Colombia, Cuba, and the defiant hypocrisy of Marco Rubio

People take part in a new protest against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque, in Cali, Colombia, on May 19, 2021.
People take part in a new protest against the government of Colombian President Ivan Duque, in Cali, Colombia, on May 19, 2021.

  • In April, protests began in Colombia over the government’s handling of the economy and COVID-19.
  • The government responded by branding protesters terrorists and blaming foreign powers.
  • That argument is now being deployed by the authorities in Cuba. But the reaction is different.
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In Cuba, recent weeks have seen thousands of people join the largest protests in decades to voice their displeasure at the government’s handling of the economy and the pandemic.

Months earlier, thousands of people did the same in Colombia.

One is governed by an elected, center-right government that is a staunch ally of the United States; the other is a one-party state subject to an array of sanctions from Washington. While the grievances might be similar, to some it is the relationship with America that makes all the difference.

Take Sen. Marco Rubio. When it comes to Cuba, the Florida Republican has been eager to show that he is the “human rights champion” that USA Today dubbed him in 2017. On Twitter, he has shared video after video of protesters and changed his avatar to a raised fist reminiscent of the one used by Black Lives Matter activists.

“The Cuban regime has already killed protestors,” he wrote. “And they will not hesitate to murder thousands if it means staying in power.”

Rubio has also appeared on Fox News to mischaracterize the Biden administration’s response to the protests in Cuba. “I don’t know why it’s so hard for them to criticize Marxists,” he told Sean Hannity. (Earlier in the day, he had sent a letter thanking President Joe Biden “for recognizing these heroic protests as a ‘clarion call of freedom.'”)

Havana’s response, meanwhile, has been to blame the foreigners for somehow persuading thousands of Cubans to take to the streets, all while reducing the masses of protesters to examples of the most violent among them.

In that, Cuban authorities are no different from their counterparts in Colombia. Or, for that matter, Marco Rubio.

“Behind much of the violence occurring in #Colombia this week is an orchestrated effort to destabilize a democratically elected government by left wing narco guerrilla movements & their international marxist allies,” Rubio tweeted in May. In doing so, he reduced tens of thousands of protesters to pawns of terrorists and foreign provocateurs – for which there is no evidence – all the while sounding no different than any embattled regime apparatchik.

Rubio followed up by introducing a Senate resolution to express “solidarity,” not with protesters being attacked by security forces and pro-government vigilantes but with their government, which he said “must use all tools available” to “restore stability.” That which he omitted sent as clear a message as what he said.

By that point, at least four dozen people had already been killed by security forces, with hundreds more detained. Dozens have simply gone missing. This, over protests that began over a tax hike, no less, before broadening to express a general dissatisfaction with the political class and its handling of the economy.

The right is not alone in hypocrisy, to be sure. A contingent on the left has gone beyond condemning the US embargo to expressing solidarity with the government in Havana. After condemning state violence in Colombia, some members of the Democratic Socialists of America, breaking with the democratic socialists who have won elections, amplified regime propaganda that protesters are “traitors.” (Among those detained in Cuba are communists and socialists.)

Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, told Insider there’s an “obvious double standard” when it comes to how some respond to state violence. In Cuba and Colombia, authorities “have both zoomed in on the tiny minority of ‘vandals’ on the margins” to “justify crackdowns.”

The playbook, whether capitalist or communist, tends to be the same in the face of popular unrest.

“When the Cuban government does that, we should all condemn it,” Isacson said. “But the condemnation comes across as weaker and less credible if the person doing the condemning was echoing the Colombian government’s stigmatizations and justifications just a few weeks ago.”

Rubio, for his part, insists there is no comparing the respective crackdowns, telling Insider it is a “pathetic and ridiculous comparison.”

“The democratically elected leaders of Colombia did not go on national television and encourage violence,” he said, or “call people to violence. They did not order the systematic arrest, torture or murder of protestors, and they did not shut off access to the internet.”

