CubaBrief: Biden Administration holds Castro regime accountable for Human Trafficking. The Havana Syndrome and the NBC report “Fighting an Invisible Enemy”

The Biden White House in a December 21, 2021 memorandum to the Secretary of State announced it would “not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related assistance to, or allow funding for participation in educational and cultural exchange programs by officials or employees of, the Government of Cuba for FY 2022 until [Havana] complies “with the [ section 110 of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection] Act’s minimum standards or make significant efforts to bring [itself] into compliance with the minimum standards.” The State Department’s 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report section on Cuba described an already bad record, which grew worse during the 2020-2021 pandemic.

“The Government of Cuba does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Cuba remained on Tier 3. During the reporting period, there was a government policy or government pattern to profit from labor export programs with strong indications of forced labor, particularly its foreign medical missions program.”

According to the Trafficking in Persons Report, “in 2020, the [Cuban] government capitalized on the pandemic by increasing the number and size of medical missions and refused to improve the program’s transparency or address labor violations and trafficking crimes despite persistent allegations from observers, former participants, and foreign governments of Cuban officials’ involvement in abuses. The government failed to inform participants of the terms of their contracts, which varied from country to country, confiscated their documents and salaries, and threatened medical professionals and their family members if participants left the program. Within Cuba, the government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting trafficking crimes.”

This has drawn the attention of some in the African press, and concerns of complicity by the host government.

Mavys Álvarez Rego (then 16), Fidel Castro, and Diego Maradona (then 40) in 2001. Mavys testified that she was trafficked, raped, and held against her will.

These practices extend beyond doctors into other professions sent abroad to work for the regime, into more shocking cases such as an under age girl trafficked by the Castro regime to develop a relationship with an Argentine soccer star.

Mavys Álvarez reports she was introduced to Diego Maradona at 16 years of age, and was soon forced to get breast implants after being groomed and flown to Argentina from her native Cuba by Maradona’s associates, without the permission of her parents. Cubans in 2001 were not allowed to travel outside of the island. Fidel Castro gave the authorization for the minor to travel with Maradona. According to Mavys Álvarez, “the only way to travel was either with the permission of the parents, being at least 18 years old, or through Fidel. Maradona was able to get the authorization thanks to his “friendship” with the despot and Mavys traveled out of the country in November 2001.On November 22, 2021 she told a news conference that the Argentine soccer player “had raped her when she was a teenager and stolen her childhood.”

Mavys holds picture of herself next to Castro and Maradona, after news conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Political players wanting a rapprochement with Havana in 2015 watered down the report on human trafficking in Cuba drawing the ire of experts who feared it would compromise its integrity. “Human rights groups and people with knowledge of the negotiations over the rankings said an unearned upgrade for Cuba, especially at a time of intense attention due to the historic diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, could undermine the integrity of the report.”

The report and actions of the White House are consistent with existing law, and bad actions of the Castro dictatorship with regards to human trafficking that stretches back decades and reached the highest levels of the dictatorship, including Fidel Castro.

The rapprochement between the U.S. government and the Castro regime did not end well. From 1977 until 2015 both Cuba and the United States each had Interests Sections in Washington DC and Havana, their respective adversaries capital city, that were fully staffed. They were embassies in all but name. Today the American Embassy is no longer fully staffed. NBC today released a digital documentary and detailed report highlighting victims of the Havana Syndrome, a series on neurological injuries suffered by Canadian and U.S. diplomats stationed in Havana beginning in 2016.

“When Cruise, one of four original Cuba victims who spoke to NBC News for the digital documentary, arrived in Havana in 2015, the U.S. still had no formal relations with the communist-run island 90 miles south of Florida. As the Obama administration pursued a historic rapprochement with Cuba, Cruise was on hand on the summer day when the U.S. flag was raised over the newly reopened U.S. Embassy. Cruise says it was more than a year later, when she was on the couch reading a book at home in Havana, that she heard a high-pitched buzzing sound coming from her left side. Soon came the exhaustion and later the sensation of “being pushed from the top of the head into the ground.”

