Reuters: U.S. Cuba lobby celebrates a farm bill win despite worsening ties

U.S. legislation funding $867 billion in food and agriculture programs scheduled to be signed by U.S. President Donald Trump this week includes Department of Agriculture funds to help American farmers promote their products in Communist-run Cuba.

The measure is the first approved by Congress related to heavily sanctioned Cuba in nearly two decades and represents a symbolic victory for the lobby favoring normalization of ties whose fortunes rose under former president Barack Obama and have crashed under Trump.

Congress first authorized agricultural sales to Cuba for cash in 2000.

The farm bill approved by both houses of Congress last week goes a step further by including Cuba for the first time in the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development program which help U.S. farmers offset the costs of overseas marketing, although it still does not provide credit for such sales.

“Now, we can interact with more levels of Cuban society including cooperatives, farmers, and end-users to do research and market our products,” Paul Johnson, Chair of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba, said.

The coalition is made up of more than 100 soy-to-wheat farm and industry groups.

With close to $6 billion in sales to Cuba since 2000, U.S. agribusiness and farmers have pushed to normalize trade and win permission to sell food on credit in hopes of capturing more of Cuba’s nearly $2 billion annual purchases of food abroad.

Trump, in alliance with hard-line Cuban exiles, has promised to undo the fragile detente begun by his predecessor.

The administration has tightened travel regulations, forbidden doing business with or patronizing military-controlled Cuban entities and cut back on the negotiations begun by the Obama administration.

Under Trump, the State Department last year slashed staff at the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Havana and expelled 17 diplomats from Cuba’s Embassy in Washington after a series of still unexplained health incidents that affected 25 U.S. diplomats.

James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, an organization working to normalize relations with Cuba, said the measure was significant as it passed a Republican Congress, adding that he is hoping for progress on credit for food sales this year.

Before passage, Senator Marco Rubio tweaked the farm bill to ensure it would not benefit the Cuban military which operates a broad swath of businesses on the Caribbean island.

“Should it be found that taxpayer dollars are being used to benefit the military, appropriate action must be taken,” Rubio’s spokesperson Olivia Peres-Cubas said, responding to an e-mail query.

Despite the deteriorating political climate between the old Cold War foes, much of the economic thaw begun under Obama, from food sales to travel and communications, remains in place. That is in large part due to the political clout of agricultural groups whose membership often support the Republican Party.

“Agriculture does have an advantage despite the current political environment,” Johnson said. “The agriculture issue has bipartisan support, and the fact that food touches everyone’s life in Cuba rather than one sector or group of people.”

Click here to read the original article.

Politico Pro: Farm bill unlocks Cuba opportunity for U.S. farmers

The farm bill provision is "the first piece of pro-engagement Cuba legislation we've seen in almost 20 years," said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a coalition that supports normalized U.S.-Cuba relations.

"It really is highly symbolic that there's widespread agreement that American farmers should be more competitive in this market — and a big marker for things to come," he added.

Williams expressed hope that more could be done in the next Congress, with a Democratic majority in the House, but noted that increasing trade opportunities with Cuba has become an issue that draws support from lawmakers in both parties.

"It's not about government money. It's a business decision to get increased access to a market," Williams said.

Click here to read the original article (subscription required)

The National Interest: It's Time for a Policy Change on Cuba

Where are you from?” asked the 20-something as he passed me on the street in Havana. America, I replied. “I love America” he declared, before turning into one of the many restaurants near the Malecon, or waterfront. He likely was on staff, a member of Cuba’s growing private workforce.

However, opportunities for young Cubans are still too few. Many are responding, noted the  Economist, “not by agitating against the system but by plotting to escape it.” Communist rule is changing, but not enough. Despite leadership shifts and constitutional revisions, state controls continue to stifle the economy.

Ironically, among the biggest barriers to reform are President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and old-line Cuban-American leaders, who seem determined to preserve the fading Castroite dictatorship. They remain committed to isolating the regime, despite the failure of half a century of economic warfare. Vicki Huddleston, who once headed the U.S. interest section in Havana, reported that the embargo “has not influenced the country’s leadership to change its communist government or to improve human rights on the island.” To the contrary, she explained: “we are harming Cuba’s people much more than we are the Cuban government.”

Increased economic ties to the United States are the best, and perhaps only effective means for Americans to undermine the regime. Yet the Trump administration partially reversed President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba. This switch hurt the island’s many private businessmen and women, who complained to me on a recent visit that they cannot even get a hearing from the administration.

American involvement in Cuba goes back to the Spanish-American War, after which Washington turned the “liberated” island into a de facto U.S. protectorate. In 1959, Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries swept the corrupt Fulgencio Batista from power. Alas, they proved to be far better at tyrannizing opponents than uplifting citizens. They impoverished the island economically, politically and spiritually.

Fidel & co. turned to the Soviet Union, while Washington imposed an economic embargo and attempted to oust the regime. Any claim that Cuba posed a security threat died with the Soviet Union. The consequent end of Moscow’s subsidies sparked a rapid economic contraction known as the “Special Period.” But Florida’s politically active Cuban-American community blocked any change in policy. Even as the case for the embargo faded, restrictions were tightened.

One counterproductive impact of the embargo was to turn Cuba’s nearby market over to other nations. For instance, Europeans invested and traded even after America’s departure. Now Russians are back and Chinese are arriving. Moscow is promoting defense cooperation, supplying oil, investing in infrastructure projects including the rail system and forgiving the bulk of Havana’s old debt to the Soviet Union. China has become Cuba’s largest trading partner, is restructuring debt, advising Cuba’s military, and is supplying cars, telecommunications equipment and additional products. One of my tour guides observed that two Chinese hotels were being built: “In five years we all will be speaking Chinese.”

President Barack Obama broke precedent and relaxed federal controls—many cannot be repealed except by Congress—allowing more travel and business. He also re-established full diplomatic relations. When he visited the island in 2014, people treated him like a rock star. Years later Cubans told me how he gave them hope for a better future. Cars still sport stickers with his photo.

U.S. companies entered the Cuban market and U.S. tourists visited the island. Caroline Anderson of the American Security Project argued: “Airbnb’s advancements offer proof for the success of business expansion into Cuba. Airbnb increases the amount of money distributed directly to Cuban citizens, raises tourist levels, and helps build U.S.-Cuba ‘person-to-person’ relations.” I stayed in a retired lady’s Airbnb apartment on my most recent trip. The private sector grew to account for an estimated one-fifth of the economy.

However, candidate Trump played to the most extreme, and older, Cuban-American activists. “They want revenge. This is vendetta politics,” observed Cuban university professor Ricardo Torres Perez. Taking a similar position is Sen. Marco Rubio, who, Cubans point out, has never visited the island and refused to meet entrepreneurs who visited America. Restaurateur Niruys Higueras told me she wished “to make him understand how much damage he is causing the private sector.”

The president originally threatened to “cancel” the Obama opening, but instead banned business with any of 180 enterprises allegedly tied to the military. He claimed doing so would “channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.” This was play-acting. Money is fungible and payments to any state enterprise go back to the government.

More significantly, the administration prohibited individual “people-to-people” trips. Groups are still allowed to organize such travel. Individuals may visit for specific educational, humanitarian and professional purposes. Unfortunately, the new rules, complained the Engage Cuba Coalition, create a “more convoluted, confusing and counterproductive approach,” which scares off potential tourists. To be safe, tourists can use groups familiar with the regulations such as Cuba Educational Travel (CET), which handled my trip. However, many Americans simply choose to go elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the new restrictions have hit the nascent private sector hard. William LeoGrande and Richard Newfarmer of the Brookings Institution noted that “although President Trump’s policy purports to boost Cuba’s private sector, the prohibition on individualized people-to-people travel will likely hit the private sector hardest.” LeoGrande and Newfarmer figure that “some 60 percent to 70 percent of this spending goes to Cuban workers for wages, to local suppliers, and maintenance and utility expenditures largely unaffiliated with the military.” By stifling private sector growth, the president forced Cubans to continue relying on the state.

I found this to be the reality on the ground. “A lot of private business feels crushed,” complained CET’s Collin Laverty. “So many people opened businesses for American tourists,” said Julia de la Rosa, who owns an Airbnb with her husband, Silvio Ortega. “Now there is little demand.” American tourists are well-liked—they generally tip well and behave responsibly, I was told more than once. They also are more likely to stay at Airbnbs and bed and breakfasts, use taxies, patronize private restaurants, hire individual tour guides, and the like. In contrast, official tour operations, which are better acquainted with federal regulations, are more likely to deal with larger state enterprises, including tourist agencies and hotels. “We don’t have the American market anymore. Everything is going down,” one tour guide told me.

Many entrepreneurs invested in expectation of more tourists. A tour guide complained “some people sold all they had to open a business, restaurant or bar.” For instance, the Airbnb owned by de la Rosa and Ortega began with just a couple of rooms. They have since equipped the entire house for business. Alas, bookings have dropped significantly. So, too, demand for Ortega’s taxis. Other businessmen and women I met complained that the new rules triggered a rash of cancellations and pushed down future bookings. The impact was particularly hard on enterprises, such as Airbnb, which catered to Americans.

Yamina Vincente, an interior designer whose clients are mostly Cuban, said she also is suffering since “Cuban people don’t have the money.” She added: “Many people are scared about the future, so they don’t organize a party.” Also hurt are “all the people you are going to hire for the restaurant, to make the beds, etc.,” said Ortega, whose Airbnb employs twenty-three people. Vincente said she no longer hires as many musicians, make-up artists and clowns for events, including birthday parties. Higueras complained of Washington: “you should know what you are doing before you implement regulations.”

Of course, socialism failed because it always fails. Revolutionary Cuba provided little reward for entrepreneurship, enterprise and hard work. Still, with Moscow’s help it once “looked like socialism worked,” commented a retired government official who believes economic reform to be necessary. Then came the end of Soviet subsidies, when the island’s real economy shrank by more than a third. Today the regime is unable to feed, pay or otherwise care for its people.

When I first visited the island in 2003, Cubans showed me their ration books and complained that some goods, such as milk and eggs, generally weren’t available. Today is more of the same. Richard Feinberg of the University of San Diego observed “persistent shortages of consumer staples, energy rationing, and price inflation are features of daily life. Take-home pay in many public sector jobs fails to cover basic household needs (even taking into account various government consumption subsidies).”

When I commented during my latest trip on a gas station which sported an “open 24 hours” sign, I was told that “most of the time stations don’t have oil or gas.” A tour guide complained that one has “to struggle to eat.” Former CIA intelligence officer Kevin Hulbert notes that the official food supply typically lasts just a couple weeks, after which Cubans must “resolviendo,” or resolve the problem. “So they pilfer food from work, fill up extra jugs of gasoline when they fill up the company car, work illegally running taxis, restaurants, unregistered commerce of whatever type, selling cigars they stole from the factory, and too many other scams and efforts to mention.” Cubans also take side jobs: I met an anesthesiologist washing dishes at a private restaurant, which paid more than medicine.

Overall, Cuba has lost ground compared to the rest of Latin America. A recent study by economist Pavel Vidal found that Havana vastly overstated national income. Cuba’s GDP is down more than a third since 1985; investment is among the lowest in Latin America. Vincente observed: “years ago in Cuba young people only thought of leaving Cuba to get [a] better lifestyle. After 2011, people thought of staying if they could stay and have a good lifestyle. Now we are moving backwards. People are thinking of leaving Cuba. It is very sad.”

After Raúl Castro took over, observed one Cuban, “the people thought within a couple years things would change.” But his minimal reforms fell far short. Feinberg cited the “frustratingly slow bureaucratic approval process” resulting from “ideology, senior personnel and incentives.” Several entrepreneurs name economic controls and confiscatory taxes when noting how hard it is to comply with the law and prosper.

Havana has “been too timid to bring about meaningful change to the Cuban economy, and the regime is now backtracking on some of them,” complained Antonio Rodiles and Erik Jennische, of the Forum for Rights and Liberties and Civil Rights Defenders, respectively. Last year the government suspended issuance of new licenses after Raoul criticized firms for conducting unlicensed activities and evading taxes. Said one tour guide, “it’s never easy in Cuba.”

Even now needed reforms languish. Last year Raúl Castro declared that currency reform, merging the convertible peso and Cuban peso, “cannot be delayed any longer.” Despite its insistence that the revolution is irreversible, the Cuban government wants foreign investment, which the minister for foreign trade and investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, said “has become an essential issue for the country.” However, the country remains economically inhospitable.

Unfortunately, much-touted constitutional reform will largely reinforce the status quo. The revised document legalizes private business and employment and limits public expropriation, but the new rules also increase public exactions and limit private growth, for instance, barring entrepreneurs from holding more than one license. The Communist leadership wants to loosen restrictions just enough to grow the economy while confiscating most of the gains.

The ongoing leadership transition—Raúl Castro yielded the presidency to Miguel Diaz-Canel, who was born after the revolution—so far has had limited impact. Still, many Cubans, including some younger Communist Party members, hope that the passing of the Castros will open the island’s politics. “The days of one person making decisions are over,” argued Laverty. A journalist told me that “people who come later won’t be able to rule like Fidel and Raúl. They know they have to do this differently. It won’t work if they don’t.” An American living on the island was more optimistic, telling me Raúl’s retirement had created “a completely new scene.”

Unfortunately, U.S. sanctions continue to provide the regime with an excuse for failure. Opposition activists complained to me on my first trip that communist apparatchiks blamed America for their failure. Today the regime hides behind President Trump’s policy.

America could have a huge positive impact. LeoGrande noted that “among ordinary Cubans, the desire for a better relationship with the United States is almost universal.” I saw a young man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an American flag and another man driving a car with an American flag on the dashboard. Yet Washington stands in the way. Cuban entrepreneurs blame the Trump administration for punishing them, damaging their businesses and destroying their investments.

Private investment also has a significant political impact. A desperate communist government has been forced by necessity to allow emergence of a growing private sector which provides up to 40 percent of the island’s jobs. People shifting from safe government employment to more remunerative but less certain private work are unlikely to be docile communist drones. Moreover, as people grow more prosperous, people tend to make more political demands. “If you want to create more space for debate, expanding the entrepreneurial class is one way,” argued Laverty. The fact that working privately, even at seemingly menial labor, pays substantially more than government bureaucracies has unsettled those who labor for the Communist machine.

Also, tourists do more than spend money. Jorgensen pointed to a survey last year which found that U.S. visitors engaged owners about politics and culture. Indeed, Professor Perez observed that the island had changed markedly in recent decades. “Compared to twenty years ago you can see many enormous differences.” Particularly important, the regime no longer possesses an information monopoly.

