CUBA BRIEF: State Department hides details on Havana’s attack on American diplomats, Cuban resistance statement on UM scandal, Peaceful protesters sentenced to 5 years in prison

In this CubaBrief: Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s fomer speech writer says that”“It just doesn’t strike me as something the Cuban government would do” about the sonic attack on the U.S. diplomats in Havana while The Washington Free Beacon reports that the State Departmenthideskey details of mystery attacks on American diplomats in Cuba from Congress. Apparently many of those responsible for President Obama’s Latin America and particularly Cuba policy still at the State Department are hesitant to report on the real nature of Raul Castro’s regime. For a documented analysis of what happened make sure to read “Targeting American Diplomats, Cuba Is Up to its Dirty Old Tricks” published by Foreign Policy blog.

Also in this issue a statement on UM controversial efforts to silence the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies released by a group of prominent Cuban American civic leaders from the Brigade 2506, Mothers Against Repression, the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, and Facts About Cuban Exiles (FACE). We include the full statement in this issue.

Finally while Venezuelan soldiers cross into Guyana begging for food, as we reported yesterday, we include today an article on “What if Cuba and Venezuela merged? A marriage not made in heaven” published by FoxNews. 

As we were ready to send this out we received two comments by Yale Professor Carlos Eire printed in Babalu Blog: “Peaceful Cuban protesters sentenced to 5 years in prison” and “Will meeting between UM President and Cuban exiles make any difference?”, which we reproduce here.
Foreign Policy, August 16, 2017

Targeting American Diplomats, Cuba Is Up to its Dirty Old Tricks

By José R. Cárdenas
When President Barack Obama announced his intention to normalize relations with Cuba in 2014, critics scoffed that no accommodation was possible with the Castro regime and that it would be only a matter of time before Havana embarrassed the White House for even trying, as it had done before to previous administrations who sought détente.

We now know that last fall — in the middle of Obama’s final push to lock into place as much of his policy as he could — at least six U.S. diplomats based in Havana had to be medically evacuated to Miami for treatment after complaining of severe headaches, dizziness, and hearing loss. Some of the diplomats’ symptoms were so severe that they were forced to curtail their tours.

U.S. officials believe their illnesses were the result of prolonged exposure to some sort of covert sonic device “that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.” In retaliation for this gross abuse of diplomatic norms, the Trump administration expelled two Cuban diplomats in Washington.

Speaking last Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out these health attacks on not just our diplomats but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved,” referring to the fact that the Canadian government revealed their personnel had suffered similar symptoms.

The Castro regime’s response was as arrogant as it was mendacious, professing “Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception.”

The fact is that the Cuban government has been abusing U.S. personnel posted to Havana for decades. In 2003, the State Department provided a declassified cable to Congress detailing the ongoing physical and psychological harassment of U.S. personnel “to frustrate routine business, occupy resources, demoralize personnel, and generally hinder efforts to advance U.S. policy goals.” 

According to the cable, “The harassment begins from the moment USINT personnel and their belongings enter Cuba. Cuban agents routinely enter U.S. employee residences to search belongings and papers, enter computers and gather other information thought to be useful from an intelligence point of view. Vehicles are also targeted. In many instances, no effort is made to hide the intrusions.” Not only are vehicles vandalized — tires slashed, parts removed, windshields smashed — but in some instances human excrement is left behind in the diplomats’ homes.

The cable continues, “Electronic surveillance is pervasive, including monitoring of home phone and computer lines. U.S. personnel have had living-room conversations repeated or played back to them by strangers and unknown callers.” In one case, after one family privately discussed their daughter’s susceptibility to mosquito bites, “they returned home to find all of their windows open and the house full of mosquitoes.”

In 2007, the Department’s Inspector General issued a 64-page report asserting that the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana suffered from poor morale as a result of the Cuban government’s deliberate efforts to create hardship and discontent in the lives of the diplomats. “Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks.”

In 1996, human rights officer Robin Meyers reported her car was nearly rammed off the road by Cuban agents as she tried to attend a dissident gathering. Chillingly, this was the exact same regime technique that caused the deaths of prominent Cuban dissidents Osvaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in 2012.