“I could actually feel my brain shutting down, like it just — everything kind of went black.”

Today, both Canadian and American diplomats have filed lawsuits against their respective governments for downplaying the seriousness of the attacks, and the injuries. Engagement by American diplomats with Cubans on the island is a fraction of what it was before the so-called “normalization” of relations. What appeared to be a small matter of not holding Havana accountable in a government report may have contributed to an overall sense of impunity.

In 1968, after Soviet tanks crushed the Prague Spring, an effort by Czechoslovak communist reformers to build socialism with a human face, Havel wrote the following to the Czechoslovak President Alexander Dubcek who had been one of the reformers later purged: “Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance.”

The late Czech author, playwrite, and former president Vaclav Havel believed that moral actions, no matter how small or futile they may appear at the time, can have profound consequences for both freedom and a just society. It is because the world is not a puzzle to be solved but incredibly much more complex that decisions of right and wrong made by each person have such great importance. President Havel, in a November 11, 2009 address to the European Parliament in Brussels issued a challenge to the European Union and warned of the consequences of failure:

“Above all, clear and unequivocal solidarity with all those confronted by totalitarian or authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world. And economic or other particular interests should not hinder such solidarity. Even a minor, discreet and well-intentioned compromise can have fatal consequences– even if only in the long term, or indirectly. One must not retreat in the face of evil, because it is in the nature of evil to take advantage of every concession. Besides, Europe has already had its own unfortunate experience of appeasement policies.”

In 2015, some political actors believed that a small moral compromise on a trafficking report would reap reward by appeasing one of the demands of the Cuban dictatorship. Six years, and many seriously injured diplomats, first in Cuba and now around the world, may indicate otherwise.

Thankfully, the Biden Administration yesterday did the right thing with respect to human trafficking, and holding the Castro regime accountable.


The White House, December 21, 2021

Briefing Room

Memorandum on the Presidential Determination with Respect to the Efforts of Foreign Governments Regarding Trafficking in Persons

December 21, 2021 • Presidential Actions

Presidential Determination
No.        2022-06

MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE

SUBJECT:       Presidential Determination with Respect to the Efforts of Foreign Governments Regarding Trafficking in Persons 

Consistent with section 110 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (22 U.S.C. 7107) (the “Act”), as amended, I hereby determine as follows:

As provided for in section 110(d)(1)(A)(i) of the Act, I determine that the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related assistance to the Governments of Afghanistan, Burma, China, Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, and South Sudan for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 until such governments comply with the Act’s minimum standards or make significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the minimum standards.

As provided for in section 110(d)(1)(A)(ii) of the Act, I determine that the United States will not provide nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related assistance to, or allow funding for participation in educational and cultural exchange programs by officials or employees of, the Governments of Cuba, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Eritrea, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria for FY 2022 until such governments comply with the Act’s minimum standards or make significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the minimum standards.

As provided for in section 110(d)(1)(B) of the Act, I hereby instruct the United States Executive Director of each multilateral development bank, as defined in the Act, and of the International Monetary Fund to vote against and use best efforts to deny any loan or other utilization of the funds of the respective institution (other than for humanitarian assistance; for trade-related assistance; or for development assistance that directly addresses basic human needs, is not administered by the government of such country, and confers no benefit to that government) for the Governments of Afghanistan, Burma, China, Cuba, DPRK, Eritrea, Iran, Nicaragua, Russia, and Syria for FY 2022 until such governments comply with the Act’s minimum standards or make significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the minimum standards.