Controls were tight on my earlier visit, but no longer. People have increased access to cell phones, wifi hotspots, flash drives, and a relatively free internet. The latter is expensive, and anti-Cuban websites backed by the U.S. government are unavailable, but otherwise “there is very little internet censorship” one regular user told me. The authorities complain about online news sources but has so far left them alone. Hardliners “want to control the Internet—but can’t,” noted Laverty. A staff member at a Communist publication told me that he was “not saying that people have free access to information, but they have more,” including through shared USBs. He figured that perhaps 80 percent of people received alternative news sources.

The regime treats opponents harshly. For instance, the Ladies in White, who demonstrate on behalf of husbands, fathers and brothers arrested by the regime, have been treated roughly by the police and state-organized mobs. Other targets, according to Cuba Study Group (CSG): “a prominent alternative ‘think tank,’ university professors writing for non-state publications, and even street purveyors of pirated foreign media and TV.” Advocating “changing the political system is a red line,” explained one well-connected Cuban. Such talk is “counter-revolutionary.”

Still, criticism of government is heard. The latter source said “you can talk about making the system better, improving efficiency, increasing growth.” Added a widely-traveled artist, “it should be possible to make the revolution more flexible, democratic.” This broader discourse, explained CSG, “occurred not by fiat, but because a variety of actors in a fraught middle ground forged space to engage in robust analysis and debate.”

The Obama opening helped. He “was very good for us,” said one Cuban. American University’s William M. LeoGrande observed that “the political space available not for dissidents, but for people that you might call independent critical voices calling—broadly, civil society—calling for reforms in the socialist system, and sometimes dramatic ones, but not calling for its replacement that political space for those people, in my judgment got wider after the normalization of relations.”

The regime felt threatened. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez denounced Obama’s “deep attack on our ideas, our history, our culture and our symbols.” A Western journalist told me “Obama’s visit was tremendously challenging, like Kryptonite,” for the government. “They completely underestimated his popularity.”

The Communist Party turned to repression. Ted Henken and Armando Chaguaceda respectively of Baruch College, City University of New York, and the Universidad de Guanajuato noted that “Havana has responded by circling the wagons of the state and doubling down on political centralization,” but that “a variety of actors in Cuban society—including political dissidents, independent digital journalists and the island’s innovative entrepreneurs—have staked increasingly bold claims to the public spaces that have emerged in recent years as a result of Havana’s limited economic reforms.”

Also putting pressure on the regime is the flight of the young. A former government official said only one of his four grandchildren remains in Cuba. In Brazil, doctors sent to labor under contract by the Cuban government have filed lawsuits demanding their full salaries. Even younger communists with whom I spoke acknowledged the need for meaningful reform, while insisting that they were not dissidents.

Despite this ferment, President Trump’s approach forecloses any dialogue or interaction which might encourage Havana to loosen controls. He said: “we will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.” Taking the president at his word, he expects the Communist regime to dismantle itself—something he has not demanded of even worse dictatorships he befriended.

Nor would any government comply. One Cuban reformer told me: “it is very naive to think that more pressure on the Cuban government will get it to do what the U.S. wants.” Indeed, administration policy makes positive change less likely. Demanding the regime’s surrender ensures hardliners will work harder to prevent the rise of a Cuban Gorbachev. One Cuban who wanted change said there were officials who desired to chart a more moderate course, but “when U.S. policy becomes more aggressive, it complicates the jobs of these people.” Similarly, argued Laverty, “U.S. hostility leads to an under-siege mentality in Cuba, limiting space for debate and calls for change.”

Mid-level government officials with whom I spoke were conciliatory but not obsequious. “We are very open to American companies,” said one, and recent history “shows that we have common ground and we should build on that.” But they denigrated U.S. policies made to satisfy Cuban-Americans and dismissed making political changes under pressure. Even a reform-minded journalist who belonged to the Communist Party said “let Cuba do it in its own way.” U.S. pressure is “colliding with national pride. If Washington says to do something, some people say no, because the U.S. says so,” he explained.

Perez argued that Cuba “won’t get dramatic change at once.” Instead, he predicted change “more as gradual evolution” with a “transition toward a different society.” The process “will necessarily take some time.” Washington’s policy should be “to nurture this process.”

Further complicating the U.S.-Cuban relationship is the possible sonic attack on American diplomats, which caused Washington to essentially empty its embassy and shift visa operations successively to Colombia and Guyana. U.S. intelligence figures the Cuban government was not to blame—which makes sense, since it negotiated the opening to America. Russia has been suspected, but Moscow would risk much launching such an operation in Cuba. Unfortunately, the administration appeared to treat the controversy as an opportunity to ratchet up pressure on Havana, again mostly hurting the Cuban people.

Of course, it will be best when the Cuban dictatorship disappears. But the president’s action is the triumph of ideological blindness over painful experience. If nearly sixty years of embargo and other sanctions won’t create democracy on the island, his arbitrary tightening won’t do so.

Far better to send more Americans, more money, more goods, and more opportunities to Cuba. More Western employment and contact would spread the virus of liberty. Amnesty International’s Marselha Goncolves Margerin argued that “increased political dialogue, travel, and trade between the United States and Cuba is fundamental to advancing human rights.” The embargo should be lifted entirely, though any relaxation would be a move in the right direction. Particularly useful would be allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba.

That wouldn’t guarantee change, of course, but President Obama’s promise of a different future greatly unsettled the Cuban government. The latter’s repressive response demonstrated the regime’s weakness, not strength. Washington also should look for practical areas where the two governments can work together for mutual advantage. Geoff Thale and Marguerite Rose Jimenez of the Washington office on Latin America noted, “While cooperation has survived during periods of great hostility, it has thrived during periods of increased engagement.” 

“Just about anything can go wrong in a country like Cuba,” one person told me. So true, but that is to be expected. As a serious governing philosophy, communism is dead in Cuba. Observed Feinberg: “Over six decades, the vanguard party has become the rearguard party.” Those leaders serious about the island’s future have begun to consider a freer way forward. Reformers looked to the U.S. and lauded Obama’s strategy. None had anything positive to say about his successor.

“We need the Americans back,” one businessman desperately exclaimed. De la Rosa asked me to let people in Washington “know they are hurting us. They are hurting common people.” And empowering opponents of change in Havana. Alas, the president continues to treat Cuba as a political issue, important only because of its impact on the next election. I found many Cubans enormously frustrated by the refusal of American policymakers to look beyond the exile community to those living on the island.

There may be no better test of a public policy than the more than half-century U.S. embargo on Cuba. A foreigner living in Cuba complained of “magical thinking in Miami” which contends that “this time we are almost there” in overthrowing the communist regime. But President Trump knows better. He broke with precedent to engage North Korea. He should offer Cuba the opportunity to join the rest of the world, making political gains as well as economic benefits likely.

Click here to read the original article.

Hotel Management: With tourism to Cuba rising, U.S. state department deals a blow to nation's hotels

Adding another wrinkle into the complicated business relationship between the United States and Cuba, the U.S. State Department has added 16 hotels owned by the Cuban military to the Cuba Restricted List, which bans U.S. citizens from staying at these properties. 

The list identifies certain entities and subentities that are “under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence or security services.” Unless otherwise authorized, no U.S. citizen may engage in a direct financial transaction with any entities and subentities identified on the CRL. 

The latest additions to the list include the new Grand Packard Hotel, a 321-room property managed by Spain’s Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, which currently operates 27 hotels with 7,881 rooms on the island. 

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel reportedly attended the inauguration of the Packard a little more than a year after the opening of the Kempinski Gran Hotel Manzana (also on the CRL). The two properties indicated the Cuban government’s determination to drive the country’s hospitality sector more upscale. 

Notably, the Four Points by Sheraton Havana, which opened in 2016 as part of a joint venture with Grupo de Turismo Gaviota—one of the oldest military-run organizations in Cuba—is not on the list.  

Growing Tourism, Growing Development

The restrictions come as American travel to Cuba is gaining strength. Tour operator insightCuba, which organizes legal people-to-people travel for Americans visiting Cuba, has reported “spikes” in both leads and bookings for the country, which the company credits to the opening of new hotels and the increase in flights from the U.S. to the island. 

“Early signs of a comeback began in early January but were inconsistent, with ups and downs through April, but then in May, something started to happen,” Tom Popper, president of insightCuba, said in a statement. “For the first time in over a year we are showing consistent signs of growth in the marketplace. Each month sales revenue is growing by 25 percent as compared with the previous month.” In fact, as of October, the Cuban government was expecting to hit its goal of 5 million visitors in 2018.
 
Due to the confusion surrounding the U.S. travel regulations last year, group demand was at an all-time low. However, since July, insightCuba has seen a tenfold increase in group requests, which it claims are turning into fully deposited bookings, including an increase in multigenerational families as well as professional organizations.

The company also reported an increase in travel agent inquiries for trips to the island—a 40-percent year-over-year jump from June to September 2017 to the same period in 2018. This can be at least partially credited to the five U.S. commercial airlines that offer nonstop service between the mainland and the island (JetBlue, United Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines).

Global hotel companies have made inroads into Cuba for several years now. Spain’s Meliá Hotels International is adding 2,145 new hotel rooms through hotel renovation or construction by the end of 2018 in Cienfuegos, Camaguey and Varadero, while Iberostar (also based in Spain) is opening properties in Havana and eastern Cuba (the Iberostar Holguín, not on the CRL). The company also is renovating the Hotel Riviera in Havana. Singapore’s Banyan Tree Hotels and Resorts, meanwhile, just opened the Angsana Cayo Santa Maria on a private island off Cuba’s northern coast, the company’s second property in the country.

In September, Paris-based AccorHotels said it would open the So/Havana Paseo del Prado in 2020, marking the brand’s debut in the Americas. AccorHotels already has a presence in Cuba with the Hotel Mercure Sevilla Havane and the Pullman Cayo Coco. The So/Havana Paseo del Prado, also developed through a partnership with Gaviota, is on the CRL.

As of July, Havana had 15 hotels operated with foreign companies along with 95 management agreements accounting for 65 percent of Cuba's total number of guestrooms. According to the Cuban Ministry of Tourism, investments in 2018 reached $1.035 billion, driving a 3.5-percent increase in Cuban tourism this year compared to the same period last year. 

Restrictions and Opportunities

The success of Meliá and Iberostar in Cuba has clearly attracted more interest from Spain. Last week, Spanish premier Pedro Sanchez said that his country would continue to invest in Cuba, emphasizing Europe’s enduring interest in the opening market even as the United States pulls away. According to Reuters, Spanish companies, like other foreign providers, have suffered delayed payments from Cuba in recent years as the country has faced a major cash crunch in the wake of declining aid from chief ally Venezuela and weaker exports. Nearly two years ago, the European Union and Cuba signed an agreement to support economic development and promote both democracy and human rights.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, noted in a statement that the restrictions would only help international investors: “Further squeezing U.S. private-sector activity in Cuba is a gift to our foreign competitors, emboldens the hardliners in the Cuban government and rewards a dwindling minority of Americans who remain wedded to a failed policy that dates back over 50 years.”

Click here to read the original article.

Politico Morning Trade: New Sanctions on Cuba Go Into Effect Today

The State Department released on Wednesday a list of more than two dozen Cuban companies that will begin to face sanctions today. Americans are barred from any financial dealings with the companies, which have ties to the Communist-run island’s military and intelligence services.

The Trump administration first placed sanctions on almost 200 Cuban entities in November, as part of an effort to walk back on some of former President Barack Obama’s pro-engagement policies. White House National Security Adviser John Bolton first announced that there would be more sanctions on Cuba earlier this month.

Pushback: James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a coalition that supports normalized relations, said the new sanctions are part of an “attempt to choke commercial ties with Cuba” and “play into the hands of adversaries like the Chinese government and Vladimir Putin, both of which are actively trying to undermine U.S. interests in Latin America.”

Click here to read the original article.

Prensa Latina: Engage Cuba Rejects US Decision to Restrict More Cuban Companies

The president of the Engage Cuba coalition, James Williams, has criticized the US Government's decision to extend as of today the list of Cuban companies restricted to US citizens.


The Department of State announced on Wednesday that 26 new sub-entities were added to the list released on November 8, 2017, as part of the Donald Trump administration's measures to further limit trade with Cuba and US citizens' travels.

Some 205 enterprises allegedly linked to the defense and national security sector will be on the list as of Thursday, thus preventing US citizens from making direct financial transactions with these bodies, a measure that has been described as arbitrary by the Cuban government.

The Trump administration releases the updated list of sanctioned entities in Cuba. It rearranges its deck chairs into a sinking ship, Williams wrote on Twitter.

The head of the coalition that defends the end to the blockade imposed by Washington on Cuba questioned why, after more than 50 years of that failed policy, 'failure is still doubling.

Ben Rhodes, who was deputy national security advisor to former President Barack Obama (2009-2017), also said in a tweet that these sanctions will not lead to the changes Washington wants in Cuba.

'There is one hundred percent certainty that the US blockade is affecting the Cuban people. What a sick and stupid policy,' added Rhodes, a key person in the bilateral approach process that started during Obama's second term.

The news of adding new names to the list was announced on November 1 by Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton, who in an aggressive speech in the southern state of Florida addressed the aim of continuing taking actions against the Caribbean island, as well as against Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Engage Cuba issued a statement that day stating that the decision seeks to reward 'a dwindling minority of US citizens who remain wed to a failed policy.

'The expansion of this list is another slap in some Cuban businessmen's face, whose restaurants, Airbnbs and other services have suffered during the past year, as US travel and investor confidence have declined,' Williams added.

It is ironic, he noted, that the government takes drastic measures under the pretext of 'protecting human rights' in Cuba, but at the same time praises Brazil's extremist president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro.

He noted that such a step shows the world the false nature of US human rights policy,' at a time when our allies' trust is already weakened.

Click here to read the original article.

Prensa Latina: Engage Cuba rechaza decisión de ampliar lista de entidades restringidas

James Williams, presidente de la coalición Engage Cuba, criticó este 14 de noviembre, en Washington, la decisión del Gobierno de EE.UU. de ampliar la lista de entidades del archipiélago cubano que están restringidas para los ciudadanos estadouniddenses.

En su cuenta en la red social Twitter, Williams escribió: La administración Trump publica la lista actualizada de entidades sancionadas en Cuba. Reorganiza las sillas de cubierta en un barco que se hunde.

El titular de la coalición que defiende el fin del bloqueo impuesto por Washington contra la mayor isla del Caribe cuestionó por qué después de más de 50 años de esa política fallida, se sigue 'duplicando el fracaso'.

