CUBA BRIEF: Update on American diplomats’ brain injuries in Cuba. Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure no match for Irma. Hundreds protest in Havana five days without electricity or water.
  • The Hill: US still searching for explanation for diplomats’ brain injuries in Cuba
  • The Guardian: Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure no match for might of Irma
  • 14ymedio: Hundreds of Havanans Protest in Neighborhood Five Days Without Electricity or Water / Updated

The Hill, September 14, 2017

US still searching for explanation for diplomats’ brain injuries in Cuba

By Olivia Beavers

The United States is reportedly still trying to explain how at least 21 diplomats working in Cuba suffered sudden brain injuries that include hearing loss and speech problems.

Officials from the FBI, the State Department and other U.S. intelligence agencies are at a loss as to what the possible weapon could be and are working to make sense of the physics, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

One American diplomat in Havana described what some are calling “health attacks,” in which he heard a “blaring, grinding noise” from his bed — but when he moved only a few feet away, he stepped into silence, almost like an “invisible wall cutting straight through his room,” the AP described.

Some of the injuries took place in confined rooms or even certain areas of rooms, the news wire reported, pointing to an astounding level of precision in which the attacks occurred. 

The injuries vary in severity, with some who sustained more serious brain damage than previously realized, the news wire reported. Stories of how the injuries came about also largely differ with some hearing different noises in real time, while some did not hear or notice anything before their symptoms appeared. The victims also are experiencing different symptoms, which is making the search to identify a culprit so difficult.

The device used in the attacks has still not been identified, the AP reported, citing interviews with over a dozen current and former U.S. officials, Cuban officials and others briefed on the investigation who spoke to the news wire anonymously.

The U.S. government first acknowledged the attacks in August, after the State Department expelled two Cuban diplomats from the U.S. over safety concerns of American officials experiencing said symptoms — nine months after the injuries were first reported.

The Guardian, September 13, 2017

 Cuba’s crumbling infrastructure no match for might of Irma

Hurricane hit Cuba as a category 5 and barrelled through the central and western provinces, causing catastrophic destruction

by Ted Francis in Havana

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 The flooded streets of Havana after Hurricane Irma passed through. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP

Havana was in midnight darkness and the floodwaters were neck high when Yanelis Rodríguez finally gave up hope that help was on its way.

As giant waves crashed over the Malecón seawall just 200m away, Rodríguez and her two young children waded through Hurricane Irma’s storm surge to safety.

“The winds started at four in the afternoon. We’d waited so long because we just assumed the government would come and help us,” she said. “We got out of the water and sheltered in a nearby building.”

It was a harrowing night: in the early hours of the morning an iron girder crashed down on to the roof above them. Yanelis ran into the street, before changing her mind and going back inside: it was too dangerous to seek refuge elsewhere.

‘Not fit to live on’: Chaos grips Caribbean islands days after Irma’s rampage

Irma hit Cuba as a category 5 hurricane and barrelled through the central and western provinces, causing catastrophic destruction in a country that prides itself on disaster preparedness. At least 10 people died – Cuba’s worse hurricane death toll since Hurricane Dennis killed 16 in 2005.

Seven of the fatalities were in Havana, whose decaying historic buildings were no match for the force of the storm. And as as uprooted trees were hauled away, and electricity returned to more neighbourhoods, many in the Cuban capital were asking whether authorities were ready for another storm.

Two brothers, Roydis and Walfrido Valdés, died instantly in their central Havana apartment when a huge block of concrete fell from four storeys above them.

The fire brigade arrived a few hours later to pull their bodies from the wreckage. But more than a dozen people remain living in the 100-year-old building. An elegant marble staircase with an ornate iron banister leads up to the first floor where the brothers died.

Cracks between bricks in the wall are many inches wide. The floor is sunk and uneven. Like many of Havana’s once-elegant buildings, it is home to dozens of families but has received little maintenance over the years. 

“The government knows this building is liable to collapse,” said one neighbour, Lixa Peñalver, 47, adding that an elderly man fell to his death years ago when another part of the building caved through. “If you know that there’s a big risk, surely this should be one of the first buildings you evacuate. But nobody came.”