Consistent with section 110(d)(4) of the Act, I determine that the provision of all programs, projects, and activities described in sections 110(d)(1)(A)(i) and 110(d)(1)(B) of the Act with respect to Algeria, Malaysia, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela would promote the purposes of the Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States;

Consistent with section 110(d)(4) of the Act, I determine that providing the assistance described in section 110(d)(1)(B) of the Act to Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, and South Sudan would promote the purposes of the Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States;

Consistent with section 110(d)(4) of the Act, I determine that a partial waiver with respect to Eritrea and Russia to allow funding for educational and cultural exchange programs described in section 110(d)(1)(A)(ii) of the Act would promote the purposes of the Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States;

Consistent with section 110(d)(4) of the Act, with respect to Comoros, I determine that a partial waiver of the restriction described in section 110(d)(1)(A)(i) of the Act to allow for International Military Education and Training (IMET); Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, Demining, and Related Programs (NADR)-Global Threat Reduction; Development Assistance (DA); Economic Support Fund (ESF); and Global Health Programs (GHP) assistance would promote the purposes of the Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States;

Consistent with section 110(d)(4) of the Act, with respect to Guinea-Bissau, I determine that a partial waiver of the restriction described in section 110(d)(1)(A)(i) of the Act to allow for IMET, NADR-Conventional Weapons Destruction, DA, ESF, and GHP assistance would promote the purposes of the Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States; and

Consistent with section 110(d)(4) of the Act, with respect to South Sudan, I determine that a partial waiver of the restriction described in section 110(d)(1)(A)(i) of the Act to allow for Peacekeeping Operations, DA, ESF, and GHP assistance would promote the purposes of the Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States.

You are authorized and directed to submit this determination, the certification required by section 110(e) of the Act, and the Memorandum of Justification, on which I have relied, to the Congress, and to publish the determination in the Federal Register.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/12/21/memorandum-on-the-presidential-determination-with-respect-to-the-efforts-of-foreign-governments-regarding-trafficking-in-persons/

NBC News, December 22, 2021

Legal, Financial Fights Mount as ‘Havana Syndrome’ Goes Unsolved

A former U.S. intelligence official sued the Defense Department on Wednesday related to an overseas incident decades ago that he believes is part of the same mystery. 

Five years after U.S. diplomats and spies in Cuba started hearing unexplained sounds and getting sick, frustration over the mystery known as “Havana Syndrome” is giving way to a growing number of legal and financial battles as potential incidents spread around the globe.

In the U.S., a diplomat who reported having been injured in China is suing the State Department alleging disability discrimination. In Canada, 27 diplomats, military police and family members are suing their government for $40 million over incidents in Cuba.

Now, a former U.S. intelligence official is suing the Defense Department in connection with an overseas incident decades ago that he believes is part of the same mystery, court records obtained by NBC News show.

As the number of suspected cases grows well above 200, dozens of current and former U.S. officials are tussling with various government agencies over benefits, treatment, lost wages or formal recognition of their injuries, diplomats and other officials said in interviews.

Meanwhile, a law President Joe Biden signed in October is about to force the U.S. government to do something that’s been difficult in the past: adjudicate who among its ranks is a legitimate victim of a phenomenon — possibly a deliberate attack — that it still can’t explain.

“I would not have retired if I had not been injured,” said Cheryl Cruise, a 20-year veteran of the State Department, who said the government is still not meeting workers’ health care needs. “It’s depressing, and it’s aggravating, and I’m not the only one.”

Cruise, who was the acting ambassador’s assistant at the U.S. Embassy in Havana when the incidents there came to light in 2017, is speaking publicly for the first time as part of a new NBC News digital documentary, “Fighting anInvisible Enemy: The Voices of Havana Syndrome.

The digital documentary explores the evolving U.S. response to unexplained incidents in which government employees serving in more than a dozen countries have reported a range of symptoms including balance and memory problems, hearing and vision changes, and concussions — sometimes following inexplicable sounds or physical sensations. 

Despite years of investigation, the U.S. says it hasn’t determined a cause or a culprit, although officials from multiple U.S. national security agencies have told NBC News they suspect the incidents could be attacks using a microwave weapon, possibly by Russia.

In 2017, the State Department described the incidents as “targeted attacks,” but it now refers to them as “anomalous health incidents.” A National Academies of Science report last year found the injuries consistent with the effects of directed microwave energy.

