This week, in Cuba news…
This week, a State Department official confirmed that the investigation into the health incidents in Havana, and now China, is ongoing. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Havana is operating with a skeletal staff, and U.S. personnel previously serving in China are reportedly undergoing a medical assessment at the University of Pennsylvania. At a congressional hearing this week, Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Ken Merten said, “There is much we do not know.” Meanwhile, this week produced much speculation and debate in the media.
Saturday, The New York Times reported new scientific findings suggesting that microwaves may have been used to deliberately harm U.S. personnel while insinuating Russia could well be to blame. The Times cites research from a professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, who sees strong ties between symptoms suffered by members of the U.S. Embassy community in Havana and effects of pulsed radiofrequency/microwave electromagnetic radiation, as we reported last week. Douglas H. Smith, the lead author of a high-profile journal article on the health incidents and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, reportedly considers microwaves to be a likely cause of the symptoms.
However, Dr. Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, writing in Scientific American, finds that theory “wildly impossible.” According to Dr. Foster, “to actually damage the brain, the microwaves would have to be so intense they would actually burn the subject, which has never happened in any of these incidents.”
In an interview with Cuba’s state-run newspaper Granma, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Director for United States at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, insisted that the microwave theory cannot explain the symptoms suffered by the U.S. diplomats in Havana. Mr. Fernández de Cossío accused the U.S. of carrying a deliberate political manipulation. On Monday, CNN reported that Dr. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, a neurologist investigating on behalf of the Cuban government, also dismissed the theory.
On Friday, the Miami Herald reported a different theory from three doctors who have examined the U.S. personnel, that a “neuro-weapon” is to blame. The doctors describe a tool that uses directed energy to cause a “cavitation effect,” described as creating air pockets in fluid in the inner ear. The air pockets, or bubbles, as the article describes, can travel to the brain and, per one of the doctors, “function as a stroke.”
In a September 5 letter to Sens. Roberts (KS) and Stabenow (MI), and Reps. Conaway (TX-11) and Peterson (MN-07), the Center for Democracy in the Americas, along with more than 60 individuals and organizations from over a dozen states and the District of Columbia expressed support for a Cuba-related provision in the farm bill. The amendment, sponsored by Sens. Heitkamp (ND) and Boozman (AK), would allow for the use of federal market promotion funds in Cuba. The letter also expresses support for the Agricultural Export Expansion Act/Cuba Agricultural Exports Act (S.275/HR.525), which would remove restrictions on private financing in agricultural sales to Cuba. Under federal regulations, Cuba must pay cash in advance when importing food from the U.S. The congressional conference committee for the farm bill, charged with harmonizing the House and Senate-passed bills, met for the first time on Wednesday. Food stamps are expected to dominate the discussion.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee Western Hemisphere Subcommittee met Thursday for a hearing on U.S. policy toward Cuba. Four of the five U.S. government witnesses were from the Department of State; one official from the Government Accountability Office joined to discuss the recently released GAO report. Members of Congress asked questions about recent changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba, as well as the mysterious health incidents. In response to a question from Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-02) about the impact of U.S. policy on the Cuban people, particularly Cuba’s entrepreneurs, the State Department acknowledged “collateral damage” from some recent changes. The Department also mentioned a forthcoming legislative package, which will likely focus on benefits for affected personnel. Reps. Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and DeSantis (FL-06), members of the subcommittee, were not present for the hearing. CDA live-tweeted the hearing.
On September 5, the government watchdog GAO published a report entitled, “Reported Injuries to U.S. Personnel in Cuba: State Should Revise Policies to Ensure Appropriate Internal Communication of Relevant Incidents.” The report identified internal communication errors within the Department of State regarding the incidents in Havana, as well as management challenges due to the unknown nature of the incidents and issued a recommendation to State to revise its internal communication procedures in the wake of a security incident.
In late August, the administrators of the estates of three Cuban nationals who died in the May 18 plane crash in Havana, filed a lawsuit in a Chicago court, the Miami Herald reports. The suit was filed against Global Air, the Mexican company that leased the 39-year-old plane to Cuba’s national airline, Cubana de Aviación, and Boeing, the plane manufacturer, and AAR Corp., which allegedly owned the plane previously, were named in the lawsuit as respondents-in-discovery. As we reported, Global Air released a statement in July claiming the accident was caused by a human error. However, the Cuban commission investigating the incident stated that at that point, any conclusion would be “premature.”
Four physicians from Cuba are working through a partnership with the University of Illinois in Chicago (UIC) to improve women’s health in a Chicago neighborhood. The physicians are observing clinical care and met with community leaders, elected officials, non-profit groups, and others. According to medical professionals at the University of Illinois, the Cuban physicians provide valuable insight into Cuba’s best-practices on community-based and preventative care. The article notes per capita health expenditures in each country ($600 for Cuba in 2010; $8,000 for the U.S. for the same year), as well as life expectancies for each country at that time: 79 for each. The Cuban physicians are expected to stay in Chicago through December on a grant from the Kellogg Foundation.
Following the authorization to buy and sell houses in 2011, real estate prices in Cuba have skyrocketed. Is usual to find houses in Miramar, Havana listed for several hundred thousands of dollars, yet Cubans are unable to access mortgages, loans or other means of financing on the island. Until 2011, the island had not had a real estate market since the 1960s, but, according to a study published by the Miami-based magazine CubaGeografica, the real estate market now accounts for nearly half of Cuba’s GDP. Some analysts fear that the trend to curb successful private business will affect house sales. According to Carlos García Pleyán, the author of the aforementioned study, the total value of houses sold from 2011 to 2014 is around $1.5 billion, the Miami Herald reports.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
A year ago, in August 2017, Cuba announced plans to give 1000 scholarships to for Colombia’s war veterans and victims as a sign of support for the peace accords between the Colombian government and the FARC, CGTN reported. On Tuesday, the first group of scholarship recipients traveled to Cuba to begin classes. Cuba asserts that 500 of those scholarships will go to victims of the conflict, while the other half will benefit former FARC combatants. Several thousand rebels turned in their guns after the peace treaty was signed in November 2016, and, since that time, rank and file soldiers have struggled to find job opportunities in their transition to civilian life.
Cuba’s thematic magazines appeal to readers eager for something different, Eileen Sosin Martínez, IJNET
The digital era has allowed new ways to do journalism in Cuba. As a result, digital independent media has boomed. These new publications are the answer to entrepreneurs looking for outlets in which to advertise their business. Given the lack of access to the Internet on the island, these publications are distributed over USB and portable hard drives.
Hatuey: Memory of Fire, September 14-16, 20-23, Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University
Based on the real story of Asher Penn, a Yiddish poet, journalist, and editor who published an epic poem in 1931 about Cuba’s first hero Hatuey. The opera is a vibrant fusion between Afro-Cuban and Yiddish culture set in the 1930s Cuba, when the country was fighting the corrupt Machado regime.
Manuel Mendive’s exhibition Nature, Spirit, and Body, August 1-November 4, Bronx Museum of the Arts
First premiering at the Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba Festival, Cuban artist Manuel Mendive’s artwork is now on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. His work is inspired by African oral traditions and their influence on Cuba.
MEDICC A Healthy Cuba Healthy World Conference: Celebrating History, Community & Culture, December 5-10, Meliã Santiago Hotel in Santiago de Cuba
MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba), a non-profit that strives to foster collaboration between the medical community in the U.S. and Cuba will host a 20th-anniversary conference in Cuba in December. Early Bird deadline extended to September 24!