Other forms of abuse over the years include attempted sexual entrapment, especially among married personnel, telephones ringing and front-door bells buzzing all hours of the night, freezers unplugged, and air conditioners turned full blast with windows opened in Havana’s tropical heat.

One diplomat reported his mouthwash had been replaced with urine.

In addition, in another flagrant violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Castro regime has broken into diplomatic pouches — deliveries to the mission from the United States — to investigate their contents.

There will be those who will attempt to explain away this sordid record as “spy-vs-spy” games, as if both sides were equally at fault, as if FBI agents try to run Cuban diplomats off the road or defecate in their homes. Indeed, in the wake of these latest revelations, President Obama’s former National Security Council senior advisor Ben Rhodes professed surprise: “It just doesn’t strike me as something the Cuban government would do.”

But the historical record is clear that this is something the Cuban government is perfectly willing to do. Even if it may have been a surveillance operation “gone awry,” as some have speculated, the same malevolent motivation on the part of the Cuban government still applies: that the United States is the enemy and its personnel in Havana will be treated as such — and international conventions be damned.

And therein lies the fundamental flaw of Obama’s policy, that somehow a relationship with the Castro regime can be normalized. But attempting to normalize the abnormal is a fool’s errand and will only backfire on U.S. interests and the interests of the Cuban people. President Trump has already expressed his disdain for Obama’s Cuba policy as too one-sided and begun a policy of roll-back. It cannot come soon enough.

The Washington Free Beacon, August 17, 2017

U.S. Hiding Key Details of Mystery Attacks on American Diplomats in Cuba
Number of those affected by illness greater than government acknowledged

BY: Susan Crabtree and Adam Kredo

The number of U.S. government personnel targeted by a mysterious illness in Cuba last year is greater than the Trump administration has publicly acknowledged, according to multiple U.S. officials who told the Washington Free Beacon the Obama administration may have misled Congress about the full scope and nature of the attack.

U.S. officials disclosed earlier this month that six Americans were struck by a mystery illness believed to be caused by a covert sonic device in what many think was a clandestine operation targeting U.S. personnel stationed in the communist country.

The number of Americans impacted is greater than previously disclosed, according to multiple U.S. officials who told the Free Beacon that those suffering from symptoms of sonic damage appears to be more than 10.

“It’s definitely in the double digits,” one source told the Free Beacon.

The mysterious incident has roiled the relationship between the United States and Cuba and has raised more questions than answers in Congress, where lawmakers are finding their inquiries about the situation stymied.

Congress is scheduled to receive a brief on the matter Thursday afternoon and is seeking to have outstanding questions addressed, sources said.

In addition to the greater number of U.S. persons harmed by the sonic device, it is believed that some Americans stationed in Havana began experiencing symptoms months earlier than the State Department has publicly admitted, sources said.

While U.S. officials have publicly claimed the symptoms—which include severe hearing loss—began around December 2016, multiple sources told the Free Beacon some reported illness earlier. This raises new questions about the Obama administration’s handling of the incidents and whether they informed the required members of Congress about it in a timely manner, the sources said.

The symptoms associated with the sonic attack worsen with prolonged exposure, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly when the problems began and how many incidents may have occurred.

U.S. officials further confirmed to the Free Beacon that other Western diplomats suffered similar illnesses, prompting speculation the covert operation was not limited to targeting the United States. This includes Canadian diplomats and potentially others.

Many key lawmakers are concerned that the Obama administration delayed notifying Congress and may have downplayed the impact of the incidents in order to try to protect President Obama’s détente with Cuba.

The executive branch and the intelligence community are required to inform the so-called Gang of Eight—the top Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate and the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees—about developments with serious foreign policy or covert ramifications.

It’s unclear why the Trump administration waited until August to publicly acknowledge the illnesses. Key members of Congress were notified earlier this year, the State Department has said.

