CubaBrief: Washington Post editorial references “Havana Syndrome” and public’s right to know about invisible attacks on Americans. Treasury sanctions Cuban military

The U.S. Treasury Department today announced that military-run institutions such as FINCIMEX that take advantage of ordinary Cubans who rely on remittances, extracting fees for the Castro regime’s military’s own benefit will no longer be able to do so. Currently the Cuban military, in addition to being a repressive actor in Cuba, has thousands of troops in Venezuela propping up the Maduro dictatorship. Reducing hard currency sources for the Castro regime’s military apparatus is a positive step that supports both Cubans and Venezuelans striving to live in freedom.

However, this action of curtailing hard currency to the Castro regime’s military should be placed in the context of attacks on U.S. personnel serving in Cuba who were the subject of attacks that caused neurological damage beginning in November 2016. The editorial board of The Washington Post published an editorial on October 25, 2020 that highlighted what has come to be known as the “Havana Syndrome” declaring that the “public needs to know about the invisible attacks on Americans abroad.”

Since the beginning, voices have tried to diminish the harm done to over 24 American diplomats, and overlook the responsibility of the Castro regime to protect American diplomatic personnel stationed in Cuba. Now these “Havana Syndrome” has spread to China, Russia and elsewhere. The pretense by some that the Castro regime, its military and intelligence services do not know what is going on strains credulity, and ignores the history of the Cuban dictatorship.

Tania Bruguera: Cuban victim of sonic attack on October 18, 2020

Tania Bruguera: Cuban victim of sonic attack on October 18, 2020

Worse yet, it ignores the harm continuing to be done in Cuba to Cubans today, subjected to the same kind of attack, as was the case on October 18, 2020 of the sonic attack experienced by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.

The desire to portray the Castro regime in a positive light for the sake of maintaining normal relations is not unique to the United States, but is also an emerging scandal in Canada. Fifteen Canadian diplomats are suing their government that argues that “the plaintiffs have made ‘exaggerated’ claims.”

Meanwhile on October 25, 2020 the Canadian publication Global News reported that “Canadian officials warned staff bound for Cuba to stay silent on ‘Havana syndrome’” claiming that it was to “avoid mass hysteria.”

The Castro regime does not merit the benefit of the doubt and has a well established track record of harassing U.S. diplomats. As The Washington Post observed in another editorial on August 24, 2017:

“In fact, the sonic attacks would be in keeping with, if an escalation of, harassment that U.S. diplomats have long suffered in Havana, including constant surveillance and home and vehicle break-ins. Instead of easing this abuse, the reopening of the embassy may have intensified it. And no, the Trump administration, which has largely preserved Mr. Obama’s opening, is not to blame: State says the attacks began in November 2016. Rather than seize on them, the State Department under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has played them down; the Cubans were expelled in May, but no announcement was made until this month. The administration appears to be giving the Castro regime the benefit of the doubt — which, considering its overall record since the restoration of relations, may be more than it deserves.”

On November 17, 2017 at an event on Capitol Hill former Cuban political prisoners testified about abuses suffered in the Castro regime’s prisons. The Daily Caller highlighted the testimony of two political prisoners.

Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez and Luis Zuniga, anti-Castro dissidents who were sent to hideous regime prisons, said they were repeatedly subjected to “ultrasonic” torture over more than 20 years in confinement. “The methodology consisted of placing large loudspeakers around 4 feet high each … at both ends of the hallway of cells,” Zuniga recalled of his experience in 1979. “Then, they were connected to some sort of electronic device that produced high-pitched sounds.” “The sounds oscillated from high pitch to very high pitch that almost pieced the eardrums,” he added. Zuniga went on to describe symptoms from the torture sessions, saying that he began to feel “increasingly uneasy” and “unable to think.” Other prisoners suffered debilitating headaches. The brutal punishment lasted for days, he recalled, leading to the suicide of a fellow inmate. “This torture was kept [up] for days and nights without a respite,” Zuniga said. “It ended when one of the prisoners … hung himself. He died from the torture.”

Before assuming that the Russians or the Chinese are behind this, perhaps investigators should take another closer look at the Castro regime, and also look at other ways to cut off hard currency going to the military and secret police of the dictatorship in Havana.

The Washington Post, October 25, 2020

The Post’s View

Opinion

The public needs to know about the invisible attacks on Americans abroad. Congress can help.

