CubaBrief: Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s exercise in projection. Cuban art historian explains need for dissidents in both authoritarian and democratic systems

Projection (noun):  the attribution of one’s own ideas, feelings, or attitudes to other people or to objects especiallythe externalization of blame, guilt, or responsibility as a defense against anxiety.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel is engaging in a classic exercise of projection when he claimed in an October 24th speech to Communist party zealots that the U.S. embassy in Havana was fanning dissident protests on the island.”  CBS News described it as “the latest flashpoint between the longtime rivals ahead of fresh rallies slated for Nov. 15.” 

In mid-July 2021 and in the run up to November 15th it has been Mr. Diaz-Canel and the Castro regime’s repressive apparatus that has repeatedly created flashpoints with Cubans seeking to peacefully assembly and express themselves. The response from the government has been beatings, gunfire against unarmed protesters, arbitrary detentions, and summary trials without due process. This is why the Center for a Free Cuba and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation have requested that Miguel Diaz-Canel be subjected to Magnitsky Sanctions for his criminal behavior.

Raul Castro selected Miguel Diaz-Canel to be president of Cuba, and remains a powerful figure

CBS News got the story wrong. There is a flashpoint, but it is between the communist dictatorship in Cuba in power for 62 years, and Cubans who want to live in freedom, and are tired of six decades of political and economic stasis.

Carolina Barrero, a 34 year old Cuban art historian who has been under house arrest over 100 days, interviewed in Latino USA explains that even if Cuba were a democracy that she would still be a dissident, and maintain a critical eye because: “to progress you always need dissident people, you always need something to disrupt, and question the status quo that is the love for evolution. If everything remains the same and nothing changes, nothing is challenged, you don’t have life that’s just death. I’m sure if we didn’t have this authoritarian system, even if we had a democratic one I would still be a dissident.”

Carolina Barrero reading Jose Marti outside of the Ministry of Culture earlier in 2021.

40 American diplomats based in Cuba were victims of the Havana Syndrome, and these diplomats were “given a series of tests called the Havana Acquired Brain Injury Tool, or HABIT, which were developed and administered by State Department medical personnel.” 26 of these diplomats stationed in Cuba failed the HABIT tests, and ” were medically evacuated and sent for additional testing at the Penn Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.” These injuries were consistent with “directed energy exposure.”

Due to these serious injuries visited on diplomats at the American Embassy in Cuba, the U.S. diplomatic headquarters in Havana has been minimally operational since 2017. Diaz-Canel is complaining about Tweets criticizing the Castro regime’s human rights violations, the arbitrary detention of hundreds of political prisoners, and calling out the dictatorship for failing to respect international human rights standards, that include the right of citizens to peacefully assemble.

The U.S. embassy is in no position to “foment” or “fan” protests in Cuba. The same cannot be said for the Cuban government, and its embassies around the world that have a history of training and sponsoring terrorist attacks, establishing narcotics trafficking in Venezuela through their connection with Colombian guerilla forces, and successfully subverting democratic countries in Ibero America.  These practices by Havana have continued to the present day.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady in her October 24, 2021 column asked “Who funds violent Latin American politics?” and points to Venezuela. She highlights two individuals that have a lot of information that have been extradited to the United States, former Venezuelan military intelligence director Hugo Carvajal —a k a El Pollo, and Alex Saab. According to Carvajal, the Castro regime’s efforts at destabilizing democracy included Spain through funding of the anti-system Podemos Party.

It is the Castro dictatorship with its effective diplomats that have fanned the flames of violent protests, and terrorism across the world, and continue to punch above their weight. Diaz-Canel’s critique is a projection of what Havana has been doing for decades to expand its influence, and subvert democracies.

Latino USA, October 26, 2021

At Odds With Cuba’s ‘Myth’

By Patricia Sulbarán Oct 26, 2021

Carolina Barrero didn’t know that returning to Cuba after living abroad for years to join a protest movement would mean that she would witness the largest demonstrations the island had seen in decades.

“When we went to sleep on the 10th of July, no one could imagine what would happen the next day,” the young art historian remembered.

The morning of July 11th, dozens of videos started to circulate on social media, showing Cubans shouting “Abajo el comunismo,” protesting in front of the Communist Party affiliate offices all across the island and expressing their frustrations about a “collapsed” healthcare system, power outages and food shortages amid a global pandemic. Overall, protesters demanded change from a one-party government that has ruled for over 60 years.

The government rapidly deployed its security forces to disperse the crowds. A protester named Diubis Tejeda died in Havana after getting shot by a police officer, according to the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH, in Spanish).

Barrero wanted to step out of her apartment in La Habana Vieja to join the demonstrations, but she couldn’t. She had already been put under house arrest after participating in previous protests propelled by artists. She was charged with defying the authorities, inciting crime, and printing clandestine flyers, but she denies having committed any crimes.

