Odd US embassy illnesses

Numbers of US staff at both their Cuban and Chinese embassies have been reported to have suffered from similar mysterious illnesses.

MSN: U.S. evacuates China consulate staffers as illness mystery deepens

The United States has evacuated some Americans from its consulate in the Chinese city of Guangzhou after an employee was confirmed to be suffering symptoms consistent with the mysterious illness that led to the removal of more than half of the U.S. Embassy staff in Cuba, the State Department said Wednesday.

Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman, said “several” consulate employees had returned to the United States from China for further evaluation after they were screened as part of a task force Secretary of State Mike Pompeo created last month. The force is investigating reports of hearing, vision, balance and memory damage.

The State Department said in a health alert last month that the employee in Guangzhou reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure” that had no immediate explanation. Pompeo said then that the employee’s symptoms were eerily similar to those reported by the Cuban embassy staff.

Doctors said in February that the symptoms among some 24 Havana embassy staffers were similar to those caused by concussions — headaches, balance problems, sleep disturbances and visual and hearing difficulties.

U.S. experts have said they know of no technology that would explain the symptoms.

But President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have accused Cuba of having targeted U.S. personnel with some kind of “acoustic sonic weapon” for unknown reasons, an allegation the Cuban government has forcefully denied.

The State Department responded by pulling 60 percent of its workers out of the Havana embassy in early October and expelled two-thirds of Cuba’s staff in Washington.

Have they considered it could be US technology used to screen and block eavesdropping that could be having an adverse effect on their embassy employees?

Irma reaches Florida

The eye of Hurricane Irma has passed the Florida Keys and has reached the west coast of mainland Florida. It has dropped to a category 3 hurricane, meaning sustained winds of 120 mph or more – that’s 193 kph or more.

It’s likely to be a while before the extent of damage becomes known. One death has so far been reported.

There are photos online of people standing on drained shores:

But warnings are being given to stay away from the sea as just as storm surges taketh away, they also giveth.

The storm is about 35 miles south of Naples. It has drained massive amounts of water from Tampa Bay ahead of storm surges, cut off the Florida Keys, and put swaths of downtown Miami underwater. Tornadoes have cut across much of central and east Florida, including one formed in the last hour near Fort Lauderdale airport.

The National Hurricane Center’s 2pm advisory warns people not to underestimate the storm, which will “remain a powerful hurricane while it moves near or along the west coast of Florida”.

The NHC’s Atlantic Office has just issued an all-caps warning for everyone on the state’s western coast: “MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”

  • More than a 1.3 million people have lost power, and more than 70,000 are in shelters. About 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate coastal areas all around the state, roughly a third of the state’s entire population.
  • At least 25 confirmed dead around the Caribbean, including 11 on French St Martin, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dutch St Maarten, Barbuda, and Anguilla.
  • Hurricane Jose, also a category four storm, has shifted northward, creating hope in the eastern Caribbean that survivors might be spared a second hurricane in five days.

Guardian: Havana flooded and 5,000 tourists evacuated from coast as Irma hits Cuba

Hurricane Irma ripped roofs off houses and flooded hundreds of kilometres of coastline as it raked Cuba’s northern coast after devastating islands the length of the Caribbean.

There were no immediate reports of deaths in Cuba – a country that prides itself on its disaster preparedness – but authorities were trying to restore power, clear roads and warning that people should stay off the streets of Havana because flooding could continue into Monday.

Video images from northern and eastern Cuba showed uprooted utility poles and signs, many downed trees and extensive damage to roofs. Witnesses said a provincial museum near the eye of the storm was in ruins. And authorities in the city of Santa Clara said 39 buildings collapsed.

Current path prediction:

Irma track 9.10 jr

8 pm Sunday US eastern time is midday today here in New Zealand.

Irma hits Cuba, Florida waits

The latest on hurricanes Irma and Jose and the now storm Katia from the Guardian:

  • Hurricane Irma slowed to a category three storm as it crashed across Cuba’s northern coast, lashing towns with 125mph winds and flooding them with intense surges. As of midday local time, the storm was about 170 miles away from Florida, and expected to regain category four intensity.
  • More than seven million people were ordered to flee from their homes in several states, including nearly a third of Florida’s population. More than 50,000 people are in about 300 shelters around the state, counties enacted curfews, and power providers already began to struggle with demand.
  • Florida prepared for what its governor called “the most catastrophic storm the state has ever seen”. Irma is forecast to make landfall on the Florida Keys early Sunday morning and then to pummel south-west Florida on a 30-hour journey northward.
  • In Florida’s south-west, officials expect storm surges as high as 15ft. “Fifteen feet is devastating and will cover your house,” governor Rick Scott said. “Do not think the storm is over when the wind slows down. The storm surge will rush in and it could kill you.” Large swaths of Florida were given tornado warnings, and the National Weather Service’s Key West station delivered a dire warning: “THIS IS AS REAL AS IT GETS. NOWHERE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS WILL BE SAFE.”
  • Twenty-five people have been confirmed killed around the Caribbean, including 11 people on French St Martin and St Barts, four in the US Virgin Islands, three on Puerto Rico, two on Dutch St Maarten, one person in Anguilla and a two year old in Barbuda.
  • Category-four hurricane Jose threatened landfall in the eastern Caribbean, complicating relief efforts for islands that have only just emerged from Irma’s winds. On Barbuda, where the prime minister estimated 90% of buildings were destroyed, a mandatory evacuation moved people to the larger sister island of Antigua.
  • Another storm, Katia, was downgraded to a tropical depression as it pushed onto land from Mexico’s Gulf coast. Two people were killed in a mudslide in Veracruz, according to the AP.

