"Sonic attacks" on US embassy in Cuba may actually have been insecticide poisoning

Since 2016, American and Canadian diplomats at an embassy in Havana, Cuba have suffered neurological problems thought to have been caused by mysterious "acoustic attacks" from some sort of sonic weapon. While several theories have been posited about the cause of the so-called Havana Syndrome, a new scientific study suggests that the sickness may be related to insecticides used in Cuba to combat mosquitos and stop the spread of the Zika virus. From CNN:

Testing on 26 Canadian diplomats in the period from August 2018 to February 2019 raised the possibility of "overexposure to cholinesterase inhibitors," possibly through insecticides. Cholinesterase is an enzyme required for the proper functioning of the nervous systems.

"While the source of exposure to toxins of the cholinesterase inhibitor family is not yet confirmed in our study, the use of insecticides readily and evidentially suggests itself," the study said. "Importantly, certain chemical classes of pesticides, such as organophosphates and carbamates, work against insects by inhibiting the action of cholinesterase, but can also be poisonous to humans....

The US Environmental Protection Agency canceled the use of Temephos in the United States in 2011, but the chemical is still used in Cuba and in some other countries.

The researchers wrote that, at the time, Cuba had well-documented efforts underway to stop the spread of the Zika virus, including mass indoor and outdoor fumigations. Embassy records also confirmed an increase in the number of times people sprayed for mosquitoes at the Canadian office and at staff homes in January 2017, which coincided with the time when people were reporting symptoms.

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Bolton unveils extreme foreign policy changes in Central & South America days after autocrat Bolsonaro takes power in Brazil

Hey you know what happens when a superpower declares that it's going to take steps that will allow it to dictate the internal policies of other nations?

I'll give you a hint: nothing good. Read the rest

Discover the joy of watching a guitarist hear Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time

It's easy to undervalue how much joy music can bring into a life.

Rafael is a guitarist from Guantanamo, Cuba. He doesn't have reliable access to the Internet, so a lot of the music that we take for granted has never made it into his ears. In this video, posted to YouTube by ATKFW, Rafael is encountering Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time. Even with the video's poor lighting, there's no hiding the joy on his face or in his response to the music.

The little kid he's hanging out with seems pretty stoked too. Read the rest

So It Is: a Cuban-inspired album from the astounding Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Announced today: So It Is, a new album of Cuban-inspired jazz from the monumentally amazing Preservation Hall Jazz Band (previously), due out on April 21. Available today: Santiago, an instrumental track from the album that will MAKE YOU DANCE. Read the rest

Fidel Castro, former Cuban president, is dead at 90

Fidel Castro, the former president of Cuba and leader of the Caribbean nation's Communist revolution, has died, state TV announced tonight. He was 90. His brother Raúl Castro, who is the current President of Cuba, announced Fidel's death on state television tonight.

"The historical leader of the Cuban Revolution died on the night of Friday, November 25, at 22:29 hrs., and his remains will be cremated, in accordance with his will," said the Cuban president.


Fidel Castro ruled Cuba as a one-party state for almost half a century before handing over the powers to his brother Raul in 2008. His supporters praised him as a man who had given Cuba back to the people. But his opponents accused him of brutally suppressing opposition.

The funeral details for Fidel will be announced in the coming hours, said Raúl. Fidel was last seen on November 15, when President Tran Dai Quang of Vietnam visited the longtime Cuban leader's residence.

[El País] Read the rest

Castro's Cuba – 50 years later, the island nation is still Castro country

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Castro's Cuba: An American Journalist's Inside Look at Cuba 1959-1969

by Lee Lockwood


2016, 360 pages, 10.3 x 13.6 x 1.4 inches (hardcover)

$45 Buy a copy on Amazon

Right now, Cuba is red hot, hotter even than when Ry Cooder introduced most of the world to the Buena Vista Social Club almost 20 years ago. Thanks to the normalization of relations between the United States and the Caribbean island nation, American tourists will soon have a new place to drink alcohol, lie in the sun, and complain about their ceviche – regular flights between the U.S. and Cuba begin at the end of August.

Despite the diplomatic thaw, though, Cuba is still Castro country. Fidel, who just turned, 90, may be out of the picture, but his younger brother, Raul (age 85), remains firmly in control. Which makes the new Taschen reprint and expansion of photojournalist Lee Lockwood’s 1967 Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel so timely. The new 7 ½-pound, 360-page version – simplified to Castro’s Cuba — expands greatly on the original, supplementing the original 100 black-and-white photos with hundreds of color shots, a pair of essays by the late Castro documentarian Saul Landau, and, as usual with Taschen, high-production values.

