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Cuba slams US over shooting attack on embassy in Washington

Cuba’s foreign minister lashed out at the Trump administration for “complacent silence” following a shooting at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, DC, and for trying to thwart Cuban efforts to battle the coronavirus. “In the midst of the pandemic, the Secretary of State Mr. [Mike] Pompeo is constantly advocating against Cuban medical cooperation and slandered Cuban medical doctors instead of saying one word about the terrorist attack that happened a few blocks not only from the White House but from the State Department,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told CNN in an interview. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/12/americas/cuba-us-embassy-attack-parilla-intl/index.html) Rodriguez Parrilla said the US government has shown little cooperation following the incident in April when a man opened fire on the Embassy, riddling the front of the building with gunfire. He said the State Department has been slow to share information and that senior administration officials failed to condemn the attack. “The attacker confessed that he aimed to kill. It’s a very serious issue,” Rodriguez Parrilla told CNN. “Can you imagine that which would be the US reaction in a similar case of a similar attack against an American embassy anywhere in the world?” But the US State Department said that despite political differences, Cuban diplomats are safe in the US. “The Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service works closely with law enforcement agencies to protect and maintain the security and safety of foreign missions in the United States,” said a statement issued by the US Embassy in Havana on Tuesday.

Newsline: Cuba calls attack on Washington embassy terrorism

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel called a gun assault last week on its embassy in Washington a “terrorist attack”, while U.S. court papers said the suspected gunman was a psychotic Cuban emigre who heard voices. (https://news.yahoo.com/cuba-calls-attack-washington-embassy-171852526.html) There were no injuries in the attack last Thursday, but gunshots riddled the facade and some penetrated the building. Police arrested Alexander Alazo, 42, at around 2 a.m. after he fired an AK-47-style semi-automatic rifle 32 times at the embassy, according a memorandum filed on Sunday in support of pretrial detention. Alazo told investigators he would have shot the ambassador if he had come out because he was “the enemy”. Voices in his head had told him to protect his family from what he believed were Cuban organized crime groups affiliated with the Cuban government that he claimed were following them and wanted to harm them. He admitted he had been prescribed antipsychotic medication in March but did not fully comply with the prescription, a fact U.S. state prosecutors argued “strongly weighs against his release” before trial. “I must denounce the terrorist attack … and demand from the United States government a thorough and swift investigation, harsh sanctions and security measures and guarantees for our diplomatic missions,” Diaz-Canel told a virtual summit of the non-aligned movement early on Monday. Last week, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said a dozen diplomats and workers had been in the embassy at the time of the attack, which was recorded on surveillance video. Rodriguez said hostility toward Cuba by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump fomented violence. The U.S. State Department did not immediately reply to request for comment.

Newsline: Cuban ambassador defends response to pandemic

Cuba’s representative in the United States told a Tampa audience this week that the island nation is fighting two pandemics, the coronavirus and an economic isolation imposed by the Trump administration that is hampering efforts to deal with the crisis. Still, Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas pointed to steps Cuba is taking to stop the spread of coronavirus and dismissed images on social media that claim to show squalid conditions in hospitals and angry crowds protesting poorly stocked food stores. (https://www.tampabay.com/news/health/2020/04/29/cuban-ambassador-speaking-at-tampa-gathering-defends-response-to-pandemic/) “Part of the victory is the people are informed and aware of what is going on,” Cabañas said, speaking from Washington, D.C., to an online gathering of the speakers’ series Café con Tampa. The series is coordinated by Bill Carlson, Tampa City Council member and an advocate for engagement with Cuba.

Newsline: Suspect arrested after shooting at Cuban Embassy in Washington

Someone opened fire using an assault rifle outside the Cuban Embassy in Washington early Thursday and was arrested, authorities said. The gunfire broke out around 2 a.m. outside the embassy in northwest Washington. Metropolitan Police Department officers were called to the scene after neighbors reported hearing gunshots, authorities said. (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/suspect-arrested-after-shooting-cuban-embassy-assault-rifle-n1196271) Officers found the suspect with an assault rifle and took the person into custody without incident, police said. Investigators say they believe the person had been shooting toward the embassy, though details about any potential motivation remained unclear. The suspect’s identity and the charges against the suspect were not immediately known. No injuries were reported.

Newsline: New details on US diplomat’s mysterious brain injury linked to ‘sonic attacks’

Doctors shared details about what happened to the brain of one diplomat who may be a victim of the so-called sonic attacks that have impacted dozens of people in Cuba and China. Researchers revealed the results of an independent brain analysis of Mark Lenzi, a US diplomat who was stationed in Guangzhou, China, in 2017 when he started experiencing unexplained symptoms including headache, difficulty reading, irritability, as well as memory and sleep problems. (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/12/19/health/sonic-attack-brain-study/) Among the MRI findings: 20 brain regions with “abnormally low” volumes, including regions involved in memory, emotional regulation and motor skills that may correlate with Lenzi’s symptoms, doctors said. Of the 107 regions they looked at, they also found three that had bigger volumes. They said the parts of the brain with low volume may reflect brain injury, and those with high volumes could be evidence that other parts of his brain have compensated. These tests, however, do not reveal the cause. That remains a mystery. The “sonic attacks,” as they have come to be called, are first known to have befallen US government personnel in Havana, Cuba, starting in late 2016. The US State Department announced last year it was looking into similar events in China, expanding a health alert there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the medical details in both locations as “very similar and entirely consistent” with each other. A study published in July also found brain variations among 40 US government personnel affected by the events in Cuba, when compared to 48 healthy adults. The variations included some measures of volume and relationships among different brain regions. However, the authors of the earlier study noted that the clinical importance of the findings was uncertain, and they didn’t have earlier MRIs of the patients to compare with what their brains looked like before the incidents. Moreover, these patterns didn’t fit a clear picture of a specific disorder, according to the authors.