President Trump and his team spent the first half of the year evaluating Obama’s Cuba policy, and Trump announced revisions to it in mid-June that mostly included tighter travel restrictions, especially to hotels owned by the Cuban military. In May, Trump kicked two Cuban diplomats out of Washington over the incidents.

Key members of Congress and other critics want to know why the two diplomats Trump sent back to Cuba were junior members of the embassy team.

“If you wanted to send a real message you would ding the most senior members of their staff,” a source said.

Lawmakers also want answers to whether the Obama and Trump administrations accurately conveyed the incidents and the risk they posed to U.S. workers assigned to replace sick colleagues as part of their preparation for work in Havana and why the U.S. government never issued a travel warning to the U.S. public in response to the incidents.

One veteran foreign policy adviser who is close to the White House told the Free Beacon that the operation against the United States could have been run by any number of rogue actors operating in Cuba, though it is likely the Cuban government would be aware of such covert action.

“There’s no reason this has to be the Cubans,” the source said. “That place is a playground for some of the worst actors on the planet: Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and so on. U.S. adversaries and enemies have free rein there, which is one of the many reasons it was better to try to isolate Cuba than pretend they could be productively integrated into the international community.”

The Canadian government last week acknowledged that at least one of its diplomats also suffered from similar symptoms and experienced hearing loss, leading to speculation that Russia, instead of Cuba, was responsible for the sonic damage. Cuba doesn’t have an adversarial relationship with Canada but tensions are rising between Ottawa and Moscow over recent Canadian sanctions.

Cuba experts say the Castro government keeps such a close watch on foreigners on the island that it’s highly unlikely that Russians could act without the knowledge and even consent of the Cuban government.

The State Department so far has released only limited information about the incidents, with officials saying their investigation into exactly what took place and why is still ongoing. Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described the incidents as “health attacks.”

“We’ve not been able to determine who’s to blame,” he said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert last week said the United States is still assessing the situation and “can’t blame any one country.”

“We have spoken extensively with the Cubans, as you know. The reason we had [the diplomats] leave is we said this is the agreement that the U.S. has with the Cuban government. They are responsible for the safety and security of our [diplomats]. They are not safe, they are not secure because something happened to them.”

She said the U.S. embassy in Havana, however, is “fully operational, fully staffed” but would not elaborate if all the posts have been filled for those diplomats who left in the wake of the incidents.

Babalu Blog,  August 17, 2017

Assembly of the Cuban Resistance issues new statement on ICCAS scandal at UM



August 17, 2017

Throughout the years, the University of Miami has been an important part of our Cuban-American community and the Cuban American community has greatly supported the University of Miami. Many generations of Cuban-Americans whose families made Miami their home have pursued their higher education studies at the University of Miami. As our community grew, so did the University. We are as much a part of the University of Miami as the University is a part of us. Our community has made significant contributions to the University’s growth and current reputation throughout the world for its educational excellence. The Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) has been a key component of this relationship, and it has objectively and factually reflected the truth about Cuba and our community since it was founded almost twenty years ago.

At a time when freedom of speech and academic freedom are challenged by the influence of both authoritarian and totalitarian regimes on campuses across the country, we must all remain vigilant about the Castro regime’s efforts to influence Cuban and Latin American studies at American universities. The issue of ICCAS has to do with our concern about hostile foreign government disinformation, and as the FBI has reported, the Castro regime’s recruitment efforts in the academic community in the United States.

A meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow by the President of the University of Miami with a limited number of members of our Cuban American community -as well as others- to discuss the controversy regarding ICCAS. Many prominent Cuban exile and Cuban American academics and intellectuals, as well as community leaders have been regrettably excluded from this meeting.  The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance as a plural, inclusive and democratic institution of this community, stands together as one to express our concerns and reiterate that in order to safeguard ICCAS’ future as a truthful, balanced and objective institute for Cuban and Cuban American studies within the University of Miami, we recommend the following:

  • That the University/Institute does not engage in any exchange with Cuban academic institutions because they are under the direct control of Cuba’s one-party totalitarian state.  As has been amply demonstrated, academia is seen as a tool of intelligence gathering and influence peddling by the Castro dictatorship.  We are steadfastly opposed to opening up the University of Miami to this poisonous exchange.
  • That the University/Institute rescinds the appointment of Dr. Andy Gomez as ICCAS interim director. Dr. Gomez has been publicly recognized for promoting ventures with commercial enterprises that do business with Cuba under its totalitarian regime. Dr. Gomez’ as interim director will further divide the Cuban American community from the University of Miami, rather than bridging the divide that has been created.
  •  That the University/Institute formally include the Cuban American community in the search committee for the new interim director and the permanent director of ICCAS.

