Brazil: Media Trying to Whitewash and Exploit Marielle Franco’s Political Radicalism

Source:  The Intercept

by Glenn Greenwald

marielle franco 3.jpgVereadora Marielle Franco was the fifth most voted of the last elections and
was based in the favela of Maré

ON SUNDAY NIGHT, Brazil’s most powerful television outlet, Rede Globo, devoted 45 minutes of its highly watched “Fantastico” program to the assassination of Rio City Council Member Marielle Franco and the killing of her driver, Anderson Gomes. This story has dominated headlines in Brazil for a full week, and, as protests proliferate around the country, it continues to be covered as a major story by news outlets around the world.

This was not a case in which Globo has elevated a story to major prominence. This was the opposite: Globo trying to take hold of a story that has exploded through citizen-driven online activism and anger without any need for bolstering from major media outlets.

Major media relegated to bystander

For once, Brazil’s major media has been a bystander in this story, not its driver. Globo could see that the reaction to Marielle’s killing was growing, getting stronger, moving in directions that make many Brazilian elites extremely uncomfortable. Last night’s “Fantastico” coverage was Globo’s attempt to get this story under control — under its control.

There were parts of “Fantastico’s” reporting that were genuinely informative and journalistically excellent — particularly Sonia Bridi’s detailed, evidence-based exposition of how this horrific crime was carried out with such chilling professionalism and competence, convincingly showing that whoever engineered the murders knew exactly how police would investigate and exactly how to prevent detection.

That terrorizing fact is an important piece of the puzzle when understanding who ordered Marielle to be killed; whoever killed the activist who devoted herself to denouncing police abuses is intimately familiar with how the police function.

Other parts were genuinely moving and beautifully presented, particularly the interviews with Marielle’s devastated widow Mônica, and, separately, with Marielle’s 19-year-old daughter, her parents, and her sister. The prominent inclusion of Anderson’s life and death, and the delicately handled and wrenching interview with his grieving widow, was commendable given the temptation to forget about the death of Marielle’s driver.

Marielle’s remarkable life trajectory

The show also did justice to how remarkable and inspiring was the trajectory of Marielle’s life: from poverty, deprivation, and single motherhood at 19 as a black woman in a favela to a master’s degree in sociology, human rights activism, and political empowerment through massive voter support in her 2016 election to the City Council.

marielle franco's widow.jpg“Fantastico” interview with Marielle’s widow, Mônica.   YouTube/Fantastico

This was not an insignificant media moment in Brazil. A black, leftist lesbian from the sprawling Maré favela, and from the socialist PSOL party, was honored and glorified on one of Globo’s most important media platforms, while millions of ordinary Brazilians around the country, far away from Rio and São Paulo, watched. They prominently featured, rather than hid, Marielle’s wife.

The perspectives of prominent leftist politicians and activists were respectfully included. And they condemned and vilified the right-wing politicians and judges who have used the internet to spread disgusting lies about Marielle designed to malign her with toxic stereotypes of black women from favelas (she was pregnant at 16, married to a notorious drug dealer, supported in her election by a drug gang: all demonstrable lies). All of that is worth celebrating.

A political person

BUT MARIELLE WAS, first and foremost, a political person: a radical in the best and most noble sense of that word. It’s her radicalism that made her such an inspiration to so many ordinary and voiceless citizens, and a threat to so many powerful and corrupt factions. Her political activism, her political beliefs, were Marielle’s core, a major part of her identity, the centerpiece of what made her a figure of such singular force and power.

The crime that ended her life was also purely political. There is no way to meaningfully understand Marielle’s life and assassination without a candid, clear, and honest discussion of her politics. What makes her story such big news is her politics, which in turn produced the political motives that caused powerful people to want her dead.

These are the most difficult, most complicated, and most important subjects to cover when reporting on Marielle’s life and death: her relentless and brave activism against the most lawless police battalions, her opposition to military intervention, and, most threateningly of all, her growing power as a black, gay woman from the favela seeking not to join Brazil’s power structure, but to subvert it.