“We know that Russia is one of the nation-states that has the technology. There are some others,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who has repeatedly pressed the government to take “Havana Syndrome” more seriously.

Russia and Cuba have consistently denied any involvement. Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed allegations as “absurd” and “paranoid,” saying: “We have repeatedly stated that Russia has nothing to do with this.”

And other U.S. officials remain skeptical given a lack of firm intelligence proving who did it and how, and some have questioned whether mass hysteria may be to blame.

‘Everything kind of went black’

When Cruise, one of four original Cuba victims who spoke to NBC News for the digital documentary, arrived in Havana in 2015, the U.S. still had no formal relations with the communist-run island 90 miles south of Florida. As the Obama administration pursued a historic rapprochement with Cuba, Cruise was on hand on the summer day when the U.S. flag was raised over the newly reopened U.S. Embassy.

Cruise says it was more than a year later, when she was on the couch reading a book at home in Havana, that she heard a high-pitched buzzing sound coming from her left side. Soon came the exhaustion and later the sensation of “being pushed from the top of the head into the ground.”

“I could actually feel my brain shutting down, like it just — everything kind of went black,” Cruise said. 

Cruise said that as other staffers quietly began reporting similar incidents, she went to the embassy’s security office and listened to a recording of what others had heard.

“And I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s the sound I heard,'” Cruise said. “And that was the beginning of my trying to get people to believe me.”

Doctors at the University of Pennsylvania, whom the State Department enlisted to evaluate evacuated diplomats, did believe her, diagnosing her injuries as consistent with others in the new but growing cohort of “Havana Syndrome” victims.

Cruise says she opted to retire in 2018 when her medical issues didn’t significantly improve, only to find herself excluded from additional health benefits Congress passed the next year. Now she’s struggling to find a neurologist who will treat her under workers’ compensation.

Complicating matters for those seeking benefits is the government’s reluctance to classify who is or isn’t a “confirmed case” of so-called Havana Syndrome, which still has no clear cause or diagnostic test.

Mike Beck, a former counterintelligence officer with the secretive National Security Agency, sued the Defense Department on Wednesday over its decision to classify information about whether he was hit overseas by a high-powered microwave weapon in 1996.

Beck, who later developed a rare, early-onset form of Parkinson’s disease, asserts that his situation is similar to that of the “Havana Syndrome” victims.

In 2014, as Beck was seeking workers’ compensation, the NSA released a rare public statement confirming that it had intelligence that a hostile country Beck traveled to during that time frame was linked to “a high-powered microwave system that may have the ability to weaken, intimidate, or kill an enemy over time and without leaving evidence.”

The brief, unclassified statement said the weapon “is designed to bathe a target’s living quarters in microwaves.” Which hostile country Beck was serving in remains classified.

The statement added that the NSA had no evidence that any such weapon “was or was not used against Mr. Beck,” a caveat that Beck said has prevented him from securing workers’ compensation. Beck’s lawsuit seeks to force the government to declassify more information, including an email in which he says a top NSA official concurred that his Parkinson’s was most likely work-related.

“The fact is that this mystery has its origins and answers within the Intelligence Community, and most information remains classified,” said Beck’s attorney, Mark Zaid, who also represents Cruise and other U.S. diplomats injured in Cuba and elsewhere. 

“Until the classified info is pried loose, there will be little more than conspiracies and allegations dominating the discussion,” he said in a statement.

The NSA declined to comment on any intelligence associating a hostile country with a microwave weapon. But the NSA said in a statement the U.S. intelligence community takes the incidents “very seriously” and added: “The NSA remains unwavering in its commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing of the NSA workforce.” 

Kate Husband, a diplomat who was serving with her husband in Cuba when both say they heard the sound and fell ill in 2017, said: “Every time I read about a new victim or I hear about a new victim, I feel the loss. You get all these people who have so much to offer who are not going to be the same.” 