In the days that followed the July protests, hundreds of Cubans were charged with instigating unrest, vandalism, and propagating Covid-19. Some underwent summary trials without access to a defense lawyer, according to international human rights organizations.

The international media attention has faded away from the island, but activists like Barrero say the government has doubled down on its policing tactics, suppressing any expression of dissent on the streets.

Meanwhile, as of the end of September, more than 500 Cubans remained in detention, according to the local NGO Cubalex.

Some of those who remain imprisoned are artists from Movimiento San Isidro, a coalition that was founded in 2018 to oppose a new decree they said limited freedom of speech. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, a performance artist who has been one of the most known faces of the protest movement, and Maykel Osorbo, a rapper who participated in the hit song “Patria Y Vida,” are still jailed.

The Cuban government claims there was “no social uprising” and says detainees were processed under the law. It also blamed hardships on U.S. sanctions and claimed Washington and its “allies” were using social media to organize and purposely create disruption on the island.

In the months that followed the unrest, the government launched some economic measures to handle the crisis, but it also issued a decree to tighten control specifically on social media.

In this episode of Latino USA, we speak with Carolina Barrero from her apartment in Havana, where she has been on house arrest for more than three months. She had to borrow cellular data in order to do the interview because she says she is denied access to internet connection. We discuss what it means to be under house arrest on the island, the “myth” of Cuba, and how young generations are questioning the government’s understanding of what communism is.

Activists announced a new series of protests on November 15. The government banned the demonstrations and warned last week that those who participate “will face legal consequences for promoting and participating in illegal marches.”

Featured illustration by EL TOQUE.

CBS News, October 26, 2021

Cuban Government Warns Against demonstrations

Tuesday, October 26th 2021, 7:08 am

By: CBS News

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel warned the U.S. embassy in Havana against fomenting protests by dissidents on the island, the latest flashpoint between the longtime rivals ahead of fresh rallies slated for Nov. 15.

Cuba has said the planned demonstrations – scheduled for the same day the Caribbean island will reopen its borders to tourism – are illegal and blames the United States for underwriting them. The United States has threatened Cuba with further sanctions should the government jail protesters.

In a speech to Communist party stalwarts late on Sunday (October 24), Diaz-Canel doubled down on allegations of U.S. subterfuge, accusing the U.S. embassy of playing a role in fanning protests.

“The U.S. Embassy in Cuba has been taking an active role in efforts to subvert the internal order of our country. This behavior is not new,” Diaz-Canel said.

The embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. diplomatic headquarters in Havana has operated with a skeleton crew since 2017 after employees fell ill with what is now known as ‘Havana Syndrome.’

Scaled-back operations have hobbled diplomacy between the two Cold War foes and have forced Cubans seeking consular services from the embassy to travel to Guyana instead.

Diaz-Canel said the embassy was nonetheless leveraging social media communications to criticize Cuba.

The embassy in recent weeks has highlighted on social media the cases of several Cubans detained and jailed following the biggest anti-government demonstrations in decades on July 11. The posts on Twitter call in Spanish for the release of dissidents and use the hashtag “#Presosporque,” or “Why are they prisoners?”

Cuban authorities said those arrested in July were guilty of crimes including public disorder, resisting arrest, and vandalism.

Politico, October 25, 2021


State Department tested diplomats for ‘directed energy exposure’ years before telling Congress

A whistleblower victim provided new documents to POLITICO and is alleging retaliation for speaking out.

Mark Lenzi is a U.S. State Department security engineer who was among several diplomats evacuated in 2018 from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China. | Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photo


10/25/2021 11:56 AM EDT

Updated: 10/25/2021 03:07 PM EDT

The State Department was zeroing in on directed-energy weapons as a possible source of U.S. diplomats’ mysterious brain injuries more than two years before detailing those suspicions to members of Congress, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

As early as mid-2018, the State Department was administering its own internal medical tests specifically designed to evaluate patients who experienced “directed energy exposure” on foreign soil, according to two victims’ disclosure forms for the examinations. Both of their test results led to their immediate return to the U.S.

  • One of those victims, current State Department official Mark Lenzi, sustained traumatic brain injuries while on assignment in Guangzhou, China, in late 2017, when he was working as a security engineering officer in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. It wasn’t until June 2018 that Lenzi was evaluated for directed-energy exposure, more than six months after first informing his superiors about his symptoms. Days after failing the medical test, he and his family were medically evacuated from Guangzhou.

    Lenzi has accused the State Department of covering up the source of his and other diplomats’ ailments and withholding information from Congress. Lawmakers were not briefed on the department’s medical tests for directed-energy exposure until early 2021, POLITICO previously reported, even though State was administering those exams to diplomats as early as 2018.

