CUBA BRIEF: On Cuba, Venezuela, plot to kill Rubio, more on American diplomats under health attack in Cuba, and foolishness of Obama’s outreach

In this CubaBrief: 

  • Cuba’s assault on US diplomats proves the foolishness of Obama’s outreach,The New York Post, August 13, 2017
  • VP Pence Says US Won’t Stand By as Venezuela ‘Crumbles,’ The New York Times, August 14, 2017
  • Obama’s foreign policy haunts Trump and the United States, The Washington Post, August 14, 2017
  • Venezuelan leader may have launched Rubio assassination plot, Politico, August 13, 2017
  • Diplomats under ‘health attack’ in Cuba were treated by Miami doctors. The Miami Herald, August 13, 2017


 The New York Times, August 14, 2017

VP Pence Says US Won’t Stand By as Venezuela ‘Crumbles’


CARTAGENA, Colombia — Seeking to highlight the growing plight in Venezuela, Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with people who’ve fled the country to neighboring Colombia.

Pence is paying a visit to the Calvary Chapel in Cartagena, where he’s meeting with faith leaders and Venezuelan families before departing to Buenos Aires, Argentina, later Monday. His wife, Karen Pence, helped to lead a prayer circle, where she prayed for “comfort to the Venezuelan refugees.”

The vice president and his wife also spent time speaking with the migrants, listening to their emotional stories. Reporters were not able to hear their conversations, but watched Pence comfort several women, including at least one who was seen wiping away tears.

Pence’s visit comes as he tries to rally the region against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s attempts to consolidate power.

Pence on Sunday evening denounced Maduro’s tactics and said the U.S. will not stand by as Venezuela “crumbles.”

Venezuelan officials have been firing back in a series of statements, with Information Minister Ernest Villegas denouncing U.S. meddling in Venezuela’s affairs as hypocritical on Twitter Monday.

“The US and its satellite in Bogota are trying to give classes in democracy to Venezuela while it provides cover for neo-Nazis in its own territory,” Villegas wrote, linking to photos of the recent deadly march in Charlottesville, Virginia involving far-right groups.


The Washington Post, August 14, 2017

PostPartisan, Opinion

Obama’s foreign policy haunts Trump and the United States

By Ed Rogers August 14

Just as the cloaking media fog created by the Obama administration has begun to fade, former president Barack Obama is reportedly planning his reemergence into the political arena. Good — it seems to be perfect timing, as he has some explaining to do. Specifically, the willfully hidden deficiencies and delusions of the Obama administration’s foreign policy are emerging as some of President Trump’s most consequential and urgent problems. Forgive me if this piece runs a little long, but any discussion of Obama’s foreign policy blunders does not lend itself to brevity.

For starters, circumstances with Cuba and North Korea are the result of Obama-era blunders and the suppression of truth. Happy to help their liberal icon who could do no wrong, much of the mainstream media was compliant in publishing Obama’s spin. Now, the problems are reemerging and they are more dangerous and urgent than Obama and crew wanted us to believe.

For starters, it was discovered that in 2016, a possible “acoustic attack” targeted U.S. diplomatic staff in Havana. According to the Associated Press, American diplomats in Cuba have developed “severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device.” Some have even been sent back to the United States. While it remains publicly unknown who planned and executed the possible attack, the fact is that Obama and his administration withheld crucial information from the public. And it appears they did nothing in response to the apparent targeting of on our own people. They certainly didn’t sound the alarm and demand answers from their Cuban friends. Why would that be? The only answer is that they wanted Obama’s opening to Cuba to appear wise and unblemished, and they wanted to sugarcoat or ignore Cuba’s sinister behavior.

Meanwhile in North Korea, the Obama administration failed to prevent further progress from being made on the Kim regime’s nuclear weapons program, to say the least. Citing a recent confidential assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency, The Post reported last week that “North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power.” This was known as far back as 2011. Yet the Obama administration suppressed the news and kept selling its policy of “strategic patience.” Turns out “strategic patience” in Asia was a lot like “leading from behind” in the Middle East. Specifically, the United States did nothing, much of the media applauded, our problems festered and now a deadly crisis is at hand.