What “Fantastico” avoided almost entirely

It’s not a coincidence that the last event she attended, the one where she was followed and then killed upon leaving, was titled, “Young Black Women Changing Power Structures.”

And it was these subjects that “Fantastico” avoided almost entirely — except when they brazenly manipulated them for its own purposes. The only segment purporting to describe Marielle’s politics was an extremely banal, condescending discussion of the definition of “human rights,” which “Fantastico” basically reduced to an anodyne, uncontroversial declaration that all humans are born free and should be treated equally: propositions that virtually every Brazilian politician from right to left would happily endorse. They drained Marielle’s politics of its vibrancy, radicalism, and force, and converted it into a simplistic comic book of empty clichés that nobody would find objectionable.

Extinguishing Marielle’s real political sensibilities were necessary to achieve Globo’s real objectives here. The emotions from Marielle’s brutal assassination are overwhelming and powerful. The question is, to what ends will those emotions be directed? What outcomes will they foster? What views and movements will they strengthen?

Ultimately, what “Fantastico” was really up to here became extremely clear by the end of its coverage. They took the still-expanding power of Marielle’s story and tried to reduce its power — limit it — to a simple, apolitical human interest story, something that made you cry and feel sad and empathetic and maybe angry, but not in any way that would make you embrace Marielle’s causes or crusades for justice or devote yourself to the political agenda she symbolized.

Awakening  traditionally powerless people

Globo and its comrades in elite culture see a serious danger in the aftermath of Marielle’s killing, for good reason. They see that it is awakening — emboldening — traditionally powerless people to the cruelties of extreme societal inequality and the intolerable racist criminality of its police forces.

It is galvanizing favela residents to organize and mobilize. It is pointing an accusatory finger not at drug traffickers and ordinary criminals — the favored Globo narrative — but at the very forces used by the country’s elite to impose its will and secure its privileges: its military, its police, and its traditionally white, male, rich political system.

It was those factions and those policies which Marielle had devoted her life to fighting — not just in defense of the pleasing, unchallenging, clichéd notions of “human rights” that “Fantastico” centered. Those who feel threatened by Marielle’s activism and political principles see that her death is strengthening those things — and desperately want to re-direct these powerful emotions away from what she believed and inspired, toward something less disruptive, less threatening to status quo power.

That’s why “Fantastico” went heavy on the powerful human emotions of this story — the grieving, weeping relatives, the killing of a hardworking father who supported his baby by working as a driver, the anger we all feel when human life is violently extinguished, the mournful music that made us feel tearful — and ignored the scarier political aspects of Marielle’s life.

Globo knows it can’t stop or limit the powerful emotions, so it wants to render them apolitical and thus, harmless. It wants all of this sadness and indignation to fall into a black hole of political irrelevance, like one of the TV network’s emotion-heavy soap operas, in which Marielle’s killing has no meaning beyond just making people angrier still about the violence plaguing Brazil.

Trying to exploit Marielle to reinforce support for a policy that Marielle despised

But far worse than the suppression of Marielle’s political beliefs was “Fantastico’s” one attempt to politicize her death — by trying to exploit Marielle to reinforce support for a policy that Marielle despised: Michel Temer’s recent military “intervention” in Rio de Janeiro, the first time since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985 that the military is occupying a major city.

After 45 minutes of building emotional sadness and anger over Marielle’s death, “Fantastico” tried to channel that into manipulating, exploiting, and subverting Marielle’s political causes. Immediately following the segments about Marielle, “Fantastico” devoted one segment to the horrific killing of a child last week in a Rio slum, the Complexo do Alemão, and then immediately went live to one of its reporters in Brasília, describing how Temer was meeting that very moment with ministers to consider more funding for the military invention.

marielle franco 4 fist saluteWomen raise their hands in protest of the death of Marielle in Rio de Janeiro on March 15, 2018.  Photo: Ian Cheibub/AGIF/AP

And it was at that moment “Fantastico’s” odious, menacing agenda became crystal clear. It wasn’t just to stomp out the possibility that Marielle’s killing would galvanize support for her life’s political project. It was far worse: to try to ensure that Marielle’s death could be exploited to strengthen everything she fought to subvert. The message from “Fantastico” was as obvious as it was odious: Now that we just spent all this time making you so sad and angry about Marielle’s brutal assassination, you must see why Temer’s military intervention is so justified.