It is of course true that no two countries are exactly alike. But the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which Rubio cited this past week when discussing Cuban human-rights abuses, did find that Colombian security forces engaged in numerous abuses themselves, a report detailing allegations of sexual violence, forced disappearances, and attacks on journalists and medical workers.

“The commission confirmed that, repeatedly and in various regions of the country, the response of the state was characterized by excessive and disproportionate use of force,” IACHR President Antonia Urrejola said. It also criticized Colombian President Iván Duque’s government for criminalizing a form of protest – blocking traffic – that is popular not just in his country, but also in Florida among those who oppose the Cuban regime.

In the face of American hypocrisy, left or right, it is tempting to suggest the embrace of silence instead – for everyone to, please, just shut up. But keeping quiet is just another way of staying complicit. To stand up for justice, it is necessary to insist on it everywhere.

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Miami’s mayor says the US should consider air strikes against Cuba

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez

  • Miami’s Republican mayor said the US should consider taking military action against Cuba.
  • His comments came as Cuba saw mass anti-government protests this week.
  • The US has a poor track record when it comes to military operations against the Communist regime.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on Tuesday suggested that the US should explore the option of air strikes against Cuba.

“What should be contemplated right now is a coalition of potential military action in Cuba,” Suarez, a Republican, said in comments on Fox News. Suarez, whose father was born in Cuba and was formerly mayor of Miami, pointed to US interventions in Panama and Kosovo as potential models to follow.

When asked if he was calling for air strikes in Cuba, Suarez said, “What I’m suggesting is that option is one that has to be explored, and one that cannot be just simply discarded.”

Between the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and CIA-supported assassination attempts on Fidel Castro, the US has a poor track record when it comes to mounting successful military or covert operations against Cuba’s Communist government.

Suarez’s remarks came after Cuba on Sunday saw the largest anti-government protests in years, with thousands demonstrating against a lack of freedoms and a growing economic crisis under Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and the Communist regime. South Florida has the largest population of Cuban Americans in the country, and Miami in recent days has seen demonstrations in solidarity with the anti-government protestors in Cuba.

President Joe Biden on Monday said the US fully supports the protestors, but his administration is facing pressure on both sides of the aisle to do more.

While Republicans urge Biden to take a more hardline stance against Cuba’s authoritarian government, a number of Democrats have called on the president to lift the decades-old trade embargo and rescind Trump-era sanctions and restrictions that have contributed to medicine and food shortages in the island nation.

Former President Donald Trump reversed the Obama administration’s efforts to open up diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba, tightening the embargo that has been the centerpiece of US policy for six decades.

Suarez on Tuesday defended the embargo, saying: “I don’t think the embargo is cruel at all. I think the Cuban people aren’t asking for a lifting of the embargo. They’re going out on the streets every single day talking about the failure of the communist regime to provide for its people … It has failed for six decades.”

Critics of the US embargo on Cuba contend that it’s failed to foster democratic changes, hurts the Cuban people, and has for years served as a convenient scapegoat for the failings of the Communist government.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama called on Congress to lift the embargo.

“It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people,” Obama said during a visit to Havana. “It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba. It’s time to lift the embargo.”

But Biden’s policy toward Cuba so far has been cautious, and has effectively marked a continuing of Trump’s approach to the island nation.

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US officials fear an NSC official falling sick by the White House is the same ‘Havana syndrome’ that struck in Cuba and China, CNN reports

the white house ellipse
The White House viewed from the Ellipse in Washington DC, December 20, 2020.

  • A NSC member’s unusual illness is being looked into as a possible case of “Havana syndrome, CNN reported.
  • The term refers to unexplained symptoms first noticed in the US Embassy in Cuba.
  • Its causes are unclear. Some have suggested they are caused by a new kind of weapon.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A a National Security Council official falling sick yards from the White House is being connected to similar instances that have affected US officials in Cuba and China, according to CNN.

The network reported that the NSC official – who was not named – fell ill in November 2020 on the Ellipse, a large lawn to the south of the White House.

CNN cited unnamed official sources for its report.

It is one of two incidents on US soil that are being looked at as potential cases of “Havana syndrome” – a mysterious set of unexplained symptoms that have suddenly struck US officials in Cuba and China since 2016.

