Cuba Today: from Havana's airport lacking water in its bathrooms the abject poverty that most Cubans suffer and tourists do not see. Also, the Cuban regime says that Canada's withdrawal of diplomat families is unjustified, but Reuters reports that "Canada pulls families of diplomats in Cuba amid unusual illnesses." Reuters had said earlier that Canadian and American diplomats posted in Havana "have reported symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and nausea since late 2016, with medical specialists even detecting brain injuries." Read article on the subject published by The Toronto Star.
Also in this CubaBrief "If you had a 'great time' in Cuba, then you didn't really see Cuba," just published by The Miami Herald.
The Miami Herald, May 29, 2018
If you had a ‘great time’ in Cuba, then you didn’t really see Cuba
BY ALEX LYDA
When President Obama loosened travel restrictions to allow average U.S. citizens more access to Cuba, he also created a zoo. Like caged animals, Cubans have been on display to a new swath of Americans.
Cubans have regarded these new visitors from behind the same rusting bars of communism for more than two years now. Initial hope for a deeper and more meaningful engagement has given way to a feeling that Americans will never understand the hardships of today’s “real Cuba,” as one patron of a government-run store in Havana recently told me.
Cubans know the script that American tourists follow very well:
First night, descend on Old Havana for performances of Buena Vista Social Club music. Sip watery mojitos at La Bodeguita del Medio or have daiquiris at La Floridita. Both are famous Ernest Hemingway watering holes.
The next day, take pictures of hulking 1950s Buicks and Chevys. Maybe visit the Museum of the Revolution or, more likely, Hemingway’s room at Hotel Ambos Mundos. Evenings, dine on tender beef in private restaurants off limits to Cubans. Be serenaded (but fail to tip) scrappy Cubans summoning their last drops of emotional energy to belt out one more “Guantanamera” on ragged instruments that escape the tourists’ gaze.
On the last day, cram that suitcase with rum and cigars, a sign to friends in Ohio that Cuba libre has been enjoyed in the flesh.
Then, check the box: Been there, done that. Thank you very much.
The endless parade is a form of pillage of a culture that has seen its fair share of abandonment over the centuries. Sadly, the typical agenda will not bring Americans into contact with the hungry mother who skips meals or takes a second job at a bakery just to collect crumbs for her family.
Or the grandmother in the same apartment who sweetly begs for your reading glasses (like gold in Cuba) on your last day because she hasn't been able to enjoy a book in years.
The one beauty of President Trump’s recent ban on U.S. citizens staying in state-run hotels (because money spent there goes directly to the Cuban military, which owns the hotels) is that it forces many U.S. tourists to stay in people’s homes via Airbnb or to find other arrangements. But one may have a hard time getting to the bottom of any family’s tragedies, in part because Cubans put on a bright face, trying hard to stress any silver lining.
The smile is fading, however, as my most recent experience at Havana’s José Martí Airport highlighted. Less than 24 hours after an overloaded and aging Cubana Aviacion airliner crashed after takeoff, killing 110 people aboard last week, my wife and I were in line at the only café serving the once world-class Terminal 3, where I was gruffly and uncharacteristically refused a beer.
The café wasn’t out of the national beer — I could see two dozen cans of Cristal in the refrigerator behind the cashier. I asked in my native, Cuban-accented Spanish, “Why not? It’s my last taste of Cuba before boarding the plane.” I was told that beer sales had been suspended that day out of respect for the dead and the tragedy that had befallen Cuba’s national airline. This was not a time for libation. And, with a disapproving frown, the cashier waved me off.
Despite several visits over the years, I had never seen this flash of attitude. Over in the shadows of the restrooms, there was no running water. Toilets overflowed, and tourists protested to some of the attendants who usually accepted loose change in exchange for entry. “How can an international airport not have running water?” one passenger cried out. The attendant, surprisingly, yelled at her, in Spanish, “Can’t you see we don’t have good pipes and other basic things?”
It was a message to everyone in earshot: Cuba needs help, and you cannot leave here without realizing that! In plaintive Spanish, however, it sounded like the plea of an ignored child.
So be wary of friends and acquaintances who say they have had a “great time” in Havana. It’s a sure sign that they missed what is staring them in the face: the abject poverty that most Cubans have endured with a smile is worsening.
The caged people of a desperate nation seem to be crying out for salvation. Not in the theological sense, but materially. And the shrill sound of any cornered life must be heard.
ALEX LYDA IS A CUBAN-AMERICAN FREELANCE WRITER WHO FREQUENTLY TRAVELS TO CUBA.
Canadian and American diplomats in Cuba hit by ‘directed energy,’ U.S. doctor says
By BRUCE CAMPION-SMITHOttawa Bureau
THE STAR (Toronto) Fri., April 20, 2018
OTTAWA—Canadian and American diplomats who suffered health problems during postings to Havana appear to have been exposed to some form of directed energy, says a U.S. doctor who has evaluated some of the workers.