Por su parte, Ben Rhodes, quien fue asesor adjunto de Seguridad Nacional del expresidente Barack Obama (2009-2017), manifestó también en un tuit que esas sanciones no provocarán los cambios que quiere Washington en el Gobierno cubano.

"Existe una certeza del ciento por ciento de que el bloqueo de Estados Unidos está afectando al pueblo cubano. Qué política tan enferma y estúpida", añadió Rhodes, figura clave en el proceso de acercamiento bilateral iniciado durante el segundo mandato de Obama.

La noticia de que se añadirían nuevos nombres a la lista la dio a conocer el 1 de noviembre, John Bolton, asesor de seguridad nacional de Trump, quien en un agresivo discurso pronunciado en el sureño estado de la Florida abordó el objetivo de seguir adoptando medidas contra Cuba, Venezuela y Nicaragua.

Haga clic aquí para leer el artículo original.

The New Yorker: The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome

In the winter of 2017, the American Embassy in Havana was in a precarious state. The Embassy, a six-story tower that sits next to the seawall known as the Malecón, was built in 1953, and during the five decades in which diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States were suspended it had suffered from neglect. Salt and humidity from the ocean ate away at the pins holding up the marble façade. Work crews erected a fence around the most vulnerable area, to insure that no one was impaled by shards of marble tumbling from the walls.

Audrey Lee, a career Foreign Service officer in her late forties, worked in a snug office on the ground floor. (The name is a pseudonym, which she requested in order to protect her privacy.) Her life in Havana was fascinating but orderly. She lived with her husband and their twelve-year-old twins in a quiet neighborhood full of diplomats, and drove an S.U.V. to work each morning, arriving habitually by seven-thirty. A veteran of several Foreign Service tours, she felt at ease in Cuba—except for one peculiar incident. Earlier that year, when the family returned to Havana from a vacation, they were struck by a foul stench in their kitchen. The freezer was unplugged. Lee and her husband cleaned out the rotten food, plugged the freezer in, and went back to their routine, thinking little about the fact that someone had been there while they were away.

On the evening of March 17th, Lee came home from the Embassy, made dinner, and ate with the twins in the kitchen nook. Her husband was away on business. Afterward, the kids went upstairs to play Minecraft. At around eight o’clock, Lee washed the dishes. The kitchen lights made it hard to see out the window, but she knew that there was a wooden booth outside where Cuban police kept watch. As Lee was cleaning, she felt a sudden burst of pressure in her head, then a stabbing pain worse than any she had ever experienced. Her breath quickened and she was overcome by panic. Lee had heard rumors around the Embassy of colleagues falling victim to mysterious “sonic attacks,” but no one knew what they were or what had caused them.

As the pain grew more intense, she remembered overhearing a security officer at the Embassy talking about how employees could protect themselves. “Get off the X,” he had said, which Lee took to mean move away from the site where she experienced the pain. She made her way to the family room and took a few minutes to steady herself. After checking on the twins, she went to her bedroom to lie down, but the pain kept her from sleeping.

The next morning, Lee’s head still hurt. At breakfast, her son asked her to read the ingredients on a box of cereal, and she struggled, moving the box back and forth as she tried to focus. In the coming weeks, she often felt dizzy and lost her balance, and sometimes walked into doors. She felt as if she were moving even when she was still, a sensation that she compared to walking after taking off roller skates. She was sleeping just an hour or two a night. Co-workers noticed that she was becoming forgetful. One afternoon, a colleague stopped by her office to discuss running an errand together. When the colleague returned five minutes later and said, “Are you ready?,” Lee looked up and said, “Ready for what?”

Wary of being seen as a burden, Lee didn’t mention her condition to her superiors, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the Embassy’s chief of mission, and his deputy, Scott Hamilton, but they already knew that something strange was happening. Between December 30, 2016, and February 9, 2017, at least three C.I.A. officers working under diplomatic cover in Cuba had reported troubling sensations that seemed to leave serious injuries. When the agency sent reinforcements to Havana, at least two of them were afflicted as well.

All the victims described being bombarded by waves of pressure in their heads. Unlike Lee, though, the C.I.A. officers said that they heard loud sounds, similar to cicadas, which seemed to follow them from one room to another. But when they opened an outside door the sounds abruptly stopped. Some of the victims said that it felt as if they were standing in an invisible beam of energy.

The Americans suffered from headaches, dizziness, and a perplexing range of other symptoms. Later, specialists studied their brains and determined that the injuries resembled concussions, like those suffered by soldiers struck by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there were no signs of impact. One of the specialists said it was as if the victims had a “concussion without concussion.” Douglas Smith, who oversaw a team that examined the victims at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “None of us have ever encountered anything like this before.” Experts at the C.I.A. were baffled by what they saw as an alarming new threat, one of the most confounding medical and espionage mysteries to involve American personnel overseas since the Cold War. The affliction didn’t have a name, so some of the victims started to refer to it simply as the Thing.

A year earlier, in March, 2016, Barack Obama had flown to Havana to celebrate the restoration of diplomatic relations between the UnitedStates and Cuba, after more than half a century of enmity. With Raúl Castro smiling in the audience at the venerable Gran Teatro, Obama gave a speech in which he announced that he had “come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”

The reconciliation had been at least four years in the making. In February, 2012, Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, who had long favored restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba, had met with Raúl Castro in Havana. “Wouldn’t it be nice if our grandchildren could grow up in a world where our countries no longer treat each other as enemies, and our grandchildren could travel and study and learn to get along together?” Leahy said. A Cuban diplomat who attended the meeting recalled that Castro replied, “Tell Obama that we shouldn’t leave this situation to our children, that we have to solve this before I go.”

Not long after Obama was reëlected, in November, 2012, he asked Benjamin Rhodes, one of his closest national-security advisers, to lead secret negotiations with the Cubans. Rhodes knew little about Cuba and barely understood Spanish, so Ricardo Zúñiga, a National Security Council official who had previously served in Havana, was called in to work with him.

Obama saw a diplomatic opening with the Cubans as something that would be “nice to have,” rather than something that “he had to have,” a former Administration official said. The stakes were significantly higher for Raúl Castro. In the past decade, Cuba’s economy had depended on subsidized oil, provided by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. But Chávez was dying of cancer, and the Cuban leadership was desperate for new sources of revenue. When Raúl Castro chose his son, Alejandro, to serve as his intermediary with the Obama Administration envoys, Zúñiga felt assured that the Cubans were serious about negotiating an agreement.

Before the first meetings, in June, 2013, Rhodes asked U.S. intelligence analysts to give him as much information as they could about Raúl and Alejandro Castro’s backgrounds and intentions. Public sources noted that Alejandro had degrees in engineering and international relations, and that he had published a book, “Empire of Terror,” about what he saw as the United States’ imperialist history. He was a colonel at the Interior Ministry who was sometimes known as El Tuerto, or One-Eye; rumors held that he had lost vision in one eye during Cuba’s military incursion into Angola. The analysts said that he was “likely” the country’s third most powerful figure, after his father and his uncle Fidel; according to reports, Raúl had assigned him to oversee Cuban counterintelligence. But the analysts could tell the negotiators little about internal Cuban deliberations. A former intelligence official who worked with Rhodes and Zúñiga said, “We were flying blind.”

The negotiators met in Ottawa and Toronto. Rhodes and his advisers found that these discussions advanced surprisingly quickly, given the obstacles. In addition to the underlying tension between the two countries, the Americans assumed that Russian intelligence agencies would find out about the negotiations and try to interfere. “The Russians would have every interest in fucking with us in Cuba,” Rhodes said. The U.S. and Russia were increasingly at odds over Ukraine, and Rhodes guessed that Moscow was thinking, “You’re in our neighborhood, and we’re going to mess around in yours.”

In January, 2014, Rhodes and Zúñiga were meeting with Alejandro Castro at a hotel near the Toronto airport when a young couple approached them in the lobby, thrust smartphones in their faces, and snapped pictures. Rhodes and Zúñiga surmised that they were Russian operatives, sending a message from Moscow: “We know what you’re up to.” Rhodes waited for the Russians to leak the information in order to derail the talks, but it never happened.

As the negotiators honed an agreement, Rhodes and Alejandro Castro needed to talk more often. Rhodes had access to secure communications links in the Situation Room, in the basement of the White House. But the Americans couldn’t share those channels with the Cubans, whom many in the U.S. security establishment viewed as formidable adversaries. Castro came up with an unorthodox solution. He created two Skype accounts—one for Rhodes and one for himself—using American-sounding fake names. From then on, his Skype calls were piped directly into the Situation Room.

In December, 2014, when Obama and Raúl Castro announced that their countries were reëstablishing diplomatic relations, ordinary Cubans were excited, but there were signs of disquiet inside the country’s bureaucracy. The Americans concluded that most Cuban officials were only now learning that the negotiations had been held and felt that they had been snubbed. U.S. officials said these Cubans likely suspected that Obama, despite his talk of a fresh start, had the same objective as his predecessors: regime change in Havana.

In the United States, anti-Castro politicians were also upset about the secret negotiations. Just before the announcement of the rapprochement, White House officials notified Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. At a classified briefing about the agreement, Rubio, a vociferous critic of the Cuban government, argued that it would embolden the country’s dictatorial rulers, who, he believed, wanted to ease Cuba’s financial difficulties without loosening their grip on power. But Rubio did see one benefit in reopening the Embassy in Havana: it would create opportunities for the C.I.A. to expand its intelligence-collection efforts on the island, where Russia and China were increasingly influential. In a recent interview, Rubio declined to comment on the closed-door session, but he said, “I had no practical ability to change the Obama policy once it was made. Therefore, I am often in the business of making lemonade out of lemons.”

The U.S. compound in Havana resembles a miniature version of the United Nations headquarters; it was designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, the New York firm that also helped design the U.N. In the main building, known as the chancery, the chief of mission has an office on the fifth floor, with a balcony overlooking the ocean. When DeLaurentis started in the job, he enjoyed bringing guests onto the balcony to admire the view, until engineers advised him that the crumbling façade made it too dangerous.

One floor above DeLaurentis’s office was the C.I.A. station, which occupied the most restricted area in the building. Compared with C.I.A. stations in Mexico City and Bogotá, the one in Havana was tiny, often composed of just three intelligence officers. The biggest threat facing the Embassy was espionage. The perimeter of the facility was secured by a force of Cuban guards, who were vetted by the government. Similarly, most of the local employees who worked inside the Embassy were handpicked Cuban nationals. The Americans assumed that many were informants, so, to prevent bugs from being slipped into sensitive offices, even cleaning and maintenance crews were forbidden to go above the second floor, unless they were escorted by one of the Marine guards who controlled access to the chancery.

The compound on the Malecón was closed in 1961, after Fidel Castro seized power and the United States severed diplomatic relations. In 1977, when Jimmy Carter was President, the U.S. and Cuba signed an agreement establishing the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which operated under the formal protection of the Embassy of Switzerland.

After Obama and Raúl Castro reached their agreement to reopen their embassies, the Americans asked the Cubans to ease restrictions on the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel allowed to work in Cuba. The Cubans pushed back. A larger staff at the Embassy would create new opportunities to bring in spies and human-rights officers who would work with dissidents. Benjamin Rhodes tried to reassure the Cubans. “Allowing more diplomats into Cuba, and letting them get out of Havana, will allow them to meet with a wider variety of Cubans, and not just dissidents,” he said. Eventually, the Cubans agreed to let the number of U.S. diplomatic personnel increase from fifty-one to more than seventy. However, Republicans in Congress, who opposed reëstablishing diplomatic relations, blocked funding for the additional positions. As a result, only fifty-four of the agreed-upon slots could be filled.

The Cubans were even more suspicious when the State Department said that it would need to send large shipments of supplies to the Embassy. The chancery was last renovated in the mid-nineties and was “in desperate need of a total rehab,” Patrick Kennedy, who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Management, said. Finding supplies in Havana was impractical. There was little to buy, and, more important, the Americans suspected that Cuban intelligence would slip listening devices into almost everything they purchased on the island. To avoid penetration, even the furniture had to be shipped in. State Department officials told the Cubans that they needed to send several large steel containers by sea, and that they wanted them to be exempt from inspection.

The request became a crucial sticking point in the negotiations. Much of the wrangling fell to Roberta Jacobson, the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. “In nonpermissive environments, you have to be able to send a container that they won’t be able to look inside,” she explained. “When we built our new Embassy in China, they gave us an unlimited quota for secure containers.” The Cubans argued that history had left them apprehensive, she recalled: “They said to us, ‘You used your secure containers in the past to bring in materials for counter-revolutionary groups.’ Which is true—but we hadn’t really been doing that for some time. The thing is, you’d give a fax machine to a dissident and it would be seized the next day, so it was kind of pointless anyway.” After six months of negotiations, the Cubans grudgingly agreed to allow one container into the country without an inspection. American officials are vague about its contents, but say that it was full of electronics, including secure communications gear.

On July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba formally reëstablished diplomatic relations. A few weeks later, Secretary of State John Kerry presided over a flag-raising ceremony in Havana, attended by three retired American marines, who had lowered the flag when the Embassy closed, half a century before. Outside the compound, Cuban security men kept an eye on several hundred locals, who had gathered to cheer and to wave little Cuban and American flags.

A few weeks later, an unmarked U.S. government plane landed at an airstrip in Havana, carrying the last person in the world the Castros might be expected to welcome: John Brennan, the director of the C.I.A. Brennan was there to meet with Alejandro Castro and discuss increasing intelligence coöperation between the two countries. Brennan considered Cuba’s spy agencies the most capable in Latin America, and hoped to work with them against drug cartels and terrorist networks.

Brennan’s enthusiasm wasn’t universally shared in the U.S. intelligence community. Some officials feared that Cuba could exploit any openings to expand its operations against the United States. Others, though, saw the idea of greater coöperation as an embodiment of the old adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” The C.I.A., which prides itself on being the world’s best intelligence service, doesn’t advertise the fact that it has repeatedly been outplayed by the spy networks of an impoverished Caribbean state. But, over the years, Cuba’s intelligence officers have been remarkably successful at recruiting Americans. “They’ve penetrated just about anybody that the agency has ever tried to run against them,” James Cason, who was the head of the U.S. Interests Section in the two-thousands, said. “They basically beat us.”

After the Cold War ended and Russia more or less abandoned Havana as a military outpost, the C.I.A. concentrated less on Cuba. But Cuban intelligence agencies never took their eyes off the U.S. “Everything that they did focussed on us,” Cason said. At one point, Cuban security services assigned a battalion of intelligence officers—estimates range from hundreds to thousands—to monitor the U.S. Interests Section. John Caulfield, a former head of the Interests Section, used to tell his counterparts, “Frankly, I think you have vastly overestimated my capability of destabilizing your society.”