The issue has worried the US government for years, but has usually been reported abroad. Sources told CNN that the fact that two suspected cases have taken place domestically is has worried them.

The second US incident concerned a White House staffer who was walking her dog in Virginia in 2019, when she heard a high-pitched noise in her ears that was followed by an intense headache, according to GQ.

Very little is known for sure about the phenomenon, and investigators are treating these two instances only as suspected cases.

The phenomenon was first reported by a diplomat at the US embassy in Cuba, who heard a loud, piercing sound in one ear that was followed by a loss of balance and nausea, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences in December.

After this, three CIA officers based in the same embassy building experienced similar sensations. Other symptoms include pain in both ears, dizziness, tinnitus, vertigo, and difficulty thinking.

The National Academies of Sciences report found that 40 State Department staff in Cuba and China had experienced similar and lasting symptoms, as Axios reported.

The cause is not agreed on, but the CIA, the State Department and most recently the Pentagon have launched investigations into it, according to CNN.

Lawmakers on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees were briefed on the issue earlier in April, the network said.

There have been multiple explanations offered for the syndrome, including a form of mass psychogenic illness or even – as some researchers have noted – that the piercing sound closely matches that of a cricket.

An early explanation was that it was the impact of some sort of sonic weapon, but the National Academies of Sciences study said in December the most likely explanation was the use of high-frequency microwaves. The report also noted that Russia has conducted significant amounts of research into the technology.

President Donald Trump blasted Cuba in an address in the Rose Garden in 2017, accusing the country of “sonic attacks.” Cuban officials called his accusations “science fiction” in response, Reuters reported.

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Cuba’s Raul Castro is stepping down, ending more than half a century of Castro rule over the island

Raul and Fidel Castro
Raul and Fidel Castro in May 1978.

  • Raul Castro is set to step down as the head of the Communist Party of Cuba.
  • This will mark an end to over 60 years of Castro rule over Cuba.
  • President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Castro’s protege, is set to become the new leader.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Raul Castro is poised to step down as the head of the Communist Party of Cuba at its congress this week, ending six decades of Castro rule over the island.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Castro’s protege, is set to take over as the next party secretary-general – the most powerful position in the country.

Though the change in leadership will not necessarily lead to drastic shifts in policy in Cuba, it’s still a historic moment for the country. Castro, 89, took over after his brother, Fidel Castro, died six years ago. The Castros have been in power since the 1959 communist revolution.

Castro is also stepping down with Cuba’s economy in historically bad shape – it shrank 11% in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some experts believe Castro’s retirement could help bring about economic reform.

“What is happening now is a new generation is consolidating control,” Arturo López-Levy, a professor at Holy Names University in California, told NBC News. “Now they will be forced to make important reforms, because their legitimacy doesn’t come from a revolutionary background, but from being capable of showing better performance.”

It’s also unclear whether the new leadership will lead to changes in US policy toward Cuba under President Joe Biden. Since the 1960s, the US has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba and many Republicans in Congress vehemently oppose any restoration of ties with the Cuban government.

When Biden was vice president, then-President Barack Obama moved toward normalizing relations with Cuba, restoring diplomatic ties, easing restrictions on remittances and travel, and expanding commercial ties. Obama made a historic trip to Cuba in 2016, delivering a speech in which he called on both countries to continue the normalization process. Obama supported lifting the decades-old embargo and urged Congress to do so, declaring during his speech in Havana that it’s “an outdated burden on the Cuban people.”

But former President Donald Trump moved to roll-back Obama’s Cuba thaw, reimposing harsh restrictions on travel and commerce while slapping severe sanctions on Cuba.

Biden during his campaign pledged to reverse Trump’s Cuba policies, but there’s been little to no movement on that front so far.

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Twin sisters started cigar company with only a $500 investment – and now they’re shipping nationwide

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  • Yvette and Yvonne Rodriguez started their own cigar brand, Tres Lindas Cubanas, with just a $500 investment. 
  • The company now ships its cigars nationwide. 
  • The twin sisters have since fought against stereotypes, showing how Afro-Cuban women can be knowledgeable about cigars.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video. 

