media there was no evidence of a deliberate attack on US Embassy personnel in Havana. Mrs Tablada also called for Washington to stop manipulating the incident to justify sanctions against the Caribbean nation, some two years after an investigation into the incident opened. (https://www.straitstimes.com/world/americas/no-proof-of-attack-on-us-embassy-workers-cuba) The health problems of more than two dozen workers surfaced in 2016 after the administration of former US president Barack Obama reopened the embassy in an effort to improve relations with Havana.

Newsline: Scans show changes to brains of ‘injured’ Havana U.S. embassy workers

Advanced brain scans of U.S. Embassy employees who reported falling ill while serving in Havana revealed significant differences, according to a new study published on Tuesday that does little to resolve the mystery of injuries the Trump administration had characterized as a “sonic attack.” University of Pennsylvania researchers said symptoms described by the embassy workers may be reflected in their brain scans when compared with those of healthy volunteers. The difference between the brains of the workers and people in a control group “is pretty jaw-dropping at the moment,” lead researcher Dr. Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at Penn, told Reuters in a phone interview. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa-diplomats-health/scans-show-changes-to-brains-of-injured-havana-us-embassy-workers-idUSKCN1UI20D) “Most of these patients had a particular type of symptoms and there is a clinical abnormality that is being reflected in an imaging anomaly,” she said.

Newsline: Cuba says USA, not Canada, manipulating diplomat health incidents

Cuba denounced the Trump administration on Thursday (Mar 14) for continuing to refer to health incidents among their diplomats in Havana as “attacks” without presenting any evidence, saying it was part of a broader campaign to damage bilateral relations. (https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/cuba-says-usa–not-canada–manipulating-diplomat-health-incidents-11346348) Both Canada and the United States have cut back their embassies in Havana to skeletal staffing after diplomats there began complaining about mysterious bouts of dizziness, headaches and nausea two years ago. Yet while Republican US President Donald Trump’s administration, which has vowed to unravel the detente with Cuba started by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, was quick to label the incidents “attacks,” Canada has not. A Canadian government official said in January that Cuban officials appeared as frustrated as Canadian ones over not being able to determine a cause. “The topic has been highly manipulated politically by the US government, with unfounded accusations, that have been a pretext to take measures against bilateral relations,” the Foreign Ministry’s director of US affairs, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told a news conference in Havana.

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.