María Estela Pedroso, who knew the brothers, said she had been trying to convince the authorities to relocate her for over a decade. “Nobody should be living where we are living,” she shouted furiously. “I go to all the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution meetings, all the assemblies, and I’ve always said they are not going to get us out of here until somebody dies.”

Luís Dilu Galiente is the president of the building’s Committee for the Defence of the Revolution – neighbourhood bodies which provide basic social services, and also watch out for counter-revolutionary activities. 

He admitted that the block had not been evacuated, but pointed out that many locals had taken in neighbours seeking shelter – a standard element of Cuba’s emergency planning. A family of six has been staying in Galiente’s own two-bedroom apartment since before Irma struck.

“The state didn’t send buses to evacuate the building like they have on other occasions. But anybody can find refuge if they want it – at least with their neighbours,” he said.

Cuban media reported that tens of thousands of people were evacuated in Havana and over a million throughout the island. On Saturday, after the extent of the flooding became clear, dozens of buses were sent to evacuate people from central Havana, according to state media.

Though television ran regular updates warning of flooding and advising people to take precautions in the run up to the hurricane, the forecasts did not place Havana in the main storm path. [More]


14ymedio, September 13, 2017

Hundreds of Havanans Protest in Neighborhood Five Days Without Electricity or Water / Updated

By Luz Escobar

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nly a few minutes after the protest began, dozens police officers and special troops arrived. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 September 2017 — Hundreds of people demonstrated in Havana’s Diez de Octubre neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon, protesting the lack of electricity and water after Hurricane Irma. The protest began spontaneously, according to witnesses who spoke with 14ymedio.

“We want light! we want water!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!” were the slogans shouted by the crowd, demanding basic services suspended since Saturday when the hurricane struck the island with winds over 125 miles an hour.

Among the slogans the demonstrators shouted there was also heard the cry of “Let Raul come!” calling for the president to visit the affected areas. So far, the leader has limited himself to sending a message of support to the citizenry, but has not visited the areas damaged by Hurricane Irma.

“From noon, the police closed (the main thoroughfare) Calzada de Diez de Octubre, because things got hot there,” one of the private taxi drivers serving the area told 14ymedio.
Dozens of officers of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) and special troops known as Black Berets arrived at the scene after a few minutes of protest, but the protesters were not intimidated and continued their demands.

A neighbor of Santos Suárez park said that the demonstrators were around her house for “some hours” and from there they went towards the main thoroughfare, Calzada de Diez de Octubre, continuing to protest as they came up against a police barrier that prevented their passage.

“People got tired of the government’s bad management and came out to protest. There was no alternative,” she added.

However, one protester said there were no arrests for the protests and that the uniformed officers withdrew with the promise to restore basic services “as soon as possible.”
“There was fear, nobody knew who was who because many policemen in civilian clothes arrived,” says another of the demonstrators.

As of 5:30 PM when 14ymedio was able to check the situation just hours after the demonstrations began, authorities had sent work teams from the electricity company and reestablished electricty and the water supply.

“Fidel had his flaws but he put on his foot down when these things happened and went out to the streets to solve the problems,” said an old woman.

After the protest, police patrols remained in the area and, according to the neighbors, many of the people found at key points in the area “look like they are state security.”

By about six o’clock in the afternoon a tense calm was felt. Some people took the opportunity to wash down the entryways in the area, and only spoke in low voices about what had happened just a few hours earlier.

Public protests are severely punished in Cuba. Last July 26, three activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba challenged the authorities with banners denouncing “58 years of deceit, hunger and misery” in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. After being arrested following a “savage beating,” the activists, who demanded freedom of expression, assembly and the press are being held in prison awaiting trial.

Daniel Llorente, another protester who on May Day ran with a US flag in front of the government parade is still confined to the capital’s Psychiatric Hospital.

The biggest protest in the island’s history during the rule of the brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro – known as the Maleconazo – occurred in August 1994 when hundreds of people confronted the police in Havana with sticks and stones, looting shops and calling for an end to socialism.