Style, though, is not the book’s primary virtue. Its heart revolves around lengthy interviews Lockwood conducted with Fidel Castro in 1965, in which the revolutionary leader spelled out his vision for his country — from its agriculture to its education system to its arts. Read the rest

What's inside a fake Cuban cigar?

"Oh my God, this thing stinks," says Cigar Obsession's Bryan Glynn.

The wrapper is decent and the bands real, but it smells like a wet campfire and is constructed like a wet paper towel. Then you get to see what's inside it... Read the rest

Cuba's free med schools are the meritocratic institutions that America's private system can't match

The median parental income of the parents of new med school students in America is $100,000 -- twice the national average. In Cuba, America's brilliant, working class med students pay nothing -- free tuition, lodging and meals -- and they come home to America and provide front-line medical services to families who are frozen out of the US system, in which debt-saddled doctors opt for lucrative specialties instead of family medicine. Read the rest

A brief visit to Cuba

As the illegality of visiting the island slips into history, I thought I'd enjoy it before everything changes

Molly Crabapple goes to Guantanamo Bay

Artist Molly Crabapple visited Guantanamo Bay and documented the bizarre conditions in which men cleared of all crimes are held without charge at a cost of millions, forever, in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Crabapple documents the boondoggle that is Gitmo with admirable clarity, and her illustrations are especially poignant.

Afghans sold Nabil to Afghan forces from his hospital bed. Injured and terrified, he huddled together with five other men in the underground cell of a prison in Kabul. Interrogators whipped him. The screams of the tortured kept him awake at night. According to a statement filed by Clive Clifford Smith, Nabil’s lawyer at the time, “Someone—either an interpreter or another prisoner—whispered to him, ‘Just say you are al Qaeda and they will stop beating you.’”

At Bagram, Americans held Nabil naked in an aircraft hanger that was so cold he thought he’d die of exposure, while military personal in warm coats sipped hot chocolate. When Nabil tried to recant confessions he’d made under torture, the soldiers just beat him more, according to a statement filed by Clifford Smith. Finally, the military transferred Nabil to Kandahar, and then to Guantánamo Bay.

Nabil arrived at Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray in February 2002. With its watchtowers, clapboard interrogation huts, and rings of barbed wire, X-Ray looks nothing but surreal—a concentration camp on the Caribbean. For the four months it took the JTF to build permanent prisons, Nabil lived in a metal cage under the burning Cuban sun. For hygiene, he had one bucket for water and another for shit.

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US charges citizen with $6,500 fine for visiting Cuba

Zachary Sanders, 38, traveled to Cuba as an unauthorized tourist 14 years ago. He was 23, and had been teaching English in Mexico. He decided to travel to Cuba for a couple of weeks in 1998. "I wanted to learn about how a socialist country worked in practice," Sanders says. "I had no illusions. ... I'm not like some diehard supporter of the (Cuban) government or anything like that." The U.S. Treasury Department penalized him for not having filled out the proper forms, and a long-running legal battle ensued. Today, Sanders reached a settlement with the government: he must pay $6,500 for his mistake. Read the rest

Cuban Pete, an appreciation

My daughter and I share a trick memory for lyrics. Part of our bed-time ritual is singing three songs -- two "new" songs (that she hasn't heard before) and one "old" one (from a previous night). It's really challenging to come up with two new songs whose lyrics I can remember (or fake) well enough every night. Last night, I found myself singing Desi Arnaz's "Cuban Pete," as performed on I Love Lucy, and we both agreed that it was a keeper, particularly for the "chick-chicky-boom" refrain (not to be confused with the likewise excellent and legendary "CHICA CHICA BOOM CHIC" refrain from Carmen Miranda). YouTube being the collective memory of a large slice of the species, it naturally has a clip of Desi and Lucy performing "Cuban Pete" from the 1951 I Love Lucy episode, "The Diet."

Cuban Pete Read the rest

CUBATV: photos of Cuban televisions and environs

Back in 2006, I blogged about photographer Simone Lueck's gallery of photos of TV in Cuban families' homes. She's since gotten a deal to print the photos in a handsome volume, recently out from Mark Batty: "In Cuba, television is the most important communication medium and a national pastime. No matter that the TV sets themselves are outdated, pre-revolution relics imported from America or sets from Russia over fifteen years old; green-hued beasts jimmy-rigged with ancient computer parts and fantastically adorned like religious altars."

Cuba TV: Dos Canales

CubaTV (online gallery) Read the rest