CubaBrief: Setting the record straight on U.S. – Cuba relations and an update on the Havana Syndrome

NBC News reported that Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the Foreign general director for U.S. affairs stated on December 16, 2019 outside a U.S.-Cuba academic conference in Havana that “there are powerful people today in the U.S. government that would want to increasingly apply hostile measures and to sever our bilateral relationship. If that were to be the case, we are ready to face that reality.”  The Cuban diplomat also claimed that it “is not what the people of Cuba want. It’s not what the government of Cuba is seeking. And, again, we know it’s not what the people of the United States would want.”

The reality is that the Castro regime appears to want to sever the bilateral relationship with the United States. Sources in the US government say that Cuba is opposing the State Department’s Security Officer candidate. Failure to fill the position would lead to the shuttering of the embassy. 

It is important for Cuba observers to understand one fundamental fact: the Castro regime lies.

For example, the dictatorship in Cuba called five spies that had been involved in espionage against the United States “heroes.”  The reality was that the lead spy, Gerardo Hernandez, was found guilty of a murder conspiracy that killed innocent American citizens. The Obama Administration in its efforts to pursue normalized relations commuted their sentences and returned them to Cuba, and sought to downplay the brutality of the crime that led to the deaths of Americans.

The thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States was announced on December 17, 2014, and the Interests Sections were upgraded to Embassies on July 20, 2015. Despite a worsening human rights situation on the island President Obama conducted an official state visit to Cuba in March 2016.

By November of 2016 US diplomats in Havana were suffering brain damage from health attacks, and the Cuban government’s response to American inquiries starting in February 2017 was to declare it mass hysteria and downplay the harm done. It is interesting that Reuters in their reporting on the funding of U.S. diplomats suffering from “Havana Syndrome” failed to report the accurate start date of the injuries.

On January 2, 2017 Cuban troops in Havana marched in a parade, over which Raul Castro presided, chanting that they would repeatedly shoot President Obama in the head so many times that they would make a “hat of lead to the head.” Despite that on January 12, 2017 the Obama Administration provided further concessions to Castro gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act and ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program that had bothered the dictator for years.On January 16, 2017 the Obama State Department issued a statement that “the United States and Cuba [had] signed a bilateral Law Enforcement Memorandum of Understanding to deepen law enforcement cooperation and information sharing.”

There is also silence on the Canadian diplomats harmed in Cuba during the same period of time with similar symptoms who are now suing the Canadian government for negligence in a $28 million dollar lawsuit.

Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, Nov 1, 2018. Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini

Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, Nov 1, 2018. Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini

Reuters, December 16, 2019

‘Havana syndrome’ U.S. diplomats get benefits in spending bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. diplomats who mysteriously fell ill in Cuba and China would get long-term emergency health and other benefits under a $1.4 trillion spending bill lawmakers unveiled on Monday.

Over 40 U.S. government employees were affected by the incidents, which started in 2017 and have not been explained. They helped lead President Donald Trump to reduce staffing at the country’s mission in Havana.

Starting in 2017, dozens of staff in Cuba reported symptoms that included hearing loss, ringing in their ears, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with mild traumatic brain injury and initially described as the result of “sonic” or health attacks of some sort.

The State Department said in June 2018 that it had brought home diplomats from Guangzhou, China, over concern they were suffering similar symptoms, which became known as “Havana syndrome.”

A Senate aide said the diplomats had struggled to obtain health benefits as they deal with their symptoms.

A provision in the omnibus spending bill unveiled on Monday would provide long-term, emergency care benefits to federal employees injured as part of their duties in Cuba and China, allow their dependents to receive benefits if their primary insurance denies their claims and would allow government employees to be compensated if their injuries meant they could not work full-time.

“There is still tremendous uncertainty surrounding the circumstances that led to these injuries, but that should in no way prevent our government from caring for those who have sacrificed so much in the line of duty,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who wrote the provision and led the push for its inclusion in the omnibus bill. 

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler

National Post, November 26, 2019

In court filing, Canadian government argues diplomats exaggerated ‘Havana Syndrome’ claims behind $28M lawsuit

An independent environmental assessment of Canadian staff quarters in Havana ‘revealed no evidence of unusual environmental phenomena’

A man walks beside Canada’s embassy in Havana, Cuba. Desmond Boylan/AP file photo

A man walks beside Canada’s embassy in Havana, Cuba. Desmond Boylan/AP file photo

OTTAWA — Federal government lawyers are arguing that five diplomats and their families have made “excessive” and “exaggerated” claims in a $28-million lawsuit filed over mysterious injuries suffered while stationed in Cuba.

They’re asking a judge to toss the lawsuit, which alleges negligence and a cover-up over the so-called “Havana Syndrome” — strange injuries the lawsuit speculates may have been caused by a “sonic or microwave weapon” initially aimed at American officials.