PSOL officials and other left-wing activists instantly recognized the ugly agenda at play and denounced it on social media by pointing out that Marielle vehemently opposed military occupation as a gross waste of resources that would solve nothing and make everything worse, while directly threatening democracy.


Making MLK unthreatening

PERHAPS THE REASON I’m particularly sensitive to this distortion scheme is because I’ve seen exactly this reprehensible media tactic used so effectively in the U.S. During the 1990s, a vicious, ugly debate consumed the U.S. over whether to declare Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday.

And it was easy to understand why this was so controversial. King was a true radical, hated by many. He railed against the evils of capitalism. He urged the most oppressed populations to rise up. He uncompromisingly condemened U.S. imperialism. In a speech given one year before he was killed, devoted to denouncing the U.S. role Vietnam War, he called the U.S. government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” as well as the leading exponent of “the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.”

So, if you’re an American political or economic elite, and know that you can’t erase the memory of someone with such threatening, disruptive views, what do you do? You erase all the views that you find threatening when allowing him to be celebrated, and convert what he symbolizes into something simplistic, clichéd, and unthreatening. On King’s holiday, his contempt for capitalism and denunciations of U.S. imperialism are rarely mentioned. Few Americans know about them now. He is instead just spoken of as a symbol of elementary, vague conceptions of racial equality that few people outside of malicious fringes openly reject: He has been reduced to his lowest common denominator and the genuinely disruptive parts of his worldview and activism have been deliberately erased from his history.

Marielle opposed military intervention in Rio

And just as “Fantastico” tried last night to exploit Marielle’s memory into support for a policy she had spent the last month of her life opposing — military intervention in Rio — the U.S. government now exploits the pleasant memory of MLK into support for militarism and imperialism, something he hated with all of his being. The U.S. military actually uses King’s name and image in its propaganda, as if the mere fact that its killing force is now racially integrated would make King proud and supportive of U.S. violence and its various killing machines:

This is what many in Brazilian media and political elites are now trying to do with Marielle. They know she will not be forgotten, and that the anger and disgust at her brutal assassination is not going away. So the project is now underway to drain her of her radicalism and disruptive energy and instead, convert her into a generic and pleasant symbol, so that they can exploit her for their own ends, including to generate support for status quo-perpetuating policies that she loathed.

Last night’s “Fantastico” episode was the first step in that project. It’s the responsibility of those who believe in Marielle’s vision and activism — not just in Brazil, but around the world — not to allow this gross revisionism and exploitation to succeed.

Brazil Activists, Politicians React to ‘Barbaric’ Assassination of Marielle Franco

Source:  TeleSUR
March 15 2018

  • Marielle Franco, a Black activist and city councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro, was assassinated on her way home last night.
 Marielle Franco, a Black activist and city councilwoman in Rio de Janeiro,
was assassinated on her way home last night.
| Photo: Twitter / @mariellefranco
Black activist and city councilwoman Marielle Franco was killed, along with her driver, on her way home from an event in central Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s Workers’ Party, or PT, of Rio de Janeiro released a public statement condemning the assassination of 38-year-old Black activist and city councilwoman Marielle Franco in central Rio de Janeiro Wednesday night.

RELATED: Brazilian Rights Activist Marielle Franco Assassinated in Rio

The statement said the leftist party “expresses great sorrow for the tragedy” that occurred last night. “Marielle, a combative councilwoman and activist for human rights and social equality, leaves us precariously” within the “struggle in favor of the people and a just, equitable society.”

PT Congressman, Wadih Damous, wrote on his Twitter account that “Marielle was executed. The assassination was consummated today but it’s the result of a plot forged by the barbaric nature that has taken hold of Brazil. Under fascism, extermination groups act in complete freedom. Meanwhile, the military intervention (in Rio de Janeiro state) search book sacks of kids who live in favelas.”