Husband, who is on medical leave from the State Department, was diagnosed with nystagmus — involuntary eye movements consistent with a concussion — along with cognitive deficits and hearing loss on just one side. She said she spent nine months after her injury “trying to do my old job, little pieces of it, a few hours a day” but could never shake the extreme headaches and nausea.

“I had to go back to the department and say, ‘I think I’m broken permanently,'” she said.

Fighting for government recognition

In 2017 and 2018, the State Department said it had “medically confirmed” about two dozen cases in Cuba and one in China. Since then, potential cases have spread to every continent except Antarctica, including suspected incidents in the U.S. The government stopped providing public tallies of the number of “confirmed” cases in 2018 after confirming a single case in China.

That is expected to change early next year when a provision in the new HAVANA Act takes effect, authorizing government payments to those with brain injuries. The legislation gave the government six months to come up with a system to determine who is eligible and for how much, a period that expires in April.

That could portend a whole new round of lawsuits from some of the hundreds of government workers who have reported suspected incidents, many of which U.S. officials have said privately they believe are not bona fide cases.

“Could You Benefit from Filing a ‘Havana Syndrome’ Energy Attack Injury Claim?” reads an advertisement from one law firm, Sullo & Sullo of Houston. “It could be in your best interests to speak to an experienced Havana Syndrome energy attack injury lawyer.”

The law firm didn’t respond to a formal inquiry asking whether it actually has any experience representing “Havana Syndrome” cases. A person who answered the phone at the firm this week said he was unaware of any current cases.

In Canada, which confirmed in 2017 that some of its diplomats and their relatives were affected in Cuba, a lawsuit against the government has been growing, adding plaintiffs who say they were injured in more recent incidents that the Canadian government hasn’t publicly disclosed – including one this year.

“We believe the Canadian government failed to take the proper steps to protect the diplomats when they knew of things that were happening in Havana,” said Paul Miller, the attorney representing the Canadians.

Global Affairs Canada, the equivalent of the State Department, said it “cannot comment on a matter that remains before the courts.” It said through a spokesman: “Since the beginning of the health incidents, the health, safety and security of our diplomatic staff and their families remains a priority.”

The circumstances may not be limited to Havana. Several diplomatic sources said Canadian diplomats have also come forward reporting suspected incidents in other countries, including some in Europe and some posted to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, which has not been previously reported.

And in October, Canadian diplomats got an alert from headquarters in Ottawa acknowledging concerns “among Government of Canada employees around the world” and urging them to report any incidents of head pressure accompanied by symptoms like disorientation, headache and cognitive defects.

“Please be assured that every report will be taken seriously,” says the email, obtained by NBC News, which also says diplomats can report incidents to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The new litigants include a Canadian diplomat who was deployed to Havana for a high-level posting in December 2020. He said his government didn’t inform him before he arrived at the embassy that there had been new cases there since 2018, the most recent ones Canada’s government had acknowledged.

In February, two months after he arrived, he was in the bathroom one morning at his embassy-provided house, rented from the Cubans, when he felt an “acute reverberation” in his ear that left behind a ringing noise. He checked outside his home and saw nothing out of the ordinary. But later, he said, he developed headaches, exhaustion, memory problems and difficulty balancing in the dark.

The diplomat, who was evacuated to Dalhousie University in Halifax, where Canada sends its potential “Havana Syndrome” cases for treatment, said doctors found no increased brain bleeding but did find appreciable differences in brain wave activity between the left and right sides of his brain, compared to baseline testing performed in 2020. He told NBC News the Canadian government ultimately told him that it couldn’t determine whether or not he is a case. He has returned to work in another country.

“I’m not expecting any other career advancements or new postings,” he said in an interview. “Nobody wants someone who just causes problems and is not going to just shut up.”

The Canadian diplomat, like others involved in the lawsuit, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the litigation. The U.S. diplomats being identified by name in the NBC News digital documentary obtained permission from the State Department to speak publicly.