The statement of defence filed in Federal Court denies all allegations of wrongdoing, negligence, and breach of contractual or constitutional duties. It rebuts claims about the government’s response made by diplomats in the lawsuit and in the media, and reveals other details about its actions in the spring of 2017, including that it secured a commitment from “high-level officials in the Government of Cuba to conduct a joint investigation” into the matter.

The document says an independent environmental assessment of Canadian staff quarters in Havana “revealed no evidence of unusual environmental phenomena” and “found no evidence of foul play at the staff quarters.”

Government lawyers acknowledge that some of the 14 plaintiffs in the lawsuit exhibited concussion-like symptoms, but say the cause is unknown and that “in any case, the Defendant pleads that there is no definitive medical diagnosis of any medical condition, illness or disease called Havana Syndrome, notwithstanding the use of this term by the Plaintiffs.”

They say the government “has no knowledge or insufficient knowledge” to conclusively determine how many plaintiffs were affected by the symptoms referred to as Havana Syndrome.

The diplomats, who are kept anonymous in the filings, allege that between January 2017 and November 2018 they and their families stationed in Cuba suffered such symptoms as cognitive brain injuries, migraines, nosebleeds, nausea, sleep disturbances, emotional disturbances, vision problems and loss of consciousness.

One of the diplomats first learned in April 2017 from an American neighbour in Havana that American officials were reporting strange injuries, possibly perpetrated by a foreign power, and that Americans were evacuating Cuba because of it. The diplomat alerted embassy management, kicking off the Canadian investigation of the matter.

Although there was wide speculation after the injuries became public that they were caused by some kind of sonic weapon, various theories have since been put forward by experts suggesting they could have been caused by pesticidesmass hysteria or stress similar to combat situations.

“Canada badly mishandled the growing crisis,” the diplomats’ lawsuit claims. It alleges the government kept its staff in harm’s way while the Americans were evacuating. It claims the government “actively misheld information regarding Havana Syndrome from diplomatic staff,” gave them “false assurances of safety,” and told them not to talk about it with anyone. It says the government “actively interfered” with their attempts to get medical treatment afterward.

In response, government lawyers say the “damages pleaded and alleged in the Statement of Claim are excessive, exaggerated and/or too remote to be compensable,” and say the diplomats failed to take “reasonable measures” to mitigate them.

In rejecting the allegation of negligence, the government says that if “the Plaintiffs sustained the damages alleged, which is not admitted but denied, the Defendant is not responsible at law for those damages as the Plaintiffs had the possibility of terminating their posting and leaving Havana at their earliest opportunity.” It also argues that many of the legal liability claims made in the lawsuit are not allowed against the Crown by statute.

The government denies it unreasonably suppressed information or downplayed the situation. It also denies the diplomats’ claim that it instructed the University of Pennsylvania Centre for Brain Injury and Repair to stop testing on them. The government says it arranged for treatment in Canada due to concerns over privacy of personal medical information, access to French-language medical services and the provision for long-term treatment.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said the “health, safety and security of our diplomats serving abroad and their families is a top priority for the Canadian government.”

“We continue to investigate the potential causes of the unusual health symptoms; a conclusive cause has not been identified,” said the statement. “The Government of Canada has sent RCMP investigators and technical experts, Health Canada occupational health professionals, and representatives from Global Affairs Canada to address health concerns and to further the investigation.”

The statement of defence provides a timeline of the government’s response after being tipped off on April 18, 2017, about the American situation. Canadian embassy officials met with American counterparts on April 26. “The United States had limited information and could not explain the cause of these symptoms,” the document says.

Although the lawsuit claims embassy employees weren’t briefed until June about the injury reports, the government says the briefing took place on or around May 8. It says then Ambassador Patrick Parisot told the employees to “remain alert, report unusual symptoms and share information with other embassy employees.”

“All-embassy employee meetings to share information took place regularly beginning in May 2017,” the government says, and lists specific dates for some of the meetings.

The situation escalated on June 4, when a Canadian diplomat and his family who’d experienced an incident three days earlier were taken to the University of Miami for medical evaluation. The diplomat told the Ottawa Citizen he’d been awoken by a “grinding, screeching metallic noise” at 3 a.m. and felt nauseous; shortly after, his son walked into the bedroom covered in blood from a severe nosebleed.

The document says medical, security and environmental investigations and assessments began for affected people in June 2017 and “continue to the present time.”

Around June 9, “a commitment was secured by Canadian officials from high-level officials in the Government of Cuba to conduct a joint investigation into the cause of the symptoms reported by Canadian embassy employees,” the document says. “Further meetings took place on 26 to 28 June 2017 to establish joint investigative work into the symptoms.”

The document does not contain any other information about that joint investigation. “Cuba has cooperated with Canada since the beginning of our investigation, including by working jointly with the RCMP investigators,” said a Global Affairs spokesperson. “For privacy, security and legal reasons, we cannot comment on the specifics of the ongoing investigations, individual cases, nor on specific security measures.”

John Phillips, lawyer for the diplomats and their families, did not respond to a request for comment.