A member of the Socialism and Liberty Party, or PSOL, Franco was returning home from an event called “Young Black People Moving the Structures” in Lapa neighborhood when, according to witnesses, her vehicle was approached by another car. At least nine bullets were fired, killing the councilwoman and her driver. Her advisor, Fernanda Chaves, who was also in the vehicle, survived the attack.

PSOL also released a public statement saying that Franco’s “activities as a councilwoman and human rights activist makes all PSOL militants proud.” It went on to note that the left-wing party demands an “immediate and rigorous” investigation by authorities to discover the culprits and motives involved.

RELATED:  After Rio, Brazil’s Temer Weighs Military ‘Coup’ Intervention in More States

Franco’s assassination comes two weeks after she was named a rapporteur in the special commission established by the city council to monitor the military intervention in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Three days ago she denounced the deaths of two youths during a military police operation in Acari community.

“We must speak loudly so that everybody knows what is happening in Acari right now. The 41st Military Police Battalion of Rio de Janeiro is terrorizing and violating Acari residents. This week two youths were killed and tossed in a ditch. Today, the police walked the streets threatening residents. This has always happened and with the (military) intervention things have gotten worse,” she wrote on her Twitter.

Protests have been organized in the cities of Recife, Belem, Salvador, Natal, Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Juiz de Fora, Porto Alegre, Florianopolis, Curitiba and elsewhere to condemn Franco’s killing.

The End of Electoral Contests in Latin America?

Source:  La Santa Mambisa

March 12 2018

by Alfredo Serrano Mancilla

(Translated by Keith Ellis)

the end of electoral politics.jpeg The contest in Latin America is no longer primarily electoral. The conservative rollback has other mechanisms that are not necessarily the ballot box. The chosen route is almost always something else.  Each case is different: it all depends on the country in question.  They use one tool or another depending on the scenario and on what tools are available.

Each context determines the method of intervention chosen to block or eliminate the progressive forces.  If they still have control of the Judicial Power, that path is used to proceed against them.  If what they enjoy is Legislative Power, a parliamentary coup is what is resorted to.  And always, wherever it may be, Economic Power and the Power of the Media act in unison.  The first will use all its weapons to disrupt whatever economic and social equilibrium has been achieved; and the second will undermine the image with falsehoods or fake news that end up being part of the destructive common sense.  And from this list of powers the Power of the “International Community” is never missing, for it is always ready to apply all the possible forms of pressure to delegitimize progressive options, whenever they can, or legitimize undemocratic options that are suitable for their interests.

  • In Brazil, the stupid judicial excuse they are putting forward shows that they are clearly not going to allow Lula to take part in the elections. Before that, they had already removed Dilma from the presidency, by means of a parliamentary coup using the ridiculous pretext of “fiscal manipulation.”  Judicial and Legislative Powers, together with Economic and Media Powers, and with the power of international complicity, are all combined for a “win” without them having to go through polls.  Temer governs as a democrat despite not having to present himself as a presidential candidate.
  • Ecuador, a different scenario and different methods. Correa’s successor was used to prevent his party, the “Revolution of the Citizenry,” from continuing in power.  Thanks to a pact between the current president Lenin and the old democratic party, there was an agreement made, without consulting the Constitutional Court, that had the sole objective of preventing Correa from participating in a new presidential contest. Thus, a new model: the rollback from within.  The opposition took part in the elections and lost.  But that was no obstacle to its winning the political battle, thanks to the resentment—of Lenin and of a certain part of his party—against Correa.  The banking sector and all the media joined the new rollback consensus with the intention of ending the progressive cycle embodied in the figure of Correa.
  • In Argentina, there was quite a notable communicational and economic onslaught, but the electoral route was sufficient to put an end to the Kirchner period. The opposition had an advantage: Scioli, her successor, not Cristina, was the candidate.  The opposition just barely won.  And then quickly brought on judicial arrests, open trials, biased press coverage.  It is still too early to know how the presidential dispute will turn out in 2019.  But if it is necessary to prevent Cristina, or any other potentially winning candidate, from contesting the election, let no one doubt that the attempt will be made to do it in a judicial or parliamentary way.
  • In Venezuela everything is being amplified.  The latest development has been the most evident: the opposition has definitely decided not to participate in the elections.  It has thus demonstrated that it has no interest in the electoral route for achieving political power.  In fact, in this country, in 2002, an orthodox coup d’état was attempteda running unconventional coup has been tried, along with a sustained high-intensity economic war (via prices and shortages); there has been violence in the street causing many deaths; social uprising has been tried in order to overthrow the president; there have been US decrees, threats and a blockade; the whole gang has been deployed (OAS, European Parliament, Lima Group, Mercosur, Country Risk, International Banking). And now, finally, they have the idea of not participating in elections.  Strange democrats these, who do not believe in democratic rules when they anticipate losing.  The interesting thing about this case is that in Venezuela, the current government is fully aware that the field of dispute is as much in the electoral as in other areas.  And this allows Maduro to be a “survivor” in this new phase.
  • In Bolivia,something similar happened.  The recall referendum was obstructed by a reality show that hurt the popularity of Evo.  The heavy artillery will come ahead of the presidential election in 2019.  However, the president has understood for some time, since the attempts at democratic interruption at the stage of the Constituent Assembly, that this dispute is multifaceted. It does not mean that it will be easy, and everything is possible from now on.  But so far, Evo aims to be the other “survivor” to this rollback onslaught.  He has overcome the last great obstacle: finding the legal mechanism that would allow him to stand for re-election.  He was aware that, because of it, he would be criticized, but he preferred this to putting in jeopardy the continuity of the project.  It was a wise decision to continue moving forward with the approval of the Bolivian people.