Brennan’s talks with Alejandro Castro took place at a discreet government guesthouse, where a day of formal negotiations was followed by a banquet featuring a spit-roasted pig. The Cuban government has long cast the C.I.A. as the ultimate enemy, dedicating large portions of a museum, the Denouncement Memorial, to railing against the agency’s purported offenses (“637 conspiracies to assassinate the commander in chief”). Nevertheless, U.S. officials said that, during the talks, Cuban leaders made it clear that they respected the C.I.A., and, in fact, found it more reliable than the State Department, which, during George W. Bush’s Administration, had aided programs intended to undermine the Cuban government. Rhodes sometimes joked with Alejandro Castro, “Who thought that the C.I.A. would be the agency which the Cubans would trust!”

Brennan and Alejandro Castro agreed on a series of steps to build confidence. One called for the Cubans to post an officer in Washington to act as a formal liaison between the two countries’ intelligence agencies.

In the end, the Cubans didn’t send a liaison officer. American officials speculated that Alejandro Castro had been undermined by hard-liners in his system who opposed improving relations. Alejandro, in turn, complained that the C.I.A. didn’t follow through with its commitments, and said that he believed Brennan was impeded by Cuba hawks at the agency. “The American and Cuban publics overwhelmingly support more engagement,” Rhodes said in an interview. “But there are antibodies embedded in both governments that don’t want to let go of the conflict.”

As Obama prepared for his visit, in March, 2016, U.S. diplomats started to brief the Cubans on the army of security men, transport aircraft, and armored limousines that would descend on the island. To Cuban hard-liners, “it probably looked like their long-feared invasion,” John Caulfield said.

The Americans were thrilled with the pageantry. On March 22nd, Obama gave a speech about democracy and human rights, which was televised uncensored in Cuba. “I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” he said. During a baseball game attended by the two countries’ Presidents and thousands of Cubans, Rhodes introduced Alejandro Castro and his young daughter to Obama, a public gesture of good will.

The détente brought some rapid changes to the island, including a surge in American tourists—from ninety thousand in 2014 to six hundred thousand last year. Companies from Europe and the U.S. rushed to invest, and Miami-style bars and restaurants opened in Havana. Rihanna went for a photo shoot. The makers of the “Fast and Furious” movies filmed a rambunctious race scene on the Malecón.

Audrey Lee arrived in June, 2015, six weeks before the Embassy formally reopened. She was excited about her assignment. She had previously worked in Africa and Asia, and when the State Department had asked her where she wanted to go next she requested Havana. Lee and her husband were fascinated by the country’s history and its music; their twins had grown up hearing their great-grandfather’s stories about his time on the island as a Navy seaman. “We just thought it would be the perfect place for us,” she explained.

Lee and her family settled into an airy Spanish-style house, with a formal dining room and a back yard filled with tropical flowers and mango trees. Along the fence, her husband planted tomatoes and chili peppers. At the Embassy, an optimistic mood prevailed. Lee loved working alongside the Cuban staffers in the consular section. Some of them came with her to one of Obama’s appearances in Havana, and wept when he shook their hands.

After Obama’s visit, however, U.S. officials took note of a distinct backlash. Fidel Castro published a wary letter in the Communist Party daily, Granma, that reprised his long years of conflict with American Presidents. “Nobody should be under the illusion that the people of this noble and selfless country will renounce the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained,” he wrote. Despite years of financial privation, Fidel, who was approaching ninety, insisted that isolation was preferable to engagement with a longtime enemy. “We do not need the empire to give us anything,” he wrote. Three weeks later, at a Communist Party congress, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, the foreign minister, described Obama’s visit as “an attack on our history, culture, and symbols.” At a military parade in Havana, soldiers chanted an ominous message: “We are going to make war if imperialism comes.” Shouting Obama’s name, they threatened to “give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”

If Cuba’s Communist traditionalists feared that Obama’s overtures had been a pretext for increasing the United States’ influence, Raúl Castro seemed unconcerned. When the Foreign Ministry asked foreign ambassadors in Havana to attend a briefing, the Americans weren’t sure what to expect. Despite Fidel’s rhetoric, Cuban officials at the briefing declared Obama’s visit a success. One attendee said that the Cubans seemed to want to send dual messages: one to domestic hard-liners, who were hostile to the U.S., and another to international audiences, who supported normalization.

Like virtually everyone else, Raúl Castro assumed that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 election and carry on Obama’s policies, including the rapprochement with Cuba. Then came a series of events that upended the politics of the two countries. On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump won the election. Seventeen days later, Fidel Castro died.

Obama issued a measured statement. “At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” he wrote. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.” Trump reacted more brusquely, with a statement that read, “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.” Two days later, Trump threatened to roll back diplomatic relations. “If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban/American people and the U.S. as a whole, I will terminate [the] deal,” he tweeted.

Mari Carmen Aponte, the acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, led a U.S. delegation to Havana to see her Cuban counterpart, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, in order to tie up loose ends before Trump took office. Aponte sensed Vidal’s anxiety about dealing with the new Administration. “Josefina, I share your concerns,” Aponte told her. “These people are not like us at all.” Aponte suggested that the Cubans send Trump a signal of interest in continued normalization. At the end of the meeting, she hugged Vidal and said, “Good luck.” Soon afterward, she met with members of Trump’s transition team, and emerged saying to herself, “Cuba is in trouble.”

On December 30, 2016, Patient Zero in the Cuba crisis visited the Embassy health office. The patient, a C.I.A. officer who was operating under diplomatic cover, told a nurse that he had experienced strange sensations of sound and pressure while in his home, followed by painful headaches and dizziness.

Officials described the man as an experienced spy, who, like his colleagues, was trained to recognize signs of counterintelligence operations. Since arriving in Havana, he had been subjected to constant surveillance, intrusions into his home, and obvious tampering with his belongings. These actions were annoying but not unexpected. Cuban intelligence knew where all the U.S. diplomats lived and watched them closely to try to discern who worked for the C.I.A. or with dissidents.

Vicki Huddleston, who led the U.S. Interests Section from 1999 to 2002, noted in a memoir that her house was surrounded by lavish mansions, three of which had no occupants. “One was used as a set for a local soap opera broadcast on Cuban television,” she wrote. “The other two were strategically located, with video and listening devices pointed at my residence.” When Americans were away from home, Cuban “entry teams” sometimes broke in. Mostly, they left no trace, but sometimes they wanted their targets to know that they were being watched. Jason Matthews, who in the late eighties was the C.I.A. station chief in Havana and now writes spy novels, said that he woke up some mornings and found cigarette butts in an ashtray in his living room. Sometimes Embassy employees came home to find feces left in their toilets. There were perennial rumors among the Americans of family pets being poisoned.

But C.I.A. officers knew that the Cubans—unlike the Russians and, increasingly, the Chinese—were careful not to cause them physical harm. When the first victim reported his strange incident, it seemed as if the rules had changed. The C.I.A. station chief in Havana briefed Jeffrey DeLaurentis, and they agreed that there had been an unacceptable escalation in harassment. DeLaurentis notified two senior officials in Washington about the officer’s condition, but they weren’t sure how seriously to take it; as far as anyone knew, it was an isolated case.

Around January 9, 2017, the same C.I.A. officer reported a second incident to the medical office. Still, it was hard to discern a pattern. “It’s like serial killers,” a former State Department official said. “It usually takes three or four before police conclude, ‘Wait a minute, these are connected.’ ” More than three weeks passed with no new cases, and the few officials who knew about the incidents wondered if the phenomenon had run its course. Then, in early February, two other C.I.A. officers reported feeling the same strange sensations while in their homes. Seemingly the entire C.I.A. station was affected, except for the station chief. The officers appeared seriously afflicted, and the Embassy nurse was unsure how to help them. DeLaurentis and his deputy, Scott Hamilton, told their superiors in Washington that they suspected something was targeting C.I.A. officers.

In Donald Trump’s White House, Cuba wasn’t a priority. When he had spoken about Cuba during the campaign, it was mainly to criticize Obama for his policy of engagement. But when the two men met privately at the White House, during the transition, he reversed his position. Obama aides briefed on the meeting recall that Trump said, “Look, there are certain things you say during a campaign. But I agree with your approach.”

Once Trump was in office, he offered his N.S.C. staff little guidance on Cuba, except to “make Rubio happy.” After the Inauguration, Craig Deare, the council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs, convened the council’s first meeting on Cuba, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. According to attendees, Deare started by asking the two dozen officials in the room for a show of hands: “How many of you agree with the policy as it stands now?” Nearly every hand shot up. “Of course,” Deare said. “You all participated in the development of this policy.” Deare made it clear that he didn’t want to entirely discard the agreements that Obama had made. “We are where we are, and the region is happy,” he said, referring to support among U.S. allies in Latin America. “So we’re not going back.” Instead, he instructed officials to draw up some ways that Trump could amend the deal. “Park those feelings aside and give me some real options, because, if you don’t give me something, then there’s a real possibility that he might say, ‘What is this bullshit? Where is the “Let’s go all the way back” option?’ ” Deare said.

Alejandro Castro seemed eager to continue the opening. After Trump’s Inauguration, he spoke with Deare, in a Skype call beamed into the Situation Room, and emphasized the importance of expanded intelligence and security coöperation. Deare, surprised by the overture, tried to brief Michael Flynn and K. T. McFarland, who were then among Trump’s top national-security advisers, but he couldn’t get on their schedules. Deare wasn’t able to follow through, because he was soon fired, after a news organization published off-the-record remarks he had made at a think-tank event, in which he criticized the President.

Deare’s interim replacement, Fernando Cutz, shared his interest in protecting relations with Cuba. When Cutz chaired the N.S.C.’s second meeting on the subject, three options were presented. The first called for leaving Obama’s policies unaltered. The second made mostly superficial changes. The third called for terminating the normalization process and increasing pressure on Havana. The officials who drafted the options were using an old Army staff officer’s trick: they wrote the first and the third options to be obviously undesirable, leaving only one viable choice. At the meeting, Virginia Boney, the N.S.C.’s official responsible for legislative affairs, recognized their tactics. “The President told Marco Rubio that he will make him happy,” she said, according to an official in attendance. “What you guys are discussing here is completely a light-year away from what will actually make Rubio happy.” A former Trump Administration official said, “For a lot of people in that room, it was the first time they had to come to terms with Trump being President. That was the moment when we all realized it’s not going to stay the same.”

DeLaurentis and the Havana station chief had been pressing their superiors for permission to confront the Cubans. With at least three intelligence officers now in severe distress, the C.I.A. and the State Department agreed. On February 17th, DeLaurentis visited Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, who was then the director-general of the U.S. division at the Foreign Ministry. He described the strange incidents and demanded that the harassment stop. Because U.S. intelligence agencies had no clear evidence that the Cubans were involved, DeLaurentis was instructed to tell Vidal that her government was culpable for failing to uphold the Vienna Convention requiring host governments to provide for the security of embassy personnel. Vidal reacted with disbelief, arguing that Cuba had always fulfilled its obligations to protect foreign diplomats. She found it “very suspicious” that DeLaurentis waited to report the incidents until mid-February, some seven weeks after the first American came forward.

On February 21st, DeLaurentis accompanied a visiting congressional delegation to the Presidential Palace for a meeting with Raúl Castro. Afterward, Castro asked DeLaurentis to meet with him privately. According to a former State Department official, Castro insisted that Cuban security was not responsible. “It’s not us,” he said, adding, “We need more information from your government to help solve it.”

It was highly unusual for a Cuban President to meet one-on-one with an American chief of mission. Security officials in Washington interpreted Castro’s involvement to mean that the Cubans were profoundly concerned about being blamed. (Johana Tablada, the deputy director-general of the U.S. division at the Foreign Ministry, argued instead that it showed the Cubans were acting in good faith and “had nothing to hide.”)

In April, Alejandro Castro had a Skype call with Cutz and other N.S.C. officials, in which he denied that his government was involved. “He was adamant—he was passionate,” a former Trump Administration official said. DeLaurentis, like others who had worked on Cuban issues under Obama, was willing to give Raúl and Alejandro the benefit of the doubt. They didn’t think it made sense for the Castros to authorize measures that could jeopardize their signature achievements: the diplomatic opening and the increased revenues that came with it.

But, if the Castros were not responsible, who was? Intelligence agencies began to inventory “who it could be and who had an interest in essentially driving us out,” a former senior Trump adviser said. One leading theory was that Cuban hard-liners, who were loyal to Fidel Castro, decided to act covertly against the C.I.A. station. These hard-liners might have acted alone, or they could have conspired with a foreign adversary, which supplied them with the technological means to cause the injuries. Another theory was that the Cubans, alarmed by the influx of people and communications equipment, were deploying a new type of spy gear, designed for surveillance or harassment, which inadvertently caused harm.

Raúl Castro stoked suspicions that a foreign country had been involved. During his February 21st meeting with DeLaurentis, he said a “third country” might be to blame, and he urged the Americans to share any intelligence they found so that he could intervene. (The Cuban government denies that Castro raised this possibility.) American officials—including H. R. McMaster, who was Trump’s national-security adviser at the time—thought that the most likely culprit was Russia. “Who else has secret weapons programs?” a former Trump Administration official said. “Who else has the ability to conduct an operation like this? It fits their pattern, their style.” A senior American official with experience in Cuba concurred. “If it was the Russians, of course, you can’t do it without the Cubans knowing—but you can if it’s the right Cubans,” he said. “And what better way to fuck with Raúl and Alejandro, if you thought they were going too far, than by fucking directly with us?”

Analysts at the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency pored over intelligence reports and intercepted communications, looking for clues; perhaps someone had bragged about the operation. But Cuban leaders and intelligence officers are notoriously skilled at evading eavesdropping, and the search turned up nothing definitive. The C.I.A. and the N.S.A. typically had more luck intercepting the communications of Russian spies and officials, who often wanted adversaries to know what they were up to. After months of snooping, officials said, they found nothing directly linking the incidents to the Russians. In fact, aside from the victims’ accounts, there was no conclusive evidence that anyone in Cuba was attacked at all.

At the beginning of the crisis, C.I.A. and State Department doctors thought that the victims’ symptoms—pain and ringing in the ears, dizziness, and cognitive problems—suggested damage to parts of the inner ear that control hearing and balance. The U.S. Embassy’s medical unit lacked the specialized equipment needed to handle these sorts of injuries, so the C.I.A. began to organize a medical response, in consultation with the State Department. The Cuban government runs a well-equipped hospital for foreigners in Havana, but the C.I.A. assumed that the doctors would relay information about the victims’ condition to the intelligence services, who could then cover their tracks or improve the effectiveness of whatever was causing the injuries. The agency began to look for specialists in the U.S.

