Probable cause of mysterious illness among US and Canadian diplomats in Havana found

Dalhousie University and Nova Scotia Health Authority scientists Thursday claimed to have discovered the cause of strange symptoms found in recent years among US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba, according to Radio-Canada's investigative TV program Enquête.

The research, led by Dr. Alon Friedman, from the Department of Neuroscience and Medical Pediatrics of that Canadian university, contends that neurotoxin exposure is believed to have been behind the mysterious cases of lack of balance and vertigo. The sickening chemicals are easy to be found in pesticides used to eradicate mosquitoes.

According to Cubadebate news website, during a meeting held last July in Havana, the Canadian researchers shared their thesis, in a preliminary way, with Cuban authorities and the Committee of Experts that has been studying U.S. allegations for almost two years.

The mysterious symptoms suffered since 2017 caused a diplomatic crisis between Cuba and the United States after Washington that year pulled non-essential embassy staff from the Cuban capital.

In April 2018, Canada withdrew the families of its diplomats stationed in Cuba before also reducing staff.

The findings of the Canadian specialists contradict Washington's theory that their diplomats' brain injuries were due to a “sonic attack.”

The researchers studied 26 individuals, including a control group that never lived in Havana, and discovered a damaged area of the brain responsible for memory and ability to concentrate, among other functions.

“[The results] all support the diagnosis of acquired brain injury in the Canadian diplomats and their families posted in Cuba,” the report said.

In addition, the scientists were able to examine several individuals before and after returning from Havana, and found changes in their brains after their stay on the island.

“There are very specific types of toxins that affect these kinds of nervous systems... and these are insecticides, pesticides, organophosphates – specific neurotoxins,” according to Dr. Friedman.

In 2016, Cuban authorities launched aggressive fumigation campaigns to eradicate mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.

In addition, Canadian researchers found that embassies also sprayed their offices, as well as inside and outside the residences of their diplomats, up to five times more frequently than usual.

Doctor Mitchell Joseph Valdes-Sosa, director general of Cuba's Neuroscience Center, told Cubadebate that the hypothesis presented by the Canadian team is a serious attempt to explain the symptoms , "although it is premature to reach conclusions,"

Valdes Sosa added that exchanges have already begun between Canadian scientists and the Cuban Committee of Experts to advance more studies in Cuba in the short term.

“Although the work of the Dalhousie University research team has been carried out with scientific consistency, Cuban specialists believe that by using a small and heterogeneous sample, it is difficult to reach definitive conclusions."

"It is not possible to exclude other explanations based on very common pathologies,” Valdes Sosa said.

  • Published in Now

3 billion birds have been lost in U.S. and Canada since 1970

Human activity has decimated roughly 29% (almost 3 billion) of bird populations over the past 50 years in the U.S. and Canada, including meadowlarks, swallows and sparrows, scientists announced Thursday.

Why it matters: In addition to suffering pervasive losses in several groups of birds, North America has also reached a "widespread ecological crisis" that is affecting other activities like spring migration, food production and pest control, the scientists warn.

What's new: In a study published Thursday in Science, scientists found that "we're losing species of birds, abundances of birds, much faster than we thought ... almost three billion or one-third since 1970," co-author Peter Marra tells Axios.

  • The biggest driver is habitat loss caused by humans for agriculture and urbanization. This is something policymakers can still restore, for the most part, says Marra, former director of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center (SMBC) and now director of the Georgetown Environmental Initiative (GEI).
  • Marra urges people to take action in "the voting booth" and "not stand for the repeal of things that protect our water and land."
  • People also need to remove threats to birds by reducing lawn areas that don't provide bird habitat, minimizing light pollution and avoiding the use of harmful pesticides. Outdoor cats have also played a significant role.

The bad news: The study, which uses a combination of standardized surveys by bird enthusiasts and data from radar, finds the abundance of birds has fallen in diverse areas since 1970.

  • 12 bird families — including sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches — have 90% of the total accumulated loss.
  • Grassland birds have been hit the hardest, showing a 53% reduction (more than 720 million) in population.
  • Shorebirds, which often reside in sensitive coastal habitats, "were already at dangerously low numbers and have lost more than one-third of their population," the press release states.
  • Radar measures over the past decade show the volume of spring migration dropped 14% over that period.