Opinion by Editorial Board

U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba

U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba

THE MYSTERY of invisible attacks on American diplomats and intelligence officers abroad has deepened — again. They began in Cuba and China, leaving U.S. officials with headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and memory loss after hearing strange noises and feeling odd sensations. What came to be known as Havana syndrome has now cropped up elsewhere and since. No one knows for sure who is responsible, but some evidence points to Russia. The time has come for more openness from the U.S. government — and more help for public servants injured in the line of duty.

Two news reports have disclosed the broader scope. In GQ magazine, Julia Ioffe recounts the harrowing experience of CIA officer Marc Polymeropoulos, who held a high-ranking position at headquarters. While on an official visit to Moscow in December 2017, he was nearly incapacited by something that hit him in his Moscow hotel room. Two senior CIA officials were hit while on a trip to Australia and Taiwan; one was among the agency’s top five officials. After last Thanksgiving, Ms. Ioffe reports, citing three sources, “a White House staffer was hit while walking her dog in Arlington, Virginia. . . . The staffer passed a parked van. A man got out and walked past her. Her dog started seizing up. Then she felt it too: a high-pitched ringing in her ears, an intense headache, and a tingling on the side of her face.”

In the second account, the New York Times reported several of the CIA officers were traveling overseas to discuss countering Russian operations with partner agencies. While some CIA analysts believe Moscow was trying to derail that work, Director Gina Haspel is reportedly unconvinced. Ms. Ioffe reports that Ms. Haspel challenged the findings of an internal agency probe that pointed to Russia’s security services, and has not taken the matter to President Trump, perhaps because of his inexplicable and damaging affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Oct. 21 that investigations had produced only incomplete analysis and theories.

The cause of the attacks is unknown, but attention has focused on some sort of directed energy device, such as a microwave.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who championed legislation passed by Congress to provide care, leave and benefits to State Department officials and family members hit in Cuba and China, is properly seeking to expand it to include all U.S. government officials affected. Meanwhile, the senator and other leading members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations committees have asked the National Academy of Sciences for a report commissioned by the State Department and completed some months ago into the attacks. The report, still under review at State, was prepared by Stanford University microbiologist David Relman, who told GQ he is frustrated that it hasn’t been made public.

This mystery could — and should — be less mysterious. Congress must have the Relman report and should make it public. That is the first of many steps still needed to identify the perpetrators, protect Americans abroad and respond properly.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/the-public-needs-to-know-about-the-invisible-attacks-on-americans-abroad-congress-can-help/2020/10/23/905b325c-13cb-11eb-bc10-40b25382f1be_story.html

U.S. Department of the Treasury, October 26, 2020

Treasury Prohibits Cuban Military from Processing Remittance-Related Transactions

October 26, 2020

WASHINGTON – Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to remove Cuba’s military-run entities from the remittance process. Specifically, OFAC is amending the CACR to remove from the scope of certain remittance-related general authorizations any transactions relating to the collection, forwarding, or receipt of remittances involving entities or subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List (CRL). The CRL, as maintained by the State Department, is a list of entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba. This action is intended to restrict such entities’ and subentities’ access to fees, commissions, or other funds obtained in connection with remittance-related activities. As a result of these changes, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will no longer be authorized to process remittances to or from Cuba through FINCIMEX or any other entity or subentity on the CRL.

“Cuba’s military-run institutions such as FINCIMEX take advantage of ordinary Cubans who rely on remittances, extracting fees for the Cuban military’s own benefit,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The Cuban people should have the freedom to decide what to do with their own money, without interference from the military.”

For the latest changes to the CACR, which can be found at 31 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 515, see here.

Prohibiting Cuban Military Processed Remittance-Related Transactions with Cuba Restricted List Entities and Subentities

OFAC is amending three general licenses to exclude from the scope of such authorizations any transaction relating to the collection, forwarding, or receipt of remittances involving any entity or subentity identified on the Cuba Restricted List. OFAC is also making corresponding amendments to clarify that such remittance transactions are not permitted as ordinarily incident to a licensed transaction where excluded from the relevant OFAC general or specific license.

This restriction applies regardless of whether the transaction with the CRL entity or sub-entity is direct or indirect, and is distinct from the prohibition on direct financial transactions that OFAC added to the CACR in November 2017.

This change provides for a 30-day implementation period before it is effective in order to allow for technical implementation of these additional restrictions.