In early February, 2017, Michael Hoffer, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami, received a call from a State Department doctor, who told him, “We have a problem.” Hoffer—who had worked with the military to treat head traumas, and had kept his security clearance—agreed to help. He soon saw one of the victims, and in the following months others flew to Miami. Hoffer ran a battery of tests, which confirmed that the C.I.A. officers had sustained serious injuries.

In late March, DeLaurentis convened a town-hall-style meeting for staff at the Embassy. “We want to make sure everyone is O.K.,” he said. “If you have any doubts about anything, step forward and we’ll have you evaluated.” Audrey Lee stood near the back of the room and kept quiet. A week had passed since her painful experience, and her condition wasn’t improving. But, unlike the others who had been afflicted, she hadn’t heard any sounds, and she convinced herself that she must have experienced something different. “I’m not one of the victims,” she told herself.

Several of Lee’s colleagues came forward to report that they, too, had been exposed. Not long afterward, another State Department official reported a similar incident, at the Capri Hotel, where he was staying temporarily. At the end of April, DeLaurentis’s personal assistant said that she had heard strange sounds, two nights in a row, while sitting on the couch in her twenty-first-floor apartment. She told DeLaurentis that the experience had left her too dizzy and exhausted to think clearly.

Some State Department officials still believed that the C.I.A. station was the real target. They theorized that diplomats were being mistaken for intelligence officers, possibly because they were living in residences previously occupied by spies, or by diplomats who worked with dissidents. “They were always trying to figure out who was who,” an official said of Cuban intelligence agents.

Security officers briefed Embassy staff members on how to protect themselves, even though they had no idea what they were protecting themselves against. Lee recalled being told to find a concrete wall and take shelter behind it.

In early May, Hoffer flew to Havana to evaluate the Embassy’s staff members and their families. DeLaurentis encouraged everyone to get checked, even if they felt fine. Lee made an appointment, and told Hoffer about her headaches, but she didn’t mention how they had started. As part of her examination, she wore goggles that tracked her eye movements while she watched a virtual-reality display. (The goggles are often used to assess race-car drivers after head injuries.) She struggled during the test, but Hoffer told her that she otherwise didn’t meet the criteria he was using to identify victims.

By late June, Lee had barely slept for three months. She tried to cover the circles under her eyes with makeup. “She looked like a zombie,” her husband said. “She physically couldn’t function.” Still, she hesitated to come forward. She was afraid that she would be told to leave Havana, and that acknowledging her condition would “let everybody down,” she said. Finally, at her husband’s urging, Lee told an Embassy medical officer about her experience, and was added to the list of diplomats who were seeking treatment.

The C.I.A. and the State Department have a complicated relationship. Diplomats and spies work closely together in foreign countries, but often to different ends: diplomats are there to represent the U.S. and, if possible, to cultivate relationships, while spies operate in secret to extract information. During the crisis in Cuba, a former Trump Administration official said, “it was almost as if they weren’t playing on the same team.” The State Department’s priority was to protect the progress in normalizing relations. The C.I.A. had less to lose by pulling its officers out; Cuban intelligence made it nearly impossible for them to recruit and meet with sources on the island.

To complicate matters, the crisis in Havana coincided with one of the most chaotic Presidential transitions in U.S. history. The Trump State Department was particularly troubled. Rex Tillerson became Secretary of State after a long career in the oil business, and showed little appreciation for diplomacy. He often announced that the security of U.S. personnel was his first priority, but officials said that he didn’t receive a formal briefing on the crisis until late April, nearly four months after the first case was reported. Rubio said that he suspected information was “suppressed,” possibly by staffers who wanted to protect the policy of normalization. State Department officials denied this. They argued that the response was slowed by the remote management style of Tillerson and his staff—which one congressional official said had “paralyzed” communications within the department—and by inexperience among interim leaders.

The transition at the C.I.A. was more orderly. Mike Pompeo was sworn in as director in January, 2017, and received his first briefing on the incidents later that month. Pompeo, a former congressman, had risen to prominence by criticizing Hillary Clinton over the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed. Now his own people were at risk. By that spring, there were sixteen cases, nearly half of which involved C.I.A. officers. By the end of the summer, the number of C.I.A. victims had risen to nearly ten. The agency had no answers about who was responsible for the injuries, so the Administration decided to press the Cubans. “They have a very capable intelligence service,” McMaster said. “And, even if they’re not doing it, they should know who the hell is doing it and be able to protect our diplomats.”

The C.I.A.’s new leadership believed that the cost of keeping officers in Havana outweighed the benefits. But, if the agency’s officers withdrew and the diplomats stayed, it could reveal who the spies were. In meetings, Pompeo’s representatives suggested a solution: closing the entire Embassy. For longtime officials, the agency’s push to get out of Cuba was surprising. “I’ve never seen the C.I.A. run away,” a former senior State Department official said. “Typically, it’s the State Department that gets out first.” Officials at State believed that if diplomats left the island it would only reward those who were responsible for the incidents. But, as the number of victims grew, the argument for staying became more difficult to make.

In late April, an American government doctor arrived in Havana and checked in to the Capri Hotel. The doctor worked for the C.I.A.’s Office of Medical Services, a division that looks after intelligence officers around the world. These doctors aren’t spies, but they often travel under assumed names, because they meet with C.I.A. officers in the field.

At the Capri, a receptionist directed the doctor to a room decorated with photographs of Havana during its heyday, when mobsters and Hollywood stars mingled at the rooftop bar. While the doctor was in his room, he heard and felt something strange, and was stricken with symptoms similar to the previous victims’. Before then, the incidents had taken place at C.I.A. officers’ homes, whose locations were presumed to be known to Cuban intelligence. The doctor had arrived unannounced, but the perpetrators seemed to be aware of when he was coming and precisely where he was staying. Officials said that the incident increased pressure on the State Department to respond in a more tangible way. DeLaurentis met again with Josefina Vidal. “Come on,” he told her. “Who knew? You guys and us.”

A few weeks later, on May 23rd, Thomas Shannon, the Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, summoned the Cuban Ambassador in Washington to the State Department. In their meeting, Shannon demanded that two officials at the Cuban Embassy leave the U.S. He wanted the Cubans to understand that every time an American suffered harm in Havana their mission in Washington would lose someone, too.

On July 6, 2017, Charles Rosenfarb, the State Department’s top medical official, convened a meeting of academic and government experts to review Hoffer’s findings. As the experts discussed the victims’ auditory problems, they noted a constellation of additional symptoms, which could resemble those found in cases of concussion. The experts concluded that the victims had suffered brain injuries, and proposed sending them to a specialized center for neurological examinations. The State Department contacted Douglas Smith, the director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair, at the University of Pennsylvania.

Before the victims arrived, in August, Smith convened a meeting of specialists at the university. Some of them were skeptical and wondered if the symptoms were psychosomatic. But their skepticism vanished when they saw the patients. “There was not one individual on the team who was not convinced that this was a real thing,” Smith said.

On August 20, 2017, Lee was flown to Philadelphia. For three days, she was subjected to a battery of tests, including MRI scans and exercises in which she stood on a moving platform and tried to keep her balance as it tilted. She fell nearly every time.

Lee and her doctors didn’t know what to call the mystery condition, so some of them referred to it as the Thing. (Smith said other names came later, including Immaculate Concussion and Havana Syndrome.) At the end of the testing, Lee told one of the specialists that she didn’t think she had the Thing. The specialist replied, “Oh, it’s definitely the Thing.”

In Havana, Raúl and Alejandro Castro proposed that Cuba and the U.S. collaborate on an investigation. DeLaurentis was wary, but he told his colleagues in Washington, “It’s worth testing this.” C.I.A. officers pushed back, warning that information shared with Havana might be used by the perpetrators to improve their operations. In the end, the idea foundered.

Instead, the F.B.I. began looking into the incidents, but the investigators were caught between the C.I.A. and the State Department. Even within the U.S. government, the agency had been reluctant to reveal which officers had been afflicted, because it wanted to keep identifying details from leaking out. Historically, American officials say, Cuba shared intelligence about C.I.A. officers with other U.S. adversaries; if an officer’s cover was blown in Havana, he might not be able to work in similar capacities elsewhere. The investigators were further hobbled by rules designed to protect the privacy of government employees’ medical records. A joke circulated in diplomatic circles: “The Cubans are being more open about this investigation with the F.B.I. than the C.I.A. is.”

The secrecy came in part because the Administration wanted to keep the incidents hidden while investigators figured out what was happening. If the news leaked, officials knew, there would be political pressure to retaliate, even if no culprits had been identified. But the story was hard to contain. An American with inside knowledge of the incidents approached Marco Rubio to complain about the government’s response. “We received information, independently of the State Department,” Rubio said in an interview. Based on what the whistle-blower said, Rubio concluded that “the State Department got a very slow start” in responding to the threat. “When we send men and women on behalf of the United States government to work in another place, our No. 1 obligation to them is their safety and their security,” he said.

Rubio began to drop hints in meetings that he knew what was happening in Cuba. Administration officials feared that he would leak the information at any moment. Finally, during a press briefing on August 9th, Steve Dorsey, a CBS News reporter, asked a State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert, about the phenomenon. “My understanding is that it has only affected State Department employees,” she said, omitting the intelligence officers’ cases in an attempt to maintain their cover.

In public remarks, Nauert was careful to refer to “incidents” in Havana, rather than using stronger language. Behind the scenes, Tillerson was increasingly frustrated by the situation in Cuba. A former colleague recalled that he said, “Why are we even there? We don’t know what’s happening. Our people are really suffering. Why run this risk?” In a televised address on August 11th, he said that the Americans had suffered “health attacks.” White House officials were caught off guard by the change in rhetoric. “It wasn’t coördinated,” a former Trump Administration official said.

During the summer, another incident increased the pressure to withdraw. In mid-August, a C.I.A. officer flew to Havana and checked in to the Hotel Nacional—two hundred yards from the Capri, where the agency doctor had been sickened four months before. Since its opening, in 1930, the Nacional has been a favorite for visiting politicians and celebrities. A graphic in the lobby shows that Winston Churchill stayed in Room 240, a few doors down from where Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner spent the night. The officer was given a room on the eighth floor. Like the doctor who stayed at the Capri, she was in her room when she was afflicted. Soon afterward, the State Department, dropping the ambiguity about the nature of the incidents, said that twenty-one Americans had “been targeted in specific attacks” and ordered fifteen Cuban officials to vacate the Embassy in Washington.

In 2017, officials in both governments began to worry that the Thing was spreading. Cuban security officials were alarmed when one Western diplomat, who complained of hearing problems, visited the Cuban-run hospital that treated foreigners. The doctors put the diplomat through an unusually thorough battery of tests. Her ailment turned out to be an ordinary infection, picked up on a flight.

DeLaurentis started briefing fellow-ambassadors in Havana on the crisis, and during the summer he learned that a Canadian diplomat, his wife, and their two young children had awakened at night, feeling waves of pressure. The children had nosebleeds. Canadian officials were baffled; their relationship with Cuba was excellent. When the Americans proposed joining forces to protest the incidents to the Cuban government, the Canadians politely declined, saying that environmental causes could be to blame. They eventually confirmed twelve cases, but an investigation carried out by Canada and Cuba has thus far found no evidence of attacks.

Late in 2017, U.S. officials said, they learned that Raúl Castro had privately suggested that China could be responsible for the incidents. (The Cuban government denies this.) Then, the following March, Catherine Werner, a Commerce Department employee at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, reported being stricken one night by an eerie pulsation that created pressure in her head. In April, Werner was flown to the University of Pennsylvania for tests, and doctors there confirmed that her symptoms were similar to those that the victims in Cuba had described. The incident startled State Department officials, who asked medical officers in China to evaluate about three hundred employees. Fifteen were identified as possible cases and sent to the University of Pennsylvania for examination.

Pompeo, who took over as Secretary of State this past April, revealed the Guangzhou case on May 23rd. Tillerson’s State Department had taken a hard line with the Cubans, but Pompeo was notably gentler with China. “They’ve honored their commitment under the Vienna Convention to take care of the diplomats that are serving in their country, and we truly appreciate this,” he said. “They’ve offered to assist us in investigating how this came to be.”

The specialists in Pennsylvania subjected the fifteen suspected cases to the same tests as the Cuba victims. Fourteen were determined to be unaffected. The one remaining was listed as “indeterminate,” because the patient’s symptoms were different from those of the other confirmed cases.

In the spring of 2017, the Cubans granted visas to a small group of F.B.I. agents, who travelled to Havana for the first time that May. As is customary when investigating overseas, they had to coördinate their movements with local officials and travel with escorts. Still, they were able to see the victims’ homes, as well as the two hotels where Americans had reported being exposed.

According to witnesses, the agents arrived with rolling suitcases full of equipment. (The F.B.I. declined to comment for this article.) At the Hotel Nacional, they inspected the victim’s room on the eighth floor, down the hall from where John Kerry had stayed during Obama’s visit. At the Capri, they inspected the two other victims’ rooms—one facing inland, and another facing the sea. They asked managers at both hotels about the Wi-Fi routers, which hung along the hallways, providing guests with spotty Internet access. After about ninety minutes at the Capri, the agents asked a hotel employee whether anything had happened to the two Americans who stayed there. “I was here—nothing happened,” she recalled telling them. “The hotel was full of guests. And nobody else complained about funny noises.”

Investigators, arriving months after the incidents, had to contend with the fact that such attacks would leave no physical evidence at the scene: no shell casings, no burn marks, no chemical residue. There might have been video evidence, however. Agents visiting the two hotels saw surveillance cameras in the lobbies and hallways, which might help determine if anyone was outside the rooms during the incidents. The F.B.I. asked for access to footage from the hotels, and from cameras near the Americans’ residences. According to U.S. officials, the Cubans have yet to provide it.

This past May, an F.B.I. team arrived in Havana just after the latest incident was reported. A Defense Department employee, who had been in Cuba less than three weeks, said that she had been exposed at her residence. Johana Tablada, of the Foreign Ministry, said that an Embassy official got in touch to say, “Well, we have another case.” Tablada responded skeptically. “A case of what?” she asked. “Could you describe how it’s similar? What do they have? Is it a headache?”

Cuban investigators went to the scene, as did members of the F.B.I. team. The victim had reported hearing a strange sound that came from the direction of a neighboring house. But Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the director-general for U.S. affairs at the Foreign Ministry, said that the only source of noise that the Cuban investigators could find was a water pump. Perhaps it malfunctioned, he said; a heavy rainstorm had just passed through the area.