The good news: The study also notes prior actions taken to protect certain species have worked, with waterfowl and raptors in particular becoming more abundant.

  • With wetland protections and hunting regulations, waterfowl like ducks, geese and swans have restored their populations, Marra says.
  • And due to endangered species protections and the removal of DDT-based pesticides, raptors like the bald eagle have become more plentiful.

What they're saying: "Studies like this do suggest the potential of a systems collapse,” Richard Gregory, a professor at University College London who wasn't part of this study, told the Washington Post. "These birds are an indicator of ecosystem health. And that, ultimately, may be linked to the productivity and sustainability of agricultural systems.”

The bottom line: Marra says it isn't too late to restore habitats and restore a healthy ecosystem in North America.

Of note: Sponsors of the study include American Bird Conservancy, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Environment and Climate Change Canada, GEI and SMBC.

Go deeper: Listen to Science's podcast on this topic and check out a new multimedia website describing the issue and advocating action, called 3BillionBirds.org.

Canada finds goals hard to come by in CONCACAF Nations League rematch with Cuba

Canada survived heat, a hard pitch and a physical Cuba side in a 1-0 win in CONCACAF Nations League A play Tuesday, just three days after running roughshod over the Cubans in Toronto.

Canada dominated play but needed a ninth-minute Alphonso Davies goal for the win.

Despite losing centre back Doneil Henry to a second yellow card in the 55th minute, the Canadian men had 82 per cent possession at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex and completed 696 passes to the Cubans’ 93.

Canada only managed six shots, the same as Cuba, and only put one on target.

“It was a tough game. The surface was not the best but I think we fought hard,” said Davies. “We’re happy to get the three points.”

“This is football. You have to grind a result. It’s not always pretty,” he added

Davies, who had a fine game despite absorbing plenty of punishment from the Cubans, scored with a powerful left-footed blast from just inside the penalty box after a Cuban turnover at midfield. It was the Bayern Munich teenager’s fourth goal in 15 national team appearances.

“He wouldn’t be at Bayern if he didn’t have that quality,” said goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who captained Canada for the first time. “The kid is just amazing. He’s a wunderkind.”

Playing at a neutral site, a revamped Canadian roster found itself dealing with a Cuban side that was decidedly more stubborn and physical despite reportedly losing players to defection on the trip to Canada.

The Cubans chopped down Canadians as needed and Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar content to let them play.

Canada, ranked 78th in the world, thumped No. 179 Cuba 6-0 on Saturday at BMO Field with captain Junior Hoilett recording a hat trick and Jonathan David, Jonathan Osorio and Henry also scoring.

The Canadian men had beaten Cuba 7-0 in group play at the Gold Cup in June.

“We knew on this pitch and (with) the conditions, the goals weren’t going to be as flowing,” said Canada coach John Herdman.

“But I was really happy with how the players responded,” he added. “I think we controlled the game, even down to 10 men.”

Tuesday’s game was shifted to the Cayman Islands capital when the stadium in Havana did not pass CONCACAF scrutiny.

While Canada controlled Tuesday’s game, the Cubans were more disciplined in defence — sitting deep with two lines of four and content with the occasional counter-attack by forward Maykel Reyes, who had a stint with Mexico’s Cruz Azul in 2018.

Canada had 72 per cent possession in the first half but only put one shot on target. The Cubans had one first-half scoring chance but the ball hit the side of the goal.

The Canadians wanted a penalty for handball in the 46th minute but didn’t get it. Herdman introduced Osorio in the 52nd minute in a bid to help open up the Cubans.

With Henry off the field, Herdman brought on centre back Derek Cornelius and removed striker Cycle Larin in the 60th minute. Liam Millar replaced Davies in the 79th minute.

Canada’s career record against Cuba stands at 9-2-3 with a 27-9 edge in goals.

  • Published in Sports

Canada falters against a determined Cuban team

Canada started strong, but lost momentum after the first set to fall to Cuba 1-3 (25-17, 22-25, 22-25,19-25) in the first semifinal of the Men’s 2019 NORCECA Continental Championship today in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.  

Canada led in blocking (12-10), but Cuba led in service points (9-7) and attacks (50-43).