It is our sincere hope that our fellow Cuban Americans attending tomorrow’s meeting make the above recommendations their own.  Institutional engagement between our beloved University of Miami and the murderous Castro Regime, and safeguarding the objectivity and integrity of ICCAS are essential concerns of our community.


FoxNews, August 17, 2017

What if Cuba and Venezuela merged? A marriage not made in heaven

By John Moody

Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship is destroying the country at an alarming speed. Food is scarce, medical supplies nearly nonexistent. Two of every hundred newborns dies. Crude oil production, its only significant export, has plunged to 2 million barrels a day. What to do? Merge with its only regional ally, Cuba.

The notion of uniting Venezuela and Cuba – Venecuba or Cubazuela are the names commonly used — has been bandied about ever since Venezuela’s late dictator, Hugo Chavez, embraced Cuba’s then-president, Fidel Castro. Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as master of Havana, is now the main benefactor of Chavez’s inept heir, Nicolas Maduro. And Cuba’s influence on Maduro as he steers his country to ruin is nearly complete.

Cubans oversee the Venezuelan National Guard that keeps Maduro and his thinning clique of cronies from being overthrown. National identity cards, which citizens are required to show, are issued by Cuban military officers. Some opponents of the government allege that valid IDs are being sold to known Islamic terrorists. Cuban advisors also direct food distribution and increasingly, the inefficient state oil industry.

“The Cubans who are counselling them are experts,” says Dany Bahar, a Venezuela expert at the Brookings Institution. He believes that Maduro relies on help from Havana because he knows he can’t survive on his own. Maduro’s approval rating is generally thought to be below 20 percent and violent protests against his rule are on the rise.

To keep the Venezuelan military on his side, Maduro has commissioned some 2,000 generals – more than NATO has. Those uniformed supporters are among the targets of U.S. sanctions imposed by President Trump earlier this year. But since most of Maduro’s inner circle keeps its illicit wealth in Europe, the American sanctions don’t bite as deeply as they should. The ultimate U.S. weapon – a complete embargo of Venezuelan petroleum – could be counterproductive.

“The long term effect of a U.S. embargo would be devastating to Venezuela for years to come,” says Bahar. “It would give the regime an excuse to say ‘America is killing our children’. And the Cuban propaganda experts will make sure pictures of children starving to death go around the world.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that Venezuela has been part of a greater union. Simon Bolivar, the 19th century revolutionary who liberated parts of South America from Spanish domination, called the territory he ruled from Caracas to Bolivia “Gran Colombia.”That didn’t last long.

Nor will a merger with Cuba. Latin American countries that have turned to Marxist-style socialism inevitably fail, as Cubazuelans have learned to their collective misery.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including “Pope John Paul II : Biography.”

Babalu Blog, August 17, 2017

Peaceful Cuban protesters sentenced to 5 years in prison

by Carlos Eire

It doesn’t take much to get yourself in trouble in Castrogonia.

The brave men who staged a peaceful protest in Santiago de Cuba on July 26 have all been given 5-year prison sentences.

Video report HERE in Spanish

Babalu Blog, August 17, 2017

Will meeting between UM President and Cuban exiles make any difference?

August 17, 2017 by Carlos Eire    

The Inspire America Foundation has released a statement concerning tomorrow’sscheduled meeting between UM president Julio Frenk and several concerned Cuban-Americans.

Whether or not an avowed admirer of the Castro regime such as Julio Frenk will hold back on turning ICCAS into an American franchise of Castro, Inc. remains to be seen.