For more information on Cuba sanctions, click here

 https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/sm1164

Global News, October 25, 2020

Canadian officials warned staff bound for Cuba to stay silent on ‘Havana syndrome’

https://globalnews.ca/video/rd/c5c1a16e-171e-11eb-948d-0242ac110003/?jwsource=cl

By Amanda Connolly Global News

There have been no new reports of Canadian diplomats coming down with mysterious symptoms of what’s become known as “Havana Syndrome” in nearly two years — and no answers for those affected.

That’s despite new reports from the New York Times and GQ Magazine that American intelligence sources are pointing the finger at Russia for dozens of cases of U.S. diplomats and spies experiencing symptoms similar to those reported by the Canadians.

But Canadian investigators say they still have no idea what caused the spate of illnesses — originally described by government officials as “attacks” — and are not providing any updates on the state of the investigation, which documents obtained by Global News under access to information laws initially described as “criminal” in nature.

The mystery began in late 2016 and early 2017 when American diplomatic staff at the embassy in Havana, Cuba, began reporting unusual symptoms similar to those from a concussion: hearing loss, memory loss, tinnitus, nose bleeds, vision problems and vertigo, among others.

Canadian diplomatic staff and their families began reporting symptoms in early 2017 and into the following year, with more than 40 Canadian and American diplomats and their families impacted.

But nearly four years after the onset of the mystery, there are no official answers and the Canadian government is fighting 15 of those Canadians impacted in court, arguing the plaintiffs have made “exaggerated” claims.

Global News filed multiple access to information requests for internal emails and official correspondence from Global Affairs Canada about the matter in September 2017, when media reports began emerging of mysterious symptoms affecting diplomats in Cuba.

Three years later, the federal government last month finally released nearly 700 pages of heavily redacted government emails, memos and briefing material prepared over the course of the early scramble to figure out what was going on, including records of meetings with American authorities including the Central Intelligence Agency that included CSIS and the CSE.

While the records offer little insight into the state of an investigation that officials confirm remains ongoing, they paint a picture of officials scrambling to keep the situation under wraps and appear to corroborate claims currently in court that officials were working to keep early reports of symptoms quiet.

Embassy staff told briefings ‘must not be disclosed’

Fifteen of the Canadian diplomatic staff and dependents who say they suffered the effects of what’s become known as “Havana syndrome” have alleged in a $28-million lawsuit in Federal Court that the government “badly mishandled” the situation and told them not to talk about it with anyone.

The documents released last month appear to verify that account.

One of the diplomats spoke with Global News under the condition that the anonymity order and pseudonym authorized by the court for the plaintiffs in the case be maintained.Diplomat Allen, as the individual is described in the court case, said he first told the Canadian ambassador in Cuba on April 11, 2017, that an American diplomat had warned him the previous day of mysterious symptoms impacting staff at the U.S. embassy in Havana.

“Do not tell any other Canadians. We cannot tell any other Canadians — we don’t want to start mass hysteria,” Diplomat Allen cited the ambassador as responding.

Even months later as American media reports broke of the symptoms impacting U.S. diplomats, he said Canadian diplomatic staff were still being told not to talk about the matter.

Several undated versions of a draft document entitled “briefing employees being posted to Havana” were released to Global News. These memos outline proposed points to be made during pre-departure meetings with Canadian diplomatic staff heading for postings at the embassy.

Subsequent emails describe plans to brief outgoing diplomats on June 27 and June 29, 2017 — months after Diplomat Allen says he first reported the information from the American diplomat to the Canadian ambassador in Cuba, and nearly a month after he says his own family was impacted on June 1.

Documents previously reported by Global News and obtained under an earlier access to information request show Global Affairs Canada officials were suggesting the symptoms being reported by Canadian diplomats in May 2017 were nothing more than “extreme stress.”

One of the points in the briefing material advises staff to tell outgoing diplomats that some at the embassy in Havana have reported dizziness, headaches, ringing in the ears and “not feeling quite yourself” and says Canadian officials have no idea what could be the cause.

It also states that “of the (redacted) households tested so far, none have been found to have any medical consequences related to their exposure that necessitate a medical leave from Havana.”

The material also included points stressing the need to keep the information secret.

Another advises outgoing staff, “you all have top secret clearance — and understand the responsibilities and obligations that come with that clearance. This information can not be shared.”

Another advises outgoing staff, “you all have top secret clearance — and understand the responsibilities and obligations that come with that clearance. This information can not be shared.”