Miguel Lopez let all scorers with 21 points for the winning team. He was followed by teammates Marlon Yant (15) and Osniel Mergarejo (13).

For Canada, Stephen Maar contributed 17 points. Nick Hoag and Sharone Vernon-Evans had 11 apiece.

Cuba will face the winner of USA vs Mexico in the gold medal match on Saturday. Canada will face the loser in the bronze game.

Cuba head coach Yosvany Muñoz Perez:

“I am happy because of this victory. Our team had a very high level performance today, especially in our serving, we had very strong service today. Congratulations to Canada, they are a good team.  Now we want to see who wins between Mexico and the USA and then we will study the video.  We want to be prepared for tomorrow.”


#13 Cuban middle blocker, Robertlandy Simon:

“When we win, we are happy. We are here and trying to win, but the most important thing is to get to the Olympics.  January is what will really count.

Today, our service was very good, and they had some difficulty with reception. We played well after the first set.”

Canada’s head coach Glenn Hoag:

“We played a great first set, in all aspects, especially in our serving. In the second set, we completely lost momentum because we committed too many service errors early in the second set, and Cuba started playing better. … We haven’t played Cuba in a long time, so it was good to see what they can do.  We have to be ready for January. …It’s just a question of working on a few things, especially our serving flaws versus our block defense, and I think we will be ready. But for now, we will worry about tomorrow.”

  • Published in Sports

Cuba and Canada hold the IV Round of Migratory Talks.

On August 28 and 29, 2019, the IV Round of Talks on Migration between Cuba and Canada was held in Ottawa, chaired by Ernesto Soberón Guzmán, General Director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, and Kathy Thompson, Vice-president of the Canada Border Service Agency.

During the working sessions, the migration flow between Cuba and Canada was assessed and negotiations continued in view of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Migratory matters.

Both parties reiterated the willingness and commitment of their respective governments to take joint actions to ensure a regular, organized and safe migration flow between Cuba and Canada; and increase bilateral cooperation in the fight against illegal trafficking of migrants and human trafficking.

The Cuban delegation welcomed the decision of the Canadian authorities to resume some immigration services in Havana, while expressing its confidence that the Canadian immigration staff would be restored in a short term and the current situation might be reversed and return to normality, in accordance with the nature of the historical relations between the two countries and the ties between Canadians and Cubans.

On the other hand, the Cuban delegation highlighted that more than a million Canadian citizens visit Cuba annually, enjoying a friendly and respectful treatment by the Cuban people and the public safety that prevails in the country, attributes that are internationally recognized. Cuba will continue to facilitate the trips of Canadians wishing to visit our country.

Both delegations reaffirmed their willingness to continue these exchanges in the future, considering its importance for both countries.

  • Published in Cuba

Cuban president receives visiting Canadian foreign minister

Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel received Canadian Foreign Minister Christya Freeland in Havana on Wednesday.

During the meeting, both parties exchanged views on the state of bilateral relations and their willingness to continue expanding them in all areas. They also discussed issues of mutual interest on the international and regional agendas.

President Díaz-Canel thanked Canada for its traditional support for the resolution against the blockade, which is approved each year by the United Nations General Assembly, and for the position taken by the government of that country regarding the implementation of the Helms-Burton Act.

The Cuban president also reiterated Havana´s solidarity with Venezuela and the concern for the damage caused to that Latin American nation and its population by the economic sanctions, the policy of siege and the isolation to which it has been subjected by the United States. He also said that the Monroe Doctrine is a danger to the entire hemisphere.

Earlier on the day, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held talks with his Canadian counterpart. On Twitter he said he conveyed to Freeland an acknowledgment on the restoration of some migration services at the Canadian embassy in Havana, and that he called for the prompt normalization of the embassy´s operations.

Rodriguez also said that the tightening of US coercive measures against Venezuela damage its people and are contrary to International Law and the dialogue process.

  • Published in Cuba

Cuba, Canada Meet to Discuss US Intervention in Venezuela

President Diaz-Canel told Canada's foreign minister he was "concerned" about the damage caused to Venezuela and its population by U.S. "economic sanctions, siege policies and isolation that it has been subjected."

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel reiterated his country's solidarity with Venezuela during a meeting Wednesday with Canadian Foreign Minister Cynthia Freeland upon her official visit to Havana.