In a career dedicated to the treatment and study of brain injuries, Dr. Douglas Smith says he’s never seen anything like the injuries suffered by the Canadians and Americans.
Canada's foreign ministry is ordering families of diplomatic staff in Cuba to return home amid questions about mysterious health symptoms detected in 10 people who were stationed on the island. (DESMOND BOYLAN / AP)
It has left them suffering persistent, concussion-like symptoms — dizziness, nausea, headaches and trouble concentrating — yet without a head trauma to explain the cause.
“It’s kind of fascinating and terrifying,” said Smith, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Neurosurgery and Center for Brain Injury and Repair.
With no plausible environmental explanation for the health woes, “the other possibilities are that this was something nefarious,” he said.
“It’s highly suspicious that U.S. government and Canadian government were the only ones we know of with this issue,” Smith told the Star in an interview.
The mystery has even taken on a name: the “Havana Syndrome.”
The working theory is whatever the cause, it originated in the housing, not the embassy, itself, because none of the Cuban staff who worked alongside Canadians have suffered health problems. But the houses are not in a single compound, but rather are spread out across the city.
Smith was among a team of specialists from the University of Pennsylvania asked by the U.S. State Department to evaluate 21 U.S. diplomats who, last year, began complaining of health problems experienced during postings to Havana.
Ten Canadians — diplomats and family members — also suffered similar health problems during their time in Cuba. Smith could not say whether he has examined the Canadians, but did say he’s been in touch with Canadian officials to discuss the findings.
Smith admits that he and his colleagues were initially skeptical, but became convinced that it was “something real.”
Smith said that mass psychogenic illness or mass hysteria was discounted as the cause, noting that some of the symptoms presented by the U.S. employees are impossible to fake. “We were convinced that this was a syndrome,” he said.
He said the government employees were “indistinguishable” from patients treated at the concussion clinic — except they had no history of a head impact.
“People started calling this immaculate concussion,” Smith said.
U.S. diplomats have reported that they felt targeted in attacks that had a “laser-like specificity,” seemingly able to pinpoint specific parts of a building, The Associated Press has reported.
Smith says there was a “directional aspect” to the exposure, with some saying they felt the sensation more on one side of the body than the other. They could move behind a concrete wall or into another room and it would disappear.
“Toxins and infections don’t do that. It supports the idea of a directed energy type of exposure,” he said.
When they felt these exposures, some Canadians and Americans also reported hearing noises at the same time that ranged in descriptions from high-pitched tones, grinding machinery to the sound of warping sheet metal. But Smith said the noise wasn’t the cause of the injuries.
“Audible sound cannot hurt your brain,” Smith said. “It happened at the same time as another type of exposure that did injure the brain.”
He said there are energies used to deplete brain tissue, but those require direct contact. Ultrasound, microwave and infrasound have also been shown to cause some brain changes in animals in lab testing, but these, too, require close proximity, he said.
Environmental assessments of Canadian diplomatic quarters in Havana, including air and water quality tests, did not turn up anything that might suggest a cause.
“We do not think this is environmental exposure. At least, there’s nothing we know of in the environment without a head impact that could cause this,” Smith said.
One problem is officials don’t know how many were exposed. “We saw those with persistent symptoms. Maybe other people were exposed and were fine and didn’t report anything,” Smith said.
Smith and his colleagues wrote about the case earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a commentary on their findings, two other medical experts flagged several cautions, including the concern that those who developed symptoms may have been aware of what others had previously reported. Before reaching any conclusions, “additional evidence must be obtained and rigorously and objectively evaluated,” they concluded.
Officials appear no closer to solving the mystery, despite the involvement of medical teams in Canada and the U.S. and investigations by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Still, as a precaution, Global Affairs Canada announced last Monday that it was removing family members of diplomats from Havana, seven months after the U.S. State Department made the same move.
Those dependants will leave the country within the coming weeks and Ottawa is also reviewing staffing levels in the embassy.
All Canadian diplomats assigned to Havana will undergo baseline medical testing before they leave Canada to track any health changes that may occur during their time there better, an official told the Star.
In March, the U.S. State Department said its embassy in Havana would continue to operate with minimal personnel. “We still do not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks, and an investigation into the attacks is ongoing,” the department said in a statement.
Smith notes that the incidents have disrupted diplomatic operations by both Canada and the U.S. in Cuba.
“The end result is that both the Canadians and the U.S. has pulled out with only a skeleton crew left behind … if that were the desired goal, it’s really disappointing to know that was successful,” he said.