Narrator: Yvette and Yvonne are used to standing out.

In 2014, the twin sisters started their own brand of cigars, called Tres Lindas Cubanas. Since then, they’re often the only Afro-Cuban women in a room full of men.

Yvonne Rodriguez: Imagine walking into a door where you wanna sell your cigars, and they don’t even think that you smoke cigars, you know? We don’t start at zero. We start at negative five.

Yvette Rodriguez: We still get 20 questions, like an interrogation, to find out if we know anything about cigars, if this is really our brand. Questions I don’t hear anybody asking anyone else.

Narrator: The doubtful stares didn’t stop them from putting their identity at the forefront of their business.

Their three cigar blends pay homage to Cuban women: La Clarita, la Mulata, andla Negrita. All Spanish words used to describe skin tones of women.

Yvonne: A lot of people ask us, ‘How do you guys do it? You’re a woman, you’re black, and you’re Latina, and I think that those are positives. 

Yvette: No, we don’t try to blend in in the least. 

Narrator: They sell their blends on their website, shipping across the country to all 50 states, and in local shops. But it all started with an investment of $500.

Yvonne: We were immediately turning a profit because we invested very little.

Yvette: It’s also a testimony to the black consumer because I would say more than 80 percent of our consumers are African-American. Buying black, that has helped us out tremendously.

Narrator: Even their packaging stands out. Instead of the usual glossy, short and fancy look, their box stands tall in plain wood.

Yvonne: That had a lot to do with the money that we had to invest, but we noticed that it really helped that we are not too flashy, so we prefer to be a surprise, and we sell more to the man and the woman that smokes every day.

Narrator: The seeds come from Cuba, but the tobacco grows in Nicaragua, where the cigars are also rolled, and then later, shipped to Miami. The sisters can’t import leaves or seeds directly from Cuba because of the embargo.

Yvonne: Currently we can’t get anything out of Cuba. We definitely are ready for when the doors open for us to create blends with the Cuban leaf. That would be great, combining them also with the Nicaraguan leaf.

Narrator: As first-generation Americans, it’s important for them to stay connected to their roots. So they lead trips to Havana, taking people through plantations and factories of Cuban cigars.

And tourists are often surprised when they see many of the workers rolling cigars are Afro-Cuban women.

Yvette: The most famous cigars in the world are being rolled by black women. It’s really a testimony to the history of tobacco and cigars.

We’re part of history. It’s like, I am Cuba, and I am cigars, you know what I mean?

We could have put models as the face of the brand, super sexy girls or super hot guy, but no. We’re gonna be the face of it. Every brand has their look. And this is our look.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in April 2019.

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Scientists suggest US embassies were hit with high-power microwaves – here’s how those weapons work

cuba john kerry us embassy
Then-Secretary of State John Kerry and other dignitaries watch US Marines raise the US flag over the newly reopened embassy in Havana, August 14, 2015.

  • The mystery ailment that has afflicted US Embassy staff and CIA officers in Cuba, China, Russia and elsewhere over the last four years appears to have been caused by high-power microwaves.
  • The truth of what actually happened and why might remain a mystery, but the technology most likely involved comes from textbook physics.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The mystery ailment that has afflicted US embassy staff and CIA officers off and on over the last four years in Cuba, China, Russia and other countries appears to have been caused by high-power microwaves, according to a report released by the National Academies.

A committee of 19 experts in medicine and other fields concluded that directed, pulsed radiofrequency energy is the “most plausible mechanism” to explain the illness, dubbed Havana syndrome.

The report doesn’t clear up who targeted the embassies or why they were targeted. But the technology behind the suspected weapons is well understood and dates back to the Cold War arms race between the US and the Soviet Union. High-power microwave weapons are generally designed to disable electronic equipment. But as the Havana syndrome reports show, these pulses of energy can harm people, as well.

As an electrical and computer engineer who designs and builds sources of high-power microwaves, I have spent decades studying the physics of these sources, including work with the US Department of Defense.