During the meeting, Diaz-Canel told Freeland of his "concern" about the damage being caused to Venezuela and its population by "economic sanctions, siege policies and isolation" as a result of the United States' blockade on the South American country.

The Cuban leader underscored his point by saying that the U.S. "Monroe Doctrine is a danger to the entire hemisphere," referring to its continual use by the Donald Trump administration to control the political and economic affairs of both Cuba and Venezuela.

The U.S. government earlier this month placed an all-out blockade on Venezuela and has threatened to cut off any vessels from entering or leaving its shores, while in Cuba, Trump has implemented the Helms-Burton Act that allows U.S. citizens to use the nation's courts to sue foreign companies linked to Cuban-nationalized real estate and land.

At today's meeting, the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, also present at the reunion, reiterated to his Canadian counterpart the solidarity of his country with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and proposed that Canada "contribute" to the elimination of the U.S. blockade.

Rodriguez said: "The resurgence of the unilateral coercive measures by the United States damages the Venezuelan people, and is contrary to international law and the dialogue process," underway between the Maduro government and opposition factions being mediated by Norway, Rodriguez told Freeland.

“In particular,” said Rodriguez, Cuba wants Canada to “reject the use and threat of use of force, and interference in the internal affairs of states" within the Americas.

Also at the discussion, Diaz-Canel thanked Freeland for her nation’s continual support to vote each year at the United Nations to end the nearly 60-year-old blockade on the island country. The two exchanged ideas about Cuban-Canadian bilateral relations and issues of "mutual interest."

The foreign ministers of Canada and Cuba held their first round of discussion about Venezuela in May in Cuba, while the second one took place June 7 in Ottawa.

Before arriving in Havana, Freeland said in a statement that "there is an international convergence on the need for a peaceful transition in Venezuela that results in free and fair elections and the return to democracy."

She said that the "long relationship" between Canada and Cuba said the visit would allow them to continue the previous talks.

  • Published in Cuba

The Largest Parapan American Games In History Kicks Off With Opening Ceremony

With an electric opening ceremony that celebrated both the spirit and evolution of the Paralympic Movement, the Parapan American Games Lima 2019 officially began on Friday, August 23 at the Estadio Nacional in Lima, Peru.

The 2019 edition of the Parapan American Games is the largest in history, showcasing 17 sports and over 1,890 athletes from 33 nations in the Americas region.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight; these Games are no magic wand,” said Carlos Neuhaus, president of the Lima 2019 Organizing Committee. “But my hope is that Lima 2019 will be the spark that lights the fuse and ignites a long overdue process of building greater awareness, understanding and integration of people with a disability in our society, and across the Americas.”

The theme of the opening ceremony was “elevation”, portraying a story of two children who embark on a journey full of challenges and obstacles, but are able to overcome them and reach greater heights through their friendship and resilience.

Each country’s delegation entered the stadium, where they were met by cheers from the audience. The 257 members of Team USA were greeted warmly as they walked in, led by three-time Paralympian Katie Holloway of the U.S. women’s sitting volleyball team. Holloway was selected by her fellow athletes for the honor of the flag bearer at this year’s opening ceremony.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

“I just feel really honored that the U.S. delegation of athletes saw me as a person that would be representative of them,” Holloway said. “To hold the flag, with honor, for our whole entire U.S. Paralympic delegation, is really special.”

The Parapan American Flame was carried into the stadium by multiple athletes before reaching the top of a totem surrounded by dancers and acrobats. It was initially lit on August 20 in Pachamac, the largest archaeological complex in Lima, and was then carried to other locations throughout the city before making its way to the Estadio Nacional for the duration of the Games.

To close out the show, the Peruvian band Bareto provided an upbeat mix of rock, reggae, psychedelic and tropical music to the audience. The group’s cumbia song “Cariñito” has become the unofficial anthem of Lima 2019 as it has been the Peruvian team’s entrance song, and been played at all sports venues and volunteer rehearsals.

Two sports, table tennis and wheelchair rugby, began competition prior to the opening ceremony, with the former hosting matches as early as August 22.

For the rest of the athletes; however, the opening ceremony signaled the beginning of a tremendous event with plenty of opportunities to shine on the international stage over the next nine days.

  • Published in Sports
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