A State Department spokesman said Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized his concern about “Havana Syndrome” and about the health and safety of employees and relatives in recent calls with affected employees.

“As he expressed to the full workforce, the secretary stressed that we will continue to focus on keeping our people informed, seeking answers, and providing support to those affected,” the State Department said in a statement.

Many of those staffers have begun taking matters into their own hands.

Tina Onufer, one of the initial cohort affected in Cuba, has managed to continue working part-time for the State Department, although she requires special glasses for acute light sensitivity and suffers constant headaches, among other ongoing issues.

She and several others who served on the island were given the State Department’s Secretary’s Award — similar to a Purple Heart — for “injuries incurred in the line of duty in Havana, Cuba.” The framed award hangs on her wall.

Now Onufer is seeking treatment far from her Virginia home in Alaska, from a physician who she said may have found new ways to help “Havana Syndrome” sufferers.

“I don’t want to be known as a victim,” Onufer said. “In spite of what this does to us, we haven’t given up on getting better.”

 https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/national-security/legal-financial-fights-mount-havana-syndrome-goes-unsolved-n1286399#anchor-Fightingforgovernmentrecognition

 


From the Archives

Latin Times, November 26, 2021

‘Maradona Covered My Mouth So I Wouldn’t Scream’: Cuban Woman Accuses Football Legend Of Abuse, Rape

Rohan Parakkad | Nov 26 2021, 10:07AM EST

Mavys Alvarez Rego speaks during a press conference to international news agencies in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Monday. AFP.

In a press conference on Monday, Nov. 22, a 37-year-old Cuban woman has accused late Argentine football idol Diego Maradona and his entourage of violence and abuse, including rape and holding her against her will.

Mavys Alvarez Rego told the media in Buenos Aires that she was just 16 when she met the then 40-year-old Maradona in Cuba, where he was undergoing drug treatment.

“I was dazzled, he won me over… But after two months everything started to change”, she said, claiming that she was then forced into an abusive relationship with the legend.

She alleged that the affair lasted “between four and five years” during which Maradona plied her with cocaine and booze, in turn making her dependent.

She was also forced to get breast implants, Rego claimed.

“I loved him but I hated him too, I even thought about suicide,” she said.

In the tearful interview, the mother of two said that during a trip to Buenos Aires with Maradona in 2001, his entourage had held her against her will for several weeks in a hotel room and banned her from going out alone.

While revealing several episodes of physical violence, Rego mentioned a particular occasion when Maradona had “raped” her at their home in Havana.

“My mother came to see me that day at the house where we were in Havana and Diego did not want to open the room door for her.”

“Maradona covered my mouth so I wouldn’t scream, so I wouldn’t say anything and he abused me,” she told Infobae.

“He starts insulting me, grabs me, throws me against the bed, slaps me.”

“My mum knocked and he didn’t open it. He raped me. That’s what happened.”

“I stopped being a girl, all my innocence was stolen from me. It’s hard. You stop living the innocent things that a girl of that age has to experience.”

“I don’t want to think about it too much,” Rego said.

After so many years of silence, Rego finally decided to speak out in order to balance some of the stories that were being aired in the TV series about Maradona in the run-up to his first death anniversary on Nov.25.

“I would like to be able to help other women to overcome situations like these, assist them with my own experiences, I would like to help and be able to convey to them that, if they go through a situation of this type, the important thing is to ask for help outside of the circle in which they are.”

Alvarez Rego has not filed a complaint herself but an Argentine NGO called “Foundation for Peace,” registered one after hearing her confessions in the American media in recent weeks.

The complaint alleges human trafficking, deprivation of liberty, forced servitude, assault, and battery.

“I have done what I had to do, the rest I leave to the courts,” she said.

“I achieved my goal: to say what happened to me, to prevent it from happening to others, or at least so that other girls feel the strength, the courage to speak up.”

https://www.latintimes.com/maradona-covered-my-mouth-so-i-wouldnt-scream-cuban-woman-accuses-football-legend-496124