And while we’re at it, the Democrats and their allies in the media went on a crusade to confirm nonexistent manipulation of American intelligence when President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, but I can discern no similar effort by the usual suspects on the left to expose the fact that Obama hid the truth of North Korea’s rapid development of its nuclear weapons. Much of the media is obsessing over President Trump’s “fire and fury” remarks, but they are ignoring the fact that it was Obama who allowed North Korea to get to this dangerous point.

As troubling as these revelations are, they should not come as a surprise. They were typical. Remember, the Obama White House boasted about its ability to manipulate the media during its capitulation to Iran. According to The Post, “One of President Obama’s top national security advisers, [Ben Rhodes,] led journalists to believe a misleading timeline of U.S. negotiations with Iran over a nuclear agreement and relied on inexperienced reporters to create an ‘echo chamber’ that helped sway public opinion to seal the deal.” The administration preyed on naive reporters who were either sympathetic to Obama or too inexperienced to see right through the scam. And as a result, anyone in Congress — or in the public for that matter — who disagreed with the Iran nuclear agreement was made out to be a heretic and warmonger. Well, the deceptive ploy to hide the truth and sell the Iran deal wasn’t just a one-off rogue operation from Team Obama. It was standard operating procedure.

Given what we now know about Cuba and North Korea, it is important to reveal other realities that Trump has to deal with that were under-reported during Obama’s presidency. Just to mention a few: Iraq is a client state of Iran; Afghanistan is beyond the brink; Obama kept a zombie regime in place in Kabul that couldn’t last a month without U.S. support, and most of the countryside is either under the control of the Taliban or under the control of local warlords of uncertain loyalty; anarchy reigns in Venezuela; and, southeast Asia thinks the United States has become unreliable or has departed altogether. To our allies in the Pacific, China is viewed as the future. This is directly the result of Obama-era weakness and neglect. Say what you will about President Trump, but none of these problems started on Inauguration Day in January.

Even before he was elected, Democrats and their allies in the media heralded Obama as the chosen one. He was coddled and protected. They swooned when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The mainstream media was heavily invested in Obama from Day One, and it never exposed the reality of the American decline that he was leaving in his wake. Cuba and Iran still have Obama to thank. And while rattled by much of what they have witnessed from this White House, most of the rest of the world is hoping for Washington to provide leadership and for the United States to reemerge.


Politico, August 13, 2017

Venezuelan leader may have launched Rubio assassination plot


08/13/2017 02:28 PM EDT

As Marco Rubio helped ratchet up U.S. pressure on Venezuela, a top politician believed to control that country’s security forces began actively discussing a plot to kill the Florida senator last month and may have wanted to use Mexican nationals for the assassination plot, according to a Department of Homeland Security memo sent to state and local law enforcement.

The alleged threats from the Venezuelan politician, Diosdado Cabello Rondon, were not specific and weren’t corroborated by enough sources to merit a detailed explanation, according to the memo, but the situation was worrying enough to prompt Capitol Police and law enforcement in Miami-Dade County to provide security for Rubio.

The Miami Herald first reported details of the memo Sunday.

Despite the potential threat, Rubio has continued to speak out against Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro, has pushed for more sanctions and even engaged in a brief Twitter exchange with Cabello Rondon last week when the senator accused the Venezuelan official of involvement in drug trafficking, which Cabello Rondon has denied.

“In some unspecified manner, CABELLO RONDON’s problems involved U.S. Senator Marco Rubio,” said the memo, obtained by POLITICO, which is not releasing information that could endanger Rubio, his family or confidential law enforcement methods or sources.

The memo said that Cabello Rondon may even have discussed raising the money to kill Rubio or deal with the “problems” facing Venezuela’s ruling regime.

“CABELLO RONDON did indeed issue an order … to have Senator Rubio assassinated,” the memo said. “Additionally, CABELLO RONDON was communicating with unspecified Mexican nationals in furtherance of the matter.”

