CubaBrief: Update on Havana Syndrome injuries to diplomats, and Cuban artist Tania Bruguera. Regime targets social influencers.

What has come to be known as the “Havana Syndrome” is in the news again both in Cuba and at The New York Times. On October 18, 2020 at 1:19am Cuban artist Tania Bruguera posted on her Facebook account the following message translated in English below the screen grab:

“Does anyone know this noise? It is like a cricket, but electronic and very loud, it can’t be natural, it activates every minute or so and lasts one minute, minute and sixteen seconds, minute and twenty-one seconds. I have a headache and an earache that cannot be tolerated. The recording cannot capture the actual volume in reality the sound is  very high and penetrating.”

There was no news about this occurrence in the English speaking press, and little coverage in the Spanish speaking press. Babalu Blog reported on it in English, citing the article in Diario de Cuba that quoted Tania’s sister, Deborah Bruguera: “We have confirmed the sound recorded by my sister is identical to what the workers at the American embassy in Havana heard and according to the investigation has been designated some type of sonic weapon. There is no doubt now…”

On October 10, 2020, ten days prior to the “sonic attack”, Ms Bruguera was the target of an act of repudiation organized by Castro’s state security. In between these two attacks the Cuban artist participated in a panel discussion over Zoom that is available now online titled “Blurring the Lines Between Art and Activism: A conversation with Tania Bruguera and Claire Bishop” organized by the Center for the Humanities.

Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera

It is surprising that there has not been more coverage surrounding her case. Tania Bruguera is an internationally recognized installation and performance artist who has works referenced by the Guggenheim and The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), both based in New York City, and she has been featured in ARTnews. However, that does not fit the narrative being pushed by the newspaper of record.

The New York Times reported on the Havana Syndrome on October 19, 2020 in the article, “U.S. Diplomats and Spies Battle Trump Administration Over Suspected Attacks,” and it is making the case that attacks have taken place in Cuba, China, and Russia, but that the current Administration only chose to highlight the attacks in Cuba, as a pretext to cooling relations while ignoring attacks in Moscow and Beijing because of the desire of closer relations with Russia, and the passage of a trade deal with Communist China.

The same critique could be made of the prior Administration, with regards to its Cuba outreach.  On December 7, 2016 the United States and Cuba held their fifth Bilateral Commission meeting where they celebrated progress on U.S.-Cuba relations, and according to the Miami Herald signed “11 non-binding agreements on health, the environment, counter-narcotics, and other areas of cooperation.” On January 2, 2017 Cuban troops 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.” This took place at a time when U.S. diplomats were suffering brain injuries that were not addressed by the White House.

Despite the provocative act, and brain injuries the Administration doubled down with a joint statement of the United States and Cuban governments, signed on January 12, 2017 with reference to migration that ended the Wet Foot Dry Foot policy, shutting the door on refugees, but also ended the practice of granting refuge to Cuban healthcare professionals trafficked to third countries and exploited by the Castro regime.

“In this framework, the United States of America shall henceforth end the special parole policy for Cuban nationals who reach the territory of the United States (commonly referred to as the wet foot-dry foot policy), as well as the parole program for Cuban health care professionals in third countries. The United States shall henceforth apply to all Cuban nationals, consistent with its laws and international norms, the same migration procedures and standards that are applicable to nationals of other countries, as established in this Joint Statement.”  

“Normalization” of relations meant treating the Castro regime like any other regular government, but that is a disservice to Cubans who have spent over 60 years under a communist dictatorship with their rights systematically violated. It also proved to run counter to U.S. interests in the region and the safety of American diplomats in Havana.

The State Department knew that beginning in November 2016 American diplomats in Havana were suffering brain injuries, but didn’t make it public until August 9, 2017 when CBS News broke the story. This was done, in part, to maintain the illusion that detente was working.

In the debate surrounding The New York Times article, the claim has been made that the Cubans did not know what was going on when at least 24 American and 14 Canadian diplomats suffered brain injuries while serving their respective nations in Havana. According to “researchers at Penn State University that focused on staff stationed in Cuba had also revealed signs of brain changes. The analysis found that 40 affected diplomats’ brains had actually shrunk,” reported Daily Mail on December 20, 2019.

U.S. diplomats had 5% less white-matter volume than healthy volunteers, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

U.S. diplomats had 5% less white-matter volume than healthy volunteers, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The close relationship between the regime’s in Beijing, Havana, and Moscow predate the ending of diplomatic relations with the United States. Fidel Castro carried out mass executionsexpropriated U.S. companies, and sent armed expeditions to overthrow governments in Latin America. Cuba diplomatically recognized the Soviet Union on May 8, 1960, and Maoist China on September 28, 1960. The United States responded with economic sanctions on October 19, 1960 and ended normal diplomatic relations on January 3, 1961. Castro regime foreign policy priorities: spreading communist revolution throughout Latin America and the rest of the world; training and arming terrorists meant close collaboration with Russia and China at different times, and a hostile relationship with the United States. To believe, as some did in 2014, that normalizing diplomatic relations with Havana, would lead them to distance from Russia and China was naive.