We are definitely facing another historical phase of the 21st century in this “Contested Latin America”. The electoral aspect counts, but it is not the only path chosen in order to end the progressive cycle.  Some have always known it, and others have learned it by having suffered it in their own experience. The field of political dispute is more and more complex: votes are necessary, but so are economic, media, legislative, judicial and international power. And military power, although it seems a matter of the past, we should never ignore it, because it is always more present than we imagine.

Venezuela: Maduro invites opposition to meet with government

Source:  Granma
December 4 2017

nicolas maduro nov 2017 2

“On 372 occasions I have called for a national dialogue,” said the president. | Photo: @PresidencialVen

Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, invited opposition members to meet with government representatives at Miraflores Palace, in order to strengthen formal talks and review the six point agenda agreed upon by both parties in talks held December 1-2 in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic.

“I want to invite Deputy Julio Borges, Deputy Luis Florido, Deputy Timoteo Zambrano and Deputy Luis Aquiles Moreno, representing opposition parties, Justice First, People’s Will, Democratic Action, and A New Time, to Miraflores Palace this week,” Maduro stated during the 98th episode of the weekly television program he hosts on VTV, Los Domingos con Maduro.

The head of state recalled that the Venezuelan government maintains a constant dialogue with all the country’s productive and social sectors, and highlighted the importance of consolidating formal talks with all political sectors for the well-being of the country.

“Now we need a political dialogue with all the country’s political actors, with all political forces and factions, I have insisted a great deal on there being dialogue and a permanent system of transparent dialogue regarding the country with the opposition,” he stated, according to AVN.

Maduro also highlighted the repeated calls he has made to oppositions sectors to participate in talks in order to achieve peace. “I have called for national dialogue on 372 occasions,” he stressed.

Zimbabwe Ruling Party Replaces Mugabe as Leader with Ousted VP

Source:  TeleSUR
November 19 2017

Robert Mugabe 5.jpg
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. | Photo: Reuters FILE

Grace Mugabe has been expelled from the ZANU-PF party as well.

Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF has removed President Robert Mugabe as head of the party, replacing him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had recently been ousted as the country’s vice president. Mugabe remains the president of the country.

RELATED:  What Next for Zimbabwe After Robert Mugabe: Division and Hatred? Or ‘One Love?’

Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, as well as Jonathan Moyo, Saviour Kasukuwere, Ignatius Chombo and Patrick Zhuwao, Mugabe’s nephew, were expelled from the party.