As Venezuela descended into chaos and a fraud-marred election that enabled Maduro to seize power, the United States labeled him a dictator and slapped individual sanctions on him and other members of his regime.

After a military uprising against Maduro was quashed, Rubio on Aug. 6 called out Cabello Rondon on Twitter and said the incident “shows who’s in charge of security forces in #Venezuela.”

Cabello Rondon replied in Spanish by accusing Rubio of imperialism and as “the defender of the terrorists who attacked Fort Paramacay,” a Venezuelan military base attacked earlier this month, apparently by dissident security forces.

He also called Rubio “Narco Rubio” — an ironic nickname considering that Cabello Rondon has long been suspected by the United States of involvement in drug trafficking, which he has denied.

“Diosdado ‘Pablo Escobar’ Cabello is unusually nervous and frantic this morning,” Rubio replied at the time.


The Miami Herald, August 13, 2017

Diplomats under ‘health attack’ in Cuba were treated by Miami doctors


New York Times

The University of Miami received a nervous call from the Trump administration: U.S. diplomats in Havana were getting sick with headaches, dizziness and hearing loss. Washington needed answers.

At least six patients were flown from Cuba to the university’s hospital this year to determine the cause of a medical mystery that was dogging several people who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The illnesses appeared to be caused by some kind of sonic wave machine, and the symptoms worsened with prolonged exposure, said a person who was briefed on the situation but was not authorized to comment.

One of the patients had a more serious illness that involved a blood disorder, the person said. This month, a University of Miami specialist went to Havana to examine others who work at the embassy, because officials expect that more people were affected.

On Friday, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said the illnesses were a result of “health attacks,” adding, “We’ve not been able to determine who’s to blame.”

The episode was the latest in a series of disputes between the nations. It baffled even the most senior Cuba experts, who wondered whether a rogue element of Cuban intelligence intent on ending President Barack Obama’s reconciliation efforts had pulled off an unauthorized caper or, more likely, whether a new kind of eavesdropping technology went awry.

“This is likely another installment in the long saga of spy-vs.-spy in U.S.-Cuba relations,” said Peter Kornbluh, a co-author of “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”

The Cuban government has long harassed U.S. government employees in Havana. Stories of feces left in diplomats’ residences became part of Cold War lore. The power would go out, and agents would tailgate diplomats’ vehicles and make it impossible to change lanes. But the recent sicknesses were worse than the standard harassment, even in the worst times, officials said.

“They would come into your house and erase the pictures of your kids off your computer, or turn all the books around on your bookshelf, just to show you that you had no privacy,” said James Cason, who ran the U.S. Interests Section in Havana a decade ago. “They never did anything physical to anybody.”

This, he said, “sounds like a science experiment.”

The mystery deepened last week, when Canada said that its employees had also gotten sick.

“Cuba has very good relations with them, so it doesn’t make sense for them to have been a target of something intentionally designed to injure, even if it was a rogue operation,” said William M. LeoGrande, a professor at American University who is the other author of “Back Channel To Cuba.” “None of the existing speculations make any sense to me.”

John Caulfield, chief of mission at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2011 to 2014, said it was “inconceivable” that a third government would have been able to act without the knowledge if not the cooperation of the Cubans. The Cuban government, he said, kept “such close tabs on us they would’ve immediately detected someone else.”

He added, “My speculation is that it was a surveillance effort that went bad.”

In a statement Thursday, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said that “Cuba has never allowed or will it allow the Cuban territory to be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, without exception.”

Several Americans cut their tours in Cuba short after falling ill last year, the State Department said, adding that the government expelled two Cuban diplomats from Washington, because Cuba had failed in its obligation to keep U.S. diplomats safe.

The State Department said the employees got sick in late 2016. The Cuban government learned of it in February and two of its diplomats were expelled in May.

