Cuba rejects ‘arbitrary’ U.S. regulations on travel, trade

President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Cuba regulations went into effect Thursday. But despite this and the U.S. State Department’s decision to discourage Americans from traveling to the island, Sande Speck was exploring Old Havana with a group. 

Speck, a tourist from Minnesota, was visiting the Communist island for the first time. She doesn’t support the U.S. embargo or Trump’s rollback of former President Barack Obama’s policy of re-engagement. 

“I don’t think you leave people out of being part of the world,” Speck said. “And to include, means you need to allow the rest of us to learn about Cuba.”

Trump announced new sanctions in June, and the Treasury Department warned Wednesday that they would be a partial reversal of former President Barack Obama’s policy. Trump wants to insulate economic activity away from the Cuban military without completely getting rid of U.S. engagement.  

Dani Perez, an American tour guide working in Havana, said he was relieved. He is based out of California and travels frequently to the island. He co-founded the American Tour Operators, an organization representing more than 50 American companies in Cuba. 

“Fortunately the door is not completely shut,” Perez said. “We’re hopeful that Americans will continue to come and we’re happy that we can still operate.”

The Cuban government is calling the latest regulations arbitrary and a setback for U.S.-Cuba relations. Josefina Vidal, the top Cuban diplomat for North America, said she has heard “the old speech” before. 

Vidal said Trump’s new measures are meant to put “pressure on the Cuban government to change. Has it happened in the past?”

Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters that he wants the list to be longer and include the Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan. He believes there are more entities controlled by the military, intelligence, or security services or personnel that should have been in the list of forbidden business partnerships. The State Department plans to update the list and will enforce it on a case-by-case basis.

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After ‘sonic attack’ disruption, Cubans wait for U.S. embassy services in Havana

Near the Malecon in Havana, dozens of Cubans wait for news from the U.S. Embassy. Carmina Garcia said she has been waiting for about a year to be reunited with her family in the U.S. 

She said she can’t wait to see her daughter and grandchildren who live in Miami-Dade County. A couple of Cubans who work at the U.S. Embassy told Garcia and others waiting that every process was canceled Sept. 29, and only Cubans picking up their Visas were allowed inside. 

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, will be helping to process Cubans’ applications, and there won’t be any refunds.  In a country where $25 is the average monthly salary, losing a $160 processing fee can be painful. 

“I will have to keep up with the news,” Garcia said. 

The disruption of activities started after reports that a “sonic attack” had injured 22 U.S. Citizens in Havana. The sound was sort of like a mass of crickets. A high-pitched whine, but from what? It seems to undulate, even writhe. Listen closely: There are multiple, distinct tones that sound to some like they’re colliding in a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect.

The Associated Press has obtained a recording of what some U.S. Embassy workers heard in Havana in a series of unnerving incidents later deemed to be deliberate attacks. The recording, released Thursday by the AP, is the first disseminated publicly of the many taken in Cuba of mysterious sounds that led investigators initially to suspect a sonic weapon.

The recordings themselves are not believed to be dangerous to those who listen. Sound experts and physicians say they know of no sound that can cause physical damage when played for short durations at normal levels through standard equipment like a cellphone or computer.

What device produced the original sound remains unknown. Americans affected in Havana reported the sounds hit them at extreme volumes.

Whether there’s a direct relationship between the sound and the physical damage suffered by the victims is also unclear. The U.S. says that in general the attacks caused hearing, cognitive, visual, balance, sleep and other problems.

The recordings from Havana have been sent for analysis to the U.S. Navy, which has advanced capabilities for analyzing acoustic signals, and to the intelligence services, the AP has learned. But the recordings have not significantly advanced U.S. knowledge about what is harming diplomats.

The Navy did not respond to requests for comment on the recording. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert wouldn’t comment on the tape’s authenticity.

Cuba has denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. The U.S. hasn’t blamed anyone and says it still doesn’t know what or who is responsible. But the government has faulted President Raul Castro’s government for failing to protect American personnel, and Nauert said Thursday that Cuba “may have more information than we are aware of right now.”

“We believe that the Cuban government could stop the attacks on our diplomats,” said White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Not all Americans injured in Cuba heard sounds. Of those who did, it’s not clear they heard precisely the same thing.

Yet the AP has reviewed several recordings from Havana taken under different circumstances, and all have variations of the same high-pitched sound. Individuals who have heard the noise in Havana confirm the recordings are generally consistent with what they heard.