A few weeks later, doctors at the University of Pennsylvania confirmed the employee’s injuries. U.S. officials said that the medical evidence was stronger than in other cases, because she had undergone baseline testing before leaving for Cuba, which allowed specialists to determine how her condition had changed. Peter Bodde, who led the State Department’s internal review of the response, said, “It’s not a dubious case at all. A person manifested symptoms. This thing about the water pump—that’s dubious.”

Last February, Douglas Smith and his team at the University of Pennsylvania published their preliminary findings in The Journal of the American Medical Association. They argued that the victims appeared to suffer from a new type of “brain network disorder,” which was similar to the damage seen in patients with mild traumatic brain injuries or with persistent symptoms after concussions.

After the study was published, JAMA received letters from other specialists, arguing that the study was flawed, especially in neglecting psychological explanations. Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, a member of a team of scientists investigating the incidents for the Cuban government, seized on the criticism as evidence that the Americans were embracing unproven theories. “The conclusion that there’s brain damage isn’t sustainable by the data,” he said. He added that the victims’ symptoms were common and could have been present before they arrived in Cuba. “Did they play football?” he asked. “Did they practice judo? Were they in a war or an explosion?” Valdés-Sosa said that Smith’s team shouldn’t have excluded psychological factors, noting that the victims “were informed by their government that they were under attack.”

Smith rejected this explanation. “To artificially display all of these symptoms, you’d have to actually go and research, practice, be the most consummate actor ever, and convince one expert after another,” he said. But he acknowledged that more data were needed to convince skeptics that the syndrome was real. He said his team was awaiting “potential tangible evidence” from a new neuroimaging study involving the victims. In addition, experts from the National Institutes of Health were examining the JAMA results. “Let the scientific process play out,” Smith said.

Theories have proliferated about what might have caused the injuries. Initially, officials thought they might be dealing with a “sonic weapon.” After U.S. investigators ruled out the possibility that the sounds themselves caused the injuries, government scientists studied whether microwaves could be the cause. During an interview in July, Smith voiced doubts that a microwave device could be targeted so precisely. “From what I do know about certain forms of energy that are medically used to remove nerve fibres, such as to reduce pain, I can’t understand how any source would be so selective to only injure the brain and not peripheral nerves and the spinal cord,” he said.

In September, 2017, State Department officials contacted James Giordano, a professor at Georgetown University Medical Center who specializes in neuro-weapons. “We don’t have a smoking gun,” they told him. “But we know something happened here. Can you tell us what could cause these types of injuries?” Giordano consulted with colleagues at the University of Miami and the University of Pittsburgh who had evaluated the cases and, through a process known as abductive forensics, found some possible explanations. He thought there was little chance that the injuries were caused by a drug or a toxin, which would probably have left detectable traces. More likely, the cause was a device that emitted radio frequencies or electromagnetic pulses, which entered through the victims’ ears. (Structural variations within their heads could help explain why some heard sounds while others didn’t.) Inside the head, the energy could have caused “cavitation,” or bubbling, in the tiny fluid-filled passages of the inner ear, or in arterial blood. As the bubbles formed, and in some cases exploded, they could have damaged the organs that regulate balance and orientation. If they burst inside the cranial cavity, the victim could have suffered ministrokes, causing brain damage similar to the effects of decompression sickness. But to know for sure, Giordano said, “we’d have to take the brains out, and that’s not possible.”

If there was a weapon, of whatever kind, who wielded it? And to what end? Despite a long investigation into the incidents, the U.S. government can’t answer these questions. “It’s been more than a year and a half since the first reported health incident in Havana, and we know no more today about the cause than we did then,” Leahy said. In September, NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence agencies considered Russia to be the main suspect, citing evidence from communications intercepts. But intelligence officials, in interviews with The New Yorker, insisted that they still had no evidence of Russian complicity.

The Cubans say that their investigation has stalled. When U.S. lawmakers visited Havana last January, the Interior Ministry showed them a PowerPoint presentation, which concluded that the ministry had “run out of all investigative possibilities to shed light on the events.” Johana Tablada argued that there was simply nothing to find. “After a year and a half, the most powerful nation on earth hasn’t been able to present one single piece of evidence,” she said. But some see the absence of evidence as proof of a sophisticated operation. “The harder it is to figure this out, the more it lends credence to the fact that it was something that was directed,” Rubio said. “Havana is one of the most heavily surveilled cities on the planet. There is no way the Cubans don’t know who did it—if they didn’t do it themselves.”

Tablada said that she disagreed with virtually everything that Rubio has ever said about Cuba. But, she said, “on one thing, I agree with Marco Rubio. Such a thing cannot happen in Cuba without the Cubans knowing. The thing is, it didn’t happen.”

DeLaurentis, like others at the Embassy, is outraged by the Cubans’ denials. In conversation with former colleagues, he still gets upset by suggestions that the Thing was imaginary. “It did happen,” he says. “I know it did.”

It has been more than a year since the State Department announced that it would withdraw most of its personnel from Havana. As a former department official said, “There was a clear understanding that we had to lower our presence to protect our people.” The number of Americans permitted to work at the Embassy was slashed from fifty-four to around eighteen. Many of the diplomats were reluctant to leave Havana. Tablada said that some of those who hadn’t been sickened received phone calls from their superiors, in which they were told, “You’re sick. You’re leaving.” (The State Department denies this.) According to U.S. officials, the Cuban government has refused to issue visas for most replacements, so staffers are now there on short-term assignment. After the State Department’s presence was diminished, what remained of the C.I.A. station was closed down, on Pompeo’s orders.

In Cuba and in the U.S., the advocates of diplomatic opening are no longer in office. In April, Raúl Castro stepped down as President, and was replaced by Miguel Díaz-Canel, a longtime loyalist. Raúl remains the head of the Communist Party, but Alejandro Castro suffered in the transition. He was not nominated as a deputy in the National Assembly—a prerequisite for the Presidency—and his department at the Interior Ministry was reportedly dissolved. Several former American officials who dealt with him during the normalization say that he is no longer returning their messages. They have heard that he is isolated, appearing rarely in public; in the Cuban expression, he is stuck at home, on plan pijama—the pajama plan. “He worked with us, and it would send a terrible message if he suffered for that because of the shift in U.S. policy,” one official said. A former associate of Fidel Castro suggested a darker possibility: Alejandro could have been fired because he was responsible for the sonic episodes. “Either he ordered them or covered up for those who did—but acting on his own, without his father’s knowledge,” he said. “That is the only possible explanation for Raúl taking action to punish him.”

At the N.S.C., anti-Cuba hard-liners now dominate. In a recent speech, John Bolton, Trump’s national-security adviser, described Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua as a “troika of tyranny,” and promised sanctions. James Williams, who runs the Washington-based advocacy group Engage Cuba, described the crisis as an almost insurmountable obstacle. “Even after Trump won, there was a sense that the Cubans could work with him,” he said. “But since this broke it has been like a cancer that can’t be treated.”

The few American diplomats who still work in Havana now live together in group houses, set back at a cautious distance from the street. In recent weeks, the Embassy has looked deserted, with all the lights turned off at night. The north side of the chancery is cordoned off with yellow police tape, which reads “Do Not Enter.” Some of the walls and windows in the adjoining buildings have gaping holes, evidence of hurricane damage. “Our Embassy is operating on life support,” Leahy said. “It cannot process visas. It cannot conduct effective diplomacy. It cannot engage on human rights. In a time of political and economic transition in Cuba, our Embassy has been sidelined.” Cubans seeking to travel to the U.S. must now apply for a visa in Guyana, two thousand miles away.

Audrey Lee has not seen the Embassy in its diminished state. When the order came for diplomats to withdraw, she was being treated at the University of Pennsylvania; her husband left Havana in such haste that he abandoned their personal belongings. Lee’s balance and orientation gradually improved, and, after four months of treatment, she resumed full-time work earlier this year. But, she said, most of the symptoms have returned. The headaches have grown worse, and she is thinking about retiring early.

Lee still considers Cuba one of her favorite assignments. “We loved our time there,” she said. “It was almost magical.” She understood why the State Department decided to withdraw employees. “We just didn’t know who was going to get hit, when, or why,” she said. At the same time, she was bothered by the implications of the decision: “If this really was a weapon that someone had used against us, how sad it was that we were kind of letting them win.”

Click here to read the original article.

El Nuevo Herald: ¿Traerán los cambios en el Congreso un nuevo acercamiento con Cuba?

En el programa de dos horas de Ninoska Pérez en Radio Mambí, las personas que llamaban no podían dejar de hablar sobre las elecciones de medio término.

Tema Numero Uno: La derrota de dos candidatos cubanoamericanos, una recién llegada a la política y el otro en el cargo, que buscaban representar a los distritos del sur de la Florida en la Cámara de Representantes.

Desde las elecciones del martes, mucho se ha hablado sobre si los comicios parciales podrían cambiar la dinámica de cómo el Congreso vota sobre temas relacionados con Cuba y si continuar con una línea dura con Cuba sigue siendo una estrategia electoral segura en el sur de la Florida.

El representante republicano Carlos Curbelo, quien de manera confiable se unió a otros cubanoamericanos del Congreso en temas sobre Cuba, perdió ante la demócrata Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, nacida en Ecuador; y la demócrata Donna Shalala derrotó a la cubanoamericana María Elvira Salazar.

También se fue una de las voces más apasionadas por una Cuba libre. La representante republicana Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, que respaldó a Salazar, se retira del escaño que ahora tendrá Shalala.

En el otro lado, el senador republicano de Arizona Jeff Flake, quien ha sido un defensor del aumento de los viajes y el comercio con Cuba, se retira. Y también el senador republicano Bob Corker, de Tennessee. Corker, presidente de la Comisión de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado, viajó a Cuba en septiembre y se reunió con Miguel Díaz-Canel, el gobernante de la isla.

Otra dinámica que podría ser un factor en posibles proyectos de ley sobre Cuba es que los demócratas ahora controlan la Cámara de Representantes. Pero los republicanos aumentaron su mayoría en el Senado y el gobierno de Trump, que ya ha dificultado que los estadounidenses viajen y hagan negocios con Cuba, dice que vienen medidas más estrictas.

“El presidente, por supuesto, es el impulsor de la política exterior y el que establece el tono, y está bastante claro qué tono el presidente quiere establecer en Cuba”, dijo William LeoGrande, un profesor universitario estadounidense que se especializa en las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y Cuba.

James Williams, presidente de Engage Cuba, una organización nacional cuyo objetivo es levantar el embargo, cree que la derrota de dos candidatos cubanoamericanos indica que el electorado del sur de la Florida está cambiando.

Nuevas caras

“Nuestra esperanza era que al menos cambiaría un escaño cubanoamericano en la Cámara. Florida fue uno de los pocos lugares donde se habló de Cuba durante las elecciones”, dijo Williams. “Con la salida de Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, realmente cambia la naturaleza de la delegación del sur de la Florida y empiezas a ver nuevas caras”.

James Cason, ex jefe de la Sección de Intereses de los Estados Unidos en La Habana del 2002 al 2005 y ex alcalde de Coral Gables, no cree que las elecciones de medio término sacudan mucho la política actual sobre Cuba, especialmente desde que el demócrata de Nueva Jersey, Bob Menéndez, y el republicano de Texas, Ted Cruz, ganaron sus contiendas en el Senado, y el senador de Florida Marco Rubio, el defensor más abierto del aumento de las sanciones contra Cuba, no fue a reelección.

“Las personas importantes en el tema cubano en el Senado, Menéndez y Cruz, fueron reelegidas y, por supuesto, Marco Rubio seguirá desempeñando un papel importante”, dijo. “Ninguno de esos senadores permitirá que se designe un embajador para la embajada de los Estados Unidos en La Habana”.

Eso significaría que una embajada que ya se redujo drásticamente, después de que más de una docena de diplomáticos estadounidenses sufrieran ataques inexplicables que afectaron su salud, permanecería en manos de un encargado de negocios.

Las fuerzas en contra de un arreglo con la isla también obtendrían un aliado en el gobernador de Florida, Rick Scott, si se une a Rubio en el Senado. Pero el margen de victoria de Scott sobre el senador demócrata Bill Nelson es tan escaso que la votación va a un recuento.

“[Nelson] apoyó la apertura del gobierno de [el ex presidente Barack] Obama hacia Cuba, pero ciertamente no estaba al frente abogando por ello”, dijo Williams. “Scott obviamente hizo de Cuba una gran parte de su campaña”.

Eso fue clave tanto para Scott como para el aparente gobernador electo republicano Ron DeSantis, dijo Marcell Felipe, fundador de la Fundación Inspire America, cuya misión es fomentar la libertad en Cuba y las Américas. [La contienda de gobernador también puede ir a un recuento]. “Estos candidatos motivaron a la comunidad a salir y votar por ellos. Es un nicho de votación que marcó la diferencia en estas elecciones reñidas”, dijo.

Como gobernador, Scott rara vez perdió la oportunidad de criticar al gobierno cubano y su historial de derechos humanos. Cuando funcionarios portuarios de Cuba visitaron el estado en el 2017, dos puertos de la Florida, Port Everglades y Port of Palm Beach, iban a firmar acuerdos de cooperación con la autoridad portuaria de Cuba. Pero Scott descartó los planes diciendo que se opondría a cualquier financiamiento estatal para mejorar la infraestructura portuaria que llevara a una expansión del comercio con Cuba.

“Creo que sus posiciones encajan perfectamente con las de los miembros cubanoamericanos de la Cámara y el Senado”, dijo Pérez.

Rumbo incierto

Cason, como la mayoría de los analistas, dijo que no está seguro cómo se manifestarán Shalala y Mucarsel-Powell con respecto a la política de Cuba, pero dijo que con una reelección dentro de dos años, no se espera que ninguna de las dos “gane nada por actuar como Obama con Cuba, y en esta región podrían perder algo”.

Shalala, ex Secretaria de Salud y Servicios Humanos, ha sido un tanto ambigua con respecto a la política con Cuba.

En el sitio web de su campaña, Shalala dijo que prefiere “la presión sobre los regímenes dictatoriales a través de sanciones y la fuerza diplomática, pero sin castigar a sus ciudadanos ni a los que buscan libertad y oportunidades en Estados Unidos”.

Ric Herrero, director de políticas del Grupo de Estudio Cubano, dijo que cree que la derrota de Salazar y Curbelo sugiere que “usar la retórica de línea dura para persuadir a los votantes realmente no aporta ganancias en el sur de la Florida. Vemos que dos candidatos que lo hicieron, perdieron. Básicamente estás apelando a la gente que iba a votar por ti de todos modos”.