The meeting, held by ZANU-PF’s Central Committee, the highest decision-making body in the party, comes one day after a march of tens of thousands of people, in favor of ousting the long-serving leader. Protesters waved Zimbabwean flags and hoisted placards with slogans like, “Mugabe Must Rest Now,” and “No to a Mugabe Dynasty.”

However, the army reiterated that their action is “not a coup” and “not against President Mugabe,” but against “criminals” within his sphere and those who support Grace Mugabe’s political ambitions, which splintered the party ahead of its upcoming national congress to select a new leader before planned presidential elections in 2018.

Regarded across Africa and the diaspora as one of the last liberation fighters against European colonialism on the continent, a struggle epitomized in Bob Marley’s song “Zimbabwe,” Mugabe is said to have asked to serve the rest of his presidential term until next year’s elections when he will voluntarily step down. Mugabe made a public appearance days after the army came onto the streets and was seen in photos shaking hands and smiling with the army general who led the military action.

The Zimbabwe parliament

Military leaders are also set to meet with Mugabe later on Sunday, with a Catholic priest expected to mediate between the army and president, who has rejected a deal to step down, CNN reported, citing an official.

The Zimbabwe parliament is set to meet on Tuesday and could vote to start impeachment proceedings against Mugabe.

On Wednesday, the army seized power in the capital, Harare, but denied they had carried out a coup stating they were attempting to strike a deal with the president to resign.

The elder statesman put the African nation into a tailspin after firing his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was tipped as his successor.

Zimbabwe’s Indigenization Minister Patrick Zhuwao said the veteran leader “is willing to die for his principles.” Mugabe has been the elected leader of Zimbabwe for 37 years.

RELATED: Mugabe Stripped of WHO Goodwill Ambassadorship

Ousting former president Ian Smith

After having been imprisoned for over a decade by colonial forces, as well as being prohibited from attending the funeral of his three-year-old son, Michael Nhamodzenyika, Mugabe helped lead the Chimurenga Bush War from Mozambique to oust former president Ian Smith and his white minority government.

He’d come under fire for reclaiming land to distribute more equitably among his compatriots. By 2013, despite the British government withholding the white farmer’s compensation package, Mugabe had lived up to his end of the bargain, expropriating or confirming for redistribution most of their land.

The United States imposed a credit freeze on Zimbabwe in 2001. The European Union followed suit in 2002 by imposing sanctions in the form of an asset freeze and travel ban. The measures led to a major trade deficit and adversely affected the country’s healthcare system.redistribution

Mugabe Makes First Public Appearance, Military Pushes Exit

Source:  TeleSUR
November 17 2017

mugage attending graduation.jpgMugabe attending a graduate ceremony, his first public appearance since the military mobilization on Harare. | Photo: Reuters

Being cheered by a crowd at a graduation ceremony, Mugabe made his first public appearance since the military mobilized in Harare.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe made his first public appearance at a graduation ceremony in the capital city of Harare.

RELATED:   Zimbabwe’s Military Denies Coup, Zuma Says Mugabe Is ‘Fine’

This was the first time Mugabe had been seen since his military-imposed house arrest that began on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Defence Force announces “breakthroughs” for Mugabe’s exit from power.

“The Army applauds the nation for remaining patient and peaceful while it carries out its operations,” the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, ZDF, said in a statement.

The ZDF announced that it has reached “significant progress” to facilitate the exit of the government of President Mugabe, who has remained in power since the nation’s independence in 1980, and purging “criminals” from the African nation’s political structure.

Negotiations described as “on the way forward” are still under way, the Zimbabwe Defense Forces reported in a statement, which was delivered through state media.

“Significant progress has been made in its operation to identify the criminals around President Mugabe,” said the military, while confirming the continuity of the search and capture of these “criminals”, without giving any specific details or names.

OPINION:  Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe Has Fallen From Grace

The army insisted in its statement that these people “committed crimes that caused social and economic suffering” to the country.

The statement continued, “we are working with the President and Commander in Chief Robert Mugabe on the way forward.”

“We will periodically publish press releases to keep the public informed of events in the country, and the Army applauds the nation for remaining patient and peaceful while it carries out its operations,” the statement said.