Canadian diplomats, families hit with health problems in Cuba may have suffered brain injuries, Ottawa says
By BRUCE CAMPION-SMITHOttawa Bureau
THE STAR (Toronto) Mon., April 16, 2018
OTTAWA—Canadian diplomats and their family members who suffered health problems during their postings in Cuba may have suffered brain injuries and the cause may have been man-made, a federal official says.
The federal government announced Monday that, because of the mysterious health symptomssuffered by Canadian and American diplomats, family members are being brought home and no longer will no longer be allowed to accompany officials posted to Havana.
Early speculation that the Canadians and Americans were the victims of a sonic attack is now viewed as improbable. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP FILE PHOTO)
The Cuban capital will now be an “unaccompanied post,” joining locales such as Kabul and Baghdad that are deemed too risky to have family members accompany embassy staff during their postings. Fifteen Canadian staff members now work at the embassy, but Global Affairs Canada said the staffing level is also under review.
The announcement came as the federal government revealed a worrisome theory that those with symptoms — 10 Canadians in all, including diplomats, their family members and children — have suffered a “new type of possible acquired brain injury.”
That is the latest thinking of Canadian medical specialists, who have been working with their American counterparts to study the diplomats and family members of both countries affected by the strange ailments.
“The cause remains unknown, but could be human-made,” Global Affairs said in a statement.
Federal officials say the situation is unprecedented. While the cause remains elusive, efforts on the medical front are getting a better handle on the symptoms. A team of specialists from the University of Pennsylvania evaluated 21 U.S. Cuba-based diplomats who suffered similar problems and detailed their preliminary findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Following reported exposure to auditory and sensory phenomena in their homes or hotel rooms, the individuals reported a similar constellation of neurological symptoms resembling brain injury,” the report said.
“These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma,” the report concluded.
In Ottawa, the federal official told reporters Monday that the Canadians have suffered concussion-like symptoms that include dizziness, nausea, headaches and trouble concentrating. There have been no new cases since last fall, but those affected continue to suffer lingering symptoms that can abate, then return. They have all returned to Canada, where they are being monitored by medical staff.
The official, who spoke on background, bluntly admitted that almost a year after the symptoms came to light, the U.S. and Canadian governments appear no closer to discovering the cause, despite a sizable investigation by police and diplomatic officials in both countries, aided by the Cubans.
The working theory is whatever the cause, it originated in the housing, not the embassy itself, because none of the Cuban staff who worked alongside Canadians have suffered health problems. The houses were spread out across the city, not in a single compound.
Early speculation that Canadians and Americans were the victims of a sonic attack is now viewed as improbable, the official said. They have also ruled out psychological origins for the health problems. Environmental checks of water and air in diplomatic staff quarters have also revealed nothing that might point to a cause.
The official said there is no evidence that the tens of thousands of Canadian tourists who visit Cuba each year are at risk.
Canada pulls families of diplomats in Cuba amid unusual illnesses
3 MIN READ
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Ottawa will remove families of diplomats posted at its embassy in Cuba as the cause of unusual health symptoms is still unknown, though information from medical specialists has raised concerns of a new type of brain injury, Canada said on Monday.
Canada is still investigating the cause of the symptoms that were first reported by Canadians connected to the Havana embassy in 2017 and have also affected U.S. diplomats in Cuba.
The symptoms, which include dizziness, headaches and nausea, have been found in 10 of the 27 Canadian personnel and family members that initially received medical testing, a senior government official said.
While there have been no new incidents since the fall of 2017, diplomatic families that have returned to Canada have continued to experience symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms have lessened in intensity before returning, the official said.
Canada has also received information from Canadian and American medical specialists that raised concerns of a possible type of acquired brain injury, the official said, while initial theories of a sonic attack first raised by U.S. officials last year or mass psychosomatic causes are now considered to be improbable.
Air and water quality tests of staff quarters in Havana did not indicate a cause for the health problems, the official told reporters.
Due to the uncertainty, Canada’s embassy in Cuba will be designated as an unaccompanied post, meaning diplomats will not be stationed with their families, the government said in a separate statement.
The U.S. State Department said last August that Americans linked to its embassy in Cuba had experienced physical symptoms caused by unspecified “incidents” starting as far back as late 2016.
The United States said in March it was making permanent last year’s decision to slash staffing at its Havana embassy by around two-thirds as the alleged health incidents among its diplomats remained unsolved.
There are currently 15 staff in Havana, and Canada will review whether all the positions are needed, the official said.
Cuban officials have denied any involvement or any knowledge of what was behind the incidents. Canada has generally enjoyed good relations with Cuba, even as the United States mounted a decades-long economic blockade against the country.
The symptoms appear to have affected only Canadian and American personnel, and there have been no signs travelers could be at risk, the official said. [April 16, 2018]
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alistair Bell and Jonathan Oatis
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