“That’s the sound,” one of them said.

The recording being released by the AP has been digitally enhanced to increase volume and reduce background noise, but has not been otherwise altered.

The sound seemed to manifest in pulses of varying lengths — seven seconds, 12 seconds, two seconds — with some sustained periods of several minutes or more. Then there would be silence for a second, or 13 seconds, or four seconds, before the sound abruptly started again.

A closer examination of one recording reveals it’s not just a single sound. Roughly 20 or more different frequencies, or pitches, are embedded in it, the AP discovered using a spectrum analyzer, which measures a signal’s frequency and amplitude.

To the ear, the multiple frequencies can sound a bit like dissonant keys on a piano being struck all at once. Plotted on a graph, the Havana sound forms a series of “peaks” that jump up from a baseline, like spikes or fingers on a hand.

“There are about 20 peaks, and they seem to be equally spaced. All these peaks correspond to a different frequency,” said Kausik Sarkar, an acoustics expert and engineering professor at The George Washington University who reviewed the recording with the AP.

Those frequencies might be only part of the picture. Conventional recording devices and tools to measure sound may not pick up very high or low frequencies, such as those above or below what the human ear can hear. Investigators have explored whether infrasound or ultrasound might be at play in the Havana attacks.

The recordings have been played for workers at the U.S. Embassy to teach them what to listen for, said several individuals with knowledge of the situation in Havana. Some embassy employees have also been given recording devices to turn on if they hear the sounds. The individuals weren’t authorized to discuss the situation publicly and demanded anonymity.

Cuban officials wouldn’t say whether the U.S. has shared the recordings with Cuba’s government.

Another big question remains: Even if you know you’re under attack, what do you do? Still dumbfounded by what’s causing this, the United States has been at a loss to offer advice.

The embassy’s security officials have told staff if they believe they’re being attacked, they should get up and move to a different location, because the attack is unlikely to be able to follow them, the commenting individuals said. The AP reported last month that some people experienced attacks or heard sounds that were narrowly confined to a room or parts of a room.

The State Department has said 22 Americans are “medically confirmed” to be affected and that the number could grow. The symptoms and circumstances reported have varied widely, making some hard to tie conclusively to the attacks. The incidents began last year and are considered “ongoing,” with an attack reported as recently as late August.

Cuba has defended its “exhaustive and priority” response, emphasizing its eagerness to assist the U.S. investigation. Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story but have complained in the past that Washington refuses to share information they say they need to fully investigate, such as medical records, technical data and timely notification of attacks.

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Lederman reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jake Pearson in New York and Matthew Lee, Robert Burns, Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed.

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the sounds as being between 7,000 kHz and 8,000 kHz. That sentence has been deleted.

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Cubans are still working to recover from Hurricane Irma

About a month ago, Hurricane Irma devastated the central part of Cuba. It also impacted the small fishing village of Cojimar, east of Havana. 

It was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite places. The seaside allure that the author loved was also it’s downfall in the wake of the hurricane’s outer bands. The water damage is still visible throughout Juan Manuel Doncel’s home. 

“All of these homes had barriers, but the ocean ripped them out,” Doncel said. 

The government, he said, is working on building new ones. The powerful ocean took over his home during the storm and destroyed much on the way.

Doncel said the socialist government was selling items for lower prices. He said he bought two small mattresses, an electrical stove, a coffee maker and several pots and pans. 

“It’s something, but it is not enough,” Doncel said. 

Some have criticized the government for selling goods to storm ravaged victims instead of just giving it to them. Doncel said that in two decades, he had never seen a storm so destructive. And although the ocean remains a threat, he can’t picture himself living anywhere else. 
 

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Hurricane Irma devastates areas of Cuba, kills at least 10

After Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in Cuba, officials were working to deliver aid to the areas in need Monday afternoon. Authorities estimate the Category 5 storm killed at least 10 in the northern coast of the island.

Authorities report issuing mandatory evacuations for about 1 million Cubans nationwide. Many were still unable to return to their homes. 

Reporters working for the government’s media reported most of the storm’s victims were in Havana. The powerful storm surge flooded central residential neighborhoods along the coast of the island’s capital Saturday. 

“This was the worst of the storms I have been through, and the sea rose much higher,” said Hector Pulpito, who was working as a custodian at a parking lot in the Vedado neighborhood. “The trees were shaking. Metal roofs went flying.”