Mark Feierstein, a former senior adviser at the National Security Council, said the fact that President Donald Trump did not tear up the Obama administration’s Cuba policy demonstrated that even the Trump administration did not believe that Cuban senior officials were responsible. In June, Trump curtailed a few minor Cuba policy rules, but left the majority of Obama’s measures intact.

Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security in the Obama administration who helped negotiate the normalization of relations with Cuba, said he also found it inconceivable that Cuba would intentionally physically harm U.S. diplomats.

“It just doesn’t strike me as something the Cuban government would do,” Rhodes said. “They’ve been pragmatic about Trump.”


The New York Post, August 13, 2017


Cuba’s assault on US diplomats proves the foolishness of Obama’s outreach

By Post Editorial Board

August 13, 2017 | 9:10pm

‘Sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” President Barack Obama said back on July 1, 2015. But re-opening the US Embassy in Cuba would show “we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past.”

Well, it’s now obvious that Cuba’s government has no desire to break with the past: Several American diplomats (and at least one Canadian) have come home from Havana after losing their hearing — victims of a sonic device placed in or near their Cuban residences.

Raul Castro and his minions deny all responsibility, of course, and it’s not clear that the device was intended to deafen, or was spy technology that malfunctioned

But there’s no honest reason to expose diplomats, protected under international law, to sound outside the range of human hearing but at such power as to damage their ears, perhaps permanently.

That Havana is letting the FBI investigate merely indicates that all evidence has already been removed.

The sorry affair is yet more proof of Obama’s own deafness to the reality of the Castro regime and other US enemies.



The Miami Herald, August 10, 2017

Silent sonic attack on U.S. diplomats in Cuba is a piercing wake-up call

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Currently taking center stage is the diplomacy — or lack of — between the United States and North Korea, and rightly so.

But in this hemisphere, Cuba, once again, is a source of intrigue and concern. State Department officials disclosed this week a mysterious attack against American and Canadian embassy employees in Havana.

U.S. officials said that a months-long investigation on the island reached the stunning conclusion that embassy employees had been attacked with a covert “advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.”

It’s a disturbing revelation coming from the island nation whose once-frigid relations with the United States have thawed. Some thawing.

Several U.S. embassy employees, and some from Canada, suffered severe hearing problems. They were left so physically impaired that they canceled their tours of duty on the island and left.

Basically, these diplomats came under acoustic attack in the form of a dog-whistle-style sound, unheard by humans. The sound-making devices were placed either inside or just outside the embassy employees’ homes.

The Cold War, “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” nature of this occurrence aside, it was an appalling assault on a nation with which diplomatic relations resumed with much hope and fanfare. We need answers. The Editorial Board has decried Cuba’s total lack of any good-faith effort to reform its repressive regime since relations with the United States restarted.

It’s no secret that U.S. diplomats in Cuba have long suffered occasional harassment before the 2015 diplomatic thaw. All foreign diplomats in Cuba, like the victims of this incident, lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government. And everyone knows Cuba employs a state security apparatus that keeps many people, mainly U.S. diplomats, under surveillance.

But the use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats would be unprecedented.

Apparently those affected arrived in 2016 when embassy staffing was beefed up following former President Obama’s outreach to Cuba.

But who is truly to blame? Here is where it gets interesting. Cuba, as expected, denies any involvement in the sonic assault. Which bring up the question: Could this be more meddling by Russia?

If so, it’s a sorry regression. The Cuban Missile Crisis, in 1962, was the last time Russians used Cuba to so perilously stick it to the United States.

Regardless, the United States expelled two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington on May 23.

The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement late Wednesday that the decision to expel its diplomats was “unjustified and baseless.”

“The Castro regime has a long and documented history of acting in a manner adverse to U.S. national interests,” reminded Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami).

The regime said in its defense: “Cuba has never permitted, nor will it permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

In other words, it, too, hints that a third party is responsible for this attack. U.S. officials say the investigation continues, and the possibility that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia without Cuba’s knowledge is not out of the question.

Either way, it’s unconscionable that our future could slide back to what should be the past.