Opposition leaders told CNN that a plan to remove Mugabe was discussed “a long time ago” by members of the president’s party and members of the opposition.

State media has said that Mugabe does not intend to leave his position and instead wants to continue until 2018, when the 93-year old’s term expires.

The military mobilized to secure power, which they have said is not a coup, after a dispute over the president’s successor.

Aggression against U.S. diplomats in Havana: Unfounded and implausible

Source:  Granma
October 5 2017

No credible explanation exists for the various symptoms described by U.S. diplomatic staff, and experts deny the relevance of the laws of physics evoked in some of the theories presented.

by: Sergio Alejandro Gómez | internet@granma.cu

unfounded and implausible.jpgThe strange story of U.S. diplomats suffering hearing loss and other damage to their health, while working in Cuba burst into the media this past August. The first of the alleged incidents goes back to November of 2016, and the most recent supposedly occurred just a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless, to date no credible explanation exists for the various symptoms described, and experts deny the relevance of the laws of physics evoked in some of the hypotheses presented.

The case, that appears to have been extracted from a spy novel, is being taken very seriously in Havana.

No evidence

As directed by the highest level of government, Cuban authorities began their own investigation as soon as they received the first notifications from the U.S. Embassy and the State Department on February 17, this year.

“According to preliminary results obtained and the information shared by U.S. authorities, at this time there is no evidence that confirms the causes or origin of the alleged health issues of U.S. diplomats and their family members,” affirmed a source close to the Cuban investigation.

The U.S. investigations, for their part, do not provide any clarity. Members of this country’s specialized agencies were invited by Cuba to advance their investigations on the ground here, but their results have not been conclusive.

“We don’t know who or what caused this,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, “That’s why the investigation is still open.”

The complexity of the investigation and the experts’ bewilderment have not restrained those attempting to place the responsibility on Cuba and undo the progress made in relations with the United States, which began after December 17, 2014.

The Senator of Cuban origin and opponent of any rapprochement with Havana, Marco Rubio, recently sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which he requested the expulsion of all Cuban diplomats in Washington and the eventual closing of the country’s embassy in Cuba, as a reprisal for the alleged “acoustical attacks” which damaged the health of U.S. officials in Havana.

Nevertheless, the missive additionally signed by Republican Senators Tom Cotton, Richard Burr, John Cornyn, and James Lankford, does not supply any evidence whatsoever of Cuban culpability and ignores the willingness shown, from the very beginning, by local authorities to establish cooperation and move the investigation forward.

Rubio was one of the architects of changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba announced by the Trump administration this past June, to reinforce the implementation of the blockade. The legislator, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has used all kinds of ruses to limit ties between the two countries.

Unprecedented events

The hypothesis of an “acoustic attack” and the use of sophisticated “sonic weapons” against U.S. diplomats has been present since the story came to light, despite the lack of evidence and the opinion of experts denying the possibility that any device could generate the symptoms described, under the conditions reported.

The State Department has not specifically referred to the effects on the health of its personnel in Havana, but the press has reported a broad variety of symptomologies. Some cases include migraines, dizziness, and hearing loss, while others go so far as cognitive impairment, trouble recalling words, and light brain damage.

The diagnoses provoked confusion among experts, the FBI, the State Department, and U.S. agencies involved in the investigation, according to reports from the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

It’s not possible

“Brain damage and concussions, it’s not possible,” said Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert. “Somebody would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”Toby Heys, the leader of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Future Technologies research center, in the UK, told New Scientist it was possible for something emitting infrasound – vibrations at a frequency below what humans can hear – to cause hearing loss, but large speakers at high volume would be required, which would be very difficult to hide.

Sonic weapons used to disperse crowds and protect ships from pirate attacks utilize this type of equipment. The devices take up considerable space and all people within their reach are affected.

But many of the alleged incidents in Havana, according to published U.S. reports, took place in enclosed spaces, sometimes in a single room, with laser precision, affecting a specific person without hurting anyone else.

Some of the attacks allegedly took place in the residences of diplomats, and even in public buildings such as the recently remodeled Capri Hotel, a 19-story concrete skyscraper with 250 rooms, where no guests have reported any such health problems.

