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Archive for Cuba

Newsline: US expels two Cuban diplomats to the UN in New York

The US has expelled two Cuban diplomats to the UN in New York, accusing them of conducting “activities harmful to US national security”, a State Department spokeswoman said. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49764300) All of Cuba’s UN mission are now restricted to Manhattan where the UN is headquartered, Morgan Ortagus added. The US has yet to provide details about the alleged actions. Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez called the move “categorically unjustified”. Mr Rodriguez tweeted (in Spanish) that the accusations were “vulgar slander”, and said the expulsion has created tensions between the two countries. World leaders are set to gather for an annual meeting at the UN in just a few days.

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Newsline: Canadian diplomatic staff in Cuba may have been affected by mosquito gas, not ‘sonic weapon’

Canadian researchers say they may have identified the cause of a mystery illness which plagued diplomatic staff in Cuba in 2016. Some reports in the US suggested an “acoustic attack” caused US staff similar symptoms, sparking speculation about a secret sonic weapon. But the Canadian team suggests that neurotoxins from mosquito fumigation are the more likely cause. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49770369) So-called “Havana syndrome” caused symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, dizziness and tinnitus. It made international headlines when the US announced more than a dozen staff from its Cuban embassy were being treated. Cuba denied any suggestion of “attacks”, and the reports led to increased tension between the two nations. In July, a US academic study showed “brain abnormalities” in the diplomats. The Canadian team from the Brain Repair Centre in Halifax thinks it now has the answer. Canadian diplomats were affected by similar reactions to US counterparts – though the study noted that the symptoms of the Canadians were more gradual than the “acute, directional… auditory stimulus” in some of the US cases. The study notes that tests carried out on 28 participants – seven of whom were tested both before and after being posted to Havana – support a diagnosis of brain injury acquired by diplomats and their families while in Cuba. The patterns of brain injury “all raise the hypothesis of recurrent, low-dose exposure to neurotoxins”, the report said. Specifically, the results were “highly suggestive” of something called cholinesterase inhibitor intoxication. But the low, consistent doses the researchers believe were delivered are consistent with exposure to commercial pesticides, the study’s authors said. And fumigation in Cuba increased after the country “declared war” on the Zika virus in 2016, spraying gas around or even inside diplomats’ homes.

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.