The situation keeps changing in Florida as Irma looks like now going up over the keys and then up the west coast, depending on when an dhow much it veers north.

Irma will regain strength as it moves away from Cuba, with winds predicted of more than 110mph by the time it reaches the Florida Keys early Sunday.

The latest projections from the National Hurricane Center show the storm moving at about 9mph, with winds of 125mph, still over Cuba’s northern shore. The hurricane has not yet turned north back over warmer waters.

Irma’s current projected course shows the eye making landfall three times on Florida: first over the Lower Keys, where meteorologists expect devastating storm surges; then over Cape Coral or Fort Myers, in south-west Florida; and finally it is expected to come within range of Tampa Bay, the state’s third most populous city.

This will play out slowly of the next three days, it has been a slow motion wrecking storm.

Irma strengthening, approaching Florida

Hurricane Irma has wreaked havoc as it has moved past mostly small Caribbean islands. It is currently moving alongside Cuba.

The Guardian: Hurricane Irma: Florida braces for epic storm as death toll hits 23 – latest updates

It is now forecast to strengthen again to category 5 as it gets to Florida, where large scale evacuations are taking place.

That looks bad for parts of Cuba over the next day (dates/times are US who are 16 hours behind us).

The forecast track has moved further to the west of Florida.


Obama and Trump on Castro’s death

Two contrasting responses to the news of the death of Fidel Castro are getting some attention.

President Barack Obama with a carefully worded official statement:


President-elect Donald Trump:


Looking ahead, this is pointed out at New York Times during the election campaign in Business or Politics? What Trump Means for Cuba:

On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald J. Trump threatened to roll back the sweeping détente with Cuba, lambasting the “concessions” made to its Communist government and raising the possibility that one of Mr. Obama’s signature foreign policy initiatives could be stripped away.

…the critical question remains whether Mr. Trump, a real estate mogul and hotel developer, will be a businessman at heart and allow Mr. Obama’s measures to continue — or if he will instead keep a vow he made and scale back everything from diplomatic relations to the unlimited rum and cigars Mr. Obama recently allowed from Cuba.

Such a move by Mr. Trump would underscore the shifting relations between the United States and Cuba, which have long depended on who occupied the Oval Office.

“Several large European investment groups have asked me to take the ‘Trump Magic’ to Cuba,” Mr. Trump once wrote in a 1999 editorial in The Miami Herald supporting the trade embargo against Cuba.

“My investment in Cuba would directly subsidize the oppression of the Cuban people,” he said at the time. “But I’d rather lose those millions than lose my self-respect.”

Mr. Trump has, at other times, been vague on the issue. During the primary contest, he repeatedly said he thought restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba was “fine,” but added that the United States and the Cuban people did not get enough in return.

Asked by a reporter if his comments meant he would break off diplomatic relations with Cuba, Mr. Trump suggested that he might, and said he probably would not appoint an ambassador to Cuba.

“The agreement President Obama signed is a very weak agreement,” he said. “We get nothing. The people of Cuba get nothing, and I would do whatever is necessary to get a good agreement.”

In March, he told CNN that he would “probably” continue having diplomatic relations with Cuba, but he said he would want “much better deals than we’re making.”

Then, Mr. Trump took a harder line in Miami this fall.

“All of the concessions Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign event in September. “Not my demands. Our demands.”

I think that given Trump’s record of changing his stance on many issues and these varying indicators it’s impossible to predict how he will handle the USA-Cuba issue.

It’s also difficult to predict how Cuba will approach their relationship with the US now Fidel Castro is dead.

Death of Fidel Castro

It is being reported that Fidel Castro has died, aged 90, which means he was born in 1926. I think he has been unwell for quite a while and had handed over leadership to his brother it looks like in 2011.

There’s been quite a mixed reaction, from ‘legend’ to crap.

I don’t really have much to say about his life. Others here might be interested in talking about his long period of dominance in Cuba.

Dave has helped me out:

Fidel Castro – one of the great figures of Politics in the 20th Century has died at the age of 90….
I am just finishing a book on Che Guevara. Seems to me Fidel was a very pragmatic type of politician. Che and Raul, Fidels younger brother, being much more committed to a socialist vision much earlier in the piece than Fidel.

An interesting life.