Furthermore, the pretense in some U.S. foreign policy circles that Havana did not know what was being done to American and Canadian diplomats on their territory, ignores the history and ability of the Cuban intelligence services, and the close working relationship with the intelligence services of Beijing and Moscow to advance objectives hostile to U.S. interests that stretches back six decades.

Today, the Castro regime continues to punch above its weight, playing a negative and outsized role, in Venezuelathe Sao Paulo Forum, and at the United Nations. At the same time Cubans continue to suffer under this hemisphere’s oldest dictatorship, and too many continue to confuse the dictatorship with the 11 million Cubans that it oppresses.

Cubans who speak out and give their own opinion, not repeat the dictatorship’s propaganda, suffer harassment, death threats, the targeting of their loved ones, and prison. Tyler Mattiace, of Human Rights Watch reports on how Havana is now targeting social media influencers.

The Castro dictatorship is not a normal government, but an outlaw regime that seeks to preserve absolute power in Cuba, at the expense of the sovereignty of Cubans, while seeking to export its model to other countries, as it successfully has done in Venezuela and Nicaragua to the detriment of their respective peoples and the wider region.  Pretending otherwise will not lead to a positive outcome.

Human Rights Watch, October 19, 2020

Cuba’s Government Targets Social Media Influencers

YouTubers Have Faced Police Harassment and Death Threats

Tyler Mattiace, Researcher, Americas Division

Screenshot from a video showing Ruhama Fernández. © YouTube/Ruhama Fernández

Screenshot from a video showing Ruhama Fernández. © YouTube/Ruhama Fernández

Cuba’s government has a well-documented history of harassing dissidents, journalists, and opposition party members. Now it has a new target: social media influencers.

On October 14, police arrived at the homes of four Cuban YouTubers about to participate in an online forum discussing Cuban politics. Two—Jancel Moreno and Maykel Castillo—were detained, Iliana Hernández and others had their internet cut. One, 21-year-old Ruhama Fernández, had to hide to participate in the discussion by phone.

The incident was just the latest example of the type of harassment influencers have faced.

Take the case of Fernández, who started her YouTube channel just ten months ago.

In Fernández’s videos, which are often critical of the government, she discusses current events and interviews people about their daily lives or their views on politics.

Soon after she started making videos, her friends began receiving citations from the police, she told Human Rights Watch. Officers would appear outside their homes and their parents’ workplaces. “They wanted to know who I was, where I lived, if I had a boyfriend.”

People began stopping her brother on the street—sometimes police, but often people dressed as civilians. “They tell him I should stop doing what I’m doing, or I might disappear.”

In April, she received her first police citation. At the station an officer told her she should stop posting videos, or else they could prosecute her for “counter-revolutionary” activities.

In July, authorities forced her internet provider to cut the connection at her home. Fernández received internet access through an informal network run by one of her neighbors—a common practice in Cuba where internet access is extremely limited. The neighbor said that police threatened to shut down the entire connection if she continued supplying Fernández.

In August, authorities denied Fernández a passport to travel to the United States to visit her parents. An Interior Ministry official told her she could not leave the country for “reasons of public interest,” a justification measure frequently invoked to bar dissidents from traveling.  

In September, after being questioned a second time by police, she posted a video detailing her experience. Days later, she received a call from an unknown number threatening to “finish” her off if she left her house.

Like others, Fernández says she is undeterred. “Now that I’ve told the truth, there’s no turning back.”

The New York Times, October 19, 2020

U.S. Diplomats and Spies Battle Trump Administration Over Suspected Attacks

American officials in China, Cuba and Russia say U.S. agencies are concealing the true extent of the episodes, leaving colleagues vulnerable to hostile actions abroad.

By Ana SwansonEdward Wong and Julian E. Barnes

Mark Lenzi, who worked for the State Department in Guangzhou, China, experiences the same mysterious affliction as dozens of diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Havana.Credit...Cody O'Loughlin for The New York Times

Mark Lenzi, who worked for the State Department in Guangzhou, China, experiences the same mysterious affliction as dozens of diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Havana.Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The strange sound came at night: a crack like a marble striking the floor of the apartment above them.

Mark Lenzi and his wife had lightheadedness, sleep issues and headaches, and their children were waking up with bloody noses — symptoms they thought might be from the smog in Guangzhou, China, where Mr. Lenzi worked for the State Department. But air pollution could not explain his sudden memory loss, including forgetting names of work tools.

What began as strange sounds and symptoms among more than a dozen American officials and their family members in China in 2018 has turned into a diplomatic mystery spanning multiple countries and involving speculation about secret high-tech weapons and foreign attacks.

One of the biggest questions centers on whether Trump administration officials believe that Mr. Lenzi and other diplomats in China experienced the same mysterious affliction as dozens of diplomats and spies at the American Embassy in Cuba in 2016 and 2017, which came to be known as Havana Syndrome. American employees in the two countries reported hearing strange sounds, followed by headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and memory loss.

But the government’s treatment of the episodes has been radically different. The State Department, which oversaw the cases, has produced inconsistent assessments of patients and events, ignored outside medical diagnoses and withheld basic information from Congress, a New York Times investigation found.

In Cuba, the Trump administration withdrew most of its staff members from the embassy and issued a travel warning, saying U.S. diplomats had experienced “targeted attacks.” President Trump expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington and started an independent review, though Cuba denied any involvement.

Full Article ]