Newsline: Cuba ups pressure on U.S. embassy in Havana

Cuba’s foreign minister charged the United States with violating the historic 2015 agreement reestablishing diplomatic relations after decades by interfering in the country’s internal affairs. Bruno Rodriguez tweeted the U.S. embassy in Havana was engaged in “illegal” activity “intended to attack our constitutional order.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-usa/cuba-ups-pressure-on-us-embassy-in-havana-idUSKBN1Y02BF) It was the second time in less than a week that the Communist-run government accused U.S. diplomats of fomenting dissent. While harsh rhetoric has returned to the old Cold War foes bilateral relations, Cuba has refrained from attacking U.S. diplomats up to now. Relations, broken off in 1961 and only partially restored in the 1980s, were reestablished as part of a short-lived detente orchestrated by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Newsline: US expels two Cuban diplomats to the UN in New York

The US has expelled two Cuban diplomats to the UN in New York, accusing them of conducting “activities harmful to US national security”, a State Department spokeswoman said. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49764300) All of Cuba’s UN mission are now restricted to Manhattan where the UN is headquartered, Morgan Ortagus added. The US has yet to provide details about the alleged actions. Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez called the move “categorically unjustified”. Mr Rodriguez tweeted (in Spanish) that the accusations were “vulgar slander”, and said the expulsion has created tensions between the two countries. World leaders are set to gather for an annual meeting at the UN in just a few days.

Newsline: Canadian diplomatic staff in Cuba may have been affected by mosquito gas, not ‘sonic weapon’

Canadian researchers say they may have identified the cause of a mystery illness which plagued diplomatic staff in Cuba in 2016. Some reports in the US suggested an “acoustic attack” caused US staff similar symptoms, sparking speculation about a secret sonic weapon. But the Canadian team suggests that neurotoxins from mosquito fumigation are the more likely cause. (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-49770369) So-called “Havana syndrome” caused symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, dizziness and tinnitus. It made international headlines when the US announced more than a dozen staff from its Cuban embassy were being treated. Cuba denied any suggestion of “attacks”, and the reports led to increased tension between the two nations. In July, a US academic study showed “brain abnormalities” in the diplomats. The Canadian team from the Brain Repair Centre in Halifax thinks it now has the answer. Canadian diplomats were affected by similar reactions to US counterparts – though the study noted that the symptoms of the Canadians were more gradual than the “acute, directional… auditory stimulus” in some of the US cases. The study notes that tests carried out on 28 participants – seven of whom were tested both before and after being posted to Havana – support a diagnosis of brain injury acquired by diplomats and their families while in Cuba. The patterns of brain injury “all raise the hypothesis of recurrent, low-dose exposure to neurotoxins”, the report said. Specifically, the results were “highly suggestive” of something called cholinesterase inhibitor intoxication. But the low, consistent doses the researchers believe were delivered are consistent with exposure to commercial pesticides, the study’s authors said. And fumigation in Cuba increased after the country “declared war” on the Zika virus in 2016, spraying gas around or even inside diplomats’ homes.

Newsline: Canadian government reinstating some visa services at embassy in Cuba

The Canadian Embassy in Havana is reinstating some visa and biometric services after months of pushback from Canadians and Cubans. Starting Aug. 1, Cuban residents will again be able to get the fingerprints and photos needed for applications done at the embassy, as well as drop off passports and pick up visas at the building. (https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/visas-embassy-cuba-havana-1.5226806) Early this summer, the government announced it was suspending services like visa and permanent residency processing in Havana due to unexplained illnesses among Canadian and U.S. diplomats dating back to the spring of 2017.

Newsline: Mystery illnesses and a side-lined U.S. embassy spell trouble for Cuba

President Obama on December 17, 2014 announced a U.S. opening to Cuba. Months later there was a U.S. embassy in Havana. Beginning in late 2016, however, some diplomats there –CIA agents among them – experienced strange noises, hearing loss, headaches, impaired memory, confused thinking, dizziness, impaired vision and more. Expressing safety concerns, the State Department in September, 2017 recalled most of its employees from its Embassy in Cuba. No longer was the Embassy able to perform regular functions. Yet in China and Canada, where U.S. diplomats exhibited similar symptoms, U.S. embassies went on with their work. Something else was different: the afflicted U.S. diplomats in Cuba, but not in the two other countries, were judged by the FBI to be “possible victim[s] of a crime.” (https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/mystery-illnesses-and-a-side-lined-u-s-embassy-spell-trouble-for-cuba/) Speculation as to what caused the symptoms has ranged from psychiatric illnesses like conversion reaction and mass hysteria to viral infections, chemical agents, microwaves, and confused reactions to sounds produced by a raucous brand of Cuban cricket. U.S. officials introduced the idea of a “covert sonic device.” They and the media refer to “sonic attacks.” President Trump and Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio led in blaming Cuba for leaving the diplomats unprotected, or causing their illnesses, or both. Ostensibly the U.S. government attended to the stricken diplomats out of solicitude for their welfare. But increasingly officials looked like they were exploiting the illnesses to exert pressure on Cuba’s government.