Apparently UM has promised to set up a Cuban-American advisory boardand to refrain from establishing links with Castronoid universities in Castrogonia.

Nonetheless, it is highly likely that the meeting tomorrow and all promises made in advance by UM officials are nothing more than window dressing and a public relations smokescreen.

Meanwhile, the new interim director, Andy Gomez –who allegedly has ties to Royal Caribbean cruise lines — is still scheduled to lead a commercial tour of Castrogoniaon a luxury yacht.

The tour is not sponsored by any educational institution.  It is a purely commercial venture.

The Inspire America Foundation web site has an abridged version of their statement.

Below is the full text, which is being distributed via email:

From Inspire America:

Inspire America has held conversations with top UM officials almost daily since the ICCAS controversy arose a month ago.  These conversations will culminate in a meeting tomorrow between UM’s President and some prominent Cuban Americans including: Marcell Felipe and Diego Suárez for, as well as Humberto Arguelles for Brigade 2506, Tony Argiz, Frank Argones, Sam Verdeja, Cesar Pizzarro and others from FACE, Carmen Valdivia from Operation Pedro Pan Historic Committee and several others. Also present will be UM Trustees, students and the Vice-Provost.  Former Coral Gables Mayor Ambassador Jim Cason and current Mayor Valdes-Fauli have also been invited as have other relevant stake-holders.  

In the weeks leading up to this meeting progress has been made.   The University has embraced the general concept of (1) naming an informal Cuban American Studies Advisory Board to advise the President; and (2) that ICCAS will not engage in any exchanges with institutions in Cuba.   While we can be proud of these advancements, none of these concepts are final until tomorrow’s meeting and all issues remain open and pending until then. 

We remain concerned about the success of the meeting given the University’s decision (prior to our involvement) to appoint Andy Gomez to serve as Interim Director.  The University has been accused by some in the media of persecuting academics in search of a political agenda.  The University has categorically denied this, but appointing Andy Gomez, particularly without a time-frame for his departure, and in light of his statement that his role is to “restore” the Center’s “academic integrity” and choose a successor, only reinforces the accusations the University has denied, and is therefore counterproductive to the University’s own message and interests. 

Here’s why: Andy Gomez promotes mega yacht cruises to Cuba where he lectures US businessmen on investing in Cuba.  Presumably, while enjoying your Mimosas and Eggs Benedict, you can learn how you can partner with the Castro family and pay 92% of your workers’ salary to the regime in exchange for assuring you that there will be no labor rights.   The cruise itinerary includes visiting the prison where Castro was briefly jailed in conditions Castro himself said to be good.   Nothing in the itinerary to teach participants that under Castro’s rule such prison would become a hell hole for thousands of prisoners of conscience who were murdered and tortured and some imprisoned for upwards of 25 years, or that Castro rigged the prison to blow it up with all inmates inside in the event of an invasion. Gomez has since cancelled the cruise.  

For the benefit of the relationship between the University and the community in which it resides, the University we urge the University to name an interim Director who does not have any economic conflicts of interest. There are many qualified individuals who can perform this temporary or event permanent administrative role such as Ambassador Jim Cason and Dr. Eduardo Zayas-Bazan and others.  It is a reasonable request aimed at breaking down the divide between the University and host community.  This will certainly be an issue which may in the end become insurmountable. 

We have done our part by offering to promote their efforts with a new scholarship for the best essay on freedom in the Americas and offering to invite heads of state and internationally notable speakers on the subject at no cost to the University.  We even offered to refund the University any cost associated with the cancellation of Gomez’s temporary assignment. We hope to find a solution that benefits everyone -there is enough talent in the room to find a solution if one is truly desired.

Mexican Americans would not be happy if UCLA were to appoint a respected Trump administration official to run, temporarily, the Chicano Studies Center, specially if he says he will change it up and appoint the successor.  Telling them that the person is very knowledgeable on the subject-matters because he/she wrote the proposal for Trump’s wall would not make it any better.  Why should Cuban-Americans be treated differently?  Are we less deserving?  Academia should be free of political agendas or economic conflicts of interest.