Los funcionarios cubanos también estaban observando las contiendas en Florida. Carlos Fernández de Cossío, jefe del Departamento de Estados Unidos en el Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Cuba, notó las derrotas de Salazar y Curbelo y tuiteó: “Parece que un enfoque agresivo con Cuba ya no obtiene votos”.

Pero lo que quedó demostrado, dijo Felipe, es que para que los candidatos republicanos ganen en Miami, son necesarios tanto los votantes a favor de Trump como aquellos cuya máxima prioridad es una “Cuba libre”. “La política de Cuba sigue siendo la fuerza motriz, aunque viene con el apoyo a Trump. La pregunta es, ¿cuánto caerá el entusiasmo por Trump si la Casa Blanca no cumple la promesa de rechazar todas las regulaciones de Obama con respecto a Cuba?”.

La semana antes de las elecciones, el Asesor de Seguridad Nacional, John Bolton, vino a Miami y pronunció un discurso con mucha retórica encendida contra Cuba, Nicaragua y Venezuela, pero sin detalles sobre la nueva política hacia Cuba. En una entrevista con el Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald, dijo que dentro de unos días habría nuevos nombres en una lista de negocios prohibidos controlados por militares cubanos. Los estadounidenses no pueden realizar transacciones financieras directas con compañías en esa lista.

Hasta el jueves, no se había agregado a nadie a la lista.

Si bien Cuba no fue un factor muy importante en las contiendas más allá de Florida, a menudo se usa como elemento de negociación en el Congreso con otros temas.

Pero con el representante republicano del sur de la Florida Mario Díaz-Balart a punto de convertirse en el único “miembro más activo en el tema de Cuba” en una Cámara controlada por los demócratas, es posible que ya no esté en posición de vincular los viajes a Cuba a los proyectos de ley sobre apropiaciones”, dijo Leo Grande.

Williams dijo que el control demócrata de la Cámara de Representantes “abre las puertas a posibles cambios”.

Sin embargo, Cuba no ha sido un tema claro en la batalla entre demócratas y republicanos. Varios republicanos de estados agrícolas están a favor de medidas que faciliten la venta de productos agrícolas de Estados Unidos a la isla. “La mayor parte del apoyo en temas de agricultura proviene de los distritos muy rojos”, dijo Williams.

Es posible que bajo el liderazgo demócrata en la Cámara de Representantes, se apruebe un proyecto de ley para permitir el financiamiento privado y el crédito para las ventas agrícolas a Cuba, dijo LeoGrande. “Que el Senado lo apruebe también es una pregunta interesante, pero al menos podría haber un debate”.

En un tuit del día de las elecciones sobre el interés de los estados agrícolas por aumentar el comercio con Cuba, Miguel Fraga, un diplomático de la embajada de Cuba en Washington que viaja con frecuencia por todo el país tratando de obtener apoyo para levantar el embargo, dijo: “Las relaciones Estados Unidos-Cuba están bien por ambos lados ”.

Sin embargo, Frank Calzón, director ejecutivo del Centro para una Cuba Libre, dijo que “la política estadounidense hacia Cuba no está determinada por las elecciones estadounidenses o incluso por los votantes cubanoamericanos, sino por las acciones de La Habana. Quieres relaciones normales con Washington, entonces es mejor que te comportes de manera diferente”.

Click here to read the original article.

Politico: 'TROIKA OF TYRANNY’: CUBA TO GET HIT WITH MORE TRADE RESTRICTIONS

National Security Adviser John Bolton said the administration will add more than two dozen new entities to the Cuba restricted list. He announced the move during a speech in Miami on Thursday in which he listed Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as members of the “Troika of Tyranny” among Latin American nations. Bolton provided no detail on which entities would be added to the list.

The additions to the restricted list would come almost a year after the initial list was published. The Trump administration action represented a reversal on some of the Obama administration’s policies that opened up Cuba and allowed U.S. companies more freedom to make certain investments and lifted some travel restrictions. Trump last year rolled back some of those travel policies and barred U.S. companies or people from engaging in transactions with GAESA, the business arm of the Cuban military that controls most of the hotels on the island.

Proponents of a more open Cuba trade policy criticized the addition of more entities to the list: “Expanding this list is another slap in the face to Cuban entrepreneurs, whose restaurants, Airbnbs, and other services have suffered over the past year as American travel and investor confidence have both declined,” James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, said in a statement.

Click here to read the original article.

Cuba Standard: Trump administration tightens sanctions, may allow U.S. lawsuits

In a speech in Miami five days before U.S. mid-term elections, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton announced a tightening of sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela.

Bolton said that more Cuban entities would be added to an existing no-go list and hinted that more restrictions will be forthcoming. Responding to questions after his speech, he also said that the White House is “very seriously” considering allowing thousands of Cuban Americans to sue foreign companies in U.S. courts over their activities in Cuba.

“This is the time to increase pressure,” Bolton said in a question-and-answer session after his speech at the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami, after saying that the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are “more vulnerable than it seems”.

The same day, the United States suffered diplomatic defeat again at the United Nations General Assembly, with 189 votes against those of the United States and Israel supporting a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The General Assembly also rejected nine amendments proposed by the United States that would have condemned Cuba’s human rights record.

Expanding the blacklist, prohibiting indirect payments

Three hours later in Miami, Bolton announced that more than two dozen Cuban entities would be added to the State Department’s “Cuba Restricted List”.

John Kavulich, president of the New York-based U.S.-Cuba Trade and economic Council, wrote in his blog in September that the Trump administration has been preparing an expansion of the blacklist of Cuban entities that are off-limits for financial transactions by U.S. citizens, residents and businesses. The Trump administration first published a no-go list of mostly armed forces-linked entities a year ago. Now, the State Department will be adding more subsidiaries and forbids indirect payments, Kavulich wrote.

The list, targeting armed-forces holding GAESA, will now include “subsidiaries of subsidiaries”. It will also be updated monthly, requiring U.S. companies to dedicate more resources to compliance, Kavulich says.

The rationale behind the measures, he suggests, is to increase uncertainty, put a spotlight on the key role of the military in Cuba’s economy, particularly in tourism, and prod the Cuban government to provide more space to the private sector. Also, Trump has suggested that Cuba is to blame for Venezuela’s problems; the measures are part of an effort to press Cuba over its support for Venezuela.

However, the most immediate tactical consideration is probably securing more Cuban American votes in the upcoming U.S. elections. A day before the Bolton speech, President Donald Trump campaigned in Southwest Florida, and a day after Bolton’s appearance, former President Barack Obama was scheduled to campaign in Miami.

“It’s no surprise that four days before a critical election, the Trump administration has chosen political pandering over sound public policy,” said James Williams, president of pro-normalization group Engage Cuba. “Further squeezing U.S. private-sector activity in Cuba is a gift to our foreign competitors, emboldens the hardliners in the Cuban government, and rewards a dwindling minority of Americans who remain wedded to a failed policy that dates back over 50 years.”

Activating Title III?

Creating a bigger stir among foreign businesspeople and foreign embassies in Havana, the Miami Herald reported on Halloween night before Bolton’s speech that the Trump administration is pondering activation of a clause in the Helms-Burton law that would allow some 6,000 claimants to sue third-country companies in U.S. courts over properties confiscated after the Cuban revolution.

In the question-and-answer session after his speech, Bolton confirmed the Trump administration is “very seriously” considering activating Title III and that it wants to “analyze this issue with fresh eyes”. “I cannot say what will be the result of our analysis,” he added.

According to the Herald, the White House has discussed activating Title III of Helms-Burton — which has been routinely suspened every six months by all U.S. presidents since Bill Clinton due to backlash from close allies — with Sen. Marco Rubio and other pro-embargo Congresspeople.

Title III is the equivalent of a legal nuclear bomb. If activated, Title III, which was most recently suspended by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Aug. 1 for another six months, would open U.S. courts as a venue to sue companies from Spain, Canada, Italy, France, Britain and other close allies over “trafficking” of properties in Cuba that were confiscated after 1959.

Title III also allows naturalized Cuban Americans to file suit against “traffickers”, a move that goes against standards in international law. Including Cuban Americans who were not U.S. citizens when their property was taken could add 75,000-200,000 claims worth tens of billions of dollars.

“U.S. courts would be swamped, the ability of U.S. companies to do business on the island would be crippled, and allies abroad might retaliate for U.S. suits brought against their companies in Cuba,” wrote American University political scientist William M. LeoGrande in a Huffington Postcolumn earlier this year. “The tangle of resulting litigation would take years to unwind.”

Direct salary payments

The Trump administration has also considered forcing U.S. companies to pay Cuban employees directly and in hard currency, instead of paying a Cuban state agency that then pays the employees, according to Kavulich. Cuba does not allow foreign investors to hire Cuban employees directly; while companies can now suggest and pick their candidates, they still have to pay salaries in hard currency to the state agency, which then pays the employees in non-convertible Cuban pesos at a 1:1 exchange rate (1:10 at the Mariel Special Development Zone).

In connection to the “Cuba Restricted List”, the Trump administration granted exemptions to U.S. companies with existing agreements in Cuba, such as hotel operator Marriott, Caterpillar dealer Rimco, and heavy equipment manufacturer John Deere. However, in this case Kavulich believes the U.S. government is trying to force U.S. companies into a showdown with Cuban authorities.

The list of companies that could be affected includes ABC Charters, American Airlines, Carnivael Cruise Lines, Cuba Travel Services, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Rimco, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and United Airlines. Hotel operator Marriott International, which manages a 186-room hotel in Havana with an estimated 300 employees, would probably be most affected by the measure.

Anti-cruise protests

Meanwhile, a group of anti-Cuba activists in Miami that started a media campaign against cruising to Cuba this summer, with support from individuals with claims against Cuba, is preparing a series of protests against cruise lines offering voyages to Cuba.

According to the Breitbart website, a coalition of advocacy groups is planning a “large-scale caravan protest in Miami against cruise corporations choosing to do business with Cuba”. “The groups successfully completed a test run of the caravan protest .. and have planned to launch the full version of the protest during peak tourism season,” an article on the website says, based on an interview with one of the leading activists behind the caravan.

The organizers hope to put togther caravans of “hundreds of cars” and drive them to the Port of Miami, according to Breitbart. At least two individuals with claims argue that cruise ships using docks in Havana and Santiago are “trafficking in stolen American property”.

Talks with the Cuban government over settling the nearly 6,000 claims filed by U.S. entities were begun by the Obama administration, but the Trump administration discontinued them.

Click here to read the original article.

Miami Herald: Makeup of new Congress could create a different dynamic on Cuba policy

On Ninonska Pérez’s two-hour Spanish language program on Radio Mambi, callers couldn’t stop talking about the midterm elections.

Topic Numero Uno: The defeat of two Cuban-American candidates, one a political newcomer and the other an incumbent, who were seeking to represent South Florida districts in the House of Representatives.

Since the Tuesday election, there’s been plenty of chatter about whether the midterms could change the dynamics of how Congress votes on Cuba issues and whether towing a hard line on Cuba is still a sure-fire election strategy in South Florida.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who dependably has joined with other Cuban-American members of Congress on Cuba issues, lost to Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who was born in Ecuador; and Democrat Donna Shalala defeated Cuban American María Elvira Salazar.

Gone, too, will be one of the most passionate voices for a free Cuba. Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who endorsed Salazar, is retiring from the seat that will be held by Shalala.

On the other side of the ledger, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who has been a champion for increased travel and trade with Cuba, is retiring. So is Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who traveled to Cuba in September and met with Miguel Díaz-Canel, the island’s handpicked president.

Another dynamic that could be a factor in potential Cuba bills is that Democrats now control the House of Representatives. But Republicans increased their majority in the Senate and the Trump administration, which has already made it more difficult for Americans to travel to and do business with Cuba, says tougher measures are coming soon.

“The president, of course, is the driver of foreign policy and the one who sets the tone and it’s pretty clear what tone the president wants to sets on Cuba,” said William LeoGrande, an American University professor who specializes in U.S.-Cuba relations.

James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a national organization whose goal is to lift the embargo, thinks the defeat of two Cuban-American candidates signals that the South Florida electorate is changing.

“Coming in, our hope was that at least one Cuban-American House seat would change. Florida was one of the few places where Cuba was actually talked about during the election,” said Williams. “With Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stepping down, it really changes the nature of the South Florida delegation and you’re starting to see new faces.”

James Cason, who served as head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 2002 to 2005 and is a former mayor of Coral Gables, doesn’t think the midterms will shake things up much in terms of current Cuba policy, especially since New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez and Texas Republican Ted Cruz, both won their Senate races and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the most vocal supporter of increased Cuba sanctions, didn’t face reelection.

“The key people in the Senate who were important on the Cuban issue, Menendez and Cruz, were reelected and, of course, Marco Rubio will continue to play an important role,” he said. “None of these senators will allow an ambassador to be appointed for the U.S. Embassy in Havana.”

That would mean an embassy already severely downsized, after more than a dozen American diplomats suffered unexplained health attacks, would remain in the hands of a chargé d’affaires.

Anti-engagement forces also would gain an ally in Florida Gov. Rick Scott if he joins Rubio in the Senate. But Scott’s margin of victory over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is so slight that the vote is going to a recount.

“[Nelson] supported the [former President Barack] Obama administration’s opening toward Cuba, but he certainly wasn’t at the front of the train advocating for it,” said Williams. “Scott obviously made Cuba a big part of his campaign.”

That was key for both Scott and presumed Republican governor-elect Ron DeSantis, said Marcell Felipe, founder of the Inspire America Foundation whose mission is to encourage freedom in Cuba and the Americas. [The gubernatorial race also may be headed for a recount.] “These candidates motivated the community to go out and vote for them. It’s a niche vote that made the difference in these tight elections,” he said.

As governor, Scott seldom missed an opportunity to criticize the Cuban government and its human rights record. When Cuban port officials visited the state in 2017, two Florida ports — Port Everglades and the Port of Palm Beach — planned to sign cooperation pacts with the Cuban port authority. But Scott scuttled those plans by saying he would oppose any state funding for port infrastructure improvements that would result in an expansion of trade with Cuba.

“I think his positions fit right in with those of the Cuban-American members of the House and Senate,” said Pérez.

Cason, like most analysts, said he’s not sure where Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell will come down on Cuba policy, but he said with both facing reelection in two years, they wouldn’t be expected “to gain anything by being more Obama-ish on Cuba and in this region they could lose something.”

Shalala, a former Health and Human Services Secretary, has been somewhat ambiguous on Cuba policy.

On her campaign website, Shalala said she favors “pressure on dictatorial regimes through sanctions and diplomatic strength, but not punishing their citizens or those seeking freedom and opportunity in the United States.”