According to AP, the FBI itself traveled to Havana and carried out investigations in some of the rooms where the attacks presumably occurred. They found no evidence of sonic devices.

For their part, Cuban specialized services have not detected “possible perpetuators, or persons with the motivation, intention, or means to take this type of action,” according to sources close to the investigation, “Nor has the presence been established of suspicious persons or devices in the places where the incidents have been reported, nor in their surroundings.”

No precedent exists in Cuba of events with these characteristics. “Cuban authorities do not possess or have any familiarity with equipment or technology that could be used for the purpose described as an acoustic attack,” the same source adds.

Cuba has always been willing to cooperate

After receiving the first the first notifications from the U.S. embassy, Cuban authorities created an inter-institutional committee of experts to analyze the events; they expanded and reinforced protective measures and security at the site, for personnel, and diplomatic residences; and activated new means of direct communication between the embassy and the Department of Diplomatic Security, according to the official statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this past August 9, when the news became public.

Cuba insisted that specialized U.S. agencies visit the country and proceed with investigations onsite, which was in fact done in June. Other visits were conducted in the months of August and September.

“The three meetings held between representatives of Cuban authorities and specialized U.S. agencies were held in a constructive, professional climate,” reported a source with knowledge of the exchanges, adding that the U.S. delegation expressed its intention to cooperate “in the investigation of these incidents in a more substantive manner.” Likewise, members of specialized agencies who have visited Cuba recognized that local authorities have acted in a timely, professional fashion.

“We consider the continuation of these visits positive. Cuban authorities are very much interested in accelerating and concluding the investigation, for which the cooperation of U.S. authorities is essential,” the source stated.

Given the innumerable variables in the case, marked by the long history of conflict between the two countries, cooperation is essential. Reporting incidents immediately; supplying evidence; sharing information that facilitates characterization of the events or the identification of possible suspects, if they exist; providing access to those affected and the doctors who diagnosed their health problems; and interacting with experts with knowledge of the incidents and the alleged technology used would be basic elements of such cooperation, and would produce results in any situation.

Not even in the worst moments

Another major inconsistency in the saga is the moment when the incidents allegedly began. In November of 2016, the governments of Cuba and the United States were rapidly advancing in the establishment of a series of important agreements that would benefit both countries.

After a long history of aggression and attempts to force surrender on the Cuban people with hunger and depravation, with the goal of transforming its political system, the Barack Obama administration recognized, on December 17, 2014, that the blockade was a failure and had ended up isolating the United States itself.

The climate between the two countries changed significantly. Diplomatic relations were established and 22 agreements were signed on a variety of subjects, ranging from environmental protection and the reopening of direct flights to cooperation on security matters. Who could be interested in sabotaging relations with Washington?

Moreover, if, as a question of revolutionary principles, the government of Cuba has never resorted to aggressive methods against U.S. diplomats, even in the moments of greatest tension, what reason would there be to begin to do so after making the sovereign decision to reestablish relations with Washington?

This past May, the State Department requested that two Cuban officials leave U.S. territory, as a consequence of the acts that allegedly damaged the health of its diplomatic personnel in Havana, a measure that Cuba described as “unjustified and rash.”

It is now known that, precisely when this occurred, Cuban authorities were undertaking investigative action and showing their full disposition to collaborate with their U.S. counterparts.

The official statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that Cuba is fulfilling, and has always fulfilled, with “all rigor and seriousness,” its obligations as established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, in terms of protecting the physical integrity of diplomatic staff and mission sites.

“The impeccable record of our country in this area is internationally recognized, and Cuba is universally considered a secure destination for foreign visitors and diplomats, including those from the United States,” the statement reads.

In this same tone, a high ranking Cuban diplomat reaffirmed, “The Cuban government has not perpetrated, nor will it perpetuate, attacks of any kind on accredited diplomatic officials or their families, nor has it permitted, nor will it permit, that Cuban territory be used by third parties for this purpose.”

Given the lack of evidence and the complexity of the case, Cuban authorities are keeping the case open, and are ready to collaborate with their U.S. counterparts to clarify the events.