Cuba Central News Brief: 2/16/2018


Doctors find neurological damage to Americans who served in Cuba, but cannot identify cause

University of Pennsylvania doctors found evidence of brain injury among diplomats who suffered mysterious ailments in Havana, reports the Washington Post. Their article published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) describes the symptoms experienced and the evidence of brain injury, including manifestations of vision and balance abnormalities that could not have been manipulated. The University’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair investigated 21 people, who were found to have concussion-like symptoms but no evidence of physical trauma nor significant brain abnormalities.

The study identified no definitive cause for the diplomats’ ailments. Addressing the sounds heard by some of the affected diplomats, the article states that, “it is currently unclear if or how the noise is related to the reported symptoms.” An accompanying editorial by JAMA noted that some of the abnormalities studied were based on patient self-report and subjective measures, concluding, “before reaching any definitive conclusions, additional evidence must be obtained and rigorously and objectively evaluated.”

For a detailed account of the U.S. investigation, see the ProPublica article published this week, also linked below in RECOMMENDED READING.

U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue convenes in Washington

This week senior officials from Cuba and the U.S. met in Washington to advance bilateral cooperation on regional security issues. A U.S. Department of State media release described a series of meetings on combatting human trafficking. The exchange was hosted by the State Department and included the Departments of Justice, Labor, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

Cuba’s delegation was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included officials from the Ministry of the Interior, the General Prosecutor, and Cuba’s Central Bank. Prensa Latina reported that this week’s exchange included a technical meeting to combat money laundering and took place “in a climate of respect and professionalism (sic).”

Trump’s budget includes drastic cuts to Radio and TV Martí

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget would significantly cut funds for Radio and TV Martí and Martínoticias, as well as the broader Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), reports the Miami Herald. The proposal would cut OCB’s budget to $13.6 million, less than half of what it received in fiscal year 2017, and would reduce its full-time staff from 113 to 51.

The OCB and its Martí outlets have a mission of promoting “freedom and democracy by providing the people of Cuba with objective news and information programming” and have been criticized in the U.S. for their high cost and lack of objectivity. Cuba’s government considers their activities, as well as USAID’s Cuba democracy promotion program, subversive initiatives designed to undermine Cuba’s sovereignty.

While the president’s 2018 budget proposal eliminated Cuba democracy funding altogether, the 2019 budget includes $10 million for the programs. The actual present enacted level, as approved in fiscal year 2017, is the traditional $20 million. The 2019 budget cuts are in line with broad proposed reductions in global democracy promotion programs, and likely do not represent a shift in the Administration’s approach to democracy promotion in Cuba.


Cuba creditors offer “very significant relief” in debt proposal

The London Club offered a sizeable debt relief proposal to Cuba in January, reports Reuters. Cuba has defaulted commercial creditors in the London Club of commercial banks, which hold $1.4 billion worth of Cuban debt, effectively excluding Cuba from international capital markets. The proposal is seen as a move by the creditors to increase pressure on Cuba to meet a portion of its obligations.

A lawyer representing the London Club invoked the 2015 agreement in which the Paris Club forgave $8.5 billion in Cuban debt, saying that “the London Club offer draws on certain features of the deal with the bilateral creditors but in some respects it is even more generous to the Cubans.” The Paris Club deal included payment structured over 18 years and the option to swap debt for equity stake in projects in Cuba. Cuba has already paid the first two installments under that deal, as we previously reported.


The Sound and the Fury: Inside the Mystery of the Havana Embassy, Tim Golden and Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica

This in-depth report, based on interviews with U.S. diplomats and officials, examines how the mystery surrounding the ailments suffered by U.S. personnel in Havana provided political justification without evidence for policy changes toward Cuba.

El Salvador Update: Hard Times and Inconvenient Truths, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, El Salvador expert and CDA Advisory Board Member, provides a deep look into El Salvador’s ongoing domestic strife and international relations in the run-up to forthcoming midterm and presidential elections.


First Listen: Alfredo Rodríguez, ‘The Little Dream’, Jackson Sinnenberg, NPR

Pianist Alfredo Rodríguez is part of a young vanguard of exciting and boundary-pushing Cuban jazz musicians. Stream his new album before its official release on February 23.

From Hip-Hop to Jazz to Reggae, Here Are the Cuban Artists You Should Be Listening to Today, Marjua Estevez, Billboard

Billboard explores Cuba’s contemporary music scene and highlights some of the island’s rising stars.

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