    Lenzi provided documents to POLITICO that detail his claims that State’s leadership has retaliated against him for speaking out publicly and for working with the members of Congress who have been investigating the matter.

    The federal agency that handles whistleblower claims previously found “a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” in the case of Lenzi and his claims of retaliation, according to an April 2020 Office of Special Counsel memo. That retaliation probe is ongoing. A separate document shows that just last month, Lenzi’s administrative leave — which he relies on to attend therapy sessions and participate in medical studies — was revoked without explanation.

    The documents, which have not been previously reported, shed new light on the government’s handling of the unexplained health incidents that have afflicted more than 200 American personnel — diplomats and intelligence officers alike — in foreign countries and on U.S. soil since 2016.

    It comes as victims such as Lenzi have grown frustrated with what they say is the department’s slow and inconsistent response to the incidents over the years, spanning three presidential administrations.

    The State Department has been accused of downplaying both the symptoms and the cause — sentiments that were expressed directly to Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a tense September phone call with affected diplomats.

  • Members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to do more to help victims such as Lenzi, and some fault the State Department for its handling of the matter.

    “The State Department has not treated this syndrome as seriously as it should. And that is very disturbing to me,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has spoken with Lenzi and sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.

  • A State Department spokesperson declined to discuss the details of Lenzi’s specific case, citing privacy concerns.

    “The safety of our personnel is our highest priority,” the spokesperson added. “We take every report we receive extremely seriously, and we are doing everything we can to ensure affected individuals get the best care and treatment.”

    In a statement to POLITICO, Lenzi said the State Department’s handling of the issue has deteriorated under Blinken.

    “On his first day as secretary of State, Secretary Blinken — who I know and have the utmost respect for — told the Department of State workforce that he ‘would not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers,’” Lenzi said. “However, under his tenure, retaliation against me by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Bureau for my whistleblowing activities with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and with Congress has actually increased.”

    2018 test indicated directed energy suspicions

    Victims of so-called Havana Syndrome have reported an array of debilitating symptoms in what the Biden administration officially refers to as “anomalous health incidents.” The cases were first reported in Havana, Cuba, in 2016.

    While the U.S. has yet to publicly assign a cause or culprit for the symptoms, top officials and scientists are increasingly confident that they are the result of directed-energy attacks by a foreign government — likely Russia, according to intelligence officials — and the Biden administration has been providing weekly updates to the congressional intelligence committees.

  • The State Department’s apparent understanding in 2018 that Lenzi’s symptoms could have been caused by directed energy came two years before a National Academy of Sciences report declassified and published in 2020 concluded that “directed, pulsed radio frequency energy” was the likely source of the ailments. The number of suspected attacks on diplomats and CIA officers has risen substantially in the past year and have been reported on every continent except Antarctica.

The new documents do not detail the scientific analysis underpinning the medical examinations. But lawmakers from both parties have accused various executive branch agencies of holding back critical information about the government’s investigation into Havana Syndrome, especially during the Trump administration. In the meantime, some skeptics have asserted that the symptoms are the result of a psychogenic illness, exposure to chemicals or a specific species of crickets — though the latter has since been discounted.

Medical experts and intelligence officials have said publicly and told Congress in the past year that the symptoms likely stem from a directed-energy attack on the individual or an effort by a hostile foreign government seeking to steal data from the target’s devices.

President Joe Biden’s national security team has placed a renewed focus on the mysterious incidents, with CIA Director William Burns taking the lead in a governmentwide effort that was largely nonexistent during the previous administration. And Biden recently signed bipartisan legislation, the HAVANA Act, to expand victims’ access to medical treatment for their symptoms, which include piercing headaches, memory loss, dizziness, intense ringing and pressure in the ears, and even permanent brain damage.

A senior administration official reiterated the White House’s position on the source of Havana Syndrome — that the intelligence community is “actively examining a range of hypotheses, but has made no determination about the cause of these incidents or who is responsible.”

‘The department’s current medical assessment has evolved’

After Lenzi began experiencing symptoms of the mysterious ailment in China, he and 40 other diplomats in China and Cuba were given a series of tests called the Havana Acquired Brain Injury Tool, or HABIT, which were developed and administered by State Department medical personnel.

The State Department describes the HABIT tests as “a clinical assessment tool designed with clinical researchers to evaluate medical findings associated with directed energy exposure in certain foreign environments,” according to copies of two HABIT disclosure forms dated June 1, 2018. The series of exams, administered by State Department doctors, test the patients’ brain function and eye movements in order to determine whether a brain injury has occurred.

The 41 diplomats who failed the HABIT tests — 26 from Cuba and 15 from China, including Lenzi — were medically evacuated and sent for additional testing at the Penn Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

When asked about the HABIT test, the State Department spokesperson said the department “for the last several years has utilized a tool that comprehensively evaluates reported anomalous health incidents in neurological, cognitive, vestibular, auditory, and visual domains.”