Directed energy microwave weapons convert energy from a power source – a wall plug in a lab or the engine on a military vehicle – into radiated electromagnetic energy and focus it on a target. The directed high-power microwaves damage equipment, particularly electronics, without killing nearby people.

Two good examples are Boeing’s Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), which is a high-power microwave source mounted in a missile, and Tactical High-power Operational Responder (THOR), which was recently developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to knock out swarms of drones.

Cold War origins

These types of directed energy microwave devices came on the scene in the late 1960s in the US and the Soviet Union.

They were enabled by the development of pulsed power in the 1960s. Pulsed power generates short electrical pulses that have very high electrical power, meaning both high voltage – up to a few megavolts – and large electrical currents – tens of kiloamps. That’s more voltage than the highest-voltage long-distance power transmission lines, and about the amount of current in a lightning bolt.

Plasma physicists at the time realized that if you could generate, for example, a 1-megavolt electron beam with 10-kiloamp current, the result would be a beam power of 10 billion watts, or gigawatts. Converting 10% of that beam power into microwaves using standard microwave tube technology that dates back to the 1940s generates 1 gigawatt of microwaves. For comparison, the output power of today’s typical microwave ovens is around a thousand watts – a million times smaller.

The development of this technology led to a subset of the US-Soviet arms race – a microwave power derby. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, I and other American scientists gained access to Russian pulsed power accelerators, like the SINUS-6 that is still working in my lab. I had a fruitful decade of collaboration with my Russian colleagues, which swiftly ended following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.

Today, research in high-power microwaves continues in the US and Russia but has exploded in China. I have visited labs in Russia since 1991 and labs in China since 2006, and the investment being made by China dwarfs activity in the US and Russia. Dozens of countries now have active high-power microwave research programs.

Lots of power, little heat

US Embassy in Havana, Cuba
The US Embassy in Havana where diplomats suffered from an unusual set of symptoms.

Although these high-power microwave sources generate very high power levels, they tend to generate repeated short pulses. For example, the SINUS-6 in my lab produces an output pulse on the order of 10 nanoseconds, or billionths of a second.

So even when generating 1 gigawatt of output power, a 10-nanosecond pulse has an energy content of only 10 joules. To put this in perspective, the average microwave oven in one second generates 1 kilojoule, or thousand joules of energy. It typically takes about four minutes to boil a cup of water, which corresponds to 240 kilojoules of energy.

This is why microwaves generated by these high-power microwave weapons don’t generate noticeable amounts of heat, let alone cause people to explode like baked potatoes in microwave ovens.

High power is important in these weapons because generating very high instantaneous power yields very high instantaneous electric fields, which scale as the square root of the power. It is these high electric fields that can disrupt electronics, which is why the Department of Defense is interested in these devices.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

How it affects people

cuba sonic attack us embassy
Staff within the US embassy facility in Havana, September 29, 2017.

The National Academies report links high-power microwaves to impacts on people through the Frey effect. The human head acts as a receiving antenna for microwaves in the low gigahertz frequency range.

Pulses of microwaves in these frequencies can cause people to hear sounds, which is one of the symptoms reported by the affected US personnel. Other symptoms Havana syndrome sufferers have reported include headaches, nausea, hearing loss, lightheadedness and cognitive issues.

The report notes that electronic devices were not disrupted during the attacks, suggesting that the power levels needed for the Frey effect are lower than would be required for an attack on electronics. This would be consistent with a high-power microwave weapon located at some distance from the targets.

Power decreases dramatically with distance through the inverse square law, which means one of these devices could produce a power level at the target that would be too low to affect electronics but that could induce the Frey effect.

The Russians and the Chinese certainly possess the capabilities of fielding high-power microwave sources like the ones that appear to have been used in Cuba and China. The truth of what actually happened to US personnel in Cuba and China – and why – might remain a mystery, but the technology most likely involved comes from textbook physics, and the military powers of the world continue to develop and deploy it.

Edl Schamiloglu, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, School of Engineering, University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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