The worst seawater flooding — about one-third of a mile inland — was between the Almendares River and the harbor. 

The Communist island’s tourism industry also suffered. Several hotels were damaged in the northern keys off Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces. 

Granma, the government’s newspaper, reported Irma’s wind gusts destroyed the Jardines del Rey Airport.

The victims’ identities 

Osvaldo Abreu Barroso, 71, was electrocuted while trying to remove the TV antena. He died in the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality in Havana. 

Alberto Francisco Flores Garcia, 77, a pole collapsed and hit him. He was walking along the Egido Street in Havana when he died. 

Maria del Carmen Arregoitia Cardona, 27, died when a balcony collapsed and fell over the bus traveling in Havana. She was from the municipality of Bauta in the province of Artemisa.

Yolendis Castillo Martinez, 27, died when a balcony collapsed and fell over the bus traveling in Havana. She was from Santiago de cuba. 

Roydis Valdes Perez, 54, and his brother Walfrido Antonio Valdes Perez, 51, died when a building collapsed in Havana. 

Nieves Martinez Burgaleta, 89, drowned in the storm surge. Her body was found floating in front of her home in Havana. 

Alberto Manzano Martinez, 65, died when his home collapsed after he refused to evacuate from his home in Matanzas. 

Orlando Torres Cruz, 53, died when a home collapsed after he refused to evacuate in Ciego de Avila. 

Edilberto Cabrera Rodriguez, 64, died when a home collapsed after he refused to evacuate in Camaguey. 

This is a developing story. Refresh this link for the latest information. 

 

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Cuban artist faces threat of prison if he doesn’t remove all of his work

Yulier Rodriguez Perez was born in Florida. Not the state in the U.S. He is from Cuba’s Florida, a municipality in the province of Camaguey.

Getting spray paint and materials isn’t easy for graffiti writers working on the Communist island. Despite the challenges, the 27-year-old abstractionist said he has painted at least 200 walls in Havana since he moved there about three years ago. 

His deformed creatures are hard to miss. In one small wall, a thin layer of ruby red paint surrounds the charcoal drawing of a shouting head. In another, blue and red blend into purple, as two floating figures reach out for each other. 

“I think that graffiti is an artistic work,” said Rodriguez, better known as artist Yulier P. 

While in the U.S. walls with high visibility are an advertising gold mine, in Cuba the walls with visibility are reserved for the government’s propaganda. Rodriguez defied the norm. Authorities kicked him out of his art studio. He was arrested Aug. 17 and he was released on the evening of Aug. 18.

For graffiti writers worldwide, the boundary between being a vandal and an artist is not clearly defined. Rodriguez said he is an artist who has been beautifying crumbling walls. The Cuban government disagrees and ordered him to cover all of his 200 paintings in Havana by Friday as a condition for his release.

Rodriguez’s supporters believe Cuban authorities set him up for failure with an impossible task. His troubles began after an interview with 14 y Medio last year. The website is part of a wave of illegal independent media critical of the government.

“My pictures are like fables, a portrait of people’s experiences … we are souls in a purgatory called Cuba,” Rodriguez said during the 14 y Medio interview.

Cuban activist Yoani Sanchez, who has also been the subject of censorship and harassment, started the news site in 2014. 

Rodriguez claims Cuban authorities also harassed him and intimidated him after he came back from an exhibit in New York in July. He visited the Museum of Modern Art and he left his mark on a corner in Brooklyn. It was a black and white piece of unnatural figures connecting like Salvador Dali’s “Premonition of Civil War.” 

Rodriguez fears authorities are getting ready to move from a penalty over vandalism to a criminal charge of “dangerousness.” It’s a criminal charge designed to punish someone’s potential for crime. Critics of the law say it is used to limit freedom of expression. 

The news of Rodriguez’s arrest was disturbing to Danilo Maldonado, a 34-year-old Cuban artist known as  El Sexto. He moved to Miami in January after he was imprisoned over his political graffiti after the death of Fidel Castro. It wasn’t his first time in prison.

Maldonado and Rodriguez are among the new wave of Cuban artists who belong to the lowbrow art movement, which has deep roots in New York’s and Los Angeles’ hip-hop and punk cultures. Supporters believe graffiti needs to be decriminalized worldwide as a form of expression on decrepit and abandoned urban areas.

Amnesty International has been following Rodriguez’s case and also followed Maldonado’s case when he was in prison.

 

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