The spokesperson said the 2018 test and its mention of directed-energy “do not align with the department’s current medical evaluation procedures.”

“The department’s current medical assessment has evolved since 2018 with expert guidance from medical providers who have cared for patients since 2018,” the spokesperson added.

Lenzi enrolled in a University of Pennsylvania research study titled “Investigational Link Between Uncharacterized Environmental Exposure and Acquired Brain Injury,” on June 20, 2018. The study was led by Douglas Smith, a neurologist at the school’s Perelman School of Medicine, and at the time was sponsored by the U.S. government, according to Lenzi’s enrollment forms. It was to stretch for five years and include a number of blood draws and MRI scans.

But just two months later, the U.S. government was no longer listed as a sponsor. A consent form dated Aug. 24, 2018, stated that the study was sponsored by Penn’s Department of Neurosurgery.

The State Department spokesperson declined to address the change directly, saying only that “we never pulled funding from a Penn study” and “the department continues to engage interagency partners, academics, and scientific experts on mitigation efforts.”

Lenzi was diagnosed with a brain injury on June 22, 2018, by Teena Shetty, a neurologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, according to the documents he provided. Shetty recommended additional treatment, as well as physical restrictions such as refraining from sports and exercises and avoiding reading and screen time.

Since then, Lenzi says, the State Department has retaliated against him in a number of ways. Documents viewed by POLITICO show that the department most recently yanked his administrative leave last month — forcing him to use sick leave or leave-without-pay to participate in medical studies and attend therapy sessions — and has denied him access to his classified computer system, even though he retains his top-secret security clearance.

Lenzi said he has accrued 1,248 hours of administrative leave over a two-and-a-half-year timeframe — about 156 working days.

He expects the OSC investigation to be completed before the end of the year. At that point, by law, the results would be shared with the White House and Congress. If Lenzi’s allegations are substantiated, he would be considered a whistleblower under the statutory definition, and he would be entitled to protections under the law.

In the meantime, the State Department is warning victims that it could be months before they see the benefits of the HAVANA Act. In an email obtained by POLITICO, the department’s Bureau of Global Talent Management wrote that the new law “will have to go through the federal rules-making process, which is lengthy, and requires consultations and clearances with multiple other federal agencies.” The email also states that the funding for the HAVANA Act must come from a congressional appropriation, which has yet to reach Biden’s desk.

State Department lagging the CIA in response, critics say

Members of Congress have taken an interest in the mystery surrounding the illness since 2016, when it was first detected among U.S. diplomats serving in Havana. But congressional oversight activities skyrocketed this year after officials from across the government began warning lawmakers that diplomats, intelligence officers and other American personnel are being targeted with increasing frequency both on foreign soil and the U.S. mainland.

As a result, individual lawmakers have engaged directly with the victims, including Lenzi, as part of their oversight of the government’s handling of the matter. One of those lawmakers, Collins, has talked extensively with Lenzi and called his retribution claims “truly horrific.”

His story is very compelling and sadly far too typical of those individuals who have suffered through and are enduring the consequences of the pulsed energy attacks that lead to Havana Syndrome,” Collins, a senior member of the Intelligence Committee, said in an interview.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Many victims are hesitant to go public or even speak privately with congressional committees that are investigating the government’s response. Lawmakers attribute their reluctance in part to the State Department’s slow response to the increase in suspected attacks. The CIA, meanwhile, has begun to treat the subject more seriously, especially during Burns’ tenure.

“The State Department still has lagged the CIA in providing the health care and compensation that these individuals need and deserve,” Collins added.

Burns has taken action to remove individuals from the CIA’s medical office who aren’t treating the issue seriously, according to two people familiar with the moves. A CIA spokesperson said Burns “has made changes in our Office of Medical Services from his first day on the job, elevating a doctor focused on patient care to lead our efforts caring for affected individuals, and also tripled the number of medical staff focused on” the matter.

By contrast, the State Department’s task force on Havana Syndrome was, until recently, led by Pamela Spratlen, who had lost the confidence of many of the victims. In a recent phone call with victims, for example, Blinken and Spratlen were grilled about several topics, including the department’s reluctance to publicly refer to the incidents as attacks, as well as its tiptoeing around the “mass hysteria” theory that the victims and intelligence officials roundly reject.

During a visit to Colombia last week, Blinken met with American diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Bogota who have been impacted by Havana Syndrome. The State Department under Blinken has sought to highlight the secretary’s interactions with the victims, as the Biden administration seeks to revamp its public-facing response to the incidents.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this report misstated the date for which Mark Lenzi was diagnosed with a brain injury by Teena Shetty. It was June 22, 2018.