Ric Herrero, policy director for the Cuban Study Group, said he thinks the defeat of Salazar and Curbelo suggests “using hardline rhetoric in order to persuade voters doesn’t really yield any gains in South Florida. We see that two candidates that did that, fell. You’re basically appealing to people who would vote for you anyhow.”

Cuban officials were watching the Florida races as well. Carlos Fernández de Cossío, who heads the U.S. Department at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, noted the losses of Salazar and Curbelo and tweeted: “It seems that [an] aggressive approach to Cuba doesn’t win votes anymore.”

But what those two races showed, said Felipe, is that for Republican candidates in Miami to win, both pro-Trump voters and the constituency whose top priority is a “Free Cuba” were necessary. “Cuba policy is still the driving force though it is coupled with supporting Trump. The question is, how much enthusiasm for Trump will diminish if the White House doesn’t fulfill the promise to turn back all of the Obama Cuba regulations?”

The week before the election, National Security Adviser John Bolton came to Miami and delivered a speech that had plenty of fiery rhetoric against Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, but it was short on any specifics on new Cuba policy. In an interview with the Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald he said that within days there would be additions to a list of prohibited Cuban-military-controlled businesses. Americans aren’t allow to have any direct financial transactions with listed companies.

As of Thursday, there had been no additions to the list.

While Cuba wasn’t much of a factor in races beyond Florida, it is often used as a bargaining chip in Congress on other issues.

But with South Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart about to become the only “really vocal member on the Cuba issue” in a democratically controlled House, he may no longer be in a position to attach Cuba riders to appropriations bills, said LeoGrande.

Williams said Democratic control of the House “does open things up for potential changes.”

However, Cuba hasn’t been a clear-cut Democratic vs. Republican issue. A number of Republicans from farm states are in favor of measures that would make it easier to sell U.S. agricultural products to the island. “Most of the support on agriculture issues comes from ruby red districts,” said Williams.

It’s possible that under Democratic leadership in the House, a bill on allowing private financing and credit for agricultural sales to Cuba could pass, said LeoGrande. “Whether the Senate would pass it as well is an interesting question, but at least there could be a debate.”

In an Election Day tweet on farm states’ interest in increasing trade with Cuba, Miguel Fraga, a diplomat at the Cuban Embassy in Washington who frequently travels around the country trying to gain support for lifting the embargo, said: “U.S.-Cuba relations are good for both sides.”

However, Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, said that “American policy toward Cuba is not determined by American elections or even by Cuban-American voters but by the actions of Havana. You want normal relations with Washington, then you better behave differently.”

Click here to read the original article.

OnCuba: “La esperanza es que el cambio venga desde el gobierno cubano”

Durante la reciente visita de Díaz-Canel a Nueva York, el presidente cubano ofreció un desayuno a un grupo de empresarios y líderes de negocios estadounidenses y cubano-americanos. El activista estadounidense James Williams fue uno de los invitados al encuentro.

Williams es el presidente de Engage Cuba, la coalición nacional bipartidista más grande de Estados Unidos que trabaja para eliminar el bloqueo a Cuba y normalizar las relaciones entre ambos países.

La organización publicó recientemente un comunicado firmado por más de 60 asociaciones de agricultura, negocios y políticos de 17 estados que apoyaron una enmienda al proyecto de ley agrícola de 2018. La provisión ahorraría al presupuesto del Congreso unos 690 millones de dólares y permitiría el intercambio agrícola con Cuba con menos restricciones.

Williams dijo entonces: “Nuestros agricultores no quieren folletos. Saben que si pueden competir con el resto del mundo, pueden ganar. No hay razón para que el pueblo cubano no coma arroz y productos lácteos estadounidenses en lugar de importarlo desde Vietnam y Nueva Zelanda”.

Ideas como estas nacen de los más de tres años de trabajo con la organización que fundó en 2015 y que ya cuenta con 18 Consejos Estatales, aun en medio del retroceso en las relaciones bilaterales.

“Cuando viajamos a Cuba tuvimos que lidiar con la realidad y ver el impacto de las políticas [de la administración Trump] en el pueblo, más allá de lo que los políticos digan”, explica Williams a OnCuba.

“Seguimos trabajando con el Congreso y con la administración Trump. Es obvio que Cuba no es una prioridad para ellos; pero una de las cosas principales en las que estamos trabajando es en abrir oportunidades para la comunidad de agricultores estadounidenses allí”, dijo.

¿En qué otros proyectos trabaja la coalición Engage Cuba últimamente?

Engage Cuba es una coalición nacional de compañías del sector privado, asociaciones de comercio, grupos de derechos humanos y de la sociedad civil, incluyendo organizaciones cubano-americanas que trabajan juntas para involucrarse con los cubanos.

Mientras los gobiernos no están cooperando y trabajando tan bien como pudiéramos esperar, nuestro trabajo se vuelve más importante que nunca, porque es un hueco que debe ser llenado por la sociedad civil, por la comunidad de negocios, por el sector privado y por las relaciones cubano-americanas, para mantener el diálogo.

Hay diferentes asuntos que nosotros trabajamos a la vez. Uno es en el Congreso, donde continuamos promoviendo la legislación para remover la restricción de viajes a Cuba.

También aspiramos a expandir el comercio en un sentido amplio, como manufactura, energía y otras formas de inversión.

Estamos haciendo mucho. Nos reunimos con legisladores, expertos y líderes en los Estados para buscar más apoyo, y también con compañías interesadas en construir relaciones, vender o invertir en el mercado cubano que necesita esos productos.

Al mismo tiempo estamos tratando de cambiar las reglas y desregular desde la administración de Trump y el Congreso para crear más oportunidades.

Puede que no sea permitido hoy, pero queremos ayudar a que empiece el proceso, construir relaciones con personas en Cuba, entender el mercado…, para cuando las cosas sí cambien, los estadounidenses estén preparados y adelantados.

¿Cuáles han sido las principales diferencias para el trabajo de Engage Cuba durante la administración de Obama y la de Trump?

Obviamente, desde diciembre de 2014 hasta noviembre de 2016 todo se movió muy rápido y fue muy emocionante. Había retos, pero había más velocidad y una cierta euforia de que el cambio era posible.

El cambio y los Estados Unidos estaban yendo a Cuba, lo cual era bueno para todo el mundo. No quiere decir que iba a pasar de la noche a la mañana, pero se sentía de esa manera. Cada día era una nueva y fresca experiencia. Había titulares en la prensa todos los días acerca de Cuba.

Lo que más ha cambiado después de la elección de Trump, fue lo que pasó después de junio, cuando fue a Miami y dio su discurso político acerca de cómo serían las relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos. Hubo mucho retroceso, comparado con lo que hicimos en el pasado.

La esperanza es que el cambio venga desde el gobierno cubano, que trate de ser el jugador magnánimo en esta disputa actual. Yo estoy optimista, pero es obvio que se han creado retos para las personas en Cuba y en Estados Unidos que quieren tener mejores relaciones.

¿Qué expectativas tiene luego del encuentro de empresarios estadounidenses y cubano-americanos con el presidente de Cuba?

Yo creo que es muy prometedor y es una buena señal que el presidente Díaz-Canel haya venido a Nueva York. Que Cuba tenga una presencia como ha tenido por muchos años, que explique su punto de vista. Creo que a pesar de que no estemos de acuerdo, las personas deben tener una posibilidad de debatir y expresarse. Eso es el beneficio de estar en Estados Unidos, donde tenemos una democracia. Ese es el punto principal del intercambio libre de ideas, no tenemos que estar de acuerdo.

Y creo que fue bueno para él como nuevo presidente hiciera una visita pública y que pusiera su impronta personal. Dijo muchas cosas acerca de la continuidad, pero al menos las personas pudieron conocerlo, ya que muchos estadounidenses no lo conocían más allá de una foto.

Tuvimos un desayuno con otros líderes empresarios en Nueva York, y yo creo que fue una buena conversación. No fue una discusión profunda sobre temas económicos complicados, pero fue una reiteración desde la comunidad de negocios y la comunidad cubano-americana para el gobierno cubano de la voluntad de seguir interactuando. Fue en el mejor interés de las dos partes: el pueblo cubano y el pueblo estadounidense.

Fue importante que el jefe de Estado de un país tomara tiempo de su agenda para reunirse con estos líderes y decir unas palabras. Él realmente quería oír a la gente, estaba complacido de conocer lo que las empresas estaban haciendo… Creo que fue prometedor.

¿Qué piensa sobre los sectores que rechazan la interacción con Cuba y la continuidad del diálogo?

Primero que todo les diría que comprendo su dolor y su sentimiento. En la forma en que Engage Cuba fue fundada y en lo que creemos es que todos queremos ver cambios en Cuba. Creo que todo el mundo coincide en eso, incluso políticos de los diferentes partidos.

La pregunta es, ¿qué hacemos como Estados Unidos y como gobierno para facilitar eso? Algunas personas piensan (yo creo que están equivocados) que continuando el embargo, que ya lleva casi 60 años, sin diálogo ni relaciones, ayudaría a traer el cambio. Si estudiamos la historia vemos que llevamos 60 años haciéndolo y no funciona.

No se trata de descartar esas opiniones ni de relegar las preocupaciones que muchos han planteado, sino de que por esas mismas preocupaciones tenemos que hacer algo diferente.

Hay asuntos terribles en Cuba que necesitan ser atendidos. Pero ¿cuál es tu solución como gobierno de Estados Unidos? ¿Qué propones que los Estados Unidos haga? Y la respuesta que recibes es que necesitamos más sanciones, más embargo. Eso lo que hemos hecho por 60 años sin resultados.

Muchos estadounidenses creen que están en el deber de llevar soluciones y libertades a otros países. Mientras tanto el gobierno cubano reclama su derecho a resolver sus problemas sin interferencias extranjeras…

El presidente Trump dio ese discurso ante la ONU donde decía: “No estamos aquí para decirles a todo el mundo qué hacer en sus países” e inmediatamente comenzó a enumerar lo que él pensaba que las personas debían hacer en sus propios países.

Yo personalmente creo que está bien. Estados Unidos cree que tiene una responsabilidad de defender determinados valores e ideales. Y eso no quiere decir que todo el mundo vaya a seguir lo que decimos. Obviamente no lo hacen. China no está siguiendo nuestro ejemplo. Cuba no está siguiendo nuestro ejemplo. Pero creo que es nuestro imperativo moral intentarlo. No quiere decir que siempre estemos en lo correcto, nosotros cometemos muchos errores aquí. Pero creo que es importante que mostremos liderazgo.

Lo que hacemos tiene repercusión para todos alrededor del mundo. Desde la crisis financiera, guerras, diplomacia… Y entiendo que el gobierno cubano está haciendo un buen trabajo en no tomar nuestros consejos. Los cubanos no se cohíben tampoco al decirle a los Estados Unidos qué deberían hacer.

La razón por la que quería fundar Engage Cuba en primer lugar es porque estaba muy frustrado con este debate en las relaciones Cuba-Estado Unidos, donde todo estaba dominado por la extrema izquierda o la extrema derecha. Debería existir una aproximación más moderada, bipartidista, enraizada en los valores americanos, pero también en los intereses nacionales de Estados Unidos y el interés del pueblo cubano.

En Engage Cuba lo que queremos lograr no está exento de controversia. No es siempre bien visto por el gobierno cubano, por la izquierda, o por la derecha. Pero siento que si no levantas vuelo, no vas a lograr nada. Nuestro trabajo no es ser el mejor amigo de nadie, sino hacer algo que creemos es en el mejor interés de todo el mundo.

Las cosas toman tiempo. Somos muy optimistas. Estamos viendo mucho apoyo, sobre todo ahora con las elecciones para la conformación del próximo Congreso estadounidense y creo que se han tomado pasos significativos para mejorar las relaciones con Cuba.

Haga clic aquí para leer el artículo original.

Granma: Bilateral Trade for Agricultural Development / Comercio bilateral para el desarrollo agrícola, una voluntad contra el bloqueo

Prior to Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba, Engage Cuba released a thorough analysis of the advantages that removing trade restrictions would bring to U.S. agriculture. Engage Cuba pointed out that the prohibition on financing farm exports to Cuba caused the U.S. to lose market share in Cuba to the European Union, Brazil, and Argentina. If Congress changed U.S. policy on financing for agricultural exports to the island, U.S. farmers could be more competitive and recapture that lost market share.

———

Días antes de la visita a Cuba de Barack Obama, Engage Cuba, (coalición de negocios privados y organizaciones que trabajan contra el bloqueo a los viajes y al comercio con Cuba), dio a conocer un minucioso análisis de las ventajas que traería un acuerdo comercial entre ambos sectores agrícolas.

Entre otros aspectos, señalaba que el impedimento a los exportadores norteamericanos de ofrecer créditos para las importaciones cubanas hizo que EEUU cayera en su posición de suministrador para Cuba y se ubicara detrás de la Unión Europea, Brasil y Argentina. Engage Cuba señalaba también, que si el Congreso cambiara la política de EE.UU sobre las exportaciones agrícolas hacia la Isla, estas pudieran ser más competitivas y capaces de recapturar las cuotas de mercado perdidas.

Click here to read the original article.

ACN: Meeting with U.S. Members of Congress Shows Will For Dialogue / Encuentro con congresistas de EE.UU., muestra de voluntad de diálogo

The meeting between President Díaz-Canel and U.S. Members of Congress demonstrates the possibility of rapprochement between Cuba and the United States and the lifting of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, despite setbacks under the Trump administration.

Engage Cuba and CubaNow have successfully brought attention to the negative and lasting impacts the U.S. embargo has had on the agricultural and travel sectors. These organizations have garnered the support of decision-makers in the U.S. Congress and within the executive branch.

———

El encuentro de Miguel Díaz-Canel, presidente de los Consejos de Estado y de Ministros, con congresistas norteamericanos, muestra la posibilidad de acercamiento entre Cuba y Estados Unidos, sobre todo en el levantamiento del bloqueo a la nación antillana, a pesar del retroceso en las relaciones impuesto por las medidas de la administración de Donald Trump.

Desde varios sectores políticos estadounidenses se han propuesto iniciativas legales que apuntan a promover el avance de las relaciones bilaterales las potencialidades de la cooperación entre ambos países sobre la base de la igualdad y el respeto mutuo.

Grupos como Engage Cuba y CubaNow han logrado introducir el debate sobre el bloqueo en sectores de la sociedad estadounidense como el agrícola, el cultural y el de negocios e, incluso, trabajaron para conseguir apoyo en las ramas ejecutiva y legislativa del gobierno, tanto a nivel federal como estadual.

Click here to read the original article.