Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

Dr. Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, General Director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on July 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 July 2019

Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

  • Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people

WASHINGTON: Brain scans of about 40 US diplomats injured in mysterious circumstances in Cuba reveal visible differences compared to those in a control group, researchers who analyzed them said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by professors at the University of Pennsylvania, does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the symptoms suffered by the diplomats from late 2016 into May 2018.
But the MRIs of the patients confirm that “something happened to the brains of these people,” Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at UPenn and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“It’s not imagined,” she said. “All I can say is that there is a truth to be found.”
Verma added: “Whatever happened was not due to a pre-existing condition, because we test for that.”
From late 2016, diplomats posted in Havana and some of their family members suffered unexplained symptoms ranging from poor balance and vertigo to lack of coordination, unusual eye movements, anxiety and what victims called a “cognitive fog.”
The United States recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from the Cuban capital in September 2017.
Some of them have recovered and returned to work, but others are still undergoing rehab, according to Verma.
The US government never publicly explained the cause of the mysterious illnesses. It neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of attacks using some sort of acoustic weapon, as some US media reported, without offering proof.
Cuba has denied all responsibility for the incidents, which also affected at least 14 Canadian citizens. Ottawa also ended up recalling most of its diplomats from Havana in January.
At the request of the State Department, 44 diplomats and family members were sent from mid-2017 to UPenn’s brain trauma center to undergo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exams.
Researchers compared those results with scans from 48 comparable subjects in two control groups. The differences are statistically significant and relate to the brain’s white matter as well as the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement.
A State Department spokesman welcomed “the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department’s top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff.”
Verma said it was vital to follow the diplomats and their families over time “to see whether these changes evolve or change.”

Responding to the report, Havana again denied all responsibility in the affair.
The study by the UPenn professors “does not allow clear and final scientific conclusions to be reached,” said Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, head of the Neuroscience Center of Cuba.
Valdes-Sosa told reporters that the study “does not show, contrary to what has been speculated... that the group of diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, said that as of now “no evidence exists of any type of attack” against the US diplomats, and called on Washington to stop using that term in such an “irresponsible” way.
Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people.


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”