Diplomat Allen said the list of symptoms outgoing diplomats were briefed on didn’t come close to what was happening and left out key details — including that his own children had suffered symptoms during and after the June 1 incident when they heard a “screeching, metallic” noise in their home.

He recalled how one woman, who had been posted to the embassy that summer with a young child, approached him several weeks after arriving to ask what his family had experienced.

“She said, ‘They never said anything about kids being affected.’”

That individual and her child are now plaintiffs in the case.

The records released under access to information laws show officials in Ottawa deliberating back and forth over what information to include in the briefing for outgoing staff on June 27.

The material is heavily redacted but show briefing material describes “a rather bizarre situation” in which diplomats were experiencing “headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness and ringing in the ears.”

Other drafts make mention of households reporting “short term memory loss,” but none of the released material makes mention of the symptoms — which officials described as “consistent with exposure to sound” — as also impacting the children of Canadian diplomats working at the embassy.

“I would propose to find a middle ground (i.e.: share factual information using cautious language,” cautioned one official in a June 27 email chain that discussed how to brief outgoing diplomats.

“They downplayed everything,” said Diplomat Allen, who said he and his family are still suffering from a range of strange symptoms: his wife and son have developed vision problems; and he suffers from unexplained nausea and dizziness that months of physiotherapy haven’t fixed.

One of his sons began blacking out for no identifiable reason while in Cuba, he said, and suffered another fainting episode in 2019 that saw him taken to hospital.

When Diplomat Allen called the doctor handling the case from Global Affairs Canada, he said the doctor told him, “Don’t tell them about Cuba.”

Canadian officials, diplomats still seeking answers

What caused the mysterious symptoms experienced by Canadian and American diplomats remains a mystery to this day, though several recent American media reports citing intelligence sources suggest the focus is increasingly tightening on Russia. 

Theories abound: some studies have posited the symptoms match those of exposure to pesticides used to fumigate against the Zika virus, or that the sounds described by diplomats that precipitated symptoms could match those of local insects vibrating at a high frequency.

More troubling theories focus on unknown sonic or electromagnetic weapons targeting diplomats and spies, citing similar symptoms in American diplomats posted to China and CIA officials on U.S. soil.

Even the language used to describe the matter has become a case of shifting goalposts.

Canadian officials in May and June 2017 were discussing the symptoms in Canadian diplomats as related to “suspected acoustic attacks” or “sonic attacks.”

That language shifted by September 2017 following a bilateral meeting between Canadian officials and U.S. counterparts from the Department of State, the FBI and the CIA.

Canadian officials in May and June 2017 were discussing the symptoms in Canadian diplomats as related to “suspected acoustic attacks” or “sonic attacks.”

That language shifted by September 2017 following a bilateral meeting between Canadian officials and U.S. counterparts from the Department of State, the FBI and the CIA.

In that meeting — the second bilateral since June of the same year — Canadian officials appear to have emphasized that despite a lack of new information on the matter, stating: “Canada is not using the term ‘attacks’ or other such nomenclature.”

“Canada speaks to Cuba with a distinct voice and that it is in the interest of all three parties for Canada to maintain its unique role,” say memos summarizing that September meeting.

But three years after that meeting, it appears the situation is much the same: there is little new information and no further clarity — at least, publicly — about why Canadian and American diplomats continue to suffer symptoms from a mysterious spate of incidents that officials worked to keep quiet.

“The Government of Canada continues to search for potential causes of unusual health symptoms,” said John Babcock, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada. “While we are exploring all avenues, no definitive cause of the health incidents has been identified to date.”

He also would not say whether staff being posted to the embassy in the two years since reports of new symptoms stopped in December 2018 are still being briefed on the potential risks of the posting.

The diplomats involved in the lawsuit were among 26 Canadian diplomats and family members with symptoms following postings in Cuba who took part in a study with Dalhousie University researchers.

Results published last fall documented “multiple functional and structural impairments” found in the brains of 23 of the diplomats and their family members, noting that while one possible explanation could be overexposure to insecticides, “other causes cannot be ruled out.”

Diplomat Allen said the lack of answers, coupled with the arguments made by federal lawyers that the plaintiffs are exaggerating their symptoms, is a barrier to moving on.

“I just hope you understand the level of frustration in dealing with the government. Yes, we were sent to Dalhousie as a group for research study and yes, it conclusively found that there is something wrong with all of our brains. But there was no treatment,” he said.

“It was just basically, ‘Yes, there’s something wrong with you. Now go away.’”

Global Affairs Canada changed the risk designation for the embassy in Havana in April 2018, making it an unaccompanied posting. That means diplomats cannot bring spouses or dependents with them.

Despite there being no new cases reported since December 2018, that designation remains in place.

https://globalnews.ca/news/7365888/havana-syndrome-canadian-diplomats-cuba/

The Daily Signal, November 17, 2017

Cuban Exiles Recount ‘Sonic’ Torture by Castro Regime

Will Racke @hwillracke / November 17, 2017

A group of Cuban exiles and former political prisoners gathered on Capitol Hill to recount human rights abuses that they and their relatives suffered at the hands of the Fidel Castro regime.

In a hearing Wednesday organized by Freedom House and the Justice Cuba International Commission, survivors told gripping stories about friends and family who were imprisoned, tortured, and killed for resisting communist rule in Havana.

The tales of two former political prisoners stood out among the heart-wrenching accounts of abuses, if only for their parallels to the strange, unexplained sonic attacks inflicted upon U.S. diplomats in Havana last year. Ernesto Diaz Rodriguez and Luis Zuniga, anti-Castro dissidents who were sent to hideous regime prisons, said they were repeatedly subjected to “ultrasonic” torture over more than 20 years in confinement.

“The methodology consisted of placing large loudspeakers around 4 feet high each … at both ends of the hallway of cells,” Zuniga recalled of his experience in 1979. “Then, they were connected to some sort of electronic device that produced high-pitched sounds.”

“The sounds oscillated from high pitch to very high pitch that almost pieced the eardrums,” he added.

Zuniga went on to describe symptoms from the torture sessions, saying that he began to feel “increasingly uneasy” and “unable to think.” Other prisoners suffered debilitating headaches. The brutal punishment lasted for days, he recalled, leading to the suicide of a fellow inmate.

“This torture was kept [up] for days and nights without a respite,” Zuniga said. “It ended when one of the prisoners … hung himself. He died from the torture.”

For the former prisoners and exiles gathered at the hearing, the memories of audio torture were made fresh this summer, when it was revealed that American diplomatic personnel had been subjected to similar treatment over the previous year.

What the State Department described as “sonic attacks” may have occurred in diplomatic residences and hotels in Havana—not in the regime’s dank prisons—but many of the physical and mental effects were eerily similar to those described by Zuniga.

Victims of the mysterious attacks, which began in late 2016 and continued through this summer, experienced disturbing symptoms, including permanent hearing damage, memory loss, and impaired cognitive function. In several cases, the affected officials reported hearing noises similar to loud crickets and then experiencing physical distress.

Last month, the Associated Press obtained and released an audio recording of the noise that U.S. intelligence officials believe was used in some of the incidents. Like the sound described by the Cuban political prisoners, the noise heard by American diplomatic personnel was a high-pitched whine that modulated in intensity and tone.

The U.S. has not directly accused the Castro regime of carrying out the attacks. Investigators are looking into the possibility that Cuban intelligence, perhaps a rogue element of spies, orchestrated the provocations in order to derail the normalization of diplomatic relations begun under the Obama administration, reports Politico.

Whoever is to blame, the episode has soured relations between Washington and Havana. In a series of diplomatic reprisals, the State Department reduced the size of its Cuban mission, ordered Havana to withdraw several of its own diplomats, and issued a warning advising Americans to avoid travel to Cuba until further notice.

Those moves were a prelude to new travel and trade restrictions President Donald Trump implemented earlier this month, halting and reversing the bilateral rapprochement initiated by his predecessor. Trump, who came into office highly critical of the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba, has made good on his promise to take a tougher stance toward the Castro regime.

Trump’s position was met with unanimous approval among the exiles, their relatives, and Cuban-American politicians assembled at the Justice Cuba event. Rene Bolio, Justice Cuba’s chairman, told attendees that human rights abuses in Cuba did not end with Fidel Castro’s death and the succession of his brother, Raul Castro.

“It’s not a thing from the past,” he said.

Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Fla., one of the most ardent Cuba hawks in Congress, concluded the event with praise for the Trump administration’s hard line on Castro—and a swipe at President Barack Obama’s approach.

“I am exceedingly grateful that the policy of the last number of years, of trying to legitimize the corrupt, murderous [Castro] regime, of the visual of the president of the United States doing the wave at a baseball game with a tyrant—those days are over,” Diaz said.

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https://www.dailysignal.com/2017/11/17/cuban-exiles-